What Is Article 49.3 of the French Constitution?

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

The measure is perfectly legal and has been enshrined in the Constitution since its inception in 1958, part of several institutional tools that Charles de Gaulle, then leader of France, insisted on to control the parliamentary instability of the Fourth Republic of France and give the stronger executive control.

But over the last decade, Article 49.3 has been increasingly seen as an anti-democratic tool, used by the government to impose a heavy hand on legislators.

If the government activates article 49.3, the bill is approved without a vote. But there is a cost: opposition lawmakers have 24 hours to file a motion of no confidence against the government. At least a tenth of the legislators in the lower house have to support the motion for it to reach the plenary session. Lawmakers vote on that motion in the days that follow.

To be successful, a vote of no confidence must obtain an absolute majority of votes, more than half the total number of legislators elected to the lower house.

A successful vote of no confidence overthrows the government, that is, the prime minister and cabinet, but not the president, and the bill is rejected. If the motion of censure fails, the bill stands.

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

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

Macron also leaked a threat to dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections if his government were toppled, and some lawmakers who won hard-fought races do not want to return to the polls. Still, Macron’s opponents are particularly furious about the pension bill, and could garner more support for a vote of no confidence than before.

The Macron government successfully used Article 49.3 several times in the fall to pass budget bills. But union leaders and other opponents warned that using it on the much more controversial and consequential pensions bill would further inflame tensions and anger protesters who have marched and gone on strike in France for the past two months. .

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

The government can use Article 49.3 only once per legislative session in a regular bill, but as many times as it wants in a budget bill, which is how the government decided to present pension revisions.