In our 2018 Annual Forecast, we explain that the French government sees domestic reforms as a way to consolidate political power in France to put it in a better position to negotiate EU reforms. Recent reports suggest that constitutional reform will be one of the main issues for France in the early months of the coming year.
The French government has started work on its next big project: constitutional reform. After introducing changes in the country's labor legislation to make it more flexible in 2017, the French government now wants to reform the constitution in 2018. On Dec. 20, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe met with the presidents of the two chambers of parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, to start discussing the reforms. According to French media, a first draft will be presented in late January or early February, to be followed by a more concrete proposal around March. Enacting his desired reform could be one of Macron's main political challenges during the first half of 2018.
Macron already outlined some of his proposals in July. The French president wants to reduce the number of lawmakers in parliament by a third, and to limit the number of times they can be reelected. In addition, he wants to reform the two-round voting mechanism to appoint the members of the National Assembly and introduce a more proportional voting system, though the exact details are not known. Macron promised to reform France's political institutions during his presidential run in 2017. While he wasn't nearly as critical of the current system as his far-left and far-right rivals, Macron's campaign rhetoric criticized professional politicians and their prerogatives.
Of all the ideas for reform, introducing a proportional system to appoint lawmakers is probably the most interesting. The two-round system was designed to prevent extremist parties from entering the National Assembly. Parties like the far-right National Front tend to be underrepresented, as their candidates often perform strongly in the first round of elections but are eliminated in the second round. The introduction of a proportional system would probably lead to greater representation of extremist parties in the National Assembly. That could neutralize them by making them part of the system and weakening their anti-establishment credentials. But it could also open the door for a more fragmented National Assembly, making it harder to approve legislation. It could even lead to the participation of extremist parties in future governments.
Yet to introduce his constitutional reforms, Macron will need the support of three-fifths of lawmakers in parliament. While Macron's party controls a majority of seats in the National Assembly, it holds a minority in the Senate. There, the debate will be more intense. Should Macron fail to win enough support for his reforms, he could try to introduce them using a referendum. But this wouldn't be the president's first option, considering the recent unpredictability of referendums around the world.
Constitutional reforms are common in France. Several presidents have managed to introduce modifications in recent decades. But failure to modify the constitution can also become a sign of political weakness: This was the case with former President Francois Hollande, who failed to introduce constitutional reform in 2016. One of Macron’s main political battles in 2018 will be to avoid the fate of his predecessor by negotiating a package of reforms that the parliament can accept.