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Macron government survives no-confidence vote on controversial pension plan

PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron survived a key vote on Monday that could have brought down his government and killed his flagship pension reform, sparking protests and strikes across the country.

The vote of no confidence received 278 votes in the National Assembly, short of the 287 needed to pass.

Macron’s long-promised plan to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64 has sparked weeks of nationwide strikes and protests, and police have clashed with protesters in cities across the country.

Police said some 4,000 protesters gathered in Place d’Italie in southern Paris on Saturday, many chanting “Macron, resign!” as trash cans were set on fire and officers responded by firing tear gas. More than 160 people have been arrested across the country, the Interior Ministry announced on Sunday.

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Foreign Ministry in Paris on Thursday. Michel Euler / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, majority leader appointed by Macron, and her cabinet of ministers would have had to step down if the motion had received enough votes on Monday.

The president himself has always been immune: Macron was re-elected for a second and final term last summer, albeit with a much reduced majority thanks to renewed support in the extreme National Assembly right, and he can appoint a new government without the need for an election unless he decides to hold one.

But if the government falls, so does the pension bill, leaving the president and his flagship economic policy to flounder.

A wave of protests were set to continue in France this weekend against President Macron's controversial pension reform, as rubbish continued to stink on the streets of Paris and beyond due to continued action by garbage collectors.
A protester walks past burning rubbish during a demonstration in Paris on Saturday. More than 150 people were arrested while demonstrating against a plan to raise the retirement age. Lewis Joly/AP

The Élysée said on Sunday that Macron wanted the law “to be able to complete its democratic course with respect for all”, stressing that there had been more than 170 hours of debate and several concessions already made in a draft revised law.

Macron’s centrist alliance still holds the most seats in the National Assembly and political commentators in France did not expect the bill to pass.

Macron and Borne have already infuriated critics and unions by forcing the pension plan through parliament by invoking Article 49.3 of the Constitution allowing legislation to pass without a vote from lawmakers. As a result, Parliament had no say in the law unless it cast a vote of no confidence.

Pension reform plans are presented to the French National Assembly
Protesters sing in Paris on March 16, 2023 after the French government pushed its pension reform through parliament without a vote.Kiran Ridley/Getty Images

Borne, only the second female prime minister in French history, could become its second shortest prime minister, even after surviving the vote.

“It is in fact possible that the current prime minister will lose her job even if her government survives this vote of no confidence because she has taken the primary responsibility of bringing this legislation forward and getting it through Parliament,” Rainbow Murray said. , expert in French. Politics at Queen Mary University of London.

Macron is adamant that pension reform is essential to keep the system functioning and avoid a crippling pension deficit, given rising life expectancies and long-term economic pressures.

Macron government survives no-confidence vote on controversial pension plan

“It is a risk that the opposition parties have minimized, but all the objective economic analyzes of the current pension system in France agree that it is not sustainable to continue retirement at 62 in the current conditions, and that it risks becoming unsustainable in the short term. the future,” Murray said.

Most Western European countries have set the retirement age at 65 or 66, although some, including Italy and the Netherlands, are raising it to 67, according to the Finnish Pensions Centre.

The central Place de la Concorde and the nearby Champs-Elysées boulevards were the scene of intense protests last week, but gatherings there were banned this weekend.

French television showed protests were also taking place across the country, including in Marseilles in the south and Nantes in the west.

France has forced Paris garbage collectors back to work after a multi-day strike against pension reform.
Garbage bags pile up on Friday in the streets of Paris. The town hall says that thousands of tons of waste are still not collected after a two-week strike.Bertrand Guay / AFP-Getty Images

A one-day nationwide strike is scheduled for Thursday – there have been eight days of nationwide direct action so far over Macron’s pension plan this year, showing just how controversial the measures are and unpopular. The sustained protests mirror the so-called “yellow vests” or yellow vest demonstrations of 2018-19, when fuel prices sparked widespread popular revolt.

The strike by Parisian garbage collectors is now in its third week, with thousands of tonnes of waste now uncollected on the capital’s historic streets, according to Paris City Hall.

Tourists have complained not only about the smell caused by the rotting piles of trash, but also about the increased number of rats they attract.

Nancy Ing reported from Paris and Patrick Smith from London.

The Associated Press contributed.

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