Consequences of dissolving the National Assembly

A game of Russian roulette

Macron’s sudden move to call fresh elections is unprecedented in the history of the French political system. Macron justified the dissolution of the National Assembly with the need to overcome the current profound political and social crisis that is characterised by institutional deadlock and growing social tensions. He clearly considers his move to be well-founded:

  • Results of the European elections: While the governing party now only has 14.5 % of the vote (2019: 22.4), the far-right party Rassemblement National emerged victorious with 31.4%. Never before in the history of the European elections has a French governing party suffered such a collapse in popularity among voters. Macron’s Renaissance party was virtually delegitimised and clearly outflanked by the right.
  • Motion of no confidence against the Attal government: MPs from the LFI-NUPES, LR and Ecology parties tabled a motion of no confidence against the austerity policy of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s government. Grounds: the government is no longer capable of governing or passing laws.
  • Potential difficulties of passing the next budget: The current budget was adopted under the emergency Article 49.3. Experts do not expect the next budget to find majority support in parliament either, so Article 49.3 will have to be invoked again which could lead to further deadlock.

Macron and his government will have their backs to the wall when it comes to future political decisions. This is the only explanation for the French president’s risky strategy. His game of Russian roulette will have serious consequences for the political system:

  • Important laws, such as the euthanasia bill, have been put on ice. They cannot be resubmitted until the next legislative period, and only if the new government actually wants to do so.
  • The dissolution of parliament also means that, in future, parliamentary elections will no longer be held at the same time as presidential elections. This alignment has been left untouched for years in order to enable stable government majorities by avoiding a so-called “cohabitation” between the President and the government.
  • If the parliamentary majority turns against the President after the election, and the next prime minister is appointed by the far-right party Rassemblement National, this would be a new and dangerous situation for the 5th Republic.

Whilst the measure is theoretically intended to restore the government’s efficiency and initiate the necessary reforms, it could have a very different outcome. This danger has also been recognised by international commentators.

Macron surprises the world

The French President’s announcement caught the international press off-guard. In Germany, Der Spiegel spoke of a political coup de théâtre, while Spain’s La Vanguardia described it as an earthquake and a „huge political risk“. The UK’s Telegraph newspaper criticised Macron for playing with dynamite „that could explode in his face“.

In Russia, the events surrounding President Macron’s move were met with some relish. The RIA Novosti agency compared the presidential camp’s defeat to that suffered by Napoleon at Berezina and labelled Macron an illegitimate president along the lines of Volodymyr Zelensky.

The danger that the dissolution of parliament could diminish France’s credibility and influence on the international stage was recognised worldwide. Previously, Macron has been seen as a president who is struggling to lead his country but is still at the forefront of Europe. Now he is choosing chaos and handing over his position as a leader of Europe to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. This state of affairs could also have a major impact on the situation in Ukraine.

A knife at the throat of democracy?

The dissolution of parliament is cause for great concern. It puts the democratic stability of France at stake and harbours the potential danger of authoritarian excesses.

The dissolution of parliament: a flimsy attempt to support democracy

From a democratic perspective, it is difficult to criticise a return to the ballot box after such a defeat for the presidential camp. Dissolution of the national parliament therefore seemed like an option. It was also one of the possibilities open to Macron, along with resignation of the Prime Minister, an alliance with the Republicans and cooperation with the President of the Senate. But almost nobody expected him to take this step.

The dissolution of Parliament is regulated in Article 12 of the French Constitution and enables the President to dissolve the National Assembly, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the two assemblies. It is actually a legal and constitutional act because dissolving the National Assembly can give the people back their say. Returning to the ballot box allows citizens to decide once again on the composition of the National Assembly and is thus an opportunity to extend the term of office of MPs and better reflect current public opinion. In the event of institutional deadlock, dissolution also makes it possible to overcome an impasse and obtain the opinion of the electorate, which is an essential foundation of representative democracy.

On 9 June 2024, Macron in theory gave voters the opportunity to express their opinion but there are several reasons for believing that the President of the Republic is in fact seeking to break out of the democratic framework.

A strong authoritarian tendency

The dissolution of parliament supports anti-democratic tendencies. By announcing his decision an hour after the first election results, Macron distracted attention away from the success of the far-right party Rassemblement National. This prevented a debate and the necessary electoral analysis that would have been de rigueur after such an event, and especially after the unprecedented success of the far right in the European elections, as the French political scientist Clément Viktorovitch points out in his analysis when he says „He (Macron) stole the defeat from us”.

This decision aims to concentrate power back into the hands of the President. Having lost the european elections, dissolution was the only way to regain power and conceal the significance of this defeat.

The dissolution is also anti-democratic from a strategic point of view. On the evening of 9 June 2024, Macron announced the dates of the parliamentary elections: 30 June and 7 July. He thus reduced the election campaign to just twenty days. By giving such short notice, his aim is clearly to take the opposition parties by surprise so that they do not have time to prepare for the electoral debate. The President’s party has already completed its plans.

The left-wing parties, the former NUPES, on the other hand, seem more divided than ever. Twenty days is not enough time for the other parties to get their act together and form a solid opposition. The government is not backing down on this and is thereby undermining one of the democratic safeguards in order to position itself as the only party that can beat the far-right Rassemblement National.

Due to the populist stance of the Rassemblement National, the possibility of its coming to power also poses a threat to democracy. The RN is using simplistic and emotional language to mobilise citizens against the elites. This approach could weaken democratic institutions because it aims to undermine public trust in the democratic process and promote authoritarian solutions. Some observers fear that the RN could promote an illiberal form of democracy in which individual rights and the system of checks and balances lose out to the executive.

If, on Sunday evening, Macron had been serious about strengthening parliamentary sovereignty and initiating a democratic debate on the political crisis, he would have proposed new elections for September.

Political, social and economic instability is looming.

The dissolution of parliament will have a significant impact on society in the coming weeks. France could find itself confronted by one of three scenarios:

  • A Macronist parliamentary majority: The government could continue to review pending bills.
  • A parliamentary majority held by the opposition: A phase of cohabitation would begin with a prime minister appointed by the party with a parliamentary majority. This could lead to economic and geopolitical instability, especially in the run-up to the Olympic Games.
  • No majority in the National Assembly: The President’s party could form a coalition, but the risk of deadlock is high. Laws may have to be passed on the basis of Article 49.3, which could lead to frequent motions of no confidence and the possible resignation of the government.

All scenarios could lead to social tensions and institutional deadlock and have serious economic consequences. The announcement of the dissolution of parliament had an immediate impact on France’s CAC 40 share index, which fell by 2.37% at the start of trading on the morning after the European election.

Impact within the EU

The decision to dissolve the French National Assembly could have a significant impact on the political and institutional dynamics of the EU.

  1. Impact on the European Parliament

The decision to dissolve the French National Assembly cannot be looked at in isolation from the impact it will have on Europe, and more especially on the European Parliament.

Dissolution of the French parliament could affect relations between the European political parties. The often Eurosceptic far-right parties may see this decision as a precedent for similar actions in other EU countries which could strengthen their position and influence in the European Parliament and change the balance of power. The Rassemblement National currently seems to be distancing itself from its German counterpart, the AfD, but has not ruled out a collaboration with Giorgia Meloni.

In response, the pro-European parties may step up their efforts in defence of democratic values and the integrity of EU institutions. Such mobilisation could lead to closer cooperation between these parties to counter the rise of extremism and preserve European unity.

At the same time, if France’s political instability spills over into the European elections, the new balance of power in the European Parliament could slow down the adoption of new legislation. Negotiations may become more complex and confrontational, which could affect the EU’s ability to respond effectively to shared challenges such as migration, climate change and security.

An unstable or fragmented majority in the European Parliament could make cooperation between the Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the EU more difficult. Legislative initiatives may be blocked more frequently thereby slowing down the decision-making process and the implementation of EU policy.

  1. Impact on European geopolitics

The political crisis in France could change the balance of power within the EU. As one of the EU’s core states, France plays a central role in the decision-making process. Continued instability could weaken France’s position and give other Member States, such as Germany or Italy, more scope for influencing the direction of the Union.

In response to the French situation, other countries may try to strengthen their regional alliances to ensure political and economic stability. The Nordic and Benelux countries, for example, could intensify their cooperation in order to compensate for a possible decline in French influence.

And other EU Member States may adapt their strategies depending on developments in France. Some countries may take a firmer stance in order to stabilise the EU, while others could use the crisis to advance their national interests.

In light of this crisis, calls for institutional reform within the EU, designed to strengthen democratic resilience and avoid similar situations in the future, could become louder. Such initiatives may include proposals to increase transparency, improve governance and strengthen the system of checks and balances at European level.

Emmanuel Macron’s dissolution of the National Assembly raises crucial questions about the state of democracy in France and its impact on Europe. Its aim was to resolve a domestic political crisis, but it poses considerable risks to democratic and economic stability, both in France and the European Union as a whole. Vigilance and strategic thinking will be essential to overcome these challenges and protect democratic values.

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