Whether or not to prolong the session, a strategic issue

That a majority be put in a minority during votes, especially by show of hands, is rather classic. On questions of procedure, on the other hand, it is more novel. Yesterday evening, the Assembly decided to adjourn the meeting against the will of the government. This is obviously the first time that this type of vote on an extension of the meeting – usually a mere formality – has resulted in a rejection.

The timing of the bill “strengthening the tools for managing the health crisis”, which provides for the introduction of the vaccination pass, had already been turned upside down even before its examination started. First scheduled for the Council of Ministers on January 5, its presentation was brought forward during the Christmas break, with a discussion in the Law Commission on December 29. The government’s objective is an application by January 15, which supposes (supposed?) An adoption by the end of the week and therefore a 1st reading in the Assembly completed in one day, this Monday, January 3.

The intention of the executive was known and had been validated implicitly by the Conference of Presidents in the morning: to go until the end of the night to finish the debates, if necessary. And it was necessary because at midnight, only 120 of the 630 amendments tabled had been studied.

We have already talked about it on the blog: the Rules clearly provide for the case where a session should be extended beyond midnight to finish examining a text: ” either on a proposal from the Conference of Presidents for a specific agenda, or on a proposal from the committee responsible, a group president or the Government to continue the debate in progress; in the latter case, it is consulted without debate by the President. »

As often in parliamentary law, the application can be more or less flexible, and we have observed different cases.

The most flexible is when there is a consensus (of the government and of each of the groups) to continue. This happens frequently and is integrated into the practice, to such an extent that we have already seen night sessions not continuing simply because a minority vetoed it. Halfway between flexibility and rigidity, we have also seen extensions without formal consultation; or votes without a formal request. The Monday evening session, for its part, resulted in strict application of the Rules. After a suspension of the session where she consulted the groups and noted the absence of consensus, the session chairperson Annie Genevard (LR) proceeds to a vote after a formal request from Olivier Véran.

The practice and latitude of the presiding officer depends above all on the agenda set by the Conference of Presidents. Either the text can continue the next day, and in this case the chairperson can gauge whether there is an interest in “pushing” beyond midnight and encouraging them to do so or not. Or – as yesterday – there is no other window for the continuation of the discussion and in this case, the agenda constrains him more.

In summary, the application to the letter of the Regulation in this matter is done all the more so as the situation is not consensual, or even downright conflictual.

The holding of the vote last night is therefore not a surprise. Its result, on the other hand, yes. After a long count, on a vote which was not strategic, the deputies of the majority found themselves in the minority, whereas they were largely in the majority a few hours earlier. The reason is simple: a strong mobilization in particular of the LR deputies.

Without waiting, the oppositions saw in it a Parliament which resumed its rights and an LREM group that was too little mobilized; the majority have denounced a coup, while caregivers have no other choice but to work at night. Nothing surprising, for a coup de theater of which the Assembly has the secret.

Immediate consequence: the Conference of Presidents had to reschedule the rest of the examination of the text. A complicated equation because we are in the control week, which cannot be “crushed” … the majority groups have therefore had to postpone their control sessions. For the Tuesday evening session and to avoid a second twist, the Conference has expressly planned to go beyond midnight; which will be done without a vote.

Be that as it may, the adjournment time on this sensitive subject took on a political character. In reality, it often has a strategic character, as when it allowed a majority to stop examining a text it did not want.