The French government is to use special constitutional powers to force through its 2023 budget without a parliamentary vote, sparking accusations of “authoritarianism” from the opposition and underlining President Emmanuel Macron’s weakened domestic position since his centrist grouping lost its absolute majority in elections last spring.
“It is our responsibility to make sure our country has a budget”, the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, told parliament as she put an end to several days of heated debate over the government’s pro-business budget, which ministers said would protect people from the cost of living crisis while avoiding tax increases.
The leftwing opposition bloc in parliament announced it would call for a no-confidence motion in the government, something seen as largely symbolic and having little chance of passing.
The standoff was the first real parliamentary headache for Macron since France was plunged into an unprecedented form of political deadlock in June’s parliament elections.
Only weeks after Macron was re-elected for a second term in April, beating the far-right Marine Le Pen, his centrist grouping lost its absolute majority in parliament, falling about 40 seats short of the number required to pass laws.
Le Pen’s National Rally is now the biggest single opposition party in parliament, while the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Unbowed is the biggest leftwing party in a broad coalition known as the Nupes, which includes the Socialists and Greens. Along with the rightwing Les Républicains, all opposition groups had announced as early as this summer that they would not vote for the budget, leaving what Macron’s party said was no choice but to use a rare form of constitutional decree to push it through.
National Rally said it too would propose a vote of no-confidence to try to force the government’s resignation. “The government is lost and doesn’t know where it’s taking the country,” said the MP Jean-Philippe Tanguy. But the no-confidence vote is also highly unlikely to pass, because Les Républicains have said they would not join an attempt to bring Macron’s administration down.
Mathilde Panot, of France Unbowed, said: “Macronism is becoming a form of authoritarianism.”
Politicians from Macron’s centrist grouping have for days argued that the government has no choice but to use special powers to pass the budget because all opposition parties have engaged in deliberate obstruction. The prime minister insisted that holding several days of parliamentary debate on the budget had been worthwhile and had resulted in “dialogue” that could improve the bill.
But cracks had appeared even within Macron’s centrist grouping over recent days. Jean-Paul Mattei, a lawmaker from the centrist MoDem party, which is allied with Macron, tabled an amendment to introduce a flat tax on corporate “super-dividends” paid out by industrial and energy giants who he said had made huge profits during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The government dismissed this as unfair as it would penalise French people over those who made profits abroad, and said it went against Macron’s pro-business agenda and promise not to raise taxes. But 19 lawmakers from Macron’s party still voted for it. The amendment will not be taken up by the government.
Resorting to the unpopular constitutional decree known as article 49.3 risks exposing Macron to claims of running roughshod over parliament despite his repeated promises to create a more inclusive form of governance.
It also sets the stage for a difficult battle over Macron’s intended pensions overhaul, which would push back the retirement age to 64 or 65. He has said he wants to move fast to introduce pensions changes, but opposition parties are positioned for another parliamentary standoff.