Without a parliamentary majority, the next French president will be hamstrungby Andrew Knapp / May 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Read more: Triumph of the liberal
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 critical witness in domestic policy. Only in foreign affairs does the president, by virtue of his role as commander-in-chief, chair of the National Defence Council, and guarantor of France’s treaties, retain significant power, which in practice is shared with the prime minister in the name of France “speaking with one voice.”
Because it would leave the new president hamstrung, “cohabitation,” unsurprisingly, is the preferred outcome of Les Républicains, France’s conservative party. Their temporary leader, François Baroin, has effectively proposed himself as prime minister should his party win on 18th June. But that victory is unlikely, as its candidate François Fillon came ahead in just 52 of France’s 577 parliamentary constituencies on 23rd April. And Les Républicains are divided and still reeling from Fillon’s elimination in the first round.
Under a more normal scenario, the parliamentary majority supports the president, and to a degree owes its existence to his…