More on the Unrest in France

Emmanuel over at A Fistful of Euros has some insights into the protests in France and its tormented oscillations between command and consenus as ways of running a society.

[R]egardless of whether the CPE [Contrat première embauche, the propose reform] is good idea, economically speaking, it is fair to say that Villepin’s governing method has done a great deal to heighten the crisis.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the French parliament is inherently weak: when the government really wants a law to be passed, it always gets its way. This is due in no small part to the fact that the French constitution gives the government various procedural tools to discipline rebel MPs. The most famous and effective of them is the so-called 49.3 (named after the third paragraph of the 49th article of the constitution), which confronts MPs with a stark choice: either let the bill be adopted without a vote or vote to overthrow the government.

Theoretically, that could mean that painful reforms would be easier to implement in France than in other countries. And such procedural tools are of course quite handy when you’re trying to pass a budget without a parliamentary majority. Practically, however, it often creates a perverse set of incentives: why bother trying to build support for your bill if you are 99% sure that the law will be adopted no matter what? The problem, of course, is that snubbing the trade unions and the political parties is a sure-fire way to trigger a direct confrontation between the government and the famed French street.