Macron has enraged France with his pension bill. But few think he will be expelled


Demonstrators take part in a demonstration against the French government’s plan to raise the legal retirement age in Paris, March 16, 2023.

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A coalition of French lawmakers tabled a no-confidence motion against President Emmanuel Macron on Friday following chaotic scenes in the country’s lower house of parliament the previous day.

Despite frantic last-minute negotiations and calculations, Macron calculated that he did not have enough votes in the National Assembly to pass his controversial and longstanding plan to raise the retirement age.

So he resorted to the relief plan that many – including within his party – opposed; using a special constitutional power to force it through without a parliamentary majority.

The measure, which means the national retirement age will be raised from 62 to 64 for most workers, was announced by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, which was met with chants, mockery and boos from lawmakers .

The reaction was fierce. The CFDT union called this a “true denial of democracy” and called on local unions to come together this weekend, and organize a big day of strikes and protests on March 23.

Around 7,000 people gathered to demonstrate in Paris’ Place de la Concorde on Thursday night, Reuters reported, where police used tear gas and charged the protesters.

A coalition of left-wing lawmakers tabled a no-confidence motion, which is backed by left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Another was filed by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party, now led by Jordan Bardella, which said it would vote in favor of any no-confidence motion.

Leftist MPs hold signs and sing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, as French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne arrives to deliver a speech on the pension reform bill at the National Assembly in Paris, France , March 16, 2023.

Pascal Rossignol | Reuters

Macron, Borne and their Renaissance party, formerly En Marche, are expected to pass the vote.

Julien Hoez, a political consultant who has worked with the Renaissance party, says the no-confidence motion will struggle to get the required majority of 287 votes. It is with Mélenchon’s leftist La France Insoumise, Le Pen’s National Rally, the green Europe Ecology party and others opposed to Macron’s bill – potentially including members of the centre-right Les Républicains party. Hoez noted that it will be tight and that Borne may quit.

The strength of sentiment against the rollout of the special constitutional measure should not be underestimated, he told CNBC by phone.

“With the budget, it was understandable and acceptable because you need the budget to run the country, it made it an easier pill to swallow,” Hoez said.

“Something as important as this had to be done differently to make things work. People think it’s undemocratic.”

A protester sits atop a lamppost with a sign that reads ‘Macron in the service of Black Rock, Black Block in the service of the people’ as demonstrators set fires in Place de la Concorde to protest against the French government pushing its retirement bill by the French Parliament without a vote after the promulgation of article 49.3 of the constitution, on March 16, 2023 in Paris, France.

Kiran Riley | Getty Images News | Getty Images

With Macron winning re-election in 2022, things don’t look good for next year’s European elections, he said, and at home the Renaissance will be pushed further and further into a corner between the left and the right and the controversy will hamper its ability to pass further measures.

Some opposition to raising the retirement age centers on its negative impact womenpublic sector workers and people on low wages who start work earlier.

For many on the left, the government’s argument that changes are needed to ensure the sustainability of the pension system and reduce its annual deficit by 10 billion euros ($10.73 billion) is a priority case, including given its policies such as tax relief for the benefit of ultra-rich and businesses.

Marine Le Pen of the National Rally, whom Macron beat to the top job in 2022, also came out against reforms which she called an unfair burden on the people – and some analysts say the measure can increase its popularity.

What if?

If the vote of no confidence passes, the government will be forced to resign for the first time since 1962.

Macron could then either appoint a new government with a new prime minister or dissolve parliament, triggering new elections.

Holger Schmieding, chief economist at German investment bank Berenberg, said French governments usually win votes of no confidence and he expected them to do so this time, which would lead to the passage automatic pension reform.

If not, “new parliamentary elections could go against the alliance of parties supporting Macron,” Schmieding said in a note.

“If so, that could make him a lame duck for domestic politics for the rest of his term until 2027.”

Macron has already weakened his position, Schmieding added, and a new parliament would likely be deeply divided without a majority.

However, he noted, analysts at Berenberg “remain optimistic that France could largely remain what it currently appears to be: the most dynamic of the major European economies.”

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct name of the National Rally party leader.

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