Pension reform puts to the test the relationship between Macron and his prime minister

it is Not a dangerous affair, as the novel of eighteenth-century Choderlos de Laclos, but the most complicated of modern democracies. The president of the Frenc

Pension reform puts to the test the relationship between Macron and his prime minister

it is Not a dangerous affair, as the novel of eighteenth-century Choderlos de Laclos, but the most complicated of modern democracies. The president of the French Republic and the prime minister form a strange pair. Cooperate and compete. Are distributed the papers, although there is a hierarchy. One commands, the other obeys. In principle. Because the one who obeys has margin to go to their air. The controversial pension reform puts to the test the relationship between Emmanuel Macron and his prime minister, Édouard Philippe.

The pension reform, central project of the presidency of Macron, allows you to observe the operation of the duo that governs France. It is in times of crisis —and, after 38 days of strike action continued on the transport and five days of demonstrations at the national level, this is— when this peculiar institution-building shows its possibilities and limits.

Since a few weeks, the division of roles is clear. Macron barely speaks, and delegated to Philippe much persuasion to citizenship as negotiation. Philippe is exposed, a Macron is kept. In a speech at the end of the year, the president instructed the prime minister to find a “quick compromise” to exit the conflict. A compromise began to take shape this weekend.

Both comply with the role assigned by the Constitution of 1958, which established the fifth Republic. The president appoints and dismisses the prime minister, presides over the Council of Ministers, appoints the members of the Government and enacts laws, may dissolve the National Assembly, and is the chief of the Armies and the negotiator of the treaties. The prime minister directs the action of the government, guarantees the execution of the laws; shares, with the Parliament, legislative initiative; and respond of their actions to mps, which is not the case of the president, elected since 1964 by universal suffrage.

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“The president needs the prime minister because only this has the initiative of laws and guides to the legislative procedure”, explains the constitutionalist Jean-Philippe Derosier, professor at the University of Lille. “But the prime minister must be the president and should follow his guidelines, because it is the president who has been elected on the basis of a political program. And because he exists in virtue of the decision of the president to appoint him prime minister.” The duo can degenerate into a duel if there is a clash of legitimate bodies. “The president has popular legitimacy and the prime minister gets the legitimacy of the parliamentary majority, since that becomes in your head,” explains Derosier.

The fifth Republic has given a variety of models. The most complicated is that of cohabitation: when the president and the prime minister belong to different political parties. It happened between 1986 and 1988 with president Francois Mitterrand and prime minister Jacques Chirac, between 1993 and 1996 with Mitterrand, and Edouard Balladur, and between 1997 and 2002 with president Chirac and Lionel Jospin. In these circumstances, the prime minister, who heads a parliamentary majority adverse to the president's party, often enjoy greater powers and public projection.

With the reduction from seven to five years of the presidential mandate —and the match, with some weeks of difference, the presidential elections and the legislative— premarital cohabitation have disappeared: since 2002, the parliamentary majority and the president's party have coincided. This does not mean that no tensions. The most famous example is, between 2007 and 2012, the president Nicolas Sarkozy and his prime minister François Fillon. Sarkozy despised Fillon, and Fillon aspired to his position.

The current model is particular. Macron was founded In march —now The Republic in march (LREM)— on the ruins of the old parties; Philippe comes from The Republicans, the weakened great party of the moderate right. Today he hasn't been active in any formation. At the same time, is the leader of the presidential majority in the National Assembly: paradoxically, the chief fact of a party that is not affiliated. He was mayor of the port city of Le Havre and deputy prior to being prime minister, which gives an experience greater than the Macron, which had never been mayor or a member of parliament, and, before arriving at the Elysee Palace, just two years minister.

“At the institutional level, the duo globally works”, says the constitutional Derosier. “I think he committed political errors, and, in particular, Emmanuel Macron. And Édouard Philippe left to do. And it is here where it can be perceived, perhaps a form of mourning.” According to this argument, Philippe, more experienced, would not have protected the novice Macron, or this would not have been left to protect or advise. Before the crisis of the yellow vests for example.

On the left wing of LREM, some suspect that Philippe harbors ambitions as a future leader of the moderate right. Hence, according to this theory, his defense in the negotiations on the reform of pensions, a measure such as the increase of the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. In an attempt to reduce the social tension, the prime minister offered this Saturday to waive this measure. The extent, that Macron seem willing to rule out in the summer, was pleased the conservatives, and blocked the negotiation with the moderate unions.

Nor is it clear that the traditional role of the prime minister as a shield or fuse to work at all. In 1995, the French Government has already attempted a reform of the pension that is similar in some respects to the current and retired by popular pressure. That reform, known as the reform Juppé, by the name of the prime minister, Alain Juppé. Not to speak of reform Chirac, the president of the time. In the massive demonstrations of the last month, the proclamations are not directed against the prime minister, but against the president. Unlike 25 years ago, the current reform is not the reform Philippe but the reform Macron.

Updated Date: 11 January 2020, 23:00

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