Elected monarch Emmanuel Macron?

I saw one lighthearted tweet saying France is now a country with single party government under the state of emergency. While clearly lighthearted it also reflects one view on the position of President Emmanuel Macron. Do you find his political hegemony, it seems his party is going to win big, somehow problematic or do you think it is not a problem at all, and why? Read few comments.

French President Emmanuel Macron. Credit,: http://www.elysee.fr

Alice Baudry, Head of International Affairs, Institut Montaigne

I think you were right to call the comment lighthearted. The truth is more complex.

It is false to say that there is no opposition to La République En Marche: it is likely there will be between 80 and 100 winners from the right wing party Les Républicains. Moreover, chances are Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the left wing candidate from La France Insoumise (who was candidate during the presidential election, very popular among French youth) will be present in Parliament, which is non negligible and represents a real, symbolic and visible opposition for Macron.

Of course, it is likely Macron’s movement will win big on Sunday: they are present in 513 battles in this second round so you are to a certain extent right to mention a form of political hegemony. They are facing a variety of parties also, which is a novelty. Instead of the traditional right/left divide, LREM are in battles against the right (273), the left (134), and the extreme left (94).

Even if LREM were to win the large majority of these battles, would this be an issue? France has experienced large majorities in the past, which did not seem to hamper the government’s efforts to govern and reform, nor to bring about a threat to our democratic system. In recent history: 1993, 2002, 2007…

Where I would take some distance with the concept of hegemony is that even if this big group of members of parliament may be willing to form a unified ensemble, it is also possible that they are driven by different ambitions and ideas. To date Macron’s movement has no official ideology (a congress is apparently scheduled to happen in July but there is no promise of what will come out of it). Apart from the program presented during the campaign, they have little to refer to.

Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that if François Bayrou were to disappear from the political scene now (he is a key political figure in government and has been accused of affairs) he will take with him the support if the MODEM party. This may create some confusion and also bring about another opposition for our President. The consequences could be complex for his majority.

John Keiger, Professor, Department of International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge

1) My colleague the Cambridge historian Robert Tombs recently described the Macron presidency as the reign of “Emmanuel 1st”, explaining that although Macron is the youngest head of the French state since Napoleon Bonaparte the true comparison should be with his young nephew Napoleon III. The former came to power as a military dictator, whereas the latter won a sweeping electoral victory in the 1848 elections as President of the Second Republic at the age of 40 (Macron 39), with an even larger majority than Macron’s, crushing the mainstream opposition republican, socialist and royalist parties. The Second Empire followed four years later when, denied a second presidential mandate by the constitution, the Prince-President staged a coup d’etat and declared himself Emperor. Pace Karl Marx’s comments about Napoleon III, history does not (always) repeat itself.

2) Macron’s presidential victory certainly reconnects with the 5th Republic’s image as a “Republican Monarchy”. Macron has made no bones about wanting to restore what he calls “verticality” to the presidential role, demeaned by Sarkozy’s vulgar ‘bling bling’ hyper-presidency and Hollande’s toe-curling ‘normal’ presidency. His presidential procession through the Louvre Palace – last occupied by Louis XIV before his move to Versailles – dramatically demonstrated a quest for ‘gravitas’ leveraged by one of France’s prime monarchical ‘sites of memory’.

3) Macron’s monarcho-presidential message has certainly made its mark nationally and internationally: the French weekly Le Point pictured him on the front cover under the title ‘Jupiter at the Elysée’, The Economist as walking on water.

4) Does this state of affairs matter? Is Macron’s power a source of anxiety? In short yes and no. Yes, because he intends to use it in a way not seen even under the presidentialism of the 5th Republic. He has announced that he will sign-off the re-appointment or replacement of directors of France’s upper civil service to ensure that they adhere to the new President’s values and principles. Although changes of president have always seen changes in ‘cabinets ministeriels’, France has never applied a full-blown US-style ‘spoils system’. But the new President will oversee some 250, possibly 500, top mandarin appointments that have to be signed off by the ‘council of ministers’ chaired by the President. Other than deeply politicising the French civil service, some opponents have seen this as a  precursor. “Who will tell him he is wrong?” muttered one observer. Yes his power is a source of concern when he intends to implement his reforms by ‘decree’, delaying parliamentary scrutiny in order to speed up the legislative process. Yes, potentially, as his presidential triumph has now been backed up by June 18th’s victory of Macronist deputies in the National Assembly, giving his Republique en Marche party an absolute majority. But as the Figaro newspaper fittingly headlined after this legislative triumph: “Abolute majority, absolute responsibility”. Here may be Macron’s weakness. With so much power the prince-president is forced to deliver, most notably on domestic labour and social reforms, which are remarkably divisive. Moreover, Macron’s legislavtive victory may be built on sand with only a 43 percent voter turnout, the lowest in the history of the 5th Republic.

5) The young inexperienced President with a novice majority may have trouble with the Emperor’s new clothes.

Jonah Levy, Associate Professor, Vice-Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

The French Fifth Republic, founded in 1958, was designed to provide strong executive leadership.  It was forged in no small part in reaction to the perceived weakness of the Fourth Republic (1946-58), which had been marked by revolving-door government coalitions lasting an average of less than 9 months.  What is more, in 2000, the governing parties of the left and right agreed to a constitutional reform designed to remove the one limit on presidential power — the threat of a hostile parliament.

Prior to 2000, French presidential terms ran 7 years and parliamentary terms 5 years.  The difference mattered little during the initial decades of the Fifth Republic because the right won every election, both presidential and legislative.  Beginning in the 1980s, however, presidents of the left confronted legislative majorities of the right, and vice versa.  Under these so-called “cohabitations,” the president largely ceded power to the legislature and its appointed prime minister.

The 2000 constitutional reform, which first took effect in 2002, was designed to more or less eliminate the possibility of a cohabitation and the resulting loss of presidential power.  The president’s term in office was shortened from 7 years to 5 years, which meant that presidents would no longer run the risk of losing legislative elections several years into their mandate.  In addition, rather than holding presidential and legislative elections on the same day, as in the United States, French legislative elections are held a few weeks after the presidential election with the expectation that French voters will then “ratify the presidential election” by giving the newly elected president a majority in the legislature.  To date, French voters have always done so.

This year, there was some uncertainty about the legislative elections because Emmanuel Macron did not represent either of the two main governing parties, the outgoing Socialists on the left and the Republicans on the right.  Macron created his own party barely one year before the 2017 elections.  It had no members of parliament, and the leader of the Republicans openly campaigned for conservative voters to support their party and impose a cohabitation on Macron. In the end, however, French voters appear to be following the founding logic of the Fifth Republic, reinforced by the 2000 constitutional reform, which is to have a strong president backed by a solid (and pliant) majority in parliament.

The French system has its strengths and its weaknesses.  On the one hand, it allows for decisive presidential leadership that will hopefully enable Macron to enact the reforms needed to revitalize France’s economy, combat terrorism, and restore balance to the Franco-German tandem.  On the other hand, it offers few checks on presidential power, which can lead to both errors and authoritarian excesses.  Top-down governance also contributes to the French tradition of resisting authority through protests and riots, since opponents of the government have no other way of advancing their interests.

Whether the French presidential system is good for France or bad can be debated endlessly.  What cannot be debated is that President Macron’s political hegemony is entirely in keeping with the intentions of the founding fathers of the Fifth Republic, French governing elites of left and right alike, and most important French voters.  We can only hope that France’s newest “elected monarch” will use his vast but entirely legitimate powers wisely.

Enrico Reuter, Lecturer in Public and Social Policy, University of York

​To answer your question, I would say the expected ‘big win’ is indeed problematic, for at least two reasons:

1. Given the low turnout in the first round of the parliamentary election (less than 49%) and the relatively modest score for Macron’s movement (28%), a huge majority in the National Assembly does not reflect accurately the active popular support that Macron actually commands. The electoral system and the particularities of the 2017 election hence lead to what looks like a massive but is in reality a rather weak democratic mandate for Macron, with opposing views being unduly sidelined.

2. While a big majority will make it easier for Macron and his government to govern France, it also implies that they have to assume full responsibility for the policies they pursue and their outcomes. If Macron fails to deliver the kind of change that his supporters (and those who abstained) hope for, anger and disappointment are likely to be directed primarily at Macron. His strong position could therefore weaken quickly, while the long-simmering crisis of the French 5th Republic with its monarchic tendencies would become even more intense.

Benjamin Leruth, Associate Professor, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

The scale of political transformation in France certainly caught many off guard. Emmanuel Macron’s movement, which is only one year old, is likely yo gain at least two thirds of the seats following this week’s second round of the legislative elections. It is fairly common for voters and a newly elected president to enter a “honeymoon” period during the first weeks of his presidency, and Emmanuel Macron (and his party) made the right strategic moves in order to secure a majority of seats by 1) Appointing a right-wing Prime Minister; 2) finding a mix of left-wing, centrist and right-wing candidates for the legislative elections, on top of those coming from the civil society; and 3) avoiding any major controversies for the past month and a half. A comfortable majority will help Macron and his PM Edouard Philippe to implement a series of reforms with very little opposition, even though it was expected that a majority of right-wing MPs would support reforms such as labour laws. One could argue that a government cannot work efficiently without scrutiny from the opposition; it could be true, but it should also be the responsibility of opposition parties to run an effective campaign to encourage people to vote. This clearly was not the case last Sunday, as one voter out of two did not go to the poll stations, an all-time record in the history of the French fifth Republic.

Yet that does not mean that his “presidential majority” will be easy to manage throughout his presidency. Modem, François Bayrou’s party (which is part of the majority), could make things more complicated if Edouard Philippe’s government attempts to implement a controversial reform. Modem already showed major concerns when the initial list of candidate MPs was announced, stating that there were not enough Modem candidates on the list – the issue was then resolved a few days later.

In sum, a strong majority and a weaker opposition does not mean the end of political scrutiny. Scrutiny might happen within the majority as well as within the weakened opposition.

Rainbow MurrayReader in Politics at Queen Mary, University of London

I don’t think it’s a problem, for the following reasons:

1.  It was a fair, democratic election – nobody forced this upon the French people.
2.  Macron’s party does not have a wider hold on politics.  They have no representation at the powerful local and regional levels, and they have no Senators (nor are they likely to have any time soon, because local and regional office-holders elect Senators).  So other parties still have these footholds on power and can use them to regain a presence at the national level
3.  The state of emergency won’t prevent the almost-inevitable street protests that will kick in once Macron launches his reform agenda
4.  The composition of Macron’s party is pretty fluid and he is likely to face some dissent within his own ranks on certain policy areas
5.  Five different parties are represented within the government, making this more like a rainbow coalition than a one-party state.

 

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