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France

French govt faces no confidence vote, but party rebels could be the real threat

© Bertrand Langlois / AFP | Demonstrators raise their fist as they protest against the government's planned labour reforms on May 12, 2016 in Marseille, southern France.

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2016-05-12

France’s increasingly beleaguered Socialist government faces a vote of no confidence Thursday over its decision to force through controversial labour reforms, a day after party members narrowly failed to trigger a no confidence vote of their own.

Already deeply unpopular, François Hollande’s administration is set to face one of its most challenging days in government yet as anger over the highly contested labour reforms reaches boiling point both inside and outside parliament.

As MPs vote on keeping the government in power Thursday afternoon, unions and student groups are planning fresh demonstrations against the reform package on the streets of Paris and other major French cities. It will be the latest in months of protests against the bill, many of which have turned violent.

Rebellion

The no confidence vote is backed by the main opposition party, Les Républicains (formerly the UMP). But despite the fact that many MPs on the left and the extreme right also oppose the labour reforms and the government’s bypassing of parliament to get them made into law, they have said they will refuse to join forces with the centre-right party.

Govt faces no confidence vote over controversial reform

This should ensure the government survives Thursday’s vote. But what is likely to be more troubling for the ruling Socialists is the outright rebellion within their own ranks.

On Wednesday, a group of left-wing and Green MPs, including 28 rebel Socialists, attempted to trigger a no confidence vote of their own. They came just two MPs short of the 58 needed to bring the no confidence motion before parliament.

The Socialists frondeurs (rebels), as they are known in France, are a mix of back-benchers as well as more heavyweight MPs, including former ministers Aurélie Filippetti and Benoît Hamon. Cécile Duflot, a Green party member who served as education minister until April 2014, was also among the failed motion’s signatories.

The labour reforms at the heart of the discontent are, according to the government, necessary to give employers more flexibility and make a dent in the country’s stubbornly high unemployment rates.

While those on the right claim the reforms do not go far enough, they are fiercely contested by unionists, students and left-wing MPs who argue they will hand too much power to businesses, eroding job security and workers’ rights.

However, it is Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s decision to bypass parliament that has caused the most anger and triggered the attempts to bring down the government.

Facing the prospect of the Socialist Party’s own MPs voting down the bill in the National Assembly, Valls has instead decided to invoke a rarely use clause in France’s constitution, known as Article 49-3, that allows for reform by decree.

The government had “trampled” on the rights of parliament in forcing through the bill, the 56 left and Green MPs said in the text accompanying the failed no confidence motion. “The use by a leftist government of Article 49-3 of the Constitution … is a political act of the utmost gravity," they said.

‘Self-destructive’

The rebellion has widened already substantial fault lines between the left wing of the Socialist Party and its increasingly centrist leadership.

Party secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadélis tweeted Tuesday that the rebels had “crossed the line” in seeking a no confidence vote. Christophe Caresche, the Socialist MP representing Paris and a supporter of the labour reforms, said part of the party was “falling into systemic radical opposition”, a strategy he told French television was “self-destructive” and “going nowhere”.

On the other side of the battle lines, the rebels say it is not them but the leadership that has betrayed the party.

“I believe that the fight I’m carrying today is aligned with what have always historically been the position and the values of the Socialist Party,” Fanélie Carrey-Conte, one of the Socialist MPs to back the call for a no confidence vote, told FRANCE 24.

The government’s problems, she suggested, were not down to the rebel MPs, but the fact they are trying to force through a deeply unpopular bill.

“For several months now there has been a mobilisation in the country taking several forms against a bill that is considered by many citizens as a bill that is extremely dangerous for their rights,” she said.

“If it was just a problem with the ‘rebels’ the government wouldn’t need to use Article 49-3 [to turn the bill into law]," she added.

Date created : 2016-05-12

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