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France’s hung Parliament passes EUR20B inflation package

PARIS (AFP) – France’s divided Parliament yesterday passed its first major piece of legislation since elections last month, greenlighting a EUR20-billion package to help low-income families struggling with inflation.

The vote in the early hours of the morning provided a boost for the centrist government of President Emmanuel Macron, which is 39 seats short of a majority and was desperate to show it could build consensus.

The so-called “emergency purchasing power bill” passed with 341 MPs in favour, 116 against and 21 abstentions in a vote that took place shortly before 6am (0400 GMT).

“Building majorities for projects to provide real solutions to the French people: we succeeded,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wrote on Twitter.

The legislation includes a range of measures designed to help consumers, such as extending fuel tax cuts, raising pensions and benefits, and capping rent increases.

It also gives the government powers to tackle a looming energy crisis caused by the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

One of the most controversial measures authorises the state to re-open a coal-fired power station in eastern France in the event of power shortages this winter.

“The return of coal is not good news,” admitted Maud Bregeon from Macron’s Republic on the Move party, defending it as a “temporary” response to “an exceptional situation”. French politics has been cast into an unusual period of instability following parliamentary elections last month that saw recently re-elected Macron lose his majority.

Elections last month delivered a hung Parliament, but most French people are happy with it, surveys show. PHOTO: AP

The government suffered its first defeat on July 12 when opposition parties voted down a proposal to give the government powers to demand travellers show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

The first fortnight of debates has been frequently bad-tempered, with one ruling MP suggesting the assembly had “an atmosphere like a football match”.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose RN party increased its number of seats 10-fold in the elections, has sought to portray her bloc of MPs as a responsible opposition force.

“We as RN members of parliament have clearly understood the message from the French people,” she said earlier this week. “They don’t want obstructionism, but constructive work.”

She took repeated potshots at Macron, who defeated her in presidential elections in April, saying he was a “prisoner in a palace who thinks he can still command everything”.

Although the cost-of-living bill passed with a wide majority, analysts said other pieces of planned legislation, such as pension reform, will be far more difficult to pass.

Another vote to authorise an emergency budget to fund the cost-of-living package will follow, with debates possibly this weekend.