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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

(Not) Understanding French politics - the Macron reform

Quite an ambitious headline, but don't worry, this isn't about to become a pedagogical piece on the finer details of the French political system.

Neither is it going to be a dumbed-down version pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Rather it's a simple but hopefully informative observation as to how difficult it is, even for those who enthusiastically (try to) follow French politics let alone others who only dip into it from time to time, to get to grips completely with the machinations of the system.

Certainly France isn't alone in having its own political peculiarities, but that doesn't mean it's any easier to understand them when they are on full display.

Friday's edition of the excellent lunchtime news magazine "La Nouvelle Édition" on Canal + contains a short segement, presented by journalist Gaël Legras, called "Vu de l'extérieur".

Legras takes a whistlestop tour of other countries' news outlets to discover how they're covering particular stories about France; in other words "what they're saying about us".

Last Friday's chosen subjects were the trial in Lille featuring Dominique Strauss-Kahn who (don't groan) had denied charges of pimping. Paris Saint-Germain's match against Chelsea in the Champions League, anti-semiticism in France following the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the town of Sarre-Union in the east of the country and the racial slur made by a former foreign minister, Roland Dumas during an interview on BFM TV  and the so-called article 49-3 of the French constitution.

Now, that last subject might not seem particularly interesting, but its application last week illustrated perfectly just how idiosyncratic the French political system can be.

It's a tool which can be used by a government to force a bill through the national assembly without a vote being taken.

It's rarely used because, apart from being perceived as out of step with the democratic process, it is invariably followed by the opposition tabling a motion of no confidence in the government.

But that's exactly what happened last week to economic minister Emmanuel Macron's bill "designed to remove obstacles to French economic progress".

Emmanuel Macron (screenshot from interview with Jean-Jacques Bourdin, BFM TV November 2014)

The bill includes a raft of reforms such as extending Sunday shopping, opening up heavily-regulated professions to greater competition, privatising certain regional airports, ending the monopoly of intercity bus routes...and, and, and.

You can read more about Macron and the reform package in this piece by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany in The Financial Times.

In short though, the reforms came under fire from a number of Socialist party parliamentarians, rebels known as Les Frondeurs, who said they would not vote through the package.

At the same time, two opposition parties, the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) and the centrist Union des démocrates et indépendants, (Union of Democrats and Independents, UDI) declared they wouldn't be voting in favour either...even though Macron's bill was largely inspired by ideas previously advocated by both parties.

It makes complete sense - doesn't it? Well, at least politically.

Understanding that this was all going to end up very messily for a reform which was supposed to be one of the most important of the second half of his term in office, the French president, François Hollande, gave his prime minister, Manuel Valls, the green light to invoke that (in)famous 49-3 article.

The outcome - UMP and UDI tabled a motion of no confidence forcing Les Frondeurs to rally behind the government because apparently "voting against a bill (introduced by their own party) was one thing, but backing a vote of no confidence submitted by the opposition was not the same."

Not easy for the world's media to understand what the heck was really happening - and just as impossible for those in France as it seemed the political world had turned upside down.

In essence though it was a defeat all round.

The bill still has to make its way through the Senate and then back (in a revised form) to the national assembly.

The opposition has shown itself unable to stick to any sort of political principles (an oxymoron?), and the Socialist party is as divided as ever.

And...oh yes...there are local elections (départemental this time around) in March when guess whose party is predicted to lead after the first round of voting.

Yep, Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National no doubt benefitting from the disillusion many in France have with the traditional political parties.

And last week's parliamentary palaver will only have helped her cause.

But that's quite another story.

Don't worry if you've understood nothing or very little of all of the above.

You're far from being alone.

It's all...well, very French politics - n'est-ce pas?

1 comment:

BacktoBurgundy said...

Hi. Enjoyed this article and your blog. Despite already living in France, I wasn't aware of the lunchtime how-other-people-see-France bit, but I'll try to tune in for it now. I'll be back for more of your news dissections!

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