Macron Bypasses Parliament Vote on Budget With Maligned Tool

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(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron is bypassing parliament votes to push ahead with his plans to cut debt, boost green and defense spending, and secure access to billions of euros of European funds, using the same constitutional tool that stoked demonstrations when he used it to raise the retirement age earlier this year.

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Article 49.3 of the French constitution allows the government to force through legislation without a parliamentary vote, at the risk of facing a no-confidence motion. When it was used in March to raise the retirement age, it sparked violence at some protests and elicited accusations that Macron was circumventing democracy.

Macron’s minority government resorted to it again late on Wednesday to advance its 2024 budget bill and mid-term fiscal plans to the next stage after it failed to win support of opposition lawmakers.

“This is just the beginning of two months of parliamentary guerrilla warfare over state spending,” Mujtaba Rahman, Europe managing director at Eurasia Group, wrote in a note on Thursday. Pushing through the budget without a vote “will cause an outcry in parliament but will, in our view, not raise the same kind of popular and street anger which followed the use of 49.3 to steamroll pension reform through a divided parliament in March.”

Macron plans to raise investment in the green transition by €7 billion ($7.4 billion) next year to stay on course to meet climate goals, while also withdrawing support for inflation-hit households to bring the country’s debt and deficit down in line with European rules. But he remains hamstrung in his ability to pass laws by the lack of an outright majority. While current rules only allow Article 49.3 to be used one time per parliamentary session for most bills, it can be used as often as needed for budget bills.

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Budget Minister Thomas Cazenave said on Thursday the government will likely need to use Article 49.3 approximately 10 more times to pass all of the stages needed for the 2024 budget process. Conventionally, opposition lawmakers in France never vote in favor of government budget bills.

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“We’ve noted that the opposition parties don’t want to vote for the budget,” he told LCI television. “My responsibility is to provide the country with a budget before the end of the year.”

He added that France would miss out on €18 billion of Covid recovery funds from the European Union if it failed to provide Brussels with a multi-year fiscal plan.

A group of left-wing parties in the National Assembly has filed a no-confidence motion in response to the latest use of Article 49.3. A vote on that motion is likely next week, though it isn’t expected to pass.

Elisabeth Borne has now used Article 49.3 a dozen times. That remains well short of the 28 times it was used under Michel Rocard when he was prime minister from 1988 to 1991.

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