France, condemned to cohabitation? | Opinion

France, condemned to cohabitation? | Opinion
France, condemned to cohabitation? | Opinion

Marjorie is clear about it. And she makes it clear to Stanislas Guerini, Minister of Public Service, in the video that is going viral in France. Marjorie considers herself a progressive and blames Macron for the situation in which her country finds itself. She blames the hyper-centralisation that he has promoted, the concentration of power around his figure, the continuous ignoring of his own people that has characterised a president of the Republic dedicated body and soul to suffocating one of the oldest democracies on the continent. Marjorie is much more than half of France, and before the watchful eye of the cameras she has expressed the opinion of a people who have felt ignored: “You have had many years for us to listen to you, to answer us; now, you are going to listen to us.”

The French political system favours the concentration of power in the hands of the President of the Republic. If he also enjoys a legislative majority and a prime minister who is in agreement with him, his power is immeasurable. Emmanuel Macron, like a little emperor without an empire, has taken it to its maximum expression: he has played with ministers and legislative initiatives, controlled the legislative, executive and judicial spheres and turned the National Assembly, at times, into a parody.

And from that dust… this quagmire in which Le Pen’s party threatens to win after getting 33.1% in the first round. The New Popular Front (28%) is consolidating itself as the second option, contesting seats as a “republican alternative” throughout France against the National Rally. Hopeful, but not definitive. How Macron’s voters will behave, imploding live, with withdrawals of candidacies, declarations in different directions and high doses of disorientation resulting from the ideological swings that characterize it, will be the key. In the second round, France decides to break the tie: an absolute majority of the extreme right for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic? Whatever happens, we are entering unknown territory. Beyond the tradition of “cohabitation”, this has never happened before with a project outside the walls of republican values.

Cohabitation was never a simple game of balance of power, but rather the representation of political plurality and the institutional requirement that it should be managed through cooperation and dialogue. According to the logic of this unequal diarchy, the President of the Republic and head of State, the direct depositary of national sovereignty, and the Prime Minister appointed by the former, according to the parliamentary correlation of forces to exercise the function of government, who has always resided more in Matignon (the seat of government) than in the Elysée (that of the presidency). The President of the Republic is in a position of superiority in relation to the Prime Minister, but the latter is in the front line in relations with Parliament, the Administration, the trade union forces and public opinion.

France has so far experienced three significant periods of cohabitation: between 1986 and 1988, with the socialist François Mitterrand working with the conservative Jacques Chirac (the former’s popularity was plummeting, but he refused to resign, as was the Gaullist tradition); between 1993 and 1995, Mitterrand with Édouard Balladur as prime minister (a much more peaceful coexistence); and 1997-2002, with the right-wing Jacques Chirac and the socialist Lionel Jospin (Chirac miscalculated, bringing forward legislative elections to avoid losing popularity). All three reflected tensions and adjustments in the relationship between the Élysée and Matignon, highlighting how the distribution of powers can foster balance, paralysis or important political and social reforms (such as Jospin’s 35-hour work week).

The hyper-concentration of power in Macron’s hands has divided the country in two. And if cohabitation has been brought about by blockages, frictions and political tensions in the past, it now threatens to transform shared democratic legitimacy into open confrontation between two political forces within the State itself.

Critics of cohabitation have pointed to its potential to cause government inefficiency, stall reforms and confusion over political accountability. President Macron’s style of unilateral decision-making could further complicate such a system. Critics such as electoral sociologist Pascal Perrineau warn that Macron’s unwillingness to engage with cohabitation could be seriously rejected, and if he fails to adapt to the power-sharing dynamic, this could result in conflicts that would benefit Le Pen’s party.

It is hard to believe that Macron’s move was a “Machiavellian” plan to make Jordan Bardella his subordinate and thus wear down the far right and weaken it for the next presidential elections. Because, despite the obvious limitations of a prime minister who does not have the president’s support, Bardella could lead national politics and change the political direction of the country as Chirac did in his day, finally reaching the Elysée. Macron’s umpteenth blunder is evident; the uncertainty that could lead to it is extreme. And those who will be most harmed will be the same as always: Marjorie and the people who, like her, are fed up with a policy that offers no solutions and makes daily life more difficult. Whatever happens, Macron has already lost. We will soon know who will accompany him at the ceremony on July 14. We are dangerously approaching the precipice of the Fifth Republic.

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