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Did Emmanuel Macron’s reforms doom the French government?

Wemmanuel macron Losing his parliamentary majority in June 2022 legislative elections would always make his second term as French president harder. How much was revealed on March 16. Despite frantic last-minute efforts, his government has failed to secure the votes needed to pass pension reform through the normal parliamentary process. Instead, it activated Article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows it to force reforms without a vote — but risks sparking a political crisis.

Until the end, Mr Macron and his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, hoped to gather enough votes to pass their reforms, which would raise the legal minimum pension age from 62 to 64. Legislation has been delayed for months in an attempt to reach a cross-party compromise.Mr Macron will never convince NUPES, the left-wing coalition, or Marine Le Pen’s nationalist-populist right supports it. But in the end, even center-right Republicans did not vote, even though they themselves had raised France’s retirement age when they took office.

The use of clause 49.3 is unusual, but not unprecedented. It was used 28 times under Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who also led a minority government from 1988 to 1991. This clause allows the government to force legislation through at the cost of its own survival. Opposition parties now have 24 hours to table a motion of no confidence, which could bring down the government. Ms Le Pen has said she will. To pass, a no-confidence motion needs 289 votes out of 577.

Arithmetically speaking, the opposition has numbers. Success would repeal the pension reform, prompt Ms Borne’s resignation and possibly (though not automatically) force Mr Macron to dissolve parliament and call new parliamentary elections, less than a year before the current five-year term of the National Assembly.

However, given the hostile factions against Macron’s party, it may be difficult for any political group to support the other’s motion. Republican leader Eric Ciotti said he would neither take a position nor vote against the government. Others in his party may see it differently. Voting will take place over the next few days, most likely on March 20. The government could technically survive unless a cross-party motion gained support.

The trouble for Mr Macron is that, even then, it is politically damaged. Union leaders have threatened a new round of strikes and protests in the coming days. Uncollected garbage piles up on the streets of Paris. On the day Ms Born announced her decision to raucous lawmakers, throngs of demonstrators gathered in the capital, demanding that Mr Macron shelve the plan and bow to popular opinion. Opinion polls consistently show that the vast majority of French people are firmly opposed to raising the retirement age.

There is no good outcome to this mess. Mr Macron could replace his prime minister and try to find new momentum. But it will be difficult to bring order to the country in the short term, let alone continue his reform agenda. When voters last June refused to hand the re-elected president a parliamentary majority, some had hoped that this might help to bring about a more consensual political culture in France. So far it seems to have done the opposite.

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