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French government tells rebels: back us or go

18 February 2015, 19:24

Paris - France's ruling Socialists threatened to evict any rebel backbenchers from the party if they joined a no-confidence vote against the government scheduled for Thursday, underscoring growing tensions in coalition ranks.

Opposition lawmakers called for the no-confidence vote - which is unlikely to succeed - after Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday used a decree to ram a key economic reform bill through parliament in the face of opposition from his own camp.

The reforms, which include rules to broaden trading hours and deregulate some sectors, sparked a revolt in parliament by dozens of backbenchers on the left of the Socialist Party who argue it was a betrayal of their values.

"Anyone who supports the no-confidence vote would no longer belong in the (Socialist Party)," government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, who is also a senior Socialist and a close ally of President Francois Hollande, told Europe 1 radio.

But, he added: "I think the motion will be rejected. There is no alternative majority (in parliament)" to that of the Socialist Party."

A number of leaders of the rebel camp said on Tuesday they would not join opposition conservatives in voting for the no-confidence motion, making it likely to fail.

Tuesday was the first time a government has used such a mechanism to push through a bill without a vote since 2006. President Francois Hollande, who was in opposition at the time, described the tactic then as a "denial of democracy".

The bill contains measures that are modest in comparison to reforms undertaken in other western European economies in recent years. It was already watered down during parliamentary debates and Hollande conceded last month it was "not the bill of the century" and would not transform the economy overnight.

Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said the government could resort to the decree procedure again if backbenchers fail to support the bill when it comes up for a second review in the lower house.

However the so-called 49-3 article can only be used on one bill every parliamentary sitting, raising doubts over whether the government will now be able to advance with other reforms.

Le Foll said Hollande told his cabinet on Wednesday the government would pursue reforms regardless of opposition and was confident of winning a parliament majority for upcoming plans including a controversial overhaul of worker representation rules for small and medium-sized companies.

- Reuters

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