Recently, the French agenda has been shaken by the news of the budget bill and law 49.3. Following rhetoric about the likelihood of the law’s implementation being very high, Prime Minister of France Elisabeth Borne triggered the law on October 19, 2022. So, what is 49.3 and what does it mean for the President of France Emmanuel Macron?
Article 49, paragraph 3 of the French Constitution, known as “Le 49.3”, allows the government to unilaterally pass any bill on financial or social security issues through the National Assembly without voting. Of course, bills are first negotiated by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. After that, the Prime Minister can assume responsibility before the National Assembly and then unilaterally pass the bill through the Assembly, effectively ending the debate. The law was introduced in 1958. It was created to avoid political stalemates caused by frequent government changes.
So why was this law brought to the agenda? The issue was first raised during the presentation of the 2023 budget. Because the opposition appeared hesitant to accept the 45-billion-euro budget for 2023, which was presented to the Council of Ministers on September 26, 2022, by French Economy Minister Bruno le Maire. Because this plan increased public expenditures by 7.5 billion euros compared to 2021. Indeed, during the week-long examinations, the deputies made proposals for changes; however, no final decision has been reached. Borne stated on the last day of the examinations, October 19, 2022, “We need to give our country a budget” and closed the debate by referring to the law numbered 49.3.
Macron’s “Ensemble!” alliance gained 250 seats in the Parliament in the June 2022 elections. However, because he was unable to secure 289 seats, he is unable to pass the budget through the National Assembly without the support of opposition parties. Because it was clear that key members of the opposition parties would not approve this budget, Government Spokesperson Olivier Veran stated on 18 October 2022 that Borne could activate 49.3 in Parliament. Everything unfolded exactly as Veran predicted.
Referring to the law in question, Borne said, “The text I present to you today is not the same as the budget presented at the beginning. Following the debates of the last few days the bill was amended, even corrected, in the committee.” Even before referring to 49.3, the French Prime Minister agreed to nearly a hundred amendments proposed by the opposition.
So why is the law so important and what are its risks?
The law is extremely risky for a government that lacks a majority or Assembly partners. Because the only way to prevent the bill from passing is to overthrow the government. When the Prime Minister enacts this law, MPs have twenty-four hours to table a motion of no confidence. This can lead to the rejection of the budget and the government being overthrown. The next move in this scenario is to dissolve the Assembly and hold early elections. However, if the motion does not get enough votes, the government will win its gamble, and the budget will be approved and sent to the Senate.
At this point, the question of whether Macron will be ousted from power by this vote is being debated. It should be noted that no French government has ever lost power as a result of 49.3. This is quite important. Because the law has been used many times since it was first enacted.
On the other hand, when Macron’s presidency is analyzed and Marine Le Pen’s rise in the last elections is considered, it can be argued that Macron’s power hangs by a thread. Because, during his presidency, Macron faced events such as the yellow vest protests, the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukraine War, the energy crisis, and inflationary pressure. He is worn out. The ongoing strikes of energy workers throughout the country make the situation much more complicated.
Also, the increase in inflation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increased support for these protests. Macron called on the strikers to return to work; however, the protesters, who claimed that their issues had not been resolved, continued their demonstrations. Furthermore, the protests spread to other sectors, and a large protest was held in Paris on October 18, 2022.
Additionally, in a survey published by Ifop in Le Journal du Dimanche, 82% of respondents said they thought Macron was not doing enough to cope with rising consumer prices. In other words, Macron’s reputation is deteriorating. The Paris administration felt obligated to confirm its authority in some way and wanted to do so with an economic tool: the 2023 budget.
On the other hand, Les Républicains, one of the conservative parties, and Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right, announced that they would not attempt to overthrow the government. Therefore, the first part of the budget divided into four will enter into force. But the 49.3 debate is not completely closed. There is a possibility that Borne would re-trigger 49.3 if other parts of the text do not pass the Assembly. This indicates that the issue will continue to be on France’s agenda for a while.
Because 49.3 was triggered, the criticism towards the Macron administration will increase. Because the opposition sees the activation of the contested law as limiting a possible democratic debate. Macron’s government, on the other hand, cannot be expected to be overthrown for this reason. But the use of this law has cast a shadow on the sincerity of the rhetoric of “democratic” France. Therefore, resorting to 49.3 again could be political suicide for France. In other words, although the law did not remove Macron from power, it will have a serious impact on Macron through the opposition and the public. As a result, opposition to Macron is likely to grow in the future.
 “France: How Does Article 49.3 Allow a Bill to be Passed without a Vote?”, Le Monde, https://www.lemonde.fr/en/france/article/2022/10/19/france-how-does-article-49-3-allow-a-bill-to-be-passed-without-a-vote_6001019_7.html, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).
 “France’s article 49.3 a Handy Constitutional Tool to bypass Parliament”, RFI, https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20221013-france-s-article-49-3-a-handy-constitutional-tool-to-bypass-parliament, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).
 “France Raises 2023 Bond Issue to 270 Billion Euros”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/france-raises-2023-bond-issuance-270-bln-euros-2022-09-26 /, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).
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 “Budget 2023. Maintenant que le 49.3 est activé par le gouvernement, que va-t-il se passer?”, Ouest France, https://www.ouest-france.fr/politique/gouvernement/maintenant-que-le-49-3-est-active-par-le-gouvernement-que-va-t-il-se-passer-on-fait-le-point-e1485158-4f89-11ed-9919-8fbf073b2344, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).
 “France Faces Massive National Strike on Tuesday”, AC, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/france-faces-massive-national-strike-on-tuesday/2713711, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).
 “Pour 82% des Français, le gouvernement n’agit pas assez contre l’inflation”, Le Journal du Dimanche”, https://www.lejdd.fr/Politique/sondage-pour-82-des-francais-le-gouvernement-nagit-pas-assez-contre-linflation-4141036, (Date of Accession: 20.10.2022).
 “France: How Does Article 49.3…”, op. cit.