October 19, 2022

French government set to overrule lawmakers in budget standoff

categories : government

Paris – The French government is poised to wield a rarely used constitutional weapon to force its budget through parliament, where opposition groups have stymied the text for weeks with rival amendments, officials said Tuesday.

The impasse underscores the weakened position of President Emmanuel Macron since his centrist party lost its majority in parliamentary elections last spring, just weeks after his own re-election.

Government spokesman Olivier Veran said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne would “probably” invoke article 49.3 of the constitution on Wednesday, which would end debate and pass the 2023 budget without a vote.

“For now, we will see how the debates progress” after several stormy sessions since last week, Veran told France 2 television.

If article 49.3 is used, hard-left and far-right opponents are expected to call for a no-confidence vote to force the government’s resignation.

That vote is highly unlikely to pass, however, since the conservative Republicans have already said they will not join a bid to bring Macron’s administration down.

But opponents from across the political spectrum have seized on the budget battle, forcing amendments such as a tax on corporate “super-dividends” and a new “exit tax” on people who move wealth out of France — which Macron abolished in his first term.

It is also setting up a bigger fight over Macron’s pensions overhaul that would push back the retirement age to 64 or 65, which he wants to enact in the coming months.

Resorting to article 49.3 would expose Macron to claims of running roughshod over parliament despite his vow last month for more inclusive governance and a “broad national consultation” on “crucial choices.”

His government seems aware of the risk, coming at a time of growing public discontent over soaring inflation.

“We need to give this debate a chance, all the more so because the French don’t really like the 49.3. These tools, like requisitions, should be used with caution,” Borne told lawmakers in Macron’s Renaissance party on Tuesday, according to one participant.

Last week, the government ordered striking refinery employees at TotalEnergies back to work at some fuel depots to ease the shortages causing huge waits at service stations across the country.

Veran said further such “requisitions” could come if the strike continues, though he declined to comment on workers’ demands for a 10 percent pay hike, saying “it’s not for the government to get involved in labour debates in a private company.”

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