Month: March 2023

Michel Debré (1912-1996) and Article 49.3

Michel Debré (1912-1996) and Article 49.3

Natacha Polony, in an editorial in Marianne, began her criticism of Macron by quoting Michel Debré, who was responsible for guiding the constitution of the Fifth Republic into its final form.  A long-time associate of De Gaulle, he then became his first prime minister when 

Macron’s Word Salad

Macron’s Word Salad

The retirement bill in France, passed by Article 49-3 of the constitution, has become the law.  LIOT’s motion of censure, put forward on Monday, March 20, failed by nine votes.  It is not true, as Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne suggested, that the censure was a 

Charles de Courson and the Censure

Charles de Courson and the Censure

Charles de Courson, age 70, has been a member of the National Assembly since 1993, representing a district in the Marne department. He is an expert in finance, and serves on that Committee. From 1986 to 2017, he was mayor of Vanault-les-Dames (current population 417)[1], before he was forced to give up his office because of the “non-cumul des mandats” law passed by François Hollande’s administration–meaning that one should not hold too many of a certain kind of elected position. (It’s complicated.). He regrets the loss of the “deputy-mayor”, and thinks that life in the National Assembly is not what it used to be in 1993; it was at that time “full of ‘important’ political men who had experience and convictions. At that time, no extremists or almost none.” He blames the change on the fact that the nationally famous men were at that time also likely to be mayors, or regional or municipal councilors, and “possessed a true territorial anchorage.” He is not the only one to regret the law, and he might well be right in blaming the lack of local responsibilities for the loud, media-driven performances of many in the Assembly.[2]

But since the beginning of the debate on retirement, he has been in demand by the media for his staunch opposition to the bill that was just forced through. Thus we know of him that his full name is Charles Amédée du Buisson de Courson, leading Socialist Olivier Faure to tweet that “the nobility is joining the Third Estate”:

We have learned in recent days that both his grandfather and father were in government. His grandfather, representative of Doubs, refused in 1940 to vote to give Marshal Pétain full power and died, ultimately, in a concentration camp; his father was in the Resistance. We have learned that he is referred to as the soldat-moine (soldier monk) for his austere and courteous manner, his precise dress, and his unmarried state–his mistress, he has said, is la France. In other words, he is known without being well-known–until now. With his political caucus, or groupe, LIOT, he will on March 20 introduce and defend a motion of censure against the government, and if it passes, Elisabeth Borne and her cabinet will have to resign.

LIOT stands for Libertés, Indépendants, Outre-Mer, (overseas), Territoire). It consists of twenty members who do not have much in common (except, on this occasion, an opposition to the retirement bill), described rather haphazardly by Ouest-France as the disillusioned of a number of parties, including Marcheurs (from Macron’s old party name, La République en Marche), “three Corsicans,” and five from France’s overseas departments and territories.[3]. One must have at least fifteen members to create a caucus (groupe) and there are many incentives to do it. A caucus gets an office, is on the Bureau of the National Assembly (in this, as in everything, proportional to its size). The president of the groupe is entitled to join the small Conférence des présidents, which determines the issues to be taken up in session (l’ordre du jour). Caucuses have proportional representation on permanent committees, special committees, and committees of inquiry. Finally, according to constitutional revisions of 2009 and 2014, each caucus of the opposition and minority groups are entitled to one commission of inquiry, or investigation, on a subject of their choosing, with the group constructed proportionally.[4]

In the current situation, the small size of LIOT allows for its resolution to be a “transparty” affair. No one is threatened by LIOT, and though Courson has remained cagey about who is going to join them, he has suggested that he has been talking to a great many deputies. Mathilde Panot, head of La France Insoumise caucus (74) has announced that they will support LIOT’s motion of censure, but will not support that of the Rassemblement national. Fabian Roussel, the Secretary General of the Parti Communist Français (PCF) and a part of the Gauche démocrate et républicain caucus (22), has announced his personal support.[5]

Some have suggested that Courson’s own position is not so clear; his statement on the matter in his 2022 election was appropriately ambiguous: “An overall retirement reform should be engaged, with the extinction of ‘special regimes,’ including those of parlementaires, to go towards a single regime for all workers, in the public as well as the private sector, for equity and justice among all workers.”[6]. Further, at the last presidential election he had supported Valérie Pécresse (LR) who had said that she wanted to move the age of retirement to 65.[7]

But in this case, he was more concerned about the use of 49-3, in a situation where there were massive protests in the streets and Borne did not have the votes in the National Assembly. When she made this announcement, he said, none of the members of the two allied groups, the MoDems and Horizons, applauded. They were in fact angry, because they had gone to the Élysée to plead with Macron not to use 49-3, “saying that this would have very great consequences.” The use of the measure had fractured, “fragilized,” the governing coalition. And beyond that, their democracy itself: “We’re in the process of ruining the democratic system.” Courson refused to predict whether his motion of censure would pass, but noted that there was also recourse to the Conseil constitutional.[8]


Header Image by

[1] Not too small for Airbnb:

[2] Gérard Delenclos, “Charles de Courson: la politique, cent heures par semaine et sept jours sur sept,” Reflets Actuels, March 17, 2023. (Reims)

[3] Yves-Marie Robin, “Charles de Courson, l’homme de la motion de censure,” Ouest-France, March 19, 2023.  

[4] Information retrievable on the home page of the Assemblée nationale.

[5] Gauthier Delomez, “Réforme des retraites: qui sont les députés Liot qui veulent déposer une motion de censure transpartisane?” Europe 1, March 16, 2023.

[6] Agathe Rey, “Retraites: qui est Charles de Courson, le député qui veut faire tomber le gouvernement?”, CNews, March 18, 2023.

[7] “Qui est Charles de Courson, député à la manoeuvre pour censurer le gouvernement?” Charente Libre, March 19, 2023.

[8] “Retraites: ‘C’est inadmissible d’utiliser un 49.3 et de mettre le feu au pays,’ estime Charles de Courson,” franceinfo, March 17, 2023.

Retirement: The News in France, I

Retirement: The News in France, I

Much of the newspaper coverage since the forced passage of the retirement bill has concerned the demonstrations, tear gas, and violence.  But there have also been thoughtful pieces about the future of the government of Elisabeth Borne (not hopeful) and concerns about Macron’s next four 

Reflections on Macron’s use of 49-3

Reflections on Macron’s use of 49-3

By the time the National Assembly was called to order on March 16, 2023, the deputies knew that the government was going to use Article 49-3 to declare that the government would assume the responsibility for passing the retirement bill–meaning that they would declare it 

Updated: Retirement Reform and 49-3

Updated: Retirement Reform and 49-3

The woman in the red scarf is Mathilde Panot, head of the France Insoumise caucus in the National Assembly:

The young man in a tricolor sash is Louis Boyard of LFI, at the age of 21 the youngest member of the National Assembly:

The orange and yellow vests and signs are from the CGT union., and both deputies were at  the picket line of the garbage collectors, as the National Assembly was preparing to vote on the retirement bill.  The Senate passed the bill this morning.

So what comes next?  Le Monde reports that President Macron on Thursday March 15 from 8:30 p.m. on met with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, Olivier Dussopt, Minister of Labor, and Franck Riester, who manages relations with the Parliament.  According to Le Monde, they realized they did not have the votes, according to “a participant at the meeting.”  It was a matter, apparently, of two or three votes missing from Horizons and MoDem, the two allies of Macron’s Renaissance.[1].

But this count also, apparently, depends upon at least 40 votes from Les Républicains (LRs), and she doesn’t have them, with 22 out of the 61 threatening to vote no or to abstain.[2] 

According to Le Figaro and Le Monde, and after a final meeting of the Conseil des Ministres, on March 16, Elisabeth Borne will use article 49-3 to pass the bill.  That means that she will announce at the beginning of the session that the bill is passed.  Marine Le Pen has already announced that she will introduce a motion of censure which–if passed–will force the government to resign.  

This post will be updated.

Elisabeth Borne has now announced that she cannot take the “risk” that the “necessary reform” will not pass; thus she is using 49-3 to declare that it is passed.


Header Image:

[1] Claire Gatinois and Ivanne Trippenbach, “Retraites Emmanuel Macron fait pression pour trouver une majorité après un conclave à l’Élysée,” Le Monde, March 16, 2023.

2]  Marie-Pierre Bourgeois, “Retraites: La “tecnique de drague pas fine” du gouvernement pour séduire les députés LR hésitants,” BFMTV. March 14, 2023.

Retirement Reform: a Pyrrhic victory for Macron?

Retirement Reform: a Pyrrhic victory for Macron?

Paris is filling up with trash because the garbage workers are on strike; the media is featuring photos of epic piles, some garnished with rats. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has not intervened because she opposes the retirement bill before the Parliament, which is the cause of 

Turmoil within EELV

Turmoil within EELV

In November, 2021, Julien Bayou, the national secretary of EELV (Europe-Écologie-Les Verts) and eventually the co-chair of his caucus in the National Assembly, ended his relationship with his companion of several years.[1] According to Le Monde, rumors of “violence” circulated within the party. The first 

Pierre Bérégovoy, 1925-1993

Pierre Bérégovoy, 1925-1993

Pierre Bérégovoy was President François Mitterand’s Prime Minister from April 1992 to March 1993. He had been a party activist for decades, and was present at the Congrès d’Épinay in 1971, when Mitterrand brought together the different elements of the Left to found the current Socialist Party. After Mitterand’s election in 1981, Bérégovoy had served in many positions in his two seven-year terms, including the direction of his second campaign, in 1988, culminating in his appointment as prime minister. His most important assignment as Prime Minister was to secure a majority in the Legislative elections in 1993; instead the Socialists  suffered an historic defeat. Bérégovoy won his own election, in the Nièvre department, but he immediately resigned as prime minister.

He also served, as many deputies did at that time, as a mayor. His city was Nevers, a town of about 26,000 in central France. He came to Nevers on the morning of April 30, 1993, and spent the rest of the day in meetings on employment, agriculture, a new hospital.  In the late afternoon he invited some local officials for drinks on the terrace of a restaurant on the banks of the Loire River.  “We should do this more often,” he said, as they departed.  He had dinner with his family.  The next day was May 1, 1993, or May Day.  He told his driver to pick him up for the festivities at 10:30 am.[1]

There are two things that everyone in France knows about Pierre Bérégovoy. 

First, he was a worker–not just a workers’ son, but an actual worker himself, who had to leave school at 16 in 1941 in the midst of war.  He became a cheminot, or railway worker, and as such was a part of the famous Résistance of the rails, in the dangerous role of passing messages about cargos, troop movements, and timetables.  After the war he obtained a position in the Gaz de France company, where he received managerial training; aside from that, he had no further education after leaving high school, and biographies generally refer to him as an autodidact.  His passion was politics, and his union membership and local activism, with endless nights in smoke-filled rooms, arguing over policy and strategy, carried him into the Socialist Party and into the dizzying heights of power.

Bérégovoy’s father, Adrien, was a Ukrainian soldier in the Tsar’s army who had fled, penniless, to refuge in France.  He got work in a factory. He married his landlady’s daughter.  Dominique Labarrière, who has written about Bérégovoy, compares his father to the writer Annie Ernaux’s father in A Man’s Place–a working class man who dreamed of property and independence which came in the form of a small grocery/café that catered to the poor and ran on credit.  Ernaux’s mother ran the store and her father took a job in a nearby factory to keep them–to keep the store–afloat.  Both worked constantly.  Bérégovoy’s parents had two grocery/cafés, interrupted by a failed attempt at farming, both run by his mother Irène, who cooked some 30 lunches every day while his father held a factory job.  For a time, Bérégovoy had to live with his grandmother because his parents could not support him. L’Homme de la Rive, which includes an assemblage of family photos and documents, has several pictures of Adrien. In one, he is standing proudly in front of the aged and broken wooden door of the old building that housed his grocery; in another, Adrien is standing, his face serious, beside his seated wife on their wedding day. She is in her simple bridal gown; she has a hint of a smile.

The other thing that everyone knows about Bérégovoy is that he committed suicide on May 1, 1993, in his home district of Nevers, only two months after his departure from office.  He had asked his guard and chauffeur to stop the car and let him walk for awhile in the woods. He shot himself in the head with his bodyguard’s handgun, which he had managed to take from the car.  He survived for a few hours, and died in the helicopter taking him to Paris.

Why did he do it?  There were a number of answers put forward.  He was depressed about the elections.  He had resigned as prime minister, thus implicitly taking all of the blame for the loss.  A friend in Nevers, interviewed after his death, stated that he had seemed disappointed by the poor turnout for May Day in Nevers[2]–not a reason, of course, but perhaps an additional indication, to him, of failure.  He had been accused by Le Canard enchaîné, a rather odious “satirical” weekly, of corruption: in 1986 he had received an interest-free loan of 1 million francs, or 150,000 euros, from an old friend (of his, and of Mitterand’s), Roger-Patrice Pelat, for the purchase of a residence in Paris, obviously not a lavish one.  Pelat later became implicated in an insider trading scandal.  Bérégovoy was not in ministerial office at the time of the loan, nor likely to be (the most recent legislative elections had returned a conservative majority, and Jacques Chirac was Mitterand’s prime minister).  Moreover, the loan was a matter of public record, having been filed with a notary and in the court records–but it was a blunder, and a big one; and there would likely have been an investigation, in the press if nowhere else, that would have subjected him to further scrutiny.[3]

Labarrière wishes for him more insouciance, a more strategic use of his working class background rather than shame and feelings of inadequacy.  And why did the family change the spelling of its name to a French version, and why did he maintain that?  Why not leave a modified  Ukrainian form of his name and have around himself the aura of an émigré past, a never-expressed but never-denied hint of high birth in imperial Russia?  And, when asked by a rude interviewer what qualifications he had to be Minister of the Economy, why did he become defensive?  Visibly upset, he had responded, “If I were an énarque (graduate of the ENA) would you ask me that question?”  Said Labarrière, “It’s all in tone and attitude.  Accompanied by a smile, a spark of malice, this response would have been a winning blow.  Tense as it was, defensive and not gaily impertinent, it appeared as an acknowledgement of weakness,” as “the inferiority complex that he had always dragged with him.”[4]

Of course there were conspiracy theories, rumors that some had heard a second shot, his missing daily planner which would have shown his appointments, perhaps with the assassin.  None of these came to anything.  The current assumption is that he was depressed at a series of perceived losses, depressed at the unlikelihood that he would ever be able to regain his stature and reputation, a more enhanced version of the imposter syndrome he had always carried with him–and pulled the trigger.


Header Image: By Amalricc – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

[1] Information from Dominique Labarrière, La Mort de Pierre Bérégovoy (Paris: La Table ronde, 2013), pp. 19-23. The population for Nevers is from INSEE.

[2], News report of his suicide.

[3] Labarrière, La Mort, pp. 68-72.

[4] Labarrière, La Mort, p. 59.

See also Jules Roda, Philippe Roc, Pierre Bérégovoy: L’Homme de la Rive (Rouen: Éditions 319, 2005).

Ukraine and the Left: Olivier Besancenot

Ukraine and the Left: Olivier Besancenot

The 2002 presidential election in France saw the first appearance of Olivier Besancenot, a 27-year-old mailman and a member of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist League), the French section of the Fourth International.  The party described itself as Trotskyist.  The LCR party meeting in