Without a parliamentary majority, the next French president will be hamstrungby Andrew Knapp / May 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Will Emmanuel Macron govern, or merely reign? The president’s powers under the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, dating from 1958, are significant but insufficient to govern as he chooses. To do that, he needs the backing of a parliamentary majority, which he may or may not win at the legislative elections set for 11th and 18th June.
The best guide to the president’s constitutional powers is the experience of François Mitterrand in 1986-88 and 1993-95 and Jacques Chirac in 1997-2002, when they “cohabited” with hostile parliamentary majorities. In each case, as the constitution required, the president appointed the prime minister, and other ministers on the prime minister’s proposal. But because the government is responsible to parliament, he had to appoint the prime minister designated by the hostile majority—and the constitution gives the president no right to dismiss his premier.
Under Article 20 of the constitution, it is the government, that “determines and runs” national policy. The apparatus of cabinet committees, and the piloting of legislation through parliament, are run from the prime minister’s office (Matignon) not from the Élysée. In effect, France’s domestic policy was handed over to a prime minister, government, and parliamentary majority opposed to the president. The president chaired cabinet meetings, but they became a mere rubber stamp.
Lacking the veto powers of his American counterpart, the French president is no more than a cr…