For the second consecutive evening, the National Assembly suspended the debates planned on the bill transforming the health pass into a vaccination pass, Wednesday January 5 at around 2 a.m. The decision was taken after the words of Emmanuel Macron, in The Parisian, on the unvaccinated. In this interview, broadcast Tuesday evening, the President of the Republic accentuated his resolutely offensive tone with regard to the “Very small minority which is refractory” vaccination against Covid-19. “Me, I’m not for pissing off the French (…). Well, there, the unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so we will continue to do so, until the end. That’s the strategy “, he blurted out.
The opposition groups, which asked for a first suspension of the session shortly after midnight, demanded the arrival of the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, to explain the statements of the Head of State. In vain. “The conditions for peaceful work are not met”, then declared the chairman of the session, Marc Le Fur (Les Républicains, LR), suspending the debates.
The team of parliamentary collaborators and authors of the articles published on the blog of the World “The Kitchens of the Assembly” were the guests of our chat before the resumption at 3 pm of the debates in public session in the National Assembly and questions to the government in the Senate. Brice Lacourieux (member of a parliamentary group) Maxime Torrente (parliamentary collaborator of a deputy LR), Clemence Lisambert (parliamentary collaborator of a LRM deputy) and Sixtine Aumont (parliamentary collaborator of socialist deputies) answered questions from readers of the World on the balance of power in the Assembly, the rules surrounding the debates, the role of the chairman and those concerning the agenda of the discussions.
Alex MP: Why are Assembly debates suspended each time? How do opposition members manage to hinder democratic debate when they are in the minority?
Maxime Torrente: The debates are suspended to allow the representatives of the groups and the session chairman to negotiate among themselves the progress of the session. Debate can be hampered by the opposition, but the opposition can rarely hamper debate entirely. The only time this has happened previously is with the constitutional revision project in 2018 (we had at the time devoted a blog post to this blockage) and, each time, it is necessary that a fact of sufficiently serious news to allow this obstacle.
The deputies can slow down or block a text by the use of points of order and recurring suspensions of sessions, but the rules of the Assembly have been reformed to limit these abuses of procedure and the government still has the tools to overcome these obstacles (blocked vote, 49.3, etc.).
ThePirat: Does the Prime Minister have to appear before the Assembly if asked to do so?
Brice Lacourieux: No, the government is free to send the representative of its choice.
Parliamentary fandelademocratie: Are we talking about the possibility of a 49.3 in the corridors of the Assembly to put an end to these debates which make the government uncomfortable and threaten its very busy legislative calendar?
Sixtine Aumont: Indeed, the rumor circulates in the corridors! The decision rests with the Prime Minister and would make it possible to stop the debates in the Assembly by forcing the adoption of the text without a vote. However, choosing a 49.3 would not solve all the difficulties of an already tight schedule. From the moment it is announced by the Prime Minister, it is necessary to wait for a period of twenty-four hours, during which the opposition political groups can table a motion of censure … This period would risk further delaying the final adoption of the text. It is likely that the decision will only be taken if there is clear obstruction from opposition groups.
Chaban: What are the legislative “weapons” at the disposal of the government?
Brice Lacourieux: Blocked voting is an option, but it involves discussing the amendments anyway. However, there are still 400. The programmed time must be started before the start of the examination of the text, it is therefore too late.
Holé: I know that Richard Ferrand is absent, but why the vice-presidents who lead these debates are LR and not La République en Marche (LRM), which would make things easier?
Brice Lacourieux: The vice-presidents take turns according to a schedule fixed between them, according to their availability and well before the agenda is precisely known. The fact that they are LR deputies so far is the result of this distribution. It could very well be an LRM vice-president afterwards but, in the event of a blockage, the neutrality of the session president means that it will not change much.
ThePirat: Who decides on the length of debate allocated to a text?
Maxime Torrente: It is the Conference of Presidents of the Assembly which decides on the agenda and, if necessary, on the time of the end of the sittings and the setting up of the “programmed legislative time” (which is not not the case here). For this text (bill), it is the government which proposed the initial timetable, underestimating the time necessary for its examination.
Lili: Shouldn’t labor law apply to debates in the National Assembly, in terms of maximum working hours, compulsory breaks and minimum recovery time? Can we without laughing imagine that the laws of the Republic are voted in the middle of the night by people who have not slept for far too long to have clear ideas?
Sixtine Aumont: It’s a real subject! The difficulty, in this case, relates to the sometimes constrained deadlines within which parliamentarians are obliged to examine a text. The most common example is that of the finance bill which must be adopted (according to the Constitution) before the end of the year: to comply with this rule, deputies often sit at night in order to complete the examination of the text! With regard to the text on the vaccination pass, the application date has been set by the government for January 15: this therefore forces the examination to be accelerated. Labor law applies to the Assembly, to officials and to parliamentary teams, but must necessarily adapt to the particularity of the life of the institutions.
Ragege: Would the law allow the government to use an ordinance?
Brice Lacourieux: An ordinance is just another way to write the law. To introduce the vaccine pass by prescription, the government would have to ask Parliament for authorization to do so anyway, which would give rise to the same debates.
Little mouse: Can you share with us the atmosphere of the Assembly, the tension … Is the atmosphere really different from other days?
Sixtine Aumont: To be fair, several members of the team are telecommuting. So, it’s rather quiet…! The atmosphere of tension is that which one could know during the Benalla affair (constitutional revision) or during important political moments (declarations of general policy, etc.).
Bxleader4ever: The deleterious climate of the debates, accentuated by the interview with the president, is it not likely to give rise to a motion of censure which would bring together the oppositions, even a part, however tiny, of the majority?
Maxime Torrente: The interview with the President of the Republic necessarily disrupted already complicated debates, but in itself would not be such as to lead to a motion of censure, given the circumstances. On the other hand, if the government decides to use article 49.3 on this text, as rumors might lead one to believe, it is a safe bet that a motion of censure will be tabled subsequently, especially since the we are approaching the presidential campaign and that the oppositions would be wrong to deprive themselves of a political coup three months before the first round. On the other hand, if ever majority deputies sign it (which is difficult to imagine), it would mean their exclusion from the majority group …
GeamDedow: What happens if the amendments are not all considered in the allotted time?
Sixtine Aumont: It will depend on the examination mode that will be chosen by the government or the majority! If the review is going through its normal course, all amendments will be considered. Otherwise, the text cannot be voted on. Same thing in case of blocked vote. However, if the Prime Minister decides to initiate 49.3, consideration of amendments ceases immediately and they will be considered “not discussed” (ie not put to a vote).
Mascarador: How many LRM deputies were present last night? Did the Monday night suspension mobilize more deputies last night (all parties combined)?
Clémence Lisambert: The number of deputies present in the hemicycle is not automatically counted; only the ballots make it possible to know how many there were at the time of the vote. However, there was no public ballot during the session last night, which does not allow us to say how many LRM deputies were present exactly. On the other hand, we know from the analysis of the afternoon ballots that there were around 190 LRM deputies present; and Monday evening, there were 153 LRM deputies present on one of the public polls.
Kiki77: For a vote in the Assembly to be valid, shouldn’t a quorum be imposed? How can we imagine laws passed with less than half of the deputies?
Maxime Torrente: A quorum can be requested under certain conditions, but, given that other meetings (of committees, fact-finding missions, committees of inquiry and working groups) often meet at the same time as the hemicycle session , it is impossible to require the presence of a quorum of deputies at all times.
Thib: Does the interview with the president have an impact on the legislative aspect of the text submitted for a week to Parliament?
Sixtine Aumont: The interview with the President of the Republic has no impact on the legislative procedure. Nevertheless, it has largely contributed to fueling debates as a political argument for parliamentarians. It gives a certain context to the debate, from which it cannot be dissociated. This was also the case in 2018, when the Benalla affair broke out, which led to the abandonment of the constitutional reform project.
Gaby14: Is there a hope that the project will be rejected by the Assembly or, failing that, by the Senate?
Sixtine Aumont: Given the large majority in favor of the text in the Assembly, no, none. The government knows that the examination will be complicated and is therefore able to muster its majority to be in a position of strength on the vote on the text. For the Senate, this is possible, but the National Assembly will have the last word anyway …