Fury as French PM forces through pension reforms without a vote

Élisabeth Borne used the controversial article 49.3 to push through the reforms, sparking a furious response from opposition MPs

Emotions ran extremely high in the Assemblée Nationale chamber as the use of article 49.3 was announced
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The French government has used article 49.3 to force through its controversial pension reforms without a vote in parliament.

It came after an emergency cabinet meeting on Thursday (March 16) afternoon and sparked a furious response from opposition MPs.

The Senate adopted the text earlier in the day.

The reforms, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, have dominated the airwaves in France for weeks. Protests and strikes have been held over recent months to show opposition to the changes.

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne decided on using the 49.3 article after fears emerged that the government would not get a majority of MPs to back the reforms.

Government figures, including Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and government spokesperson Olivier Véran, had previously said that they wanted to avoid using the article.

Read more: What is article 49.3 and could it help pass France’s pension reforms?

Although the use of the article means that the reform has been adopted without a vote, Ms Borne said: “A vote will happen”, because she “does not doubt” that several motions of no confidence against the government are likely (this is always the procedure within 24 hours of article 49.3 being used).

Communist MP Fabien Roussel has already said that a vote of no confidence is set to be lodged.

However, Ms Borne said: “If everyone had voted with their conscience, and in coherence with their previous stances, we would not be in this position this afternoon.” She criticised “everyone who has done everything to block the vote”, and added: “The shouts happening as I’m trying to talk only offer more proof of this.”

‘They are trampling over democracy’

Ms Borne struggled to be heard in parliament as members of the hard-left La France Insoumise (LFI) party sang La Marseillaise national anthem and other MPs shouted their opposition.

LFI MP François Ruffin, reacting to the use of the 49.3, told FranceInfo: “They are trampling over democracy just as they are trampling over working people in France.”

Ms Borne has already faced calls to go from opposition politicians, including Marine Le Pen.

Head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, promised that “the story was not over”. Just before the news broke, he said: “If this reform is adopted, anger and opposition will not stop on an individual and collective level. This feeling will continue to exist.”

Emotions ran high in the chamber, too. A video has emerged of Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti placing a supportive hand on the shoulder of Work Minister Oliver Dussopt.

MPs of the far-right Rassemblement National party shouted “resign, resign!”, while other opposition MPs chanted “democracy, democracy”, suggesting the use of the 49.3 is undemocratic.

Before the vote, some MPs did admit that they had struggled to decide which way to go.

Maxime Minot, MP for Oise, told FranceInfo: “I confess I feel in a fog. I was totally against but now I’m thinking and thinking. So I admit I’m going to think it over. I will weigh the points for and against.”

Some, however, were decided. Ian Boucard, MP for Territoire de Belfort, said: “No, I won’t budge. I am not in favour of reducing the legal age of retirement, because it needs much more structural reform, especially when it comes to our relationship with work.

“This reform is relying on the effort made by working people.”

Strikes ongoing

Ahead of the vote, CGT head Laurent Berger urged MPs: “Do not vote for this law, it is a move against workers and your pay.”

Protests and strikes have been ongoing throughout the day, including blockades at lycées, fuel refineries, and across the SNCF train network.

More strikes are expected to be announced following the use of the 49.3 article on Thursday.

By mid-afternoon, thousands of people had assembled at Place de la Concorde in Paris to protest the French PM’s move.

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