Three weeks ago, the State of Urgency, declared by the French President after the riots which had begun a few days before, was extended by a bill in Parliament until 2006. This measure, although popular according to the public opinion polls, seemed unnecessary in the light of the situation at the time. It might have been strictly a demonstration of power on the part of the Government to make it clear to every one that they mean business.
In France, judicial review on the constitutionality of legislation is exercised when 60 members of one of the chambers of Parliament request that the Constitutional Council examine a bill before it has been promulgated. Since the bills are voted by the majority, we rely strictly on the political minority in Parliament to activate this mechanism.
Is the French Socialist Party still part of the political minority? Yes, but a rather invisible one. One that certainly doesn’t deserve to be called “opposition”. When this bill on the State of Urgency was voted, the socialists didn’t request the Constitutional Court’s intervention. They feared that it would be unwise, politically, to provoke a decision that could strike down a popular bill. What a bunch of cowards. As if any political party ever became, or stayed, popular by showing a complete lack of conviction.
Once again, as during the debate around the European Constitution, the Socialist party failed to represent a large number of the leftist population (although it was a completely different matter then as it was not a decision taken out of fear but conviction) and exactly as had occurred in the spring, members of civil society had to step up and replace this impotent bunch. A group of law Professors, led by Frédéric Rolin, tried yesterday, to obtain another jurisdiction to request that this outrageous State of Urgency be abandoned. It will surely fail for several reasons, one of which could be that lack of support from the political minority (some communist and green MPs wanted to request the Constitutional Council's intervention but without the socialists they weren't enough).
All in all there is good and bad news. The bad news is the sorry state the major leftist party is in. The good news is the willingness of citizens to become directly - without the mediation of political parties - important actors in the main political battles.