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France: What Happens if Parliament Blocks Pension Reform

February 7, 2023
By Antonio Barroso

As the National Assembly (AN) starts discussing President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform plans this week, several MPs from pro-Macron parties and the center-right The Republicans (LR) have suggested they might not support it. In the coming weeks, the government will likely try to amend its proposals to convince the skeptical deputies. Short of a parliamentary majority, Macron might resort once more to article 49.3 of the French constitution to force through the policy changes.

The plan's unpopularity is affecting the willingness of MPs to support it. As explained previously, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne had softened an initial version of the draft bill following the demands of LR leader Eric Ciotti to get the party on board. However, strong public opposition to the policy changes, as shown by different opinion polls, has led several LR MPs to declare that they might vote against them.

The government currently enjoys the backing of 250 pro-Macron MPs in the 577-seat AN, meaning that it needs the support of an additional 39 deputies to pass the measures. Since LR has 62 deputies, the reform might still be approved even if some center-right MPs defect from the party line. But the growing skepticism towards the policy changes means such an outcome is not a given. While many MPs have not declared how they will vote, several media outlets estimate the vote is too close to call. Even some deputies from pro-Macron parties have said that they will not support the reform in its current form, adding more uncertainty to the calculations.

To appease these MPs, the government might accept changes to the draft bill, for instance, concerning long careers, the employment of senior citizens, or the right of early retirement for women who have fulfilled all their quarterly contributions. However, the high degree of mobilization in the streets against the reform – two more days of national protests are planned for 7 and 11 February – elevates the risk that several deputies might still vote against the government. The next signpost to watch is the start of the plenary debates on 6 February. Since Borne has opted to implement the reform via an amendment to the social security budget, the approval process in the case of an affirmative vote should be finalized by 26 March.

Macron's Options

If it becomes clear that the government lacks a majority, Macron has three options. The first is to dissolve the AN, but a pro-Macron majority would be far from certain in the next parliament, especially given the unpopularity of pension reform. The second option is to implement the policy changes via executive decrees, as article 47.1 (the legal basis used to amend the social security budget) allows for such a course of action. However, it is unlikely that Macron would impose a reform completely overriding parliament.

The third and most probable option would be to force the reform through parliament using article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows a bill to be adopted without a vote unless a no confidence motion against the government is approved. In such a scenario, it is unlikely that LR deputies would vote against the government, as an early election might lead them to lose several seats.

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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