Miller Center

Colloquium - The French Presidential Elections and Their Aftermath: A Régime Change?

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Vincent Michelot
September 10, 2007
12:30PM - 12:30PM (EDT)

Vincent Michelot
Vincent Michelot

Vincent Michelot, Professeur des universites Institut d'Études Politiques, Université de Lyon

The French presidential and legislative elections in the spring were surprising in many ways: voter turn-out was a record high for the former and then a near-record low for the latter; contrary to tradition, the incumbent party was returned to power; the Socialist Party conducted the first real primary ever to choose its candidate, lost in what was a defeat waiting to happen and then won numerous seats in the important elections that followed for the National Assembly; the extreme right was almost wiped out from the French electoral map and a third-party candidate, François Bayrou, long threatened to disrupt the traditional Socialist/Gaullist alternance. Once the dust settled, President Sarkozy appointed to the cabinet some leading figures of the left, ignored the demands of his own party, and precipitated the Socialist Party into yet greater disarray. From an institutional standpoint, the changes were dramatic: a redefinition of the role of the prime minister, a questioning of power of the French Parliament, a reexamination of the role played by the political parties (whether majority or opposition) and significant interrogations on separation of powers and the role of the judiciary in what looks like a plebiscitary democracy. Indeed, a committee was appointed in July 2007 to examine potential changes in the French Constitution, signaling that the Fifth Republic had arrived at its obsolescence point. This talk first attempted to ascertain the real depth and importance of those changes and then address the question of the presidentialization of the French regime, drawing on comparisons with the American institutional situation.

Vincent Michelot is Professeur des universites Institut d'Études Politiques (IEP) de Lyon. He has taught in the University of Virginia’s French Department and is a program coordinator for the UVA-Lyon II Undergraduate Exchange Program. Focusing on American politics, he has researched elections and has studied the nature of presidential power. His recent publications include L’empereur de la Maison-Blanche and three articles in Le débat: “La fin du moment conservateur? Les élections de mi-mandat de 2006” (January–February 2007), “Elections 2004 : un plébiscite en trompe l'oeil?” (January–February 2005), and “2004 : une élection sans électeurs?” (November–December 2003).

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