cohabitation, relative majority, government of experts... the scenarios after July 7

cohabitation, relative majority, government of experts… the scenarios after July 7

With a historic turnout, the June 30 vote reshuffled the political cards by placing the far right in the lead. Details of the different scenarios that now arise.

To justify the dissolution, Emmanuel Macron mentioned an “essential clarification”. It is not certain that the results of the legislative elections had the desired effect. On Sunday, those of the first round allowed the National Rally to qualify in 485 constituencies, including 297 in the lead. Opposite, the New Popular Front (NFP) qualified in 446 constituencies; Ensemble, the presidential camp, in 319. To avoid an absolute majority for the RN, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the leaders of the NFP announced that their least well-placed candidates would withdraw in the event of a three-way race. We have cross-referenced the opinions of experts to enlighten you on the distribution of powers according to the different scenarios: an absolute majority for the RN or a relative majority.

  • In the event of an absolute majority: cohabitation

If a political force obtains at least 289 deputies in the National Assembly, France will experience cohabitation, twenty-seven years after the beginning of that of Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac. Emmanuel Macron has no constitutional obligation to appoint a Prime Minister from the new majority. “Tradition has it that he does so but he has the choice, everything depends on the balance of political power,” emphasizes Véronique Champeil-Desplats, professor of public law at the University of Paris-Nanterre. In the event of a tidal wave of the RN, the appointment of Jordan Bardella seems inevitable.

Emmanuel Macron will have a right to review the appointment of ministers (Article 8 of the Constitution). He has a right of veto and can cross a name off the list if he wishes. After crossing the line of the union of the right, Éric Ciotti, president of the Republicans, who is said to be interested in a post of Minister of the Interior in a Bardella government, could be rejected.

An uncertain calendar

The Constitution does not specify any deadline. Traditionally, the former government resigns after a few days and the new legislature begins its term. Negotiations to choose government ministers are taking place in parallel. “We need to know the Prime Minister quickly. We can imagine calling an extraordinary session of Parliament around July 15,” says Philippe Blachèr, a public law professor and professor of constitutional law at the Catholic University of Lyon. But this year, with the organization of the Olympic Games, the agenda seems fluid. “Legally, Emmanuel Macron can keep the Attal government until the Olympic Games,” explains Véronique Champeil-Desplats. Everything will then depend on the reaction of the deputies of the newly elected Assembly: will they launch a motion of censure to immediately regain power in the middle of the Olympic Games, or will they let the current Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, manage this delicate period?

In the event of a rapid appointment of a Prime Minister and his government, the political leadership of the country would shift from the Élysée to Matignon. The distribution of power is clear: the Prime Minister holds the reins of internal affairs, has the initiative of laws, proposes a budget… Above all, he countersigns. Article 19 provides that the vast majority of acts of the President of the Republic must be subject to a double signature of the Prime Minister. This countersignature, usually a simple formality, would become a real means of blocking for the Prime Minister. International relations could become a textbook case. In a classical period, they fall within the “reserved domain” of the President, who exercises preeminence. In cohabitation, the domain becomes “shared”, “discussed” on a case-by-case basis, according to the balance of power. If the President is the head of the armed forces, the Prime Minister is responsible for national defense. In 2000, Jacques Chirac summoned and reprimanded Lionel Jospin for having described the Lebanese Hezbollah as a “terrorist” group, against the line they had set together. This polyphony at the head of state could happen again. The discord between Emmanuel Macron and Jordan Bardella is very important on Ukraine. If the President wants to release financial aid but the Prime Minister in office refuses, the latter has full latitude.

The President keeps his hand

Cohabitation does not, however, remove the President from the game. He retains a power of influence, even of nuisance. As he chairs the Council of Ministers, he is able to delay a bill by not including it on the agenda. He can refuse to sign ordinances, like François Mitterrand, between 1986 and 1988, to launch a wave of privatizations. He can also use the “tribunician power”, that is to say call upon public opinion to make known his disagreements, like Jacques Chirac on the reform of the 35-hour week. The Constitution also gives the President the possibility of dissolving the National Assembly, of assuming full powers or of referring the matter to the Constitutional Council. Regarding the latter, Emmanuel Macron will appoint his new president, the successor of Laurent Fabius, in February 2025. Enough to put a spoke in Jordan Bardella’s wheels? “The measures concerning the right of the soil or dual nationality could be contrary to its jurisprudence, in fact,” says Philippe Blachèr.

  • In the event of a relative majority: coalitions on a case-by-case basis

If the first party to come out on top does not obtain an absolute majority, Emmanuel Macron can take back control. Since he appoints the Prime Minister, he would be able to look for a profile that would allow him to form a broader coalition of the central bloc in the National Assembly. In this case, he would remain in control and would be able to obtain ad hoc majorities with the center right and the center left in order to pass certain texts. “But with the risk that the government will be overthrown by a motion of censure for each important law,” qualifies Véronique Champeil-Desplats. This would lead to scenarios of the Third and Fourth Republic type with unstable coalitions, a balancing act and successive dismissals.”

These elections could also give rise to a singular scenario with a President of a party with a relative majority refusing the post. “I will accept the nomination to Matignon only if the French people grant us an absolute majority,” Jordan Bardella has repeatedly stated.

Is France ungovernable? “No, current affairs would remain manageable,” continues Véronique Champeil-Desplats. The Constitution allows the executive to govern by decree or ordinance. Even a text as indispensable as the draft finance law, which determines the annual budget of the State, could find a regulation. “There are always subterfuges. Under the Fourth Republic, we used a provisional twelfth. This method allows the government to collect revenue and generate expenditure equivalent to one twelfth of the budget of the previous year,” reassures Pierre Brechon, professor emeritus of political science at Sciences Po Grenoble.

A risk of political crisis

Another option remains on the President’s table in the event of a deadlock: that of appointing a “technical government” composed of experts (academics, business leaders, senior civil servants, etc.). “This type of apolitical government would make it possible to ask Parliament to vote on laws on a case-by-case basis,” explains Philippe Blachèr, who recalls that Italy tried this from December 2012 to April 2013 with the Monti government.

In any case, France would not be the first European democracy to seriously lurch. Known for its long political crises, Belgium spent twenty-one months without a government from 2020 to 2021. Finally, faced with a potential political deadlock, the President of the Republic has the possibility of resigning. Emmanuel Macron has, for the moment, excluded this possibility.

Threat to the Olympic Games?

“Everything is ready, we are very calm and we can’t wait for it to start.” The prospect of a change of government two weeks before the Olympic Games does not alarm Laurent Nunez, the Paris police chief. Despite the political uncertainty, the state services are showing calm and serenity. Territorial reinforcements of police and gendarmes are starting to arrive, security measures remain fixed, as are the structure of the event and its organization chart. More than the change of government, it is the possible excesses following the election results that could weaken the Olympic security system, tiring out the already highly mobilized police forces. On this point, Laurent Nunez wanted to be reassuring again: “We are ready to manage all eventualities.”

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