Borne was booed after using a constitutional provision to force the 2023 budget through parliament without a vote

Paris (AFP) - President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Wednesday sought to ram its 2023 budget through parliament without a vote after battling in vain to get it approved by the fractured lower house of parliament.

The administration is trying to lift the country out of an economic squeeze that has sparked industrial action and street protests.

But following weeks of disruption from strikes at oil refineries and fuel depots that have caused shortages at petrol pumps, the government waited until after Tuesday’s broader strike action and demonstrations before unveiling the controversial measure.

The walkouts have been just one of the challenges facing Macron in his second term in office.

The loss of his overall majority in June legislative polls meant he could not get enough deputies to approve the package.

“We need to give our country a budget,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told lawmakers as she announced the use of clause 49.3 of the French constitution.

Under the clause, a law can be passed automatically unless the opposition passes its own vote of no confidence in the government.

“Every opposition party has confirmed their intention to reject the text,” but “the French are expecting… action and results from us,” she said, to boos from the opposition and applause from supporters.

Deputies from the left-wing NUPES alliance began leaving the chamber before Borne had finished speaking.

After promising an open debate, Macron’s camp in recent days suffered a series of defeats over the first of thousands of proposed amendments to its fiscal plans for next year.

- ‘Anti-democratic brutality’ -

Opposition lawmakers on Wednesday accused the government of wasting their time.

“Macronism has become a form of authoritarianism,” leading France Unbowed (LFI) deputy Mathilde Panot told reporters following Borne’s announcement.

“Parliament’s work has been swept away in a few hours,” said Greens representative Cyrielle Chatelain.

Both of them were among 151 NUPES lawmakers to sign a no-confidence motion against the government.

The administration faces economic problems that have sparked industrial action and street protests

Such an “act of anti-democratic brutality… leads us to demand the censure of the government,” it read.

On the far right, the National Rally (RN) plans to file a no-confidence motion of its own on Thursday.

But with both the hard left and far-right unwilling to back each other’s motions, neither is likely to reach the required 289 votes.

Macron has already increased the pressure on deputies by vowing to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections if a no-confidence vote succeeds.

The leader of the conservative Republicans group Olivier Marleix, asked if he could back either of the motions, said it would be “useless to pile chaos on top of chaos”.

- ‘Live with it’ -

After the election setback this summer that cost Macron’s party his parliamentary majority, he and his ministers have promised to be more open to dialogue with the opposition and civil society than during his first five years as president.

But they have rejected allegations from lawmakers that the use of article 49.3 means abandoning those efforts.

The article means “the government has the ability to force the adoption of a bill when in fact the opposition can live with it”, Francois Bayrou, leader of the Democratic Movement party allied to Macron, told broadcaster France Inter.

With the passage of the budget all but assured, lawmakers had been left wondering which of their hard-fought amendments might be left in, with the choice entirely up to ministers.

Borne said that “around 100” modifications, including some from the opposition, would be left in.

The budget “has been fed, complemented, amended, even corrected following the debates of recent days,” she told MPs.

One senior lawmaker told AFP that the changes, including tax breaks for childcare and for very small businesses, would cost up to 800 million euros ($782 million).

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has nevertheless warned Borne that he would not back changes that would blow holes in the budget, another person present at their Monday meeting said.