by Stuart Williams
PARIS, FRANCE — The French government under President Emmanuel Macron on Monday survived two no-confidence motions in parliament, but still faced intense pressure over its handling of a controversial pensions reform.
The outcome prompted immediate anti-government protests, with 101 people arrested in Paris alone in tense standoffs between protesters and security forces, police said.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne incensed the opposition last week by announcing the government would impose the pension reform without a parliamentary vote, sparking accusations of anti-democratic behaviour.
The opposition filed two motions of no confidence in the government as a result.
The 577-seat National Assembly lower house rejected the first motion — brought by the centrist LIOT coalition and supported by the left — by a margin of just nine votes, much narrower than expected.
It then overwhelmingly rejected a motion brought by the far-right National Rally (RN) with just 94 votes in favour.
The rejection of the motions means that the reform to raise the pensions age from 62 to 64 has now been adopted by the legislature.
Borne, in a move customary in such a situation, has asked the Constitutional Court to check the law while the left has filed a request with the court for a referendum on the issue.
“I am determined to continue to carry out the necessary transformations in our country with my ministers and to devote all my energy to meeting the expectations of our fellow citizens,” Borne said in a statement to AFP after the votes.
But it far from represents the end of the biggest domestic crisis of the second mandate in office of Macron, who has yet to make any public comment on the controversy.
Spontaneous protests erupted in the centre of Paris late Monday with protesters setting fire to bins and clashing with police who used tear gas to clear some areas, AFP reporters said.
Similar scenes were reported in other French cities including Dijon and Strasbourg — where protesters smashed the windows of a department store — in the east and Rennes in the west, AFP correspondents said.
A new round of strikes and protests has been called on Thursday and are expected to again bring public transport to a standstill in several areas.
There has been a rolling strike by rubbish collectors in Paris, leading to unsightly and unhygienic piles of trash accumulating in the French capital.
The future of Borne, appointed as France’s second woman premier by Macron after his election victory over the far right for a second mandate, remains in doubt after she failed to secure a parliamentary majority for the reform.
Meanwhile, it is unclear when Macron will finally make public comments over the events, amid reports he is considering an address to the nation.
Since Borne invoked article 49.3 of the constitution, there have also been daily protests in Paris and other cities that have on occasion turned violent.
Hard-left figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon said people “should express themselves everywhere and in all circumstances to force the withdrawal of the reform”.
Government insiders and observers have raised fears that France is again heading for another bout of violent anti-government protests, only a few years after the “Yellow Vest” movement shook the country from 2018-2019.
‘Problem of legitimacy’
In order to pass, the main multi-party no confidence motion needed support from around half the 61 MPs of the traditional right-wing party The Republicans.
Even after its leadership insisted they should reject the motions, 19 renegade Republicans MPs voted in favour.
One of the Republicans who voted for the ousting of the government, Aurelien Pradie, said afterwards Macron should withdraw the “poisoned law”.
“It is obvious today that the government has a problem of legitimacy and the president cannot remain a spectator of this situation,” he told BFMTV.
The leader of the far-right in parliament Marine Le Pen, who challenged Macron in the 2022 elections, said Borne “should go or be made to resign by the president”.
A survey on Sunday showed the head of state’s personal rating at its lowest level since the height of the “Yellow Vest” protest movement in 2019, with only 28 percent of respondents having a positive view of him.
Macron has argued that the pension changes are needed to avoid crippling deficits in the coming decades linked to France’s ageing population.
Opponents of the reform say it places an unfair burden on low earners, women and people doing physically wearing jobs. Opinion polls have consistently shown that two thirds of French people oppose the changes.