Pensions: referendum, motion of censure… the weapons of the opposition against 49.3

The suspense was nipped in the bud shortly before 3 p.m. by several leaks in the press. Elisabeth Borne activated this Thursday, March 16 at the start of the session in the National Assembly article 49.3 of the Constitution to adopt the pension reform without a vote. The version of the text, validated the day before in a joint joint committee, notably acts on the shift in the starting age from 62 to 64 years old.

However, “nothing is over”, said Mathilde Panot, the leader of the LFI deputies in the National Assembly after the intervention – in the parliamentary chaos – of the Prime Minister. The deputies of the left are not the only ones to be reassembled against what they consider as a “passage in force” of the government. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally did not fail to evoke “an acknowledgment of failure” for the majority. On the right too, some deputies like Pierre-Henri Dumont (LR) do not have words harsh enough to criticize this new use of 49.3 by the Prime Minister. Beyond the demonstrations in the street, what are the tools now available to the opposition to fight the reform?

Read alsoPensions: the answers to your questions about the reform

Bertrand Pancher, the boss of the Liberties, Independents and Territories (LIOT) deputies, issued an ultimatum to the government before tabling a motion of censure, demanding “the resignation” of the executive as well as “the immediate withdrawal” of the pension reform . “Without a quick response, our group will table a cross-partisan motion of censure in the next few hours,” he threatened. Their motion could garner the most votes from the opposition to the government. Indeed, Marine Le Pen let it be known a few minutes after Elisabeth Borne’s announcement that her group was going to file a motion of censure and that it was going to vote for all the motions of censure filed. A motion tabled by the LIOT group could crystallize the opposition. Indeed, the Nupes has always refused to vote on a motion filed by the RN.

This is the response of the groups of the National Assembly to the use of 49.3 since it is enshrined in this same article of the Constitution and allows, if there is a vote of censure, to bring down the government. To be admissible and thus be put to the vote, it must be “signed by at least one tenth of the members of the National Assembly”, specifies the text. Moreover, its vote can only take place “48 hours after its deposit” and unlike an ordinary vote, “only the votes in favor of the motion of censure are counted”. Every hour counts for oppositions, which only have 24 hours to file. The deadline, set by the President of the National Assembly is 3:20 p.m. this Friday.

To succeed, a motion of censure must be voted by an absolute majority of deputies, which corresponds to 289. With the few elections invalidated by the Constitutional Council, the absolute majority is now established at 287, pending partial legislative elections. In the event of adoption of this motion, the text of the law passed with the use of 49.3 falls at the same time as the government.

The motion of censure has been tabled ten times by the Nupes, i.e. during all the uses of 49.3 by the government since the establishment of the XVIth legislature last July. She failed every time.

“We do not want to add chaos to chaos, for his part, said Eric Ciotti, the president of the Republicans. This is why we will not join any motion of censure and that we will not vote for any motion of censure. We will never participate in a coalition of extremes,” he said after a meeting of the LR group in the Assembly.

In the history of the Fifth Republic, the motion of censure succeeded only once: in 1962. Except that at the time, Charles de Gaulle found the solution by refusing the resignation presented by Georges Pompidou and by pronouncing the dissolution of the National Assembly. A month later, the Gaullist party won the legislative elections. A real gamble.

  • Referral to the Constitutional Council

This is one of the options brandished by Mathilde Panot in this particularly turbulent afternoon at the Palais Bourbon and supported by several deputies from Nupes. It makes it possible to suspend the deadline for the promulgation of the law, as stated in article 61 of the Constitution. The members of the council then have one month to decide on the referral, which must be filed by at least 60 parliamentarians. If the government wishes, it can ask the body headed by Laurent Fabius to decide urgently and to decide in eight days maximum.

It is a weapon which could be particularly effective since according to The worldthe Council of State warned the government about its choice to use an amending article of the 2023 Social Security budget to pass texts that do not only concern its financing for the 2023 financial year. These articles, such as the senior index or the collection of Agirc-Arrco contributions can thus be seen as “riders” and be censored by the Constitutional Council according to the organization.

“There is an appeal (to the Constitutional Council) on the form and on the substance since there is a whole series of budgetary riders”, declared the deputy Charles de Courson at the microphone of BFM-TV on March 14. “Everyone knows the senior index will fall because it has nothing to do with pension reform,” he said.

  • The shared initiative referendum (RIP)

It is the least known weapon and the most novel since it has never been able to be deposited. And yet, it was also mentioned by Mathilde Panot at the end of the Prime Minister’s speech.

Coming into force in January 2015 following the 2008 constitutional revision, the RIP allows a bill to be put to referendum. But before being submitted to the vote of the citizens, the RIP must be validated by the Constitutional Council. Among the conditions examined by the Elders, the text must relate to a reform relating to economic, social or environmental policy. The government’s reform project ticks this box well.

Once its conformity has been certified, it must be signed by a fifth of parliamentarians, supported by a tenth of the electorate, ie around 4.7 million people. This last step is the longest since the collection of support is carried out for nine months by the Ministry of the Interior via the dedicated site.

The Constitutional Council then verifies the number of signatures obtained and finally, if Parliament does not examine this proposal within the following six months, the President of the Republic must call a referendum.

This measure has been requested for a long time by several elected officials opposed to this reform such as Marine Le Pen, François Ruffin (LFI) or Fabien Roussel. The leader of the French Communist Party has also declared that the opponents of the reform were going to “impose a referendum” on the government.