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The 5th Republic, Reviewed and Updated by Emmanuel Macron

The 5th Republic, Reviewed and Updated by Emmanuel Macron
 Olivier Duhamel
Former President of FNSP (Sciences Po)

The eighth President of the 5th Republic is launching a 25th revision of the French Constitution and of its institutions. We will try to clarify the stakes such reform involves and answer two basic questions: Why? How?

Why review our institutions?

There are 4 reasons. 

  • Because Emmanuel Macron announced that he would during the presidential campaign. “I do what I said” is a valid leitmotiv applicable to all fields and which serves as a justification to almost all of the thirty reforms carried out or announced these past months. 
  • Because all presidential candidates believe they have to write a “reform of institutions” chapter and generally try, once they are elected, to implement at least part of it. 
  • Because a President likes to leave a mark, and the latter is always significant when it applies to our fundamental legislation. All French Presidents have tried to do so, and only Georges Pompidou and François Hollande have failed so far. 
  • Last not least, because certain reforms have long seemed necessary but have not been implemented yet, while others seem useful to their author to reduce citizens’ lack of trust in politics.  

What kind of institutional reforms? 

1. An update

A first series of changes is expected and gathers quite a large consensus, which we could qualify as a “democratic update”. 3 topics belong to this category. 

  • The Court of Justice of the Republic - instaured to judge the crimes or offences committed by Ministers when they were in power - has not yet acquired its indispensable legitimacy, because it has failed to dismiss the suspicion according to which it is partial, or at least complacent. It will be scrapped. 
  • The presence of former French Presidents in the Constitutional Council as rightful members for life seems incompatible with the independance expected from a Constitutional judge. It will be abolished. 
  • The prosecutors’ dependence on political power is considered as excessive. From now on, they will be named with the assent of the High Council of the Judiciary. 

2. Democratic progress 

This second group of reforms is more typically “Macronian”. Whether progress is real or alleged, 6 of the reforms envisaged would go in this direction. 

  • The limitation of the holding of several mandates for MPs to three consecutive mandates would allow for the renewal of the political class. 
  • A 30% decrease of the number of MPs would be very popular. This would equate to 404 Deputies of the National Assembly instead of 577, and 244 Senators instead of 348.  
  • The introduction of a dose of proportionality for 15% of deputies’ seats would partly reduce the under-representation of opposition parties. 
  • The reform of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council would improve the democratic consultation process. 
  • The possibility for local communities to adopt measures adapted to their situation, with the ability to differentiate themselves from national rules, would be a new step forward in the decentralization process. The acknowledgement of Corsica with its mention in the Constitution would respond to a demand of islanders. 
  • The inclusion of a legislative competence on the fight against climate change in the Constitution would respond to a growing concern.  

3. The efficiency of parliamentary work

This third category is more technical and much less consensual. In fact, it has varied over the course of the last few weeks and went from nonexistent at first, to the proposal of a limitation of the right of amendment according to the size of parliamentary groups. Yet this measure weakened the means of under-represented parties, and was in the end fortunately abandoned. It seems like the government is also renouncing to forbid the presentation of amendments rejected in commission during the plenary discussion. 

What is left of this measure today? 

  • The introduction of amendments without any normative reach, the “legislative neutrons”. 
  • The forbidding of amendments that have no direct link with the text, the “riders”. 
  • The prioritization on the agenda of the legislation deemed important by the government. 
  • The reduction of delays to adopt the budget and the Social Security Funding Bill. 
  • An accelerated procedure when a disagreement between the chambers occurs, and the scrapping of a new examination by the Senate. 

And tomorrow?

A last question to conclude. Will these reforms all be adopted? No way. The Senate will not vote the last change aforementioned, as it would reduce its influence. Will it accept the 3 consecutive terms limit? Only time will tell. To incite it to do so, the legislation draft places the threshold to 9 000 inhabitants, thus preserving the possibility of a perpetual re-election for mayors of small and medium-sized towns. 

Either way, the great negotiation has begun. If it were unsuccessful, Emmanuel Macron would have to face his first defeat. Otherwise, the French 5th Republic would be updated for the 25th time. Yet not transformed. 

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