To avert defeat, France's government pushed through a controversial pension reform at the last minute without final approval from parliament. On Thursday, she decided to implement President Emmanuel Macron's most important reform project with the help of a special article in the constitution without a vote in the National Assembly.
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne literally shouted over the opposition's demands for his resignation: "This reform is necessary". The plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 could theoretically be overturned by a vote of no confidence.
For Macron and the government, the use of the special article is an admission of weakness. The cabinet recently stressed tirelessly that they wanted a vote. If at all possible, they wanted to do without the means of power in order to give the reform more legitimacy and not have to be criticized for being authoritarian.
In the end, Macron probably lacked the necessary votes
In the morning, the Senate still voted in favor of the reform, but the matter seemed too close in the lower house. A failure would have been fatal for the government and Macron. At the last minute before the National Assembly session, Macron and the government conferred again and decided to resort to the special article.
The president's centre-camp has lost an absolute majority in the National Assembly since the general election in June. The government relied on the support of the conservative Républicains for the reform. Until recently, however, it was unclear whether enough MPs from the split parliamentary group would approve the project. There is no party coercion like in Germany. For Macron's next project, it must now be clear: he probably cannot rely on the conservatives.
Government has limited use of special items
In order to avoid deadlocks on important issues, the government in France can bring projects on a very limited scale without a vote by the National Assembly. Senate approval is still required. The government can access the special article on budgetary issues - as is now the case with pension reform. In addition, she may only use the funds once per parliamentary year.
However, the reform is not yet complete. Left and right-wing nationalists have already announced motions of no confidence. However, it is considered unlikely that the government will be overthrown as a result.
Currently, the retirement age in France is 62 years. In fact, retirement begins later on average: those who have not paid in long enough to receive a full pension work longer. At the age of 67 there is then a pension without a deduction, regardless of the payment period - the government wants to keep this, even if the number of payment years required for a full pension is to increase more quickly. She wants to increase the monthly minimum pension to around 1,200 euros. With the reform, the government wants to close an impending gap in the pension fund.
Street protests will continue
The power word in the House of Commons could increase pressure on the government from the streets. There have been strikes and demonstrations against the pension reform for weeks. Again and again the unions mobilized hundreds of thousands. They consider the reform to be brutal and unjust. According to the Ministry of the Interior, more than a million people took part at the peak of the protests, while the CGT trade union spoke of 3.5 million participants. The fact that the reform is now to be implemented without the votes of MPs is likely to infuriate many and could exacerbate strikes on the railways, in refineries or in waste disposal. In the afternoon, hundreds of people already moved to the Place de la Concorde in central Paris.
Although Macron has conspicuously stayed in the background in the tug-of-war over the pension reform and can now shift some of the responsibility onto the government and opposition, the action also harms him personally. Although he was able to push through the reform, he was not convincing. His authority is tarnished. He also has to lose sympathy points as a result of the coup. The liberal, who likes to present himself as a reformer, should now be keen to start a new chapter as soon as possible. Possibly with a refreshed government team. Four very complicated years of his remaining term in office are likely to lie ahead of him.