Jean-Louis Debré: “The new National Assembly will not last five years”

Jean-Louis Debré: “The new National Assembly will not last five years”

This Monday, July 11, the elected members of the National Assembly voted for a motion of censure targeting Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. If the text tabled by the alliance of left parties, the Nupes, should not bring down the government, this first demonstration of defiance should call for others during the legislature. Former President of the National Assembly and ex-Minister of the Interior, Jean-Louis Debré expects Emmanuel Macron to decide to dissolve the Assembly within five years, on his own initiative or under pressure from his opponents. He castigates the constitutional revision passed under Nicolas Sarkozy which, with the limitation of the use of article 49-3 and the strengthening of the powers of Parliament, will contribute to blocking reforms in the years to come.

Will the absence of an absolute majority in the National Assembly result in an absence of reforms for five years?

Everything will depend on the political context of the coming years. If the economy picks up and the social climate is calmer, the government will no doubt find allies to push through its reforms. Conversely, if inflation soars, unemployment rises again and the government is forced to drastically increase taxes to bail out the public coffers, the situation will become explosive and the government will find no support for pass their bills.

How will the Assembly function without an absolute majority?

There is a good chance that we will return to a functioning comparable to that of the Fourth Republic. Each political group will monetize its votes on the various articles of law in exchange for support in return for the measures they defend. The debates on each text will last much longer and the presence of deputies of each tendency in the Hemicycle will become crucial to pass this or that amendment.

Isn’t it good news to see the work of MPs put back at the heart of political life?

For my part, I am skeptical. French political parties have lost the culture of compromise and movements such as the National Rally or La France insoumise are distinguished by their radicalism, which is not very compatible with government agreements. I fear rather that we are witnessing endless haggling and negotiations on each piece of legislation which lead to shaky reforms, without consistency. In my view, the only positive aspect is that the government will be obliged to present shorter and more targeted bills, in order to limit the subjects for amendment. Article 34 of the Constitution which strictly defines the domain of the law would be better respected.

Is the Constitution of the Fifth Republic ultimately ill-suited to a situation where there is no absolute majority in the National Assembly?

On the contrary, this situation had been fully anticipated. When my father [Michel Debré, ndlr] wrote the Constitution of 1958, he did not imagine a government which would benefit durably from an absolute majority in the Assembly. Don’t forget that France was emerging from the Fourth Republic and ten years of ministerial instability. He had therefore provided several safeguards to avoid the paralysis of government action. With two major innovations: the introduction of the famous article 49-3 which allows the government to have a text voted on if there is not a majority of deputies to reverse it and the fact that the deputies examine in the Hemicycle the bill as it was written by the government.

But these two provisions were reviewed during the constitutional revision of 2008 under Nicolas Sarkozy…

Absolutely. Since 2008, the use of 49-3 has been limited to the budgets of the State, Social Security and to one bill per parliamentary session. And the deputies examine in the Hemicycle the texts after they have been modified by the parliamentary committees. These two changes, hailed at the time as democratic advances, will contribute to blocking government action today. It is the deputies who will have the upper hand and the danger is that the reforms will be totally distorted by the play of little political tricks.

Can the government limit the number of bills and carry out a maximum of reforms by decree without going through the Assembly?

It is a possible way but which remains limited. Especially since the laws have been more and more numerous and detailed in recent years, it is necessary to go back to the law and therefore the Assembly to modify them… In most areas, a major reform includes a legislative component, which will force the government to do a delicate job of negotiation with the deputies upstream.

Ultimately, do you think the current Assembly will last until 2027?

I highly doubt it. Faced with the difficulty of reform, the President of the Republic will be tempted to dissolve the National Assembly as soon as he deems the political climate favorable. Conversely, if the situation in the country deteriorates and Emmanuel Macron concentrates the anger of the French, the oppositions could gang up to bring down the government via a motion of censure. In this case, the Head of State would be put under pressure to declare the dissolution of the National Assembly. And, if he was once again in the minority, he would be forced to appoint a Prime Minister of cohabitation. With all his opponents who would call for his resignation.

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