By the narrow margin of just nine votes, Emmanuel Macron's government survived a vote of no confidence on Monday afternoon in an attempt by MPs to override his deeply unpopular pension reform. Parliament was denied a vote on the proposal, which will raise the retirement age in France from 62 to 64, as a constitutional move allowed the government to sidestep the National Assembly.
Garnering a total of 278 MPs in favour, the vote of no confidence fell just short of the 287 needed to bring down the government, overseen by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. It was the closest result of such a motion since 1992.
A second attempt pushed by the far-right Front National (RN) received only 94 votes. Following the rejection of these two motions, Emmanuel Macron's highly contested reform is thus definitively adopted. In a statement to AFP, Elisabeth Borne said she was "determined to continue to carry out the necessary transformations".
Far from over
Yet the uproar won't dissipate any time soon, with opposition party La France Insoumise announcing that the government "is already dead". RN leader Marine Le Pen called vehemently for Borne's dismissal.
But the Prime Minister insisted that the government has "never gone so far in building a compromise" and hit back at accusations that the 49.3 procedure (by which the reform bypassed a parliamentary vote) "is the invention of a dictator."
However, MPs are not holding back their frustrations, castigating the affair as an "injustice" and "denial of democracy". Leader of the group that tabled the motion of no confidence decried the government's heavy-handedness, arguing that "The National Assembly, the only representative of the French people, will never have voted on this bill."
Major rallies and protests have flared up across the country, at times boiling over into violence as unions and citizens make a show of their anger. In Paris, several hundred people, including many young people and hardliners from the Yellow Vest movement, gathered not far from the National Assembly.
After the government narrowly held out, projectiles were thrown and police used tear spray to push back protesters, who were heavily flanked by law enforcement, an AFP reporter noted.
A day of nationwide action has been announced on 23 March by all unions. The strike has hardened in the refineries and the garbage collectors are continuing their movement in Paris, Rennes and Nantes.
Parisian garbage collector and CGT union leader Karim Kerkoudi says he is determined: "Every day I get up at 04.45 to carry between six and 16 tonnes of rubbish. I have tendonitis in both elbows not to mention the pain in my lumbar vertebrae. The work has left its mark on my body.
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Faced with this anger, Emmanuel Macron asked on Sunday that the reform "can go to the end of its democratic path in the respect of all". But what happens next remains uncertain. Prime Minister Borne has announced plans to gather her ministers at a lunch at Matignon on Tuesday to show their support.
Two-thirds of French people (68%) say they feel anger after the use of 49.3, according to an Elabe poll for BFMTV.