The fundamental problem of the French presidency has been unexpectedly highlighted by Emmanuel Macron’s response to the Gilets Jaunes. Florence Aubenas, writing in Le Monde, noted that in her visits to ronds-points where protesters were gathered, no politician’s name other than Macron was mentioned. Hence it was only to be expected that their demands would be met by a declaration from the president himself. He delivered a great deal in his televised speech, more than most observers expected he would. But he delivered it on his own, without consultation with the legislature, leaders of his own or other parties, or even, it seems, with the relevant ministries. The practical problems of fulfilling his promises have become apparent only after the fact. For example, the expedient mechanism for increasing take-home pay at the bottom of the income scale–adding to the activity bonus–will leave out many people earning the minimum wage, perhaps justifiably because their spouses are earning more, but perhaps not. Nobody really knows because nobody has investigated the consequences of a measure decided unilaterally, by fiat, by the president. The same goes for the elimination of the CSG on pensions. For administrative reasons, it seems that it can’t be put in place as quickly as the president promised.
The president of the Republic has, when he chooses to invoke them, such unchecked autocratic powers that he can easily promise more than he can deliver, undermining his own credibility. The hasty–dare one say panicky–response to the crisis illustrates the flaw of this autocratic executive model. If Macron wants to get at the root of the crisis, he should impose checks and balances on himself and discipline himself to consult with both public and civil society institutions before acting. This crisis demonstrates the utter failure of France’s intermediary bodies, which must be rebuilt effectively and quickly. And that does not mean giving in to demands for a so-called RIC, or citizen initiative referendum–an idea that will only make an already disastrous situation even worse.