Emmanuel Macron’s government has said it will push the 2023 budget through by resorting to a rarely used constitutional manoeuvre that overrides the need for a parliamentary vote, in a sign of the French president’s weaker political hand in his second term.
Government spokesperson Olivier Véran said on Tuesday that article 49.3 of the constitution would be triggered “probably tomorrow” depending on “how the debates evolve today”, adding that there was not enough time to examine the remaining 2,000 amendments while respecting the deadline for the budget.
The article allows the government to pass a draft law by decree and effectively ignore lawmakers, but it also permits the opposition to respond with a no-confidence motion.
“This tells us that Macron’s second term is going to be very difficult and that he will pass fewer reforms,” said Noëlle Lenoir, a constitutional law expert who has worked at France’s highest administrative court.
Use of the 49.3 manoeuvre to pass the budget reflects the loss of Macron’s majority after June’s legislative elections. His centrist alliance holds 251 seats in the national assembly — short of the threshold of 289 needed to pass laws — and faces stiff opposition from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and the leftwing Nupes coalition whose de facto leader is far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
That leaves only the Les Républicains (LR) open to negotiating with the government on certain topics, but the conservative party — which holds 62 seats — is not expected to vote for the budget since it would amount to rubber stamping the government’s agenda.
Lenoir said it was not a surprise that the government would use 49.3 since it did not have another way to pass the budget.
“This exposes the political reality that Macron has no majority and given the extremes in parliament, there is only one party to make deals with — the LR — if they don’t want to negotiate, then the text likely cannot pass,” she said.
The move comes at a delicate time for Macron, with labour unions holding a series of strikes as part of a call for higher wages to compensate for soaring inflation, including walkouts at oil refineries that have caused petrol shortages across the country. A strike organised by the hard-left CGT union on Tuesday caused disruption on transport systems, including railways, while about 6 per cent of teachers were not at work, according to government figures.
Le Pen’s National Rally and Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party have already said they will table no-confidence motions if the government uses article 49.3 on the budget. But since it is doubtful that either party will want to vote for the other’s motion, analysts have said it was unlikely that the government would fall.
Le Pen criticised the government for effectively ignoring the parliamentary debate on the budget since it alone would decide which amendments would be retained. “That is the real denial of the popular will as it is expressed in the national assembly,” she said.
The last time the 49.3 mechanism was used in France was in 2020. Macron’s first prime minister Édouard Philippe used to it to pass an unpopular reform of the pensions system that was later abandoned because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The president has again pledged to overhaul pensions in his second term with a draft law that would raise the retirement age to 64 or 65 and include other changes to encourage people to work longer.