Analysis: Government sidelined by 'hyperpresident' Sarkozy

3rd July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 3, 2007 - Six weeks after taking office, France's new president Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing the country's constitution to its limits, analysts say, as power is increasingly concentrated in the Elysee Palace.

PARIS, July 3, 2007 - Six weeks after taking office, France's new president Nicolas Sarkozy is pushing the country's constitution to its limits, analysts say, as power is increasingly concentrated in the Elysee Palace.

Nicknamed the "hyperpresident" or "presidator", Sarkozy, 52, has barely stopped for breath since May 16, crisscrossing the country for policy speeches and inaugurations, launching foreign initiatives on the EU and Darfur, negotiating with trade union leaders -- and still finding time for his daily jog.

Supporters say it marks a determination to restore faith in politics, and opinion polls show Sarkozy's "man-of-action" persona continues to strike a chord with the public.

However analysts agree that "presidentialisation" of the political system has sidelined the actual government -- Prime Minister Francois Fillon and his cabinet team -- whose role is now reduced to following instructions from the Elysee.

And while some see this as a welcome clarification of France's Fifth Republic rules -- with an active president shouldering responsibility for policy -- others fear a drift to autocracy and an over-personalisation of powers.

"You only have to go to the Elysee palace for ten minutes to see how things have changed. It's a hive," said Philippe Maniere, director-general of the Montaigne Institute thinktank.

"The good thing is that the ambiguities of the old system are gone. Before, it was never clear who was in charge -- the president or the prime minister. Now there is no question. Sarkozy is the boss, and Fillon puts his orders into effect."

For Dominique Rousseau, professor of constitutional law at Montpellier University, "Nicolas Sarkozy has removed the constitutional hypocrisy. Everyone knows now that it is the president who rules -- that he is the captain, not some kind of arbitrator, and the prime minister is number two."

Mocked by the Socialist opposition as a Sarkozy "puppet", Fillon was to deliver a keynote address before the opening session of the National Assembly on Tuesday, but there was little suspense as the government's action plan has already been spelled out by the Elysee.

The left-wing daily Liberation described the prime minister as "suffocated by the omnipresent Sarkozy" and warned that his post could soon become "completely irrelevant".

For some experts, the downgrading of Fillon's government is not in itself a problem -- as long as Sarkozy's executive powers are counterbalanced by a strong parliament. However in France's current set-up, that is far from being the case.

"The US also has a presidential system, but there George W. Bush has to negotiate with a very powerful Congress. There is nothing like that here," said Jean-Philippe Roy, politics professor at Tours University.

For Maniere of the Montaigne Institute, "the problem is that parliament is nowadays elected in the wake of the president. As a reflex voters automatically give the president his majority. The assembly thus has no legitimacy of its own."

Drawn up in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle, France's Fifth Republic has erroneously been described as a semi-monarchical system. In fact on paper the presidency is clearly circumscribed, and it is the government of the prime minister that is supposed to "determine and conduct policy".

In practice there has been a steady accretion of powers over the years to the Elysee Palace, which Sarkozy is now taking further.

"Sarkozy is at the very limit of what our constitution allows. It's not a coup d'etat, but it is a very long way from what it says in the text," said Maniere.

"Our system is very flexible and Sarkozy is pushing it to the presidential limits," said Roy. "What is interesting is that in general the public don't seem to mind. Culturally the French are attuned to the concentration of powers in one person's hands."


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article