Blame for French Ungovernability? Look Left
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the opinions of its author(s). They do not represent the views of UCL's Diplomacy Society, Diplomacy Review nor The Diplomat.
French protests rarely go unnoticed. This time, the French government’s use of the famous constitutional article 49.3 for President Macron’s pension reform has prompted millions of French citizens to flood the streets of its major cities. Opposition parties have also been quick to blame both the President and the ruling coalition for rendering the country ungovernable, and its leaders unresponsive to the wishes of the people. However, the actions of opposition parties, especially the left-wing coalition NUPES, in the national assembly has faced a lack of scrutiny.
In April, President Emmanuel Macron passed a law reforming the national pension system, simplifying the system, ending many distinct career-specific structures, and raising the age of retirement to 64 years, from 62. As a focal point of Macron’s presidential campaign in 2022, the proposal quickly created division within French politics, with several parties vocally opposing the idea, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left party LFI and Marine Le Pen’s far-right party RN. The RN went as far as proposing the reduction of the retirement age to 60. To pass the reform, the government used a series of tools given to the executive by the French constitution, including article 49.3, which allows the government to pass certain laws without a vote in the National Assembly.
No party has been more vocal in their opposition against the reform than the far-left LFI along with their allies in the left-wing alliance NUPES. The LFI’s disruptive and provocative strategy has created chaos and disorder in the National Assembly, with shouting and bearing of signs developing tension within the institution.
However, it is their legislative strategy that has put necessary legislative debate at risk. The four parliamentary groups who compose the NUPES alliance, accounting for 26% of seats, submitted just over 6 000 amendments to the legislative text, 85.4% of all amendments submitted at the National Assembly. Thanks to the sheer number of amendments, in ten days the institution had failed to even reach article 7: the article stating the change in the retirement age.
Constructive political debate was not the aim of these 6 000 amendments. For example, 23 amendments were submitted by the same NUPES MP, all identical in their proposed text except for the proposed effective date. No effort to hide this strategy was seen by LFI leaders. Mathilde Panot, the head of LFI delegation at the National Assembly, had previously warned of the possibility of their delegates submitting 75 000 amendments, justifying this action by the need to stop the bill at any cost.
Criticism that President Macron has erased the powers of the people, through the bypassing of the parliament, can be rerouted to actions taken by NUPES. The strategy taken on by the alliance limited the space for constructive political debate and weakened the capabilities of the institution.
Calls against this destructive strategy have been heard from within the alliance. Several members of the Green party described the strategy as failed and advocated for a new approach for the alliance. NUPES parties have also seen their vote share fall in opinion polls, while opponents to the reform have seemed to look towards the far-right for representation.
Troubles in policy making within French politics has preceded this reform. The amalgamation of all major left-wing political forces in French politics under one alliance has not helped: drastically reducing the possibility of consensus in the National Assembly. Besides being awkward at times, the cohabitation of such distinct political ideologies in one large alliance poses significant questions. With vastly different views on issues such as the future of the European Union, and their different experiences with governance, these parties seem to have little in common apart from their left-wing label. The seeming incarnation of NUPES leadership undertaken by Mélenchon’s LFI has isolated the alliance in an artificially left-wing drifted political position. NUPES finds itself far from the governing coalition and further from many of their constituents.
The deliberate efforts by LFI and their allies to disrupt, and effectively blockade, the National Assembly have not only failed but have weakened the ability for consensus in a democracy that desperately needs it. If France wants to move to a version of a consensus democracy, the work must begin now. The bridges between the ruling parties in power, and left-wing parties such as the Socialists and Greens, must be found and worked with. It cannot be expected of the ruling parties to build consensus alone. The traditional defiance of the people in power in France must be left behind, the barricades must be dropped and both sides must cooperate.