After the dispute over how the French government should proceed with the pension reform, it survived the opposition’s no-confidence motions more narrowly than expected. Although the necessary absolute majority of 287 votes was not achieved, only nine votes were missing.

In the first of the two votes, 278 deputies voted no confidence in the center government, in the second, which the right-wing nationals had brought in, there were 94 deputies. The ailing government under President Emmanuel Macron has been saved for the time being, but has to cope with a severe blow. The controversial gradual increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64 has officially been decided with the vote.

Currently, the retirement age in France is 62 years. In fact, retirement begins later on average: those who have not paid in long enough to receive a full pension work longer. At the age of 67 there is then a pension without a deduction, regardless of the payment period – the government wants to keep this, even if the number of payment years required for a full pension is to increase more quickly. She wants to increase the monthly minimum pension to around 1,200 euros. With the reform, the government wants to close an impending gap in the pension fund.

Without a vote by the National Assembly

After weeks of heated debates, strikes and protests, the tone on the home stretch of reform sharpened noticeably last week. On Thursday, the two chambers of parliament should finally vote on the reform. The Senate approved the project. However, the green light from the National Assembly, in which the government has not had an absolute majority since the parliamentary elections in June, seemed uncertain until recently. The government therefore decided at the last minute to suppress the reform with a special article in the constitution without a vote by the National Assembly. Both the right-wing nationalists and the center group Liot, together with the leftists, then submitted a motion of no confidence.

In order to avoid deadlocks on important issues, the government in France can bring projects on a very limited scale without a vote by the National Assembly. Senate approval is still required. The government can access the special article on budgetary issues – as is now the case with pension reform. In addition, she may only use the funds once per parliamentary year.

Failed vote narrower than expected

While the pension reform seems to have been saved with the failed vote, the government is suffering another setback with the vote. Observers had expected a less close outcome. The fact that the government had to resort to the special article in the dispute over the reform was already an admission of weakness.

President Macron is likely to make a symbolic new start as soon as possible – probably with a refreshed government force. For days there has been speculation about the future of Prime Minister Borne, who fought for reform at the forefront and whose search for a compromise, which she has repeatedly emphasized, ultimately failed miserably. But the personality is complicated. Borne is only the second female prime minister in France. Her predecessor Édith Cresson was in office for just eleven months in the 1990s. If Borne went now, she would undercut that. Macron, who likes to portray himself as an advocate of equality, should try to avoid this. It is rumored that Borne will remain at her post at least until the beginning of April.

Can Macron appease the angry people?

But even with new faces in the cabinet, Macron would have to ask himself personally how he wants and can continue. With the pension reform, he has drawn the frustration of hundreds of thousands of French people, which has been vented in the past few days in spontaneous and sometimes violent protests. The unions want to continue to mobilize, and further strikes and protests are planned for Thursday. It is expected that Macron, who has so far acted more in the background in the debate, will now take the floor. But it is unclear how he intends to calm the angry mood of the majority of French people who are opposed to the reform. Betting on resignation to follow anger in a few weeks could be risky.

For the opposition, the last word in the dispute has not yet been spoken. Left and right-wing nationalists want to call the Constitutional Council on Tuesday. They also want to try to bring down the reform with a referendum initiated by parliament.