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49.3, French politics' imperfect number

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49.3, French politics' imperfect number

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Politics, it is often said, is about compromise. But for the French government at the moment compromise on the contentious issue of labour reform is a resounding “Non”.

It has invoked Article 49.3 of the Constitution, allowing the government to bypass parliament which should result in the reform becoming law.

Normally, new bills proposed by the government and new private members bills must be approved by both chambers before becoming law.

The rarity of such action can be summed up by the fact the article has been used just 86 times since its inception in 1958.

But in fact the last time it was used was in February 2015 to push through a controversial economic reform plan.

“Because the country must move forward, the cabinet has authorised me to act on behalf of the government,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament of this latest move to implement 49.3. His declaration was met with a mixture of boos and cheers.

Valls was also gently trolled on Twitter by the official account of US TV series House of Cards, which posted a video of its fictional, machiavellian American president Frank Underwood laughing as the tweet told Valls “Democracy is so overrated”. Valls had the humour to reply.

The only way any bill brought in through article 49.3 can be stopped is by a vote of no-confidence. The translation from French in article 49 roughly says the prime minister may, after deliberation by the Council of Ministers, commit the government’s responsibility to the National Assembly on the passing of a bill.

In this case, the text shall be regarded as carried unless a motion of censure, tabled within the succeeding twenty-four hours, is passed. It has to be signed by at least one tenth of the members of the National Assembly.

In recent times, between May 1988 and May 1991 former Prime Minister Michel Rocard invoked article 49.3 28 times. Five confidence motions were filed by the opposition, rejected every time.

The controversy over 49.3 came on the back of the protests, sometimes violent, across France over the introduction of the labor reform.

With the focus switching to how the bill will become law, this is a recap on what the reform will mean for French workers:

The 35-hour week will remain in place, but as an average. Companies can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours.

Firms will be given greater freedom to reduce pay.

The law will ease conditions for laying off workers which is strongly regulated in France.

Employers will be given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are also heavily-regulated.

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