Pension reform: what is article 44.3 on the “blocked vote”, the little-known little brother of 49.3?

Pension reform: what is article 44.3 on the “blocked vote”, the little-known little brother of 49.3?

The government excludes for the moment to resort to article 49.3 of the Constitution, which would allow it to pass in force to pass its reform.

A general view of the hemicycle during the opening of the debates on the pension reform, Monday February 17, 2020 at the National Assembly.  (DOMINIQUE BOUTIN / SPUTNIK / AFP)

It’s a little music which rises, which rises: what if the government had recourse to article 49.3 of the Constitution to have its pension reform adopted in the National Assembly? “This is not the option we want to consider”, declared on France Inter the new Minister of Health Olivier Véran, Thursday, February 20. No passage in force on the horizon, therefore, but the majority seems all the same annoyed by the mass of the 40,000 amendments tabled by the left opposition, mainly. “We are empowered to use all means to adopt this reform”, commented the Minister.

Among the tools at its disposal, the government could choose the “blocked vote” procedure, under article 44.3 of the Constitution. This text has already been used more than 250 times under the Fifth Republic. The Fillon government used it in 2010 in the Senate during a vote on pension reform. Three years later, the Ayrault government did the same, in the Assembly, still on the issue of pensions.

The text cannot be changed before the vote

The principle is simple: instead of voting for each article and each amendment of a law, the Assembly, at the request of the government, decides by a single vote on all or part of the text under discussion, retaining only the amendments proposed or accepted by the government ”. The deputies therefore vote en bloc for or against the entire text adopted at the stage chosen by the government.

“This article has a huge advantage over 49.3, because the government can rewrite the text that will be submitted to the blocked vote”, explains to franceinfo the constitutionalist Michel Lascombe. This procedure allows the executive to simplify the parliamentary stage, by rejecting amendments from the opposition and its majority. “The National Assembly then decides on the entire text or on the whole composed by the government” and in the latter case, the classic procedure is maintained for the rest of the text.

44.3 therefore allows the government to vote for the text of its choice, without putting its responsibility into play. On the other hand, it does not end the debates on the text and parliamentarians can therefore take the floor to express their opinions. “The text submitted to the vote cannot be modified, but it can be discussed, summarizes Michel Lascombe. Therefore, “The procedure does not save a lot of time” compared to the classic process of voting on a law, notes Michel Lascombe. Especially since the pension reform is already the subject of an accelerated procedure, which means that the text will only be read once in the Assembly, then in the Senate.

The risk of offending the majority

The continuation of the debates is also the main difference between 44.3 and 49.3. The latter has the immediate effect of stopping any discussion of the text. “From the moment the government takes responsibility for the text, elected officials no longer vote on the text, but on a motion of censure”, recalls Michel Lascombe.

In reality, the government mainly uses 44.3 when it “Comes up against the drafting of articles supported by the parliamentary majority, but which do not seem to him to be good”, continues the professor of constitutional law. The process is generally not appreciated by parliamentarians, including among the majorities, because it gives them the impression that their hand is being forced. “Maybe that simplifies things, but you risk ending up with a majority that is not united”, believes Michel Lascombe.

For the specialist, the likelihood of the government resorting to section 44.3 is greater in the Senate, where 49.3 cannot be applied. In this chamber, the blocked vote is then sometimes “The only way to speed things up”.