At first, it almost made her smile, this story of 49.3. Comedians joked about Elisabeth 1, Elisabeth 2, Elisabeth 3, etc. We remember, during a Christmas dinner for ministers, last December, she had received and put on a 49.3 jersey, and Matignon had narrowly avoided the publication of clichés on social networks. On ten occasions – before this Thursday, March 16, 2023 – the Prime Minister had been obliged to resort to this famous article of the Constitution.
When she arrived at Matignon, in the incredible conditions that we know, after legislative elections which had not achieved an absolute majority in the National Assembly, Elisabeth Borne thought she was counting on “a perimeter of reasonable people who allow move forward”: “I have no doubt that there are 290 deputies (i.e. the majority of a chamber which has 577 elected members) to vote for many measures. Michel Rocard, with a relative majority, created the RMI and the CSG”, she confided in June. This Thursday, at the start of her speech, she again quoted Michel Rocard, the record holder for all categories of 49.3 since the start of the Fifth Republic: “If everyone voted according to their conscience…”, had said the herald of the second left by regretting to resort to 49.3 to create the CSG; “If everyone voted according to their conscience…”, said this time the head of government, the text reforming pensions would also have passed.
Elisabeth Borne has a conviction which she wanted to make the mark of her method and which she thought would make the success of the pension reform, far from an article which allows the adoption of a text without a vote: dialogue is a step always necessary, always preferable. This is also the reason why she did not want the project to arrive quickly via a simple amendment to the PLFSS. “She deeply thinks that it is always useful to spend time discussing”, notes, almost to be surprised, a tenor of the majority.
“Objectively, we have a majority”
The day after a dinner at the Elysée devoted to pension reform, on December 8, the secretary general of Renaissance, Stéphane Séjourné, admitted: “For the moment, we do not have a political majority.” After weeks, months of discussions, sometimes controversial concessions, Elisabeth Borne believed she could convince a majority of parliamentarians. A few days ago, she listed all the good reasons not to resort to 49-3: dozens of deputies were just waiting for that, to escape their own responsibilities; neither she nor Emmanuel Macron wanted to be the only ones to assume, to carry the weight, the ball and chain, some would say, of this text. She refuted any idea of betting, it’s not the kind of house, she intended to put pressure since “objectively, we have a majority”.
The excitement of the last hours is the sign of an era that the intellectual and personal construction of Elisabeth Borne does not necessarily help to understand. The irrationality of the times won over to the Republicans, and it was then that the trap closed on the head of government. Since the CFDT had failed her, she had chosen Eric Ciotti’s party as her main interlocutor. As early as December, a parliamentary official had warned her during a meeting at Matignon: “Attention, LR is not a block.” A week ago, the president of the party also had a smile: “It means that she puts her head in my hands, you have to trust!” That the fate of the quinquennium – to magnify the line – is found in the hands of Eric Ciotti, it was not written. Except that we can no longer trust the so-called right of government, and which has not been in government for a while.
Here comes the moment of the motions of censure, followed, if one of them were voted, of the fall of the government and perhaps of a reference of the deputies in front of the voters. “Rationally people have no interest in dissolution, but not all behavior is rational”, observed Elisabeth Borne in a small committee in the fall. Rationally, there is not an alternative majority in the current Assembly, arithmetically there is not a sufficient number for a motion of censure to be adopted, whoever the author, even if his name is Charles de Courson.
But the words of the latter, thirty years of centrism on the clock, must resonate curiously in the ears of Elisabeth Borne. The deputy insists these days that we are facing “a denial of democracy” and, as soon as he knew of the use of 49.3, spoke of “contempted social democracy”.
The ghost of Edith Cresson
Crazy day, crazy time. The presidential election gave Emmanuel Macron a legitimacy that was immediately challenged. How to believe then that the legislative elections which followed, because they had a preposterous result, were going to reinforce the legitimacy of the Parliament? These days, we rather hear opponents calling for “street democracy” – and it is from this shock that comes the political violence provoked by the use of 49.3.
“With you”, said Emmanuel Macron in his 2022 campaign poster. The 49.3 of the day marks the defeat in the open countryside of another method of government. In front of certain interlocutors, Elisabeth Borne repeated again recently that she considered having a fixed-term contract. The one who quoted Michel Rocard sees the ghost of Edith Cresson, who remained less than a year at Matignon, reappear.