Friday, April 07, 2006

The end of the Gaullist French fifth Republic is near

The fifth Republic, the actual French Constitution, was designed mostly by de Gaulle and for himself. The particular role played by the President of the Republic requires that the functions be exercised by an extraordinary person. De Gaulle was precisely that: the greatest war hero that France had known since Napoleon. He was a President with not only democratic but mostly historical legitimacy. This particular prestige enabled him to play the role of the President: the supreme guardian of the institutions, and to override the other institutions, including the Parliament, and address the people directly in times of important political choices. De Gaulle worried about what would happen once he was gone, he feared no one after him could summon the type of legitimacy required to be President. That is how he justified the revision of the Constitution in 1962 which organizes the direct election of the President by the people instead of the Parliament. In 1969, when he felt that he no longer had the trust of the nation he stepped down and resigned.

Since then many people have waited for the fifth Republic to crumble. Pompidou, de Gaulle’s successor, died 5 years after his election, Giscard was the only President who was not re-elected after a first mandate; he stayed only seven year. More serious problems appeared with Mitterrand who stayed in office 14 long years. However his reign didn’t jeopardise the institutions, amongst other reasons it may be due to his charisma and intelligence. However everyone after him agreed that 14 years was to long and, once he was elected for the first time, Chirac shortened to 5 years each presidential mandate.

Then Chirac was elected a second time and 4 years latter there is little doubt that the fifth Republic will change profoundly very shortly. In terms of constitutional tradition the last couple of months have been unorthodox to say the least. Actually, it had started before that. Concerning internal affairs, Chirac will go down in history as the less “Gaullist” President of all time: he was refused popular support in direct and clear fashion more than any other President in the history of the country loosing Parliamentary, regional and European elections followed by failed referendums. Yet he always stayed in office gathering with each defeat more and more resentment. This situation can explain the recent turn of events following the great student protests of the last few months.

Seeing as there was no political leadership – with Villepin refusing to discuss any important modifications of his bill on the CPE – people, from right and left, turned massively to the Constitutional Court to solve the situation. If the bill had been found unconstitutional everyone in the political class would’ve been content: the Prime Minister wouldn’t have had to back down and would’ve still escaped the head-lock of the students. The left-wing opposition would have bragged about how it had initiated the decision by asking the Court to judge the bill. Fortunately the Constitutional Court refused to take the political responsibility which belongs to the President, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary majority.

As that trick didn’t work, the President and the Prime minister tried and another one: the bill was promulgated but Chirac demanded that it’d not be applied. That trick is nothing more than a childish play on words. The message intended is: we didn’t loose but the students on strike won. In other words: everyone won. Unfortunately it is now clear that the Prime Minister and the President surely lost as their bill will not produce any legal consequences.

The third trick they found was to hand the political responsibility on that case over to Sarkozy, the leader of the political majority and minister of Interior. We now have a President who is useless as he won’t leave office but won’t take any political responsibility either; we have a useless Prime minister who can’t take any political responsibility anymore because the students and Unions won’t deal with a man they judge to be too stubborn. And finally we have their most hated enemy, Sarkozy, who is taking the political responsibility and looking for a compromise with the students although it isn’t his prerogative as the Minister of Interior.

The institutions are bound to change; it will surely be one of the major themes of the next presidential elections (listen to Olivier Duhamel's "chronique" on "Les matins de France Culture" on that subject.)

1 comment:

Srdjan Cvijic said...

Do you support Sarkozy's Constitutional proposal? If not what you add from it, what would you take away?