For the first time since the establishment of the Fifth Republic, the French did not grant a parliamentary majority to the newly elected president. The logic of the majority vote which prevailed until now in the unique French presidential system in Europe, has just cracked, like a taboo which is falling in Europe.
The formation of coalitions has long been the norm and the practice in the European Union, except in France. How could it still discuss and be credible with its partners in the Union without this spirit of openness and compromise shared by all its partners and which is the very foundation of European construction? It is high time for France to abandon its exception in terms of governance and learn the art of compromise the European way.
For the first time since the establishment of the Fifth Republic, the French did not give the newly elected president in April 2022 a parliamentary majority at the occasion of the legislative elections that followed in June 2022. Press and media reactions are at the height of the rigidity of French political minds and practices that do not know or tolerate "compromise" or "coalition", yet the norm everywhere else in Europe. It is indeed a French exception, one more, which bursts into the open. Non-exhaustive anthology of media coverage, which would be amusing if it weren't pathetic:
"The slap" (Release June 20, 2022), "Exceeded Macron" (Release June 23, 2022), "The ghost of Matignon" (Release June 24, 2022), "The relative president" (L'OBS, June 23 2022) 2022), "The secrets of an end of reign, routed majority, doomed reforms, opposition in ambush: after arrogance, the king is naked" (Valeurs, June 23, 2022), "Out of state of harm? (Marianne, June 23, 2022), "Big maneuvers and twisted little gestures" (Marianne, June 30, 2022), "Can Macron govern?" (Le Journal du Dimanche, June 19, 2022), "End of the regime" (Politis, June 23, 2022), "Macron in the minority, Reform with whom? (Challenges, June 23, 2022), "Behind the scenes of a disaster" (L'Express, June 23, 2022).
However, in the past, there was “cohabitation” in France, a word which describes, as much as it denounces, a political period during which the President of the Republic and the majority of the deputies are of opposite political tendencies. In 1986 and 1993, French President François Mitterrand appointed Jacques Chirac and Edouard Balladur respectively Prime Minister. An exceptional situation with regard to the French constitution of 1958, which is cut to function with a presidency with a parliamentary majority, it was tolerated at the time as a constitutional anomaly whose main flaw lay in the ambiguous division of responsibilities. It was necessary to make "cohabit" or "coexist" a President of the Republic who could continue to "set the main orientations of the nation's policy" (1), with a head of government representing the parliamentary majority from which he came, who “determines and conducts the policy of the nation”(2). What was part of the usual governmental compromise everywhere else in Europe (except in Great Britain), was considered at the time in France as a weakening of the presidential primacy whose powers were then temporarily limited to sovereign functions; Defence, Foreign Affairs and Justice.
In 2000, the constitution was reformed by referendum to replace the seven-year term, during which the parliament had time to change majority under the same presidency, by the five-year term, supposed to synchronize the legislative elections with the presidential elections in order to reflect the political tendencies of the moment. The French elections were thus brought back within the presidential framework of the constitution of the Fifth Republic.
The situation in 2022 is therefore unprecedented. The legislative elections which followed the presidential election, without denying the vote which granted a large victory (58.55%) to the pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron, have just deprived him of the absolute majority he needed to preside " French-style ". Although unprecedented, the situation was expected, given the abstention rate in the presidential election (28%) which was close to the 1969 record. And in fact, as in 2017, abstention was once again the first political party in France in the second round of the legislative elections of this year 2022 with 46%!
Some are already crying out for the return of the political chaos of the Fourth Republic and its unfortunate governmental instability “Help, René Coty is back! ". Indeed, more than 22 governments succeeded each other from 1947 to 1958. We forget to remember that France was confronted with the serious disorders of the post-war period and the difficulties of reconstruction, as well as colonial problems, which could only cause strong political turbulence. We also forget to remember that at that time, France was equipped with civil and military nuclear planning and programs, remarkably stable programs if any, and that 'it embarked on the path of its modernization and that of the European Community. Finally, we forget to recall that the 4th Republic was also that of exceptional ministerial longevity, despite successive government reshuffles, such as that of Robert Schuman who was Minister of Foreign Affairs for more than 4 years and member of the government for 6 years.
If France is not accustomed to government alliances, on the other hand the majority of European countries have been for a long time. Today in the Union, 19 countries out of 27 are governed by alliances between parties, 3 of which are even in the minority, in Spain, Denmark and Sweden. It is national unity in Italy around Mario Draghi, a left-wing alliance in Spain, a "tricolor" coalition in Germany which has religiously cultivated the culture of compromise since the last single majority government of the Third Reich, 7 political parties are at the power in Belgium, and in the Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Finland and Denmark govern by alliances.
"Europe is populated by governments without a majority", observes Stéphane Séjourné, president of the liberal Renew group in the European Parliament. He rightly believes that French MPs will have to, like their European counterparts, “learn to build compromise” (3).
European construction itself only progresses through the elaboration of compromises, whether at the level of the European Parliament - where there is no stable majority but where it is formed on a case-by-case basis depending on the subjects put to the vote - or that of the Council of Ministers where governments of all stripes must find common ground on the most diverse subjects.
The formation of coalitions has long been the norm and the practice in the European Union, except in France. How could it still discuss and be credible with its partners in the Union without this spirit of openness and compromise shared by all its partners and which is the very foundation of European construction? It is high time for France to come out of its exception in terms of governance and learn the art of European compromise.
(1) https://www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/decouvrir-l-assemblee/role-et-pouvoirs-de-l-assemblee-nationale/les-institutions-francaises-generalites/le-president-de-la -Republic
(2) Section 20 of the Constitution
(3) Le Monde, June 22, 2022