Use of article 49.3 of the Constitution, which enables the government to unilaterally pass bills without a parliamentary vote, is expected to fall in January, a public law expert has told The Connexion.
This measure has been widely reported in the French media since Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne took office in May, as her parliamentary group does not have an overall majority and so now finds it more difficult to get bills passed through a vote.
Read more: Explainer: what is France’s article 49.3 and why is it in the news?
10 times in seven months
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has used article 49.3 10 times in the seven months she has been in office, putting her in second place on the podium of prime ministers who have employed the measure the most.
Michel Rocard (prime minister under François Mitterrand from 1988 to 1991) topped the list, triggering article 49.3 28 times over a three-year period. Ms Borne could soon overtake him if the government keeps using 49.3 at this pace, at about 1.42 times each month.
Ms Borne employed article 49.3 for the tenth time last Thursday (December 15) in order to pass the government’s 2023 budget law.
The left-wing Nupes coalition responded with a motion de censure (vote of no confidence) in an attempt to overthrow the government, but it did not succeed. Parties are free to propose a vote of no confidence each time the government makes use of article 49.3.
Restrictions on use of article 49.3
Ms Borne will not be able to continue using article 49.3 as much in the new year because of restrictions imposed by a 2008 law, Université Panthéon-Assas public law lecturer Benjamin Morel told The Connexion.
The law states that article 49.3 can now only be used for budgetary bills and one other text per parliamentary session. During Mr Rocard’s term in office, the prime minister could use it as much as they wanted. A parliamentary session runs from October 1 to June 30.
Dr Morel said Ms Borne was only able to employ article 49.3 so frequently in recent months because the limit does not apply to budgetary bills. The government has so far only used it for bills pertaining to public finances, social security and the budget.
This also explains why some Connexion readers may have seen the term often lately.
“There will be no more budget laws [debated in the Assemblée nationale] from January and the government will have to choose the other bill on which they ought to use article 49.3,” said Dr Morel.
This means that the government has one chance to deploy the measure on a bill it wants to pass but which will be met with considerable opposition in the Assemblée nationale.
One of the most contentious bills is the government’s proposed pension reform, through which it will look to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65. The idea has already faced considerable opposition from other parties and the public.
Finding a loophole to dodge limitations
But Ms Borne is considering loopholes which would enable the government to bypass the article 49.3 restrictions, such as including the pension reform plan in the social security budget bill, Dr Morel said.
The Assemblée nationale also has eight ‘extraordinary’ summer sessions once every two weeks between June 1 and September 30, during which the article 49.3 counter is reset, giving the government eight more chances to activate it.
Dr Morel doubted Ms Borne would overtake Mr Rocard’s record, though added that this will greatly depend on the length of her term.
“Mr Rocard used article 49.3 as a feature of government policy, whereas Ms Borne has more limitations,” said Dr Morel.
Likewise, the government should not be afraid of triggering article 49.3 because Les Républicains MPs would be unlikely to back a motion de censure, so making it less likely that such a no-confidence vote would succeed.
Dr Morel noted that two votes of no confidence brought against Mr Rocard only fell short of forcing the government to resign by less than three votes, adding that Ms Borne could also face this risk.
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