In this Policy Brief, Professor of French Government and Politics David S Bell analyses the French presidential election and the constitution of the French Fifth Republic. He charts the extraordinary fall from grace of Republican presidential candidate Francois Fillon, following the scandal known as 'Penelopegate', in which he allegedly paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for little or no work.
Professor Bell argues that the rise of populist movements in the form of the far right Marine Le Pen's Front national party is seen as the
primary threat to stability in France and in Europe.
The policy brief assesses the prospects not only of the respective presidential candidates, but also the balance of power between the president and the National Assembly, the latter of which is the ultimate source of authority according to the constitution.
Consequently, Professor Bell forecasts that the constitution may become a contested issue in the months to come, and that, whichever candidate wins the election, they are likely to face a divided Assembly, which could in turn lead to a dissolution of the Assembly and a snap general election. In any event, the presidential elections on 23rd April are likely to be just the beginning of a long process of political and constitutional contestation.
Populists challenge liberal constitutionalism by claiming to put the ordinary citizen in the centre of the political system, while reducing the powers of the ‘enemies of the people’. Sociologist Prof Paul Blokker argues that populists reduce democratic legitimacy, and asks: Why have populists found it so easy to radically change constitutional institutions and norms, and what can we do about it?
In this policy brief, Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser takes a comparative approach to challenge the conventional wisdom that populism, by virtue of its ambivalent relationship with constitutionalism, represents a threat to democracy.
There is a general trend among recent populist movements to implement measures that interfere with the independence and proper functioning of the judiciary. These movements seek to frame the courts in opposition to the popular will, yet the truth is more complicated than the populists would have us believe.