Friday Mar 17 2023

No-confidence motion filed against French govt over pension reform

Members of parliament clap as French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne speaks during a debate on the pension reform plan at the National Assembly in Paris, France February 17, 2023. — Reuters
Members of parliament clap as French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne speaks during a debate on the pension reform plan at the National Assembly in Paris, France February 17, 2023. — Reuters

A day after French President Emmanuel Macron rammed a pension reform through parliament without a vote, opposition lawmakers on Friday tabled a no-confidence motion against the government.

The centrist group Liot tabled a multiparty no-confidence motion in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, which was co-signed by the far-left NUPES (New Ecological and Social Popular Union) alliance.

"The vote on this motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis," said Bertrand Pancher, head of the Liot group.

The filing of the no-confidence vote came as protesters blocked a key highway around Paris and escalated strikes at refineries in a new show of anger after President Emmanuel Macron pushed through the contentious pension reform by invoking Article 49.3 of the constitution.

Article 49.3 grants the government executive privilege to pass a bill without a parliamentary vote. Invoking Article 49.3 also permits the opposition to respond with a no-confidence motion.

Macron's move sparked protests across the country on Thursday night, with hundreds arrested nationwide, according to the interior minister.

On Friday morning, some 200 protesters briefly blocked traffic on the ring road outside the capital.

Soumaya Gentet, 51, a CGT union member from supermarket chain Monoprix, said she was incensed and would continue to protest until the bill was revoked.

"They're not taking into account what the people want," she said.

Her colleague Lamia Kerrouzi agreed. "Macron doesn't give a fig about the people," she said.

"He doesn't understand the language of the people. It needs to be repealed."

In the energy sector, strikers were to halt production at a large refinery by this weekend or Monday at the latest, CGT union representative Eric Sellini said.

Workers had already been on a rolling strike at the northern site TotalEnergies de Normandie, but halting production would escalate the industrial action.

Strikers continued to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites, he added.

Hundreds arrested 

Shortly after French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne announced the triggering of Article 49.3 on Thursday afternoon, thousands of protesters gathered on Place de la Concorde, across the River Seine from parliament. Police fired tear gas as angry demonstrators hurled cobblestones at security officers. In several other French cities, including Marseille, there were also spontaneous protests against the reform.

The ensuing unrest saw 310 people arrested around France, including 258 in Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told RTL radio.

"The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not," he said.

A couple of thousand protesters massed opposite the parliament on Thursday to protest the move.

In the evening, several clashed with police, who moved in to arrest some on suspicion of seeking to cause damage.

Similar scenes unfolded across France.

Several stores were looted during protests in Marseille while clashes between demonstrators and security forces also erupted in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes as well as Lyon in the southeast, according to AFP correspondents.

An AFP photographer on Friday morning saw damage including a burnt-out public bicycle, shattered shop window, and scorched car in Paris.

The government imposed the pensions bill, which seeks to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, despite two months of coordinated nationwide strikes and some of the biggest protests in decades.