France’s Macron mulls using referendums to break political deadlock

French President Emmanuel Macron has told his government he’s considering referendums to pass legislation to break the political deadlock caused by the country’s hung parliament. 

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Macron told cabinet members he would hold talks with all rival political leaders next week with a view to drawing up “draft legislation and also referendums,” several sources told French press agency AFP on condition of anonymity.

The 45-year-old centrist leader said in early August that he was planning to announce a “major political initiative” after the summer holidays.

In an interview with Le Point political weekly published on Wednesday, the French leader expanded on his theme – while also underling his aim to reduce immigration “significantly”.

“The referendum is always one option among those which can be used and I fully intend to have recourse to it,” he told the magazine.

Obligation to obtain results

“Have we been submerged by immigration? No. It’s false to say that. That said, the situation that we know is not tenable and we must significantly reduce immigration, starting with illegal immigration. We have an obligation to (obtain) a result,” Macron said.

A protester holds a placard reading “France in anger” during a demonstration after the government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using the article 49.3 of the constitution, in Paris on March 28, 2023. – France faces another day of strikes and protests nearly two weeks after the president bypassed parliament to pass a pensions overhaul that is sparking turmoil in the country, with unions vowing no let-up in mass protests to get the government to back down. The day of action is the tenth such mobilisation since protests started in mid-January against the law, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. AFP – JULIEN DE ROSA

The government has succeeded in negotiating some new laws with the support of opposition parties, but Macron’s flagship pension reform earlier this year had to be rammed through using emergency executive powers – outraging many voters.

Macron, who likes to claim reforming France is part of his political DNA, is desperate to reboost his second and final term in office, which has been bogged down following his failure to secure a majority in parliamentary elections in June 2022.

Rumours about referendums have cropped up several times during his six years in office, notably after the so-called “Yellow Vest” anti-government protests in 2018-2019 when Macron proposed to reduce the number of national lawmakers.

Under France’s fifth republic, which began in 1958, the president is able to call national referendums, but the power has been used only nine times since then.

It was last invoked in 2005 for a referendum on a new European constitution, which the government of then-president Jacques Chirac lost in a shock setback.

National referendums in France since 1958 (5th Republic)

28 September 1958 Constitution of the 5th Republic: Yes

8 January 1961 Autonomy for Algeria: Yes

8 April 1962 Evian accords (leading to Algeria’s full independence): Yes

28 October 1962 Universal suffrage in Presidential elections: Yes

27 April 1969 Reform of the Senate and regionalisation: No

23 April 1972 EU enlargement (UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway to join): Yes

6 November 1988 Autonomy for New Caledonia: Yes

20 September 2992 Maastricht treaty: Yes

24 September 2000 reduction from seven to five years for a presidential term: Yes

29 May 2005 Treaty for a EU Constition: No

Lack of support  

Talks next week will see Macron convene all the leaders of opposition political parties, including Marine Le Pen from the far-right National Rally – with whom the president has previously refused to negotiate.

The government’s immediate priorities include passing legislation to tackle illegal immigration and crime.

Faced with a large deficit and pressure from international ratings agencies, the government is expected to face severe difficulties in securing a majority for its 2023/24 budget. It has promised to take what are likely to be unpopular steps to balance the books including tax rises and cuts to public spending.

“There is no question, it’s not at all part of the philosophy of the government, to increase taxes for consumers,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Wednesday during an interview with radio station France Bleu.

The ability to call referendums is one of many tools at the disposal of France’s all-powerful president, but they are considered politically risky because voters and opposition parties can use the opportunity to rebuke the government.

As a last resort, Macron is also able to dissolve parliament and call new elections, but analysts suggest he is unlikely to do this given the weakness and divisions among his allies and the relative strength of Le Pen’s far-right movement.

(with newswires) France’s Macron mulls using referendums to break political deadlock

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