French government survives no-confidence vote over divisive labour reforms
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French Prime Minister Manuel Valls Thursday survived a no-confidence vote prompted by the hotly contested El Khomri labour reform.
With only 246 votes, the conservative opposition has failed to gather the minimum of 288 votes needed to bring down the government.
The contested labour reform – named after French Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, who proposed it – will now be debated at the Senate. Workers unions have already scheduled street protests and strikes for next week to reject the reform.
Already deeply unpopular, François Hollande’s administration faced one of its most challenging days in government yet. A day after party members narrowly failed to trigger a no-confidence vote of their own, anger over the highly contested labour reforms reached a boiling point both inside and outside parliament.
As MPs voted on keeping the government in power Thursday afternoon, unions and student groups staged 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.
The no-confidence vote was backed by the main opposition party, Les Républicains (formerly the UMP). Many MPs on the left and the extreme right also opposed the labour reforms and the government’s bypassing of parliament to get them made into law. Too few of them, however, joined forces with the centre-right party, allowing the government to survive Thursday’s vote.
But what is likely 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, had 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, but the project is fiercely contested by unionists, students and left-wing MPs who argue it will hand too much power to businesses.
However, it is Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s decision to bypass parliament that 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 instead decided to invoke a rarely used clause in France’s constitution, known as Article 49-3, which allows for reform by decree.
The government had “trampled” on the rights of parliament in forcing through the bill, the 56 leftist 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.
The rebellion has widened already substantial fault lines between the left wing of the Socialist Party and its increasingly centrist leadership.
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.
“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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)