Thursday, May 24, 2007
The Running Man
I've already mentioned that Nicolas Sarkozy will be an activist President. What's become clear since the election is that he will also be an active President. And by that, I'm referring to more than just his ritual morning jog, which has become a daily photo op in the French press. More significantly, Sarkozy intends to transform the function of the French presidency to better reflect his hands-on management style.
The French presidency has traditionally served to identify the political horizon, while leaving the captaining of the ship of state to the Prime Minister. Technically, under the terms of the Constitution, the President names only his Prime Minister, who then names the government, which is subsequently referred to by the Prime Minister's name. This is more than just a technicality. When Jacques Chirac named Dominique de Villepin Prime Minister two years ago, it was considered scandalous and a 'presidential usurpation' that in the same speech, he also confirmed that Sarkozy would become Minister of the Interior. This before Villepin had officially assumed his functions.
And yet, by several press accounts, Sarkozy was so involved in the formation of François Fillon's government that on several occasions he contacted ministerial candidates to offer them positions personally. Not only did he name the ministers, though, he apparently also vetted their chiefs of staff, with whom he will also be in direct contact. By comparison with Chirac's indiscretion, today was the first time I saw a mention of it in anything but the most matter of fact terms in the French press. (And that only in a decidedly iconoclastic weekly called Marianne.)
Sarkozy has also introduced a National Security Council that works out of the presidential offices in Elysée Palace and reports directly to him, something that has never existed here. And during the campaign, he mentioned amending the Constitution to allow the President to defend legislation before the National Assembly, something that currently only ministers are allowed to do.
In fact, Sarkozy has made no secret of his intention to govern using an "Americanized" presidency, and the press has already referred to his ministers as "Secretaries of State". In other words, Sarkozy is centralizing his control over all governmental policy-making. So while the American press focused on his naming of centrists and Socialists to the government, what they missed is that it will still be Sarkozy who runs things.