French government braces for confidence vote

France`s Socialist government was braced Thursday for a parliamentary vote of confidence over its economic reforms that could in theory bring it down.

AFP| Updated: Feb 19, 2015, 16:31 PM IST

Paris: France`s Socialist government was braced Thursday for a parliamentary vote of confidence over its economic reforms that could in theory bring it down.

Analysts believe the government is highly likely to survive the vote, despite a significant rebellion from Socialist MPs angry at the country`s pro-business direction.

The confidence motion was sparked when Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday employed a rarely-used constitutional device to force through a key package of reforms without a parliamentary vote. 

He said the reforms would have passed but the rebellion from within his own Socialist party made it too close to call.

The reforms extend Sunday shopping and open up key parts of the French economy to competition.

The government says they are vital to "unblock" the eurozone`s second-biggest economy, which is suffering from chronically high unemployment and sluggish growth.

They are also seen as crucial in Brussels, where the EU has urged France to reform in order to bring down its ballooning budget deficit, which is far above European limits.

Despite their anger over the reforms, the left-wing rump of the Socialist Party have said they will not go so far as bringing down the government by backing the no-confidence motion.

In a speech preceding the vote, Valls will stress his "determination to carry on with the reforms," according to his entourage.

On Wednesday, he condemned the "conservatism, irresponsibility and childishness" of those who oppose the bill.

The reforms will give the struggling French economy "a fresh lease of life," Valls said.The opposition UMP party has seized on the government`s need to force the bill through parliament -- the first time the constitutional device has been used since 2006 -- slamming Valls as weak and unable to carry his majority.

The head of the conservative UMP, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, said it was "the consequence of the repeated lies" of current President Francois Hollande.

The reforms are the brainchild of the youthful and energetic banker-turned-economy minister Emmanuel Macron, and have proved divisive from the beginning.

One of the key planks of the reform allows shops in certain tourist zones -- notably the Champs Elysees in Paris -- to open every Sunday of the year.

This was a bid to ensure Paris retains its status as the world`s most visited city but it irked the capital`s mayor, who has opposed the measures.

Another element of the reforms is to open up to competition previously closed sectors of the economy such as the legal profession.

Notarial lawyers, who set a fixed fee for their services regardless of the size of the job, will be able to charge clients more or less for certain projects, opening up the sector to competition.

But this reform also ran into significant opposition and prompted the unusual sight of these white-collar workers downing tools and hitting the streets in protest.

The vote of confidence was due to take place at 6:00pm local time (1700 GMT), preceded by a debate in the lower house of parliament.

If the government survives the vote, which is highly likely, the reforms are considered passed without a vote.