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France forces through controversial economic reforms

AFP / Martin Bureau I French Prime Minister Manuel Valls

France's Socialist government on Tuesday forced a package of controversial economic reforms through parliament without a vote for the second time, sparking a walk-out from the opposition and a vote of no-confidence.


The reform package, known as the “Macron Law” after its chief architect Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, has provoked ire from a number of MPs from the left flank of the ruling Socialist Party, who have been threatening to join the conservative opposition in voting it down.

But Prime Minister Manual Valls ensured the government would be spared any potential for embarrassing defeat by invoking a little-used constitutional device, known as Constitutional Article 49-3, to push through the law without MPs voting, a tactic he had already used to force through an earlier draft of the legislation in February.

"The country needs reform. The country needs to move forward," Valls said in rowdy scenes in the National Assembly lower house of parliament.

The right-wing opposition party, Les Républicains, accused Valls of a "contempt for democracy" and pointedly left the chamber when he announced the move to force the laws through.

Christian Jacob, the parliamentary head of the party, said the assembly "had been humiliated" by a "ban on debate".

Motion of no-confidence

Valls's use of the constitutional device sparked a motion of no-confidence in the government which could in theory bring it down, but analysts say the vote -- which will take place on Thursday -- has little or no chance of being passed.

When Valls invoked Article 49-3 in February, only 234 mainly opposition MPs voted to bring down the government, far short of the number required.

The proposed legislation aims to liberalise certain sections of the notoriously highly protected French economy, including making it easier to lay-off employees and allowing more shops to open on Sunday, and is seen by President François Hollande’s government as vital in revitalising the country’s economy.

The package is also seen as crucial in Brussels, where the EU has urged France to reform in order to bring down its ballooning budget deficit, which is far above European limits.

Valls said the legislation was "essential for our country, for our economy and we cannot allow ourselves to fail".

The Prime Minister denied he had forced through the package because of fears that it would be voted down, but instead because he wanted to bring an end to parliamentary debate that has already spanned some 437 hours during which 2,000 amendments have been added.

“I know that we must move quickly, that we must accelerate the pace of reform because this bill supports employment, because it will restore purchasing power, because it is a bill of progress,” he said Tuesday.

President Hollande had earlier Tuesday called for the reforms to be definitively adopted before Bastille Day on July 14.

"We need this text for more jobs and growth," he stressed.

Socialist critics

But the proposals have proved highly divisive from the beginning and a group of between 30 and 40 MPs on the left flank of the Socialist Party had vowed to vote against the package of laws, seeing it as too right-wing.

One of the top rebels in the Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon, said there was "no majority for this social and economic policy", describing it as a "demand from Brussels".

Another chief critic from within the Socialist Party, Christian Paul, told French television channel LCI that Valls’s actions had “departed from the left and put François Hollande’s re-election in 2017 in danger".

However, the leader of the powerful MEDEF business lobby, Pierre Gattaz, welcomed the government's decision to push it through without a vote.

"I support this... if it allows us to go in the right direction," Gattaz told reporters.

Macron also rubbished claims the decision to force through the law was undemocratic.

“Is it democratic to keep procrastinating?” Macron said. “There is a moment when you have to act.”

The Economy Minister added that he expects to implement the reforms within a year after the law passes.


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