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French government survives no-confidence votes over pension bill

Far-left MPs protest against the bill (Lewis Joly/AP)
Far-left MPs protest against the bill (Lewis Joly/AP)

The French government has survived two no-confidence votes in the lower chamber of parliament, proposed by MPs who objected to its push to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

National Assembly MPs rejected both motions on Monday, one from the far-right National Rally and the other, more threatening one, from a small centrist group that gathered support across the left.

The first motion, by the centrists, garnered 278 votes, falling short of the 287 needed to pass.

The far-right initiative won just 94 votes.

With the failure of both votes on Monday, the pension bill is considered adopted.

The tight result in the first vote led some MPs to immediately call for prime minister Elisabeth Borne to resign.

“Only nine votes are missing to bring both the government down and its reform down,” hard-left MP Mathilde Panot said. “The government is already dead in the eyes of the French, it doesn’t have any legitimacy any more.”

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said her group would file a request for the Constitutional Council to examine the bill on Tuesday and possibly censure it.

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Rubbish piles up on a street in Paris (Thomas Padilla/AP)

The no-confidence motions were filed by MPs furious that President Emmanuel Macron ordered the use of special constitutional powers to force through an unpopular bill raising the retirement age without giving them a vote.

The Senate, dominated by conservatives who back the retirement plan, approved the legislation last week.

The no-confidence motions needed the backing of half the seats in the National Assembly to pass. Mr Macron’s centrist alliance has more seats than any other group in the lower chamber.

The head of The Republicans, Olivier Marleix, said his group would not vote in favour of the motions.

“We acknowledge the need for a reform to save our pension system and defend retirees’ purchasing power,” he said during the debate on Monday.

A minority of conservative MPs strayed from the party line and voted in favour of the first motion.

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Police surround protesters in Paris on Sunday (Lewis Joly/AP)

Centrist MP Charles de Courson, who with his group introduced the motion supported by the left, deplored the government’s decision to use a special constitutional power to skirt a vote on the pension bill last week.

“How can we accept such contempt for parliament? How can we accept such conditions to examine a text which will have lasting effects on the lives of millions of our fellow citizens?” he said.

Laure Lavalette, of the far-right National Rally party, said “no matter what the outcome is, you have failed to convince the French.”

The tensions in the political arena have been echoed on the streets, marked by intermittent protests and strikes in various sectors, from transport to energy and sanitation workers.

Rubbish in Paris is piling ever higher and reeking of rotting food on the 15th day of a strike by collectors. The three main incinerators serving the French capital have been mostly blocked, as has a rubbish sorting centre northwest of Paris.

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People protest against the retirement bill in Paris on Monday (Lewis Joly/AP)

On Monday, hundreds of mainly young protesters gathered by Les Invalides, the final resting place of Napoleon, to demonstrate against pension reform.

Some rubbish bins were set on fire in the early evening, but the protest was otherwise calm.

Protesters listened to the proceedings in the National Assembly through a channel broadcast on loudspeaker from a union van.

“The goal is to support the workers on strike in Paris to put pressure on this government that wants to pass this unjust, brutal and useless and ineffective law,” said Kamel Brahmi, of the CGT union, speaking to workers at the Romainville sorting plant.

Some refineries that supply petrol stations also are at least partially blocked, and transport minister Clement Beaune said on France-Info radio that he would take action if necessary to ensure that fuel still gets out.

Unions, demanding that the government simply withdraw the retirement bill, have called for new nationwide protests on Thursday.