Democracy: Is Faster Better?

Illustration by Justin Walker for La Jeune Politique.

Illustration by Justin Walker for La Jeune Politique.

On March 11 and 12, the President of the Republic François Hollande was in Dijon, in Burgundy, to meet with the French people. Unofficially, the maneuver had another goal: try to redress the declining popularity of the President. In Dijon, the President did meet with French people, but his communication strategy failed as it was eclipsed in the media by the snowstorm that covered the country in white on the same day.

Due to both the snowstorm and the Pope’s election on Wednesday, Hollande practically disappeared from the media, but he did make an important announcement in Dijon. On the second day of his visit, he declared that he would use the constitutional possibility offered to him to make an executive order to accelerate the reforms, in particular in domains such as urban planning or social housing.

Perfectly assuming its role as the opposition, the UMP immediately reacted and denounced the excessive power given to the President. For the right-wing party, this decision, if it was put into action, would bypass the parliamentary debate which should be the basis of all democratic decision. Of course, this argument is quick to forget that the UMP used the executive orders during Sarkozy’s term as President.

In fact, the debate should not be about the “democratic-ness” of the executive orders: they are authorized by Article 38 of the Constitution and can only be implemented after deliberation of the Parliament that restricts their use over a short period of time and regarding specific domains of policy. Executive orders must also be validated through Parliament, and if they are not, they are simply annulled.

It is clear that they are perfectly democratic, and moreover they are frequently used – almost 500 were passed since 1958. Now, the real question about the executive orders is the efficiency to help the government. Too often legal specialists have criticized the increasing quantity and the simultaneous declining quality of the law. And governing without parliamentary debate is going to help that goal of efficiency.

Of course, parliamentary debate can slow the process of law, but when it is used properly (and not as a means to drive subsidies to particular constituencies), it helps to make better legislation. But moreover, parliamentary debate keeps our democracy alive. It fuels public opinion with the arguments that are at the heart of the separation between a majority and its opposition.

Executive orders are not unconstitutional. They are a part of the tools at the disposition of the Government to rule the country. But they are a tool to use wisely, as they in a sense bypass the center of a democracy: the Parliament. So, be wise, President Hollande!

Hugo Argenton is LJP’s French columnist. He lives in Lille, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views.

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