Institutional crisis or new way of Governance? What next in France with the new Government and the new Parliament
5 July 2022
The new government team in France is beginning to stabilize now that the key positions within the National Assembly (Parliament’s lower and most powerful house) have been allocated and the Government has been reshuffled.
In short, in a context where the presidential majority has only obtained a relative majority in the House, neither the new governance of the National Assembly nor yesterday’s reshuffled Government mark any change in the political paradigm in place since the legislative elections. The main reason behind the reshuffle was to replace ministers who lost their seats in last month’s legislative elections. The President has made a few changes to reflect a new balance within the majority in favor of his allies on the center-right to avoid internal friction, but he has failed in broadening (or else did not wish to) his majority to include other political forces, such as the traditional right (Les Républicains -LR) or the center-left.
The Prime Minister (Elisabeth Borne), the Minister of Economy, Finance, Industrial and Digital Sovereignty Bruno Le Maire, the Minister of Interior – whose portfolio has been extended to include French Overseas Territories – Gérald Darmanin (the latter two harking from LR and having joined Emmanuel Macron in 2017), the Minister of Justice, Éric Dupont-Moretti, and Stanislas Guerini, Minister of Public Sector Transformation and the Civil Service, have been kept on.
Several prominent figures from civil society, senior civil servants and experts are joining the government. These include a political novice, François Braun, former head of the Samu association which provides emergency medical services, who has been named Minister of Health and Prevention, Jean-François Carenco, a prefect who has been named Junior Minister reporting to the Minister of Interior, and Laurence Boone, former presidential advisor to François Hollande, chief economist and deputy secretary general of the OECD, who will be taking over the Ministry of European Affairs. The former Junior Minister of European Affairs, Clement Beaune, will be taking over the transport portfolio as Junior Minister of Transport.
In a context where the presidential majority has only obtained a relative majority in the House, neither the new governance of the National Assembly nor yesterday’s reshuffled Government mark any change in the political paradigm in place since the legislative elections.
In parallel to the Government reshuffle announced yesterday, last week the members of the National Assembly appointed their representatives to the key positions of the House, also reflecting the new political situation. While speculation has been rife in previous days about possible “surprise” alliances, the logic of numbers finally won out (each political group disposes of a credit that is proportional to its representativeness and which is used to “buy” support for governance positions). The position of speaker (titled president) of the National Assembly has gone to political groups within the majority as have the chairs (also titled presidents) of all of the standing committees (of which 2 went to Macron’s Horizons and Modem allies), with the exception of the position of chair of the finance committee, which went to the far-left La France Insoumise (LFI). In keeping with French parliamentary rules, this position goes to a parliamentary opposition group.
While speculation has been rife in previous days about possible “surprise” alliances, the logic of numbers finally won out.
Similarly, due to the number of seats it has, the far right Rassemblement National (RN) obtained, for the first time in its history, 2 positions (2 vice-presidents within the bureau of the National Assembly).
Whatever else, these past days will have allowed to better understand the strategies of the forces facing off against each other and the strength of their alliances. As expected, the majority had to deal with their first tensions, with all of their allies demanding a bigger share of the pie. On the side of the opposition parties, the first cracks have already clearly appeared, especially within the left-wing Nupes alliance.
With only a relative majority within the National Assembly, the government will have to find a way to govern and push through its legislative agenda. In this respect, a French specificity may end up playing to its advantage. In France, regulation is the general rule and legislation the exception (Art. 34 and 37 of the Constitution). In parallel, there has been legislative inflation over the past 30 years and the adoption of an increased number of European Regulations (which are of direct application in domestic law, as opposed to Directives which need to be transposed via legislation) which have ended up giving the country a substantial corpus of laws giving the administration leeway to pass a significant number of reforms and decisions. In addition the executive branch can use Article 49-3 of the Constitution to pass the two finance bills it needs to push though (budget and social security). In the absence of a majority, Article 49-3 gives the government the final drafting power needed to meet the December 31 deadline and to pass one law per year with a relative majority provided that all of the different opposition groups do not band together to defeat it.
With only a relative majority within the National Assembly, the government will have to find a way to govern and push through its legislative agenda. In this respect, a French specificity may end up playing to its advantage.
The first legislative initiatives announced, namely a bill on emergency measures to protect purchasing power and a Covid 19 bill should permit gauging the government’s ability to negotiate, to pass bills and/or push through measures using the other tools available to it.
While this last sequence will allow the government and Parliament to get back to work, this legislative session is looking complicated with twists and turns to be expected in the months ahead, without it being possible to exclude the possibility that the National Assembly may be dissolved.