© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People attend a demonstration to protest the use by French government of the article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, in Nantes, Fran
By Elizabeth Pineau and Bertrand Boucey
PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron’s government faces two motions of no confidence in the National Assembly on Monday after bypassing the lower house to push through a deeply unpopular change to the pension system.
Monday’s no-confidence votes look unlikely to pass, but the result could be tight. A successful no-confidence vote would fall the government and kill the legislation, which is set to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Sunday called the votes “a moment of truth” for the government.
Violent unrest has erupted across the country and trade unions have promised to intensify their strike action, leaving Macron to face the most dangerous challenge to his authority since the “Yellow Vest” uprising over four years ago.
“It’s not a failure, it’s a total train wreck,” Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT trade union, told newspaper Liberation.
To bring down the government, Macron’s opponents require the support of a majority of the 577 lawmakers, in an alliance that would need to span from the hard left to the far right. The debate starts at 4pm (1500 GMT), and votes will follow later in the day.
Senior officials from the conservative Republic Lesains (LR) party have said they will not get behind the no-confidence motions. But there are rebels among their ranks.
One of them, Aurelien Pradie, who was removed from his post as number 2 in the party over his opposition to the pension legislation, said about 15 LR lawmakers were ready to back the tripartisan motion – well below the around 26 needed for the motion to succeed.
“The numbers don’t add up,” another LR rebel, Fabien Di Filippo, told Reuters.
But proponents of the no confidence vote urged more LR lawmakers to vote the reform down. “Don’t be afraid,” centrist MP Bertrand Pancher told LR lawmakers.
“It can come down to just a few votes,” he told Reuters.
Even if the motions flop, Macron’s failure to find enough support in parliament to put his pension system overhaul to a vote has undermined his reformist agenda and weakened his leadership, observers say.
“The government would remain in place, although it would be significantly weakened, while social protests against the reform would likely continue for some weeks, which could negatively affect the French economy,” Barclays (LON:) said in a briefing note.
An Elabe opinion survey showed two-thirds of French people wanted the government to fall, underlining the challenges Macron faces ahead.
Other surveys showed his own popularity falling to its lowest since the 2018/2019 Yellow Vest uprising, a revolt which started as a grassroots protest movement against higher diesel taxes but morphed into a broader anti-Macron rebellion.
“This is perhaps the last democratic moment for the Assembly to make the government think twice,” said Frederic, a Paris resident who preferred not to give his family name.
Several metro stations near the lower house of parliament were closed and police were dispatched to the area to prevent possible clashes after the vote.
Meanwhile rolling strikes at refineries entered a 13th day. At French liquefied (LNG) terminals, the strike was extended until March 27 at the three terminals operated by Engie subsidiary Elengy, a union representative said.
France’s main unions have announced a ninth nationwide day of strikes and protests on Thursday.