What to Expect From France’s No-Confidence Vote

By pushing through its plan to overhaul pensions and raise the national retirement age by two years to 64, the French government has exposed itself to no-confidence motions that could bring down President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet — an outcome not seen in half a century of French politics.

While predictions suggest that a no-confidence motion is unlikely to pass, recent statements from legislators who are seen as critical swing voters indicate that the outcome could be closer than expected. Here’s how today’s vote will unfold and what could happen next:

Two no-confidence motions have been filed. Debate is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in France (11 a.m. Eastern) in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, in which Mr. Macron’s Renaissance party does not hold a majority. Each motion requires a simple majority of 287 votes to pass. Voting is expected to take place immediately after the debate, with a result expected around 6 p.m.

The first motion, put forward by the far-right National Rally — the party of former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen — is not expected to receive much support beyond the party’s own ranks. The other, filed by a small group of independent lawmakers and backed by a broad alliance of opposition parties, poses the greater threat to Mr. Macron’s government.

The second motion is expected to be the first to be presented, followed by the motion supported by the National Rally. Representatives of each parliamentary group will then take the floor and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne will conclude the debate. A secret ballot will then be held, in the order in which the motions were presented.

The center-right Republican Party includes key swing voters. Some 260 lawmakers are expected to vote for the second motion, leaving it about 30 votes shy of a majority. Analysts say that many of those could be found from among the Republicans, who have 61 seats in the assembly.

The party, which once pushed a retirement age of 65, has been divided over the pension bill. Although its leadership has called for not supporting the no-confidence motion, several of its representatives said they would do so anyway. The outcome could therefore come down to a dozen or so votes.

“Everything depends on my Republican friends who opposed the bill,” Charles de Courson, the independent lawmaker who filed one of the motions, told France Inter radio Monday morning.

What happens after the vote? If the motion is rejected, the cabinet stays in office and the pension bill, including the increase to the retirement age, becomes law. More protests, however, will likely break out as demonstrators have vowed to keep up their fight if the bill passes.

But if the motion is adopted, Ms. Borne and the cabinet must resign and the bill is defeated. At that point, Mr. Macron could reappoint Ms. Borne or select a new prime minister.

Mr. Macron has left open a threat to dissolve the National Assembly if a no-confidence motion passes, which would lead to new parliamentary elections.

While opposition parties on the left and far right would welcome new elections, the Republicans, already debilitated, have little interest in returning to the ballot box and risking further losses.

Dissolving the National Assembly would also be a risky move for Mr. Macron. His party would probably lose more seats than it gains in new elections, given the current level of anger against the French president.

Only once since France’s Fifth Republic was established in 1958 has a government fallen in a no-confidence vote. That was in 1962, when lawmakers rejected a proposal to elect the president by universal suffrage. President Charles de Gaulle decided as a result to dissolve the National Assembly, and his supporters won an absolute majority in the following elections.

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