France. A simplified democracy!

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This June 18, the alliance of  » En Marche  » and  » MoDem  » won the French legislative elections with a clear majority of 350 deputies out of a total of 577. This election was characterized by an unprecedented abstention rate of over 51 % in the first round and 57.4 % in the second. The alliance supporting President Emmanuel Macron received 32  percent of the vote in the first round. Taking into account the abstention rate and the number of invalid or blank votes, this majority electoral system allowed 15 % of voters, subjected to the over-motivated injunction of the media, to form a majority of 60 % of seats.

The double election, presidential and legislative, is not only important for the French. It is indicative of a change in the form of the State that concerns all the member countries of the European Union. They all experience a crisis of partisan representation, coupled with an abandonment of sovereignty. In France, this double victory, which gives full powers to the President, consolidates a recurrent tendency to strengthen the Executive, to the detriment of the legislative and judicial powers. This time, the magnitude of the change is such that the separation of powers, dear to Montesquieu, is no longer a relic of the past.

Liquidation of the judiciary

In addition to a new extension of the state of emergency until November 1, the Senate largely adopted on July 18 a bill aiming to inscribe, in the common law, measures only authorized by this state of exception, while keeping the procedures specific to the state of emergency which set aside the judicial magistrates(1). The text must pass through the National Assembly in October. It thus finalizes a series of reforms, implemented over the last fifteen years, which have progressively taken away from the judiciary most of its attributions.

The text greatly increases the possibilities of surveillance and administrative control of all citizens. The exclusion of the judicial judge is the rule. The alibi of the blind figure of the judge of freedoms and detention that the government and the Senate have just reintroduced in  » the loop  »  administrative of the procedure does not change anything to the case. The latter has the effect of increasing the number of measures that deprive and restrict liberties : searches, house arrest…, on the basis of simple notes from the intelligence services.

The prefect becomes a central figure in the implementation of the prerogatives of the Executive. He can order administrative searches, day or night, after authorization from the Paris public prosecutor. The exploitation of digital data, computers and other cell phones seized, would be subject to the authorization of the administrative judge only and not the judicial judge. In the absence of any breach, a person should report his or her identifiers from any electronic communication medium. The text also transfers to the administrative authority, outside of any state of emergency, the power to regulate the movement of people in the public space, with the public prosecutor only being notified. In addition, the Minister of the Interior may order that a person be placed under mobile electronic surveillance. The confusion between the Executive and the Judiciary is particularly evident here.

A legislative power at the service of the President

 

The clear electoral victory gave E. Macron the ability to choose an important part of the members of the National Assembly, the one composing his parliamentary majority. Indeed, the structure of  » En Marche  » is particularly centralized. The movement has a specificity : the candidates for the legislative elections are not elected by the local bases of the movement, but designated, from above, by a commission, whose members are chosen by E. Macron(2). Elected officials are no longer seen as representatives of party locals and voters in an electoral district, but as agents of the executive branch, legitimized simply by the vote of the citizens.

The desire to reduce the legislative power to a simple recording chamber is reinforced by the desire to legislate by ordinance. After having given a legislative empowerment to the government, for an area such as the reform of the labour law, the Parliament will have lost its legislative competence. It can only accept or reject the project presented, but in no case amend it.

The will to neutralize Parliament is reinforced by the project to transform the accelerated procedure into a common law procedure. The operation reduces the number of shuttles between the two chambers and thus reduces the time spent on parliamentary debate. This exceptional procedure would become the rule. Even if this reform succeeds, the new President does not intend to give up the possibility of the  » blocked vote  » which allows the government to commit confidence in order to pass a bill without a vote in the Assembly. Thus, even if the exception becomes the norm, emergency procedures will be maintained.

The separation of powers, which has been undermined by decades of reforms concentrating powers in the Executive, is here completely annihilated. These reforms lead to a result that would have been appreciated by Boris Yeltsin himself, the establishment of  » of a good parliament, a parliament that votes on laws and does not play politics.  »

Subordination of the executive function

 

The president has announced his willingness to use his power of appointment to control the senior administration and to reshuffle it if necessary(3). This will is not without effect. The senior administration plays an important role in the governance exercised by the executive branch : preparation of draft laws, implementation of reforms. The continuity of the administrative action gives it some room for maneuver. Macron is breaking with a practice that has existed for some twenty years, allowing each new president to keep in place a number of directors already in place during previous governments.

By increasing his hold on the executive function, in order to more easily push through European reforms to the detriment of the continuity of national policy, Macron tells us that the executive power, despite its strengthening in the face of the legislature and the judiciary, does not work for its own account, but for international institutions, of which it is a mere relay. The future reform of the labor code is a good example.

The current restructuring of the system of partisan representation and the organization of the various powers could be formally compared to the action taken by General de Gaulle at the time of the founding of the Fifth Republic. However, in 1958, the Gaullist initiative led to a strengthening of national sovereignty. President Macron’s operation leads to its opposite.

End of the party system

 

The fact that Emmanuel Macron separates himself from the political party system as a way of governing the country does not make him an anti-system candidate, because the  » system The « new world » that is being set up is no longer that of parties, but that of direct political governance of national states by dominant economic actors and international political structures.

The trend towards the erasure of the party system, which is explicit in the case of the SP, can also be seen in the Republican Party. Even if the process of decomposition is less advanced, it was already well underway, as the system of  » primary  » shows us.

A party’s candidate is no longer nominated by its activists, but elected by everyone, including members of a competing party. It is no longer political organizations that are in conflict, but simple personalities, no longer bearers of a program, but of an image shaped by the media. From the clash of ideas, we move to the competition of images.

We find ourselves in a new configuration of the  » political scene « , of the space of representation. We are moving from a system organized around a dominant mass party or a binary structure of two organizations  » alternatives « , left and right, to a mode of governance that abandons the party system and that, in fact and in language, rejects politics.

A crisis of partisan representation is not a unique phenomenon in the French political landscape. There are several historical references, including the Bonapartism establishing the Second Empire, or, closer to us, the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958 by General De Gaulle. However, the current phenomenon is different. The two examples cited are of an external power grab against the legislative apparatus. Today, we are witnessing an internal process of self-dismantling of the entire state structure.

Power without mediation

 

The phenomenon of the Macron candidacy shows a mutation in the exercise of state power, namely the end of all mediation with civil society. The various lobbies replace political organizations. Big business has the ability to assert its prerogatives directly against the vast majority of the population, without the decision being made in the form of any defense of  » the general interest « .

 » En Marche  » towards a  » modern-liquid  » society

In other words, the economically and politically dominant class also becomes the ruling class, the one that occupies the forefront of the  » political scene « (4). The ruling class directly manages its interests and openly promotes its candidates. The process of legitimizing this procedure is no longer one of representation, but of marketing, as the political scene merges with that of the media.

The Macron candidacy is thus the symptom of an advanced capitalist society, in which social relations are completely transformed into relations between things, between goods. The differences expressed by the different candidates are reduced to the competition of images, to the competition of goods. Thus, Macron places himself outside the language. Everyone can put what they want to hear in what is said. He does not ask us to adhere to a discourse, but to look at his image and to be in fusion with it.

There is no more room for the confrontation of divergent points of view, but for an abandonment of one’s life, private and public, in order to adapt to the permanent changes of the relations of production and to the reinforced fluidity of the productive forces, that is to say to the constantly reinforced demands of the profitability of capital. Macron is part of an ideology of the  » modern-liquid-society « , as it has been captured by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, that of permanent change in order to adapt to the fluidity of things(5). Then, the absence of internal coherence of the  » program  » is presented positively, as a possibility of constant adaptability, as a fluidity, a priori pre-existing to the consciousness of the facts, allowing to integrate any mutation. The reform of the Labor Code carried out by the Hollande government, in which he held a key position, is a first step. To break the balance of power and the capacity of resistance of the workers is the precondition to achieve their permanent adaptability to the demands of the employers. Not only does Emmanuel Macron continue the action of the outgoing government, but he magnifies it, giving it its true dimension, that of the  » liquid society « . The latter is characterized by the absence of a precise project, except to govern pragmatically. This type of governmentality can only give an even greater place to the  » experts « , reinforcing the already well asserted tendency to manage public affairs by ordinances, as well as by the use of the blocked vote procedure, already abundantly used by the outgoing government.

Here, there is no alternative, the  » outside the system  » is summed up in a claimed capacity of adaptability to any social mutation, whatever it is. The fluidity expressed is reflected in the very name of her movement  » En marche !   « , an injunction that does not specify where it is heading, but which indicates that it is a question of abandoning all resistance to the economic-political machine.

Jean-Claude Paye, sociologist

Notes et références
  1. « Observations du Syndicat de la magistrature sur le projet de loi antiterroriste », Syndicat de la Magistrature, le 27 juillet 2017, http://www.syndicat-magistrature.org/Observations-du-Syndicat-de-la-2648.html
  2. David Dornbusch, « Les élus d’En marche ! se montreront d’une docilité absolue », Le Monde, le 12 mai 2017, http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2017/05/12/en-marche-uvre-a-la-docilite-absolue-de-ses-candidats-pour-les-legislatives_5126873_3232.html
  3. Sébastien Billard, « Emmanuel Macron veut mettre la haute administration sous pression », le 16 mai 2017, http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/presidentielle-2017/20170515.OBS9388/emma…
  4. Sur la notion de scène politique, lire Nicos Poulantzas, Pouvoir politique et classes sociales II, pp. 148–152, FM/ Petite collection Maspéro, Paris 1952.
  5. Lire André Tosel, « La société liquéfiée du capitalisme global », l’Humanité, le 20 janvier 2006, http://www.humanite.fr/node/342856 -
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