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PARIS — Emmanuel Macron’s government survived a no-confidence vote in the French parliament Monday, after it pushed through a deeply unpopular pensions overhaul without a vote last week, sparking outrage and spontaneous protests across the country.
In a high-stakes vote in France’s lower house of parliament, 278 MPs, mostly from the left and the far right, voted in favor of a cross-party motion of no confidence, falling short of the 287 votes needed to topple the government. A second motion, backed only by the far-right National Rally, is not expected to garner enough votes.
Speaking ahead of the votes, the centrist MP Charles de Courson, one of the authors of the cross-party motion, accused Macron’s government of lacking “courage” during the parliamentary debates.
“You could have submitted [your reform] to a vote, and you probably would have lost it, but that’s the game when you are in a democracy,” he told MPs.
The leader of Macron’s Renaissance parliamentary group Aurore Bergé lashed out at accusations the government had failed to seek compromises with MPs and accused opposition parties of working against the common good.
“When people speak of a grand coalition, it should be so that people work together for the good of the country. It’s the opposite that you are offering us… you want to bring our country to a halt, in our institutions and… in the street,” she said.
The motions of no confidence were proposed last week after Macron authorized the use of a controversial constitutional maneuver on Thursday to bypass a vote in parliament on his pensions reform bill. The French president wants to raise the legal age of retirement to 64 from 62, in an effort to balance the accounts of France’s indebted state pension system and to bring France’s retirement age in line with other European countries such as Spain and Germany where it ranges from 65 to 67 years old.
The no-confidence motion was voted on in the National Assembly as industrial action disrupted flights, public transport, waste collection and refineries ahead of a nationwide day of protests on Thursday. Trade union leaders hope for a show of force against the government and have also warned that social unrest risks spiraling after several protests in Paris turned violent in recent days.
“I send this alert to the president, he has to withdraw the bill before there’s a disaster. [Our protests] have been very controlled since the beginning, but the temptation of violence, of radicalization … is there,” said CFDT trade union leader Laurent Berger on Sunday.
While the government has survived efforts to topple it, speculation is now running high that Macron will want to replace his beleaguered Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in a government reshuffle aimed at refreshing his image. According to a IFOP-JDD poll published on Sunday, Macron’s popularity rating fell by 4 points in one month to 28 percent.
Monday’s no-confidence motions were widely seen as unlikely to pass because the French National Assembly has been deeply divided since parliamentary elections last year. While Macron’s Renaissance party has lost its absolute majority, opposition parties backing the no-confidence motion failed to get enough votes because most MPs from the conservatives Les Républicains refused to support it.
However, Les Républicains have exposed their internal divisions and weakened leadership during the process as several MPs ignored the party line and voted in favor of one of the motions.
On Monday, one of the leading rebels, conservative MP Aurélien Pradié said voting in favor of the motion of no-confidence was needed to “emerge from the chaos.”
“The Macron club has not understood what is going on. And if we need to jolt them with a motion of no-confidence, I will back it and lend my voice to the people who feel disdained,” he told Europe 1 radio on Monday.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of MPs who voted in favor of a cross-party motion of no confidence.