France's Malaise Will Continue No Matter Who Wins the Presidential Election

The consequences of France's presidential election, irrespective of the final results, will be less dramatic than many people think.


Whatever the final outcome of the French presidential election, the actual consequences for France will likely be less dramatic than many people hope or fear. Emmanuel Macron is a political novice, who enjoys support of the French political establishment only in so far as it is necessary to beat Marine Le Pen. His political party is a year old and it is unlikely that Macron's personal appeal, such as it is, will translate into a parliamentary majority. Let's not forget that Macron was the first choice of just 24 percent of the French electorate.

If Macron does become president, he will likely face a Parliament constituted of political parties that owe him zero loyalty. The French Parliament will be elected in June and the center-right Republicans, the National Front of Marine Le Pen, and an assortment of socialists and communists, are likely to be abundantly represented as well.

Traditionally, French presidents have found it impossible to push through reforms even when they had parliamentary majorities (e.g., Alain Juppe's and Jacques Chirac's attempt to reform the French welfare system in 1995). Unlike his predecessors, Macron will be left alone to face the fury of special interests, such as the powerful public sector unions. That is not a recipe for a successful administration.

If Macron's limited reform agenda fails, France will suffer five additional years of decline and anguish. By 2022, Le Pen's radical platform will be even more appealing to the disgruntled populace.

Should she become president, Le Pen will face similar constraints to Macron's. "France's constitution says that proposed laws on the organization of state powers, reforms relating to economic, social and environmental policy, or a request for authority to ratify a treaty can be decided by referendums. But it stops short of providing the power to withdraw France from an existing international agreement."

To give the voters such power, the Constitution would have to be changed in accordance with Article 89 of the Constitution, which says that "any such change must first be approved by the National Assembly and the Senate." So that too is a non-starter in a Parliament united in opposition to Le Pen's agenda.

That, in any case, is the theory. In practice, Le Pen could try to emulate President Charles de Gaulle, whose 1962 electoral reform was backed by a majority of voters and became law. De Gaulle "did not get the required parliamentary approval for it. He went straight to the French people. It was a revision of the Constitution but he did not use the revision procedure because he knew the two chambers [of Parliament] would be against it."

The French legal community agrees that De Gaulle's action was unconstitutional, but Marine Le Pen could attempt something similar. If that happens, years of legal wrangling will follow.

France's choices aren't good not only because of the shortcomings of the two remaining candidates. Making matters worse is the poor shape of the French economy and national security concerns—both of which require radical changes that the French political system is ill-suited to actualize. No matter who wins in May, expect malaise to continue.

NEXT: Brickbat: Just the Warm Up

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  1. Interesting to contemplate the differences in the US and elsewhere. One of the most striking is the way the constitution is amended. It seems most countries only require a vote of the national legislature, whereas the US requires the state legislatures to approve it too. The predictable result is that the US amends by other means, primarily courts deferring to legislatures or courts changing their definitions and legal interpretations of the constitution (commerce and necessary and proper clauses, ignoring the 9th and 10th amendments, loss of economic liberty in favor of collective guilt).

    But the root behavior is the same — overall background control by the bureaucracy, whose only interest is expanding their little empires.

    Trump’s biggest immediate effect is scaring the piss out of weenies with his intemperate tweets. His judicial appointments will be the biggest long term effect. He won’t make much difference otherwise.

    1. True. Comparing the 70 thousand words of combined screed the GOP and Dems call platforms yields only two differences. The Republicans, controlled since 1928 by the Prohibition Party, promise to change the 1st and 14th Amendments and force women to reproduce at coathanger-point. The Dems, controlled since 1968 by the Communist Party, promise to ban reliable electrical power plants. Both agree on banning other plants to protect the pharma and alcohol lobbies. Their conventions are but auctions to see which actor best represents what lobbyists had written into their otherwise similar platforms. Not much has changed since those same lobbies picked Nixon and Johnson.

      1. Although, perhaps ironically, the Democrats would like for abortion to be so accessible that some yahoo with a coat-hanger might actually be licensed in places like California or Philadelphia (A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but I’m thinking of guys like Gosnell).

        To be sure, the so-called Prohibition wing and Communist wing aren’t the only previous political movements that control the two main parties. They might just be the most visible one’s to you.

        I concede your point in that both of them seem to love driving legitimate businesses into the black market, they just disfavor different industries. It’s very much into the realm of ‘choose your destructor’ in the sense that both of them are pretty shitty on liberty and free enterprise issues.

        1. From everything I’ve read Gosnell was a caricature of what everyone imagines a back-alley abortionist to be, which makes the Liberal establishment’s actions in protecting him all the more reprehensible. The excuse trotted out was the importance of continuing ‘reproductive care’ being available to poor minority women. One might almost suggest (HEAVY sarc) that what is really important to the Liberals is making sure that as many brown babies as possible are aborted, and if the procedure endangers the mother as well, good riddance.

          It would certainly align with their pre-WWII position on eugenics.

  2. France’s choices aren’t good not only because of the shortcomings of the two remaining candidates. Making matters worse is the French.

    There, FTFY.

    1. Amen! And also about 5.000,000 muslim votes!

  3. The predictable result is that the US amends by other means, primarily courts deferring to legislatures or courts changing their definitions and legal interpretations of the constitution.

    If you look at US vs French history, the US system seems to have worked a whole lot better for a lot longer.

    Eventually, any system of free government will erode under the onslaught of special interests, lobbyists, politicians, and bureaucrats. It remains to be seen whether the US can recover from this or whether we are destined for centuries of stagnation like many other great nations before us.

    Jefferson had a pretty dim view of this even at the dawn of the Republic, hence: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

    1. don’t forget the blood of journalists…let’s bleed some of them too!

  4. French politics have not changed since before Bastiat. Their entire political spectrum is a one-dimensional line running from Danton, Robespierre and Marx at one end to Vichy France occupied by Germany’s christian national socialists at the other. In the middle is a mindless voter with no opinion whatsoever save that altruism is somehow a good thing. Google News reproduces a Quebec newspaper, L’Ami de la Religion et de La Patrie. Its March 6, 1850 editorial on Social Order is a verbatim blueprint for the government installed by German occupation in the south of France in the 1940s. Mystical ethics and living off of its colonies have evidently atrophied France’s capacity for self government.

  5. Never underestimate the French people’s penchant for radically altering their government at more-or-less a flight of fancy.

  6. Au contraire, with the US it’s malaise, but with the French, it’s mayonnaise.

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