Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The EC Gets Something Right for Once

According to Jonathan Portes.

The Reform to End all Reforms?

As long as I have been involved in the study of French politics, I have been hearing about the reform to end all reforms: the banning of the cumul des mandats. It is telling indeed that French has a phrase for the holding of multiple offices that rolls so trippingly off the tongue, whereas any English circumlocution gives the reader pause. Is le cumul des mandats simply illegal in, say, the United States? I doubt that any law exists that would prevent someone from serving simultaneously as, for instance, Mayor of Indianapolis and representative in Congress. It's just that it's-well, not the done thing.

In France, however, it is not only the done thing; it is practically a necessity of political life. If a man or woman wants to be a player at the national level, it's essential to have a local power base with patronage powers that can be used to groom a loyal staff, a cadre of backers, and bridges to important resources in civil society. Banning le cumul would indeed constitute a major reform, just because it would disrupt so many vested interests. Whether it would achieve any useful goal beyond altering the status quo has never been so clear to me as to the idea's many staunch supporters. Would the quality of representation be increased? If so, why? Might reform not widen the distance between the national and local levels and therefore have the opposite of the desired effect?

In any case, François Hollande has now promised to make good on his campaign promise to deal with the question of le cumul. Eventually. The agenda remains vague. In the same speech, Hollande promised to seek a constitutional revision that would end the practice of granting former heads of state automatic membership of the Conseil Constitutionnel. Once again, the rationale of this maneuver is open to question. Former presidents are no doubt political animals, but the CC has never made any claim to be above politics or to represent an independent legal logic. The CC is too new an institution, and its traditions are still too tenuous, to say just what kind of judicial appointment would best serve the court's ostensible purpose of establishing a measure of judicial review. The American Constitution clearly envisioned the Supreme Court as a check on the presumed excesses of democracy, and the French have always had doubts about the need for or wisdom of such a check. Former presidents have some claim to have represented "the will of the people" in some past state, whereas judicial nominations by a sitting president can claim to represent the same will in a more current state. The latter might therefore seem a more "democratic" procedure and thus more in keeping with French rather than American ideas of the highest court in the land. But the entire logic of the French court is so different that such an argument hardly seems conclusive.

Sciences Po

For those who have not been following the evolving Sciences Po affair, Scott Sayare has an excellent recap in The New York Times.