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New strikes called as French PM acts on pension bill

Workers’ union the CGT has called for new strike action next week in protest at what it called the government’s “deeply scandalous attitude” towards pushing through pension reform.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed the use of Constitution article 49.3 article in the afternoon on Saturday February 29, after a Council of Ministers that took place at midday. The move was unexpected, as the meeting had previously been reported as an emergency discussion on coronavirus.

The use of article 49.3 enables the government to adopt its text on pension reform without putting it to a wider vote, unless a majority of MPs vote in a motion to censure it.

This is unlikely, despite continued opposition from parties La France Insoumise and Communistes.

Why article 49.3?

The government has said that the use of article 49.3 is necessary to overcome the current state of “blockage”, because it is aiming to get the reform voted through ahead of municipal elections on March 15 and 22.

By 13h on Saturday, just eight articles had been voted on, in a law that has 65 articles in total. Similarly, just 5,951 amendments had been examined since the bill began discussion in the Assemblée, with 29.504 left to examine - making the government’s March 15 deadline appear impossible.

The Constitution states that the use of article 49.3 - as a means to overcome continued blocks by opposing parties in the chamber - rests with the Prime Minister, but the move has also been approved by President Emmanuel Macron.

MP response

Head of the LREM party Gilles Le Gendre welcomed the government’s decision, but other MPs - even among the ruling party - have criticised the move.

Éric Poulliat, LREM MP of Gironde, said: “This is a failing of parliamentary democracy, and I am disappointed. We should have been able to have a calmer atmosphere. There is a feeling of incomprehension; of a waste.”

Another MP, Aurélien Taché, said: “The management of this bill has been very strange. We never had enough information from the government on the financing [of it]. The risk now is that people will only remember [the use of article] 49.3 about this reform.”


Union strike response

Union bosses from unions CGT, FO, Solidaires, and FSU (plus youth organisations) - which are opposed to a points-based, universal pension system - have said they will meet on Monday morning to discuss new strike action in response, for “as early as next week”.

CGT general secretary Philippe Martinez said: “When you cannot convince, you coerce; that is typically what the government does.”

The news could see new protests as early as next week, the CGT said.

This is in contrast to previous protest plans, which unions had said could be pushed as far as March 31, after two and half months of continuous protests, and 10 cross-profession days held between December 5, 2019 and February 20, 2020.

Coronavirus controversy

Mr Martinez added that the government’s behaviour had been “peculiar”.

He said : “[It] called an extraordinary Council of Ministers meeting to discuss a health problem that is hitting the country and the planet [coronavirus], and it came out with [a decision on article] 49.3. That is very strange.”

Yet, on the subject of coronavirus controversy, Mr Philippe said: “Our country is strong. Coronavirus will not stop Parliament and other institutions from functioning.”

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