Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Debré the Skeptic

Jean-Louis Debré warns that the institutional reforms currently under consideration could restore some of the features of the Third and Fourth Republics that were responsible for governmental instability. His words are veiled, because as a member of the Constitutional Council he cannot directly criticize the reform texts. But his principal concern is clear enough: he wants to make it as difficult as possible for ministers to further their personal ambitions at the expense of government solidarity. Any reform that encourages ministers to see themselves in solidarity with a parliamentary faction rather than with their colleagues in government would, in his eyes, be tantamount to constitutional regression.

In sampling some of the numerous television documentaries on May '68, I was amused to come across one in which various right-wing personalities remembered their experience of "the events." Debré was among them, and his memory was dominated by the contrast he experienced between the exuberance of his young friends at school and the morose atmosphere at home, where his father, the arch-Gaullist Michel Debré, could only lament the collapse of the General's vision of a state at last stabilized under the tutelage of a strong and hypothetically incontestable president: "All that work [to establish the Fifth Republic's constitution] for this," the younger Debré remembers his father saying ruefully. One can imagine his dismay. The son seems to have taken the lesson to heart, though he shows little appreciation of the institutional anomalies created by a constitution that provides for a government named by the president but responsible before the parliament. "Rebalancing" the constitution is the primary concern of the reform's chief architect, Edouard Balladur.