As the old joke goes, the French may not have oil, but we have ideas. That’s why we love big picture principles and are quick to forgive each other for our small failures. But it’s also in the name of these big ideas that we often oppose reforms that would, in fact, fix real problems.
That’s why mainstream politicians from the left and right are hailing a democratic upsurge in the second round of parliamentary elections while lamenting the fact that the national assembly is likely to be dominated by Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LRM). Democracy, they say, will be abolished by the lack of a substantial opposition in the assembly’s ranks. Each of these other parties, of course, presents itself as the only option for an effective — and constructive — opposition.
But this "dangerous” situation is not as exceptional as commentators have made it out to be. In fact, it is pretty banal in the context of the Fifth Republic.
With the exception of 1962 — when Georges Pompidou’s government under President Charles de Gaulle was toppled — no assembly has toppled the government. The unspoken truth is that once elected, the national assembly becomes a vehicle for the executive. The fact that members are bound by party discipline eliminates any kind of democratic dynamic in which a majority opposition could oppose the executive branch without toppling the government. The relationship between the executive and legislative can be summed up as accept "everything or nothing.” And, in the service of "democracy,” it has always been everything.
How many deputies from other parties sit alongside Macron’s LRM will do nothing to change the assembly’s decision-making process. It will have significant consequences, however, for the state’s financing of these parties. The outcry we’re hearing from the likes of the Socialist Party or the Républicains is hypocritical, especially when you consider that they had no qualms about the lack of opposition when they held an absolute majority themselves.
So there’s nothing remotely new or shocking in projections of what the national assembly will look like after this second round of parliamentary elections on June 18. What is new, however, is that the majority party lacks a clearly defined political ideology to guide it.
Embodied by Macron, the movement’s broad mission is to modernize and unblock our archaic, sclerotic society. It claims to want to do this in part by abandoning the two-party vision that has pitted right versus left and on which the Fifth Republic is based. Now it’ll be left, right or center — on a case by case basis.
What looked like a mountain has turned into a hill.
Considered a weakness by some, this lack of ideology is paradoxically what lends the party its democratic potential. Macron’s party could finally instate a parliamentary democracy with a real separation between the executive and legislative branches of government.
Indeed, LRM doesn’t have a clearly defined political line. It is made up of personalities from the right, the left and the center. It includes a number of people from civil society and a large percentage of women. Its members are varied widely in their ideology, profession, class, gender, age, experience and ambition. A good number of these new deputies — over half of LRM candidates in the second round are new to politics — will by necessity bring change and a fresh perspective to the job given their lack of experience in office. They aren’t yet conditioned to accept the cynicism and propensity for private deals of former deputies.
In the absence of an explicit political ideology, this diversity among deputies opens the floor to more spontaneous and varied positions and will lend itself to a greater plurality of opinion. There will naturally be disagreements on certain issues. But these are unlikely to provoke the kind of retreat into hard-line factions that stalls progress and turns passing laws into a tug-of-war between rigid opposing blocs.
The more seats Macron’s LRM can win, the more the national assembly will resemble what it never was, but always was supposed to be: an assembly of the nation’s elected, diverse by nature.
For the first time, the assembly will be composed of individual deputies rather than composed of parties made up of loyal deputies. Each deputy will have their own voice, obtained by the people’s vote, which they’ll exercise according to their own conscience before they decides whether or not to align with the future group leaders. This will demand more presence, more work, more responsibility. But it will spell the end of blocked votes and the beginning of a lively democracy.
There’ll be no intermediary between the assembly’s members and the government — none of the party structure that lulled democratic debate into complacency.
Macron’s new way
From his "political and opportunistic bubble” Macron charted his own path to the presidency and transformed himself into a political reality, causing a political sociological sea change in his wake. The ease with which these changes are happening is remarkable, given that they seemed — and were — impossible even two months ago. His opponents’ rehashed discourse now sounds empty. They’re left looking obsolete and out-dated.
The country has discovered, somewhat to its surprise, that it was ready, not for a radical and retrograde change as many feared, but for a generational change at the top of government that will bring France into the 21st century.
What looked like a mountain has turned into a hill. All we need to do now is move forward.
The question is whether we will move forward collectively and in the same direction, but along a broken line that allows for the coexistence of opinions from the left, right and elsewhere; or whether this assembly will subdivide into divergent groups, reducing the legislative branch to a merry mess that could spell a return to extremist tendencies.
Regardless of its exact composition, the assembly will have to guard against repeating the old model. Because if the best possible scenario is at the legislature’s fingertips, the worst aspects of our political system have not necessarily disappeared.