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French government survives no-confidence vote (Updated)

By Emile Picy

France’s Socialist government survived a parliament no-confidence vote called by opposition conservatives on Thursday after it resorted to a controversial decree to bypass broad opposition to a flagship economic reform bill.

Some 234 lawmakers voted in favour of the motion, according to the official vote tally – well short of the 289 votes needed to secure an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament.

The challenge was made after Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday resorted to a little-used mechanism to push through a package of economically liberal reforms opposed by the left – a tactic widely denounced as anti-democratic.

However the outcome of the no-confidence vote came as little surprise after Socialist leaders said they would eject from the party any lawmaker who joined the censure motion. A Reuters reporter in parliament said no Socialist did so.

A no-confidence vote has only succeeded once in France’s 57-year-old Fifth Republic: in 1962, when it was used to oust the government of Georges Pompidou.

The stand-off highlighted tensions between President Francois Hollande and Valls on the centrist wing of the Socialist Party and rebels on the left, auguring battles ahead over other moves aimed at kickstarting the euro zone’s second largest economy and convincing EU partners France can reform.

In a speech just before the vote, Valls vowed to continue reforming “without wavering”.

The failure of the no-confidence vote means the package of economic reforms automatically pass their first reading in parliament and the government has the right to use the same decree to push them through subsequent readings.

They includes rule to expand Sunday trading hours and deregulate some sectors. While mild by the standards of many European countries, they sparked a revolt by dozens of backbench Socialist lawmakers.

Ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, now leader of the conservative UMP opposition party and biding his time for a new assault on the presidency in 2017, dismissed the package as a “tiny” effort that would have no impact on tackling unemployment rooted at around 10 percent.

Hollande has also pledged to enact further reforms to laws requiring small companies to create worker representation councils as soon as they employ 50 or more staff, and also wants to streamline industrial dispute arrangements.

Such plans are also likely to run into resistance from the left, and under the constitution the government can only use the so-called “49-3” decree on one bill per parliamentary session.


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