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Book Notes Developments In French Politics (Cole, Le Gales, Levy) Notes

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Developments in French Politics Notes Chapter 5 - The Political Executive - Robert Elgie

− The Fifth Republic has a dual executive with 1958 Constitution creating the potential for tension within said executive
− Initially resolved in favour of the President
− Although was this a product of de Gaulle's personality and responsibility for making important decision in key policy areas or of the natural shape of the playing field over time?
− Presidential leadership however can only occur indirectly through the Prime Minister, and periods of cohabitation have caused leadership responsibilities to shift to the head of the government
− Executive leadership has always been difficult to achieve due to divisions both within the dual executive and between the dual executive and the wider core executive
− Increasing Europeanization merely adds another complication to this division with the wider core executive, as does the role of more general globalization on the policy side (particularly economic)
− Presidents maintain the potential to set the political agenda
− A supportive parliamentary majority means the prime minister has the capacity to pass reforms in particular areas
− Moreover, when domestic political and wider external circumstances are right the president has the opportunity to exercise leadership in foreign affairs in the typical role of a head of state as well
− Leadership traditions
− Strong tradition of personal leadership in France
− Pre-Revolution, there was strong or absolute monarchy
− Robespierre assumed dominance during the Revolutionary period itself
− Napoleon Bonaparte emerged as an autocrat at the start of 19 th Century
− Third Republic marked the end of monarchy but personal leadership still prevalent in the form of President MacMahon
− Vichy France largely directed by Marshal Petain alone
− Argument that the only way to ensure the unity of tha national territory, the integrity of the political economic and social system, maintain France's supposed position as a world leader is for the country to be governed by a strong leader who will promote tha national interest
− Has an appeal to French people which transcends the authoritarian right ideology with which personal leadership is traditionally associated
− Tradition of parliamentary leadership
− Emerged in response to pre-Revolution monarchy, manifesting itself in the principle of representative government to directly contrast with the previous system of absolute concentration of power
− QFT: To what extent is proportional representation a swing too far in the opposite direction, to the point at which at least part of the executive lacks the real ability to make policy?

− The principle of rule by the people through a parliament composed of elected representatives was firmly established as one of the basic ideological elements of the French system
− Collapse of the Fourth Republic due to the inherent instability of a regime founded on the principle of parliamentary leadership
− Powers given to Parliament were extensive while those for the executive were weak meaning the President was little more than a figurehead
− But problematic due to the combination of a fragmented party system and proportion representation which produced many coalition governments, who operated under weak ceded leadership and the constant threat of parliamentary threat (p.72)
− Resulted in de Gaulle being allowed to draft the 1958 Constitution which ensured an increase in the powers of the executive ( but a dual one with inherent tension thereby allaying fears that he would attempt to restore authoritarian personal leadership)
− Above this point all references are to pages 70 and 71
− Structure of the contemporary dual executive (p.73)
− Day to day responsibilities for realization and implementation of public policy lie with the prime minister
− Article 20: Gov decides and directs policy of the nation, it has the administration and the armed forces at its disposal, it is accountable to the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly
− Article 21: Prime Minister is head of the government and personally responsible for national defence
− Article 18: President forbidden to even enter the parliamentary chamber (can only have a message read out there)
− However, constitution is not decisive about overall leadership with "the basis for presidential leadership" (p.73)
− Article 52: President is responsible for negotiating and ratifying international treaties
− Important when considering point made in the introduction that "the third element of the Republican model is the belief in a special vocation for France on the international stage" (p.5)
− Also ensures involvement in foreign policy making
− Article 15: President is head of the armed forces
− Contrary to Article 21 but in practice power rests with President here
− Chirac, 1995, nuclear testing in South Pacific (p.73)
− Again perhaps building on the idea of France as an international player: the President cannot represent France internationally without the ability to follow through his decisions and arguments with effective power
− Elgie argues this is the manifestation of the general trend that the "President takes command of high politics" (p.73)
− Article 8: President appoints the Prime Minister and Prime Minister proposes names of Ministers to President who makes the final appointment
− With the correct political conditions, this allows unswerving loyalty from the head of the government and the cabinet
− Also permits effective presidential nomination of the ministers

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