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Monday, March 27, 2023

What Is Article 49.3 of the French Constitution?

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Article 49.3 of the French Constitution enables a government to push a bill through the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament, without a vote.

The move is perfectly legal, and it has been enshrined in the Constitution since its inception in 1958 — part of several institutional tools that Charles de Gaulle, then France’s leader, insisted upon in order to reign in the parliamentary instability of France’s Fourth Republic and give the executive stronger control.

But over the past decade, Article 49.3 has increasingly been seen as an undemocratic tool, used by the government to strong-arm lawmakers.

If the government activates Article 49.3, the bill is pushed through without a vote. But there is a cost: Opposition lawmakers then have 24 hours to file a no-confidence motion against the government. At least one-tenth of lawmakers in the lower house have to support the motion for it to go to the floor. Lawmakers vote on that motion in the days that follow.

To succeed, a no-confidence motion must get an absolute majority of votes — more than half of the total number of lawmakers elected to the lower house.

A successful no-confidence motion topples the government — meaning the prime minister and the cabinet, but not the president — and the bill is rejected. If the no-confidence motion fails, the bill stands.

It is exceedingly rare for no-confidence motions to succeed in France, and those that the opponents of the pension bill will file within the next 24 hours are not expected to be any different.

While President Emmanuel Macron’s left-wing and far-right opponents will gladly sign on to a no-confidence motion, many mainstream conservative lawmakers — even those who opposed the pension bill — are reluctant to topple the government.

Mr. Macron has also leaked the threat of dissolving the National Assembly and calling new elections if his government was toppled, and some lawmakers who won tight races do not want to go back to the ballot box. Still, Mr. Macron’s opponents are particularly furious over the pension bill, and they could get more support for a no-confidence motion than they could have before.

Mr. Macron’s government successfully used Article 49.3 multiple times in the fall to pass budget bills. But labor union leaders and other opponents have warned that using it on the pension bill — a far more controversial and consequential piece of legislation — would further inflame tensions and anger protesters who have marched and gone on strike around France over the past two months.

The article, after Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne used it on Thursday, has now been used 100 times since 1958. Michel Rocard, a Socialist prime minister under President François Mitterrand, used it 28 times, the most to date.

The government can use Article 49.3 once only per legislative session on a regular bill, but as many times as it likes on a budget bill — which is how the government decided to file the pension overhauls.

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