Threat of dissolution of the National Assembly: when the President competes with Parliament

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While the MEPs have just returned to school on Monday, October 3, a threat hangs over the National Assembly, that of the dissolution. The President of the Republic brandished this deterrent weapon in the event of a vote of no confidence in Parliament. Since then, the numerous passes of arms reflect back to back the denial of democracy to which Emmanuel Macron indulges in the absence of an absolute majority and the inability of the National Assembly to find a broad consensus.

This exacerbated tension is, however, part of a broader context of both avoidance of Parliament (through the deployment of new institutions such as the National Refoundation Council or the passage of texts without legislative debate through the use of article 49.3 and ordinances) but also an attempt to transform its operation.

These changes were set out in particular in the bill passed in 2018 in order to make it more representative, more responsible and more efficient, for "a more representative, responsible and efficient democracy" which gave itself the ambition of "renovating the functioning of democracy". It then targeted both the methods of access to the parliamentary institution, its ordinary functioning and its legislative role by providing in particular for a constitutional law tightening the deadlines for legislative discussions, an organic law reducing the number of parliamentary staff by 30% and a law ordinary establishing a dose of proportional in the legislative ballot.

If this bill is currently suspended, it resonates with the law for confidence in political life voted in 2017 which regulates both the advisory activity by parliamentarians, family jobs within the Assembly, and the "clientelist excesses" through the misuse of the parliamentary reserve now abolished. Without judging the relevance of such recorded or archived reforms, they reflect a now routine indictment of the functioning and activity of parliamentarians.

Deputies deemed "bootillots" or "blockers"

During Emmanuel Macron's first term, it was the uselessness of Parliament that was denounced. Favored by the fact of the majority, the overwhelming majority of deputies met with much ridicule for their unfailing support for the new President of the Republic and his government, all of whose bills they voted for such as "boots" to “Playmobil”. A loyalty made possible by the arrival in 2017 of 72% newbies having cut the long political queue hitherto organized by the political parties.

Because of the structure of their capital – through their studies in law or political science but also through their professions as senior executives – these new deputies then had all the more “tendency to consider the problems of legislation under a more technical and economic angle that they had in the past less militant and political activities”.

Breaking with this depoliticization of parliamentary debates, relative majority required since 2022 for this second presidential term, parliamentarians are this time accused sometimes of blocking or obstructing government bills, sometimes of favoring blows in the hemicycle to the detriment of the "seriousness" of the legislative work.

In both cases, the executive power defines Parliament as an institution which must accompany its activity without ever disturbing it. This pacing of parliament and these order criticisms unparliamentary are not new. They have passed through the centuries in iconography and political writings and are based, without distinction, on the circumlocutions of a supposedly ineffective Assembly and subject to incessant useless chatter. They are above all the sign of a historical competition between the executive power and the legislative power.

A Constitution that decides in favor of the President

Le constitutional right and electoral system decided in favor of the Head of State by the 1958 constitution, by the election of the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage in 1962 and by the inversion of the electoral calendar in 2002. This so-called "rationalized" parliamentarism of the Ve Republic tends, ever more, to strengthen itself by a increased presidentialization of power.

Evidenced by the return to the surface of a distant tradition marking this competition: the opening of parliamentary sessions by the head of state. Twice, on July 3, 2017 and July 9, 2018, speaking at the start of the parliamentary session to present his general policy, Emmanuel Macron addressed the Parliament meeting in Congress directly. Drawing inspiration from the Speeches from the Throne in the United Kingdom, Norway, in Morocco, or the annual State of the Union address given by the President of the United States to the US Congress, the Head of State announces: “every year, I will therefore come back to you to report to you” in order to “fix the meaning of the five-year term and that is what I have come to do before you”.

When Emmanuel Macron brings together parliamentarians at the Congress of Versailles. Youtube.

If this was a first for the Ve Republic – made possible by the 2008 constitutional revision – this promise has not yet been kept. But these formal ceremonies, whose historical use differs, have a strong symbol. Indeed, they stage as much as they contribute to ratifying the higher authority of an institution and the submission of its main competitor. They dramatize a competition of institutions with the same claim: that of representing the nation.

A conflict for the monopoly to represent voters

This competition for the monopoly to represent voters is part of a balance of power, in a conflictual relationship, which develops according to the relative position of each institution in the political configuration. For example, under the IIe Republic, the President of the Republic pronounced an oath before the deputies “in the presence of God and before the French people, represented by the National Assembly”. This recognition of the sole legitimacy of deputies to represent voters is, on the contrary, totally denied in the imperial configurations.

Emperor Napoleon Iᵉʳ in his study in 1807

Emperor Napoleon Iᵉʳ in his study in 1807. Wikicommons

Thus, Napoleon Ier like Napoleon III saw in the role of parliamentarian only that of a "support", “support” from “devoted” elected officials ensuring "loyal cooperation". The imperial deputies who were better able to support the head of state than to represent the voters then presented themselves as simple official candidates under the Second Empire. No longer highlighting their own qualities or their background, the candidates are depersonalized to the point of not presenting themselves as a simple natural representative of the executive power in the territory. “ready to assist him in his political enterprise”.

But couldn't this situation be reminiscent of the contemporary situation? In 2017, the candidates of the Republic in March are the result of a selection by a call for applications with curriculum vitae and letter of motivation within a committee of nomination of the party. Like a job offer, these novice candidates have thus put forward in their professions of faith their political inexperience, their novelty, as a guarantee of political quality. Their position fully depending on an executive power from which they draw their legitimacy, these candidates even, during the 2022 elections, mobilized the notion of "official candidate of Emmanuel Macron". Employing a concept dating back one hundred and seventy years, presenting oneself as a candidate “of” questions the expected role of a parliamentarian who is now the natural local representative of a head of state who is being supported.

The logic of the Ve Republic encourages and reinforces this redefinition of the activity of a deputy which is no longer exclusively devoted to the representation of voters, but to the delegating mission that the Head of State has been able to offer him. Consequently, the current political configuration marked by the revival of the parliamentary opposition upsets this stability and awakens, with it, a historical competition between two institutions having the same representative claim. The presidential threat of a dissolution is the sign of this and then resounds like a call to order.

Nicolas Tardits, PhD student in political science, Paris Nanterre University - Paris Lumières University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.


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