The forat of the Fifth Republic

Delphine Dulong analyzes the role of the Prime Minister, which is less a clear institution than a relational fact: dyarchy with the President, incessant interministerial work, parliamentary obligations. Position of power or dominant status?

We want to start by saying that everything is good in this work! The plan, the arguments, like the fluidity of the writing. However, the challenge was not easy. At first glance, one could think that the essentials had been said about the different aspects of the Fifth Republic in its complicated relationship to the functioning of its own institutions. We could also consider that the main stories of the different sequences of political life since 1958 had covered the issue.

However, by choosing precisely Prime Minister (without article), and not the President of the Republic, Delphine Dulong had the good idea to decenter the gaze. It can thus not only analyze this massif in all its facets Prime Ministerbut also, and by this very fact, propose a new way of thinking about the Fifth Republic.

The Prime Minister and others

This is not a history of the Prime Ministers under the Fifth Republic and not, either, a history of Matignon from the angle of an administrative history of the state closed in on itself. The challenge here is to take a political fact, to work under the plural concept of role and, from there, to construct a historical sociology.

The Prime Minister does not deduce himself from constitutional articles, which have a capacity for normative projection that is ultimately relative; it illuminates by the construction of a role which is grasped through confrontation with the other actors and therefore the other partitions. The Prime Minister is not so much a clear and guiding institution as a relational fact; a kind of hub always evolving, as is Matignon, who places himself at the crossroads of interministerial work (arbitrations), the parliamentary obligations of the Prime Minister and the informal work of pure politics (holding his majority, holding his party, managing his communication, etc. ).

The first part of the work describes the main relational axis which constructed the role of Prime Minister: that of the permanent confrontation which both unites and opposes him to the President of the Republic. We know that the first observers of the Fifth Republic had proposed the notion of diarchy. Now one of the great merits of the approach adopted by Delphine Dulong is to keep the idea, but to constantly make it evolve.

The stable and happy version of the diarchy was a utopia that the two founders of the regime, De Gaulle and Michel Debr, had half believed possible. The President could be content to occupy a role of political preminence (theauctoritas) without having intervened in the management of files (the potestas). In this system, the Prime Minister had a card to play, since it was he who controlled the daily decision-making power and who monitored the development of public policies.


But the administrative strength of the Prime Minister did not prevent, quite the contrary, the development of his role of domin vis-à-vis the President. This says a lot about the subtle force of political factors. Give power an actor and assigning him multiple tasks does not weigh heavily compared to the instruments of pure politics. When De Gaulle forced his Prime Minister to come and greet him at Orly airport each time he returned from a presidential trip, the strength of the symbol relayed a hundredfold by television images prevailed over anything that could come from the management of files.

The signal of subordination is stronger than any other consideration. When, in general trend, from the 1960s to the present day, the capacity of lysis to influence the choice of certain ministers, then on the choice of cabinet members, continues to increase, multiplying the number of presidential advisors called to register the presence of the President in The meetings organized by Matignon say a lot about the weakness of the initial utopia, which consisted of believing that a boundary could be drawn between the administrative and the political.

The role of the Prime Minister is even more domin when the construction of the image depends on what the media say. Gradually, journalists gave credence to the idea that a Prime Minister outside of cohabitation must be a faithful of the President. The Prime Minister's capacity for pure politics is further reduced and, for example, his general policy speech appears as a simple setting to music of the President's words.

Any departure from this role of loyalty is immediately found serial by the press: it is interpreted as a incongruous floating (p. 73) of the diarchy, and not as the legitimate resource of a Prime Minister who seeks to assert his role (which would be consistent with the Constitution!). Symbolically and mediatically, the role is therefore domineven though the administrative power of Matignon with regard to the Lysis remains undeniable.

Head of Government

The second part of the work analyzes the dimension of the Prime Minister as Head of Government. Here, Delphine Dulong demonstrates how much the Prime Minister has won in government force throughout the Fifth Republic. From Michel Debr onwards, the council of ministers was increasingly neutralized. Unlike the two parliamentary republics (the Third and the Fourth), the different ministers are no longer the representatives of a party to which it is always necessary or competent to listen if a Prime Minister (President of the Council) wants to maintain his fragile coalition majority.

The majority fact of the Fifth, the assurance or almost of having a disciplined majority in the Assembly, therefore firstly benefited the head of government: arbitrations and decisions are made under his leadership (4 to 5 RIM Or interministerial meetings per working day), while the council of ministers no longer appears as a place of political deliberation (p. 110).

The Prime Minister, in his role as chief of staff of public policies (which are interministerial in nature almost every time), benefits from the decollegialization of government (chapter 6). Under François Fillon, the Prime held its various ministries through the practice of individual performance evaluation, orchestrated by a private consulting firm. In this sense, the Prime Minister under the Fifth Republic probably went as far, or even further, in the management of the government machinery than the British Prime Minister.

But, if the role is strong, it remains distributed by the President of the Republic. At any time, even in a position of strength in relation to his ministers or in relation to public opinion, the Prime Minister can be replaced by the President. Once again, the heart of politics escapes the Prime Minister. There is a difference between strength and power.

Concessions and attentions

In the third part, Delphine Dulong revisits a well-known figure from the Fifth Republic and its classic narrative: that of the majority factwhich is both miracle and mirage (p. 197). The discipline of the majority offers an unprecedented margin of maneuver to the Prime Minister, when it comes to orchestrating in rapid time, sometimes even in a tight flow, the vote on government bills.

This discipline, however, did not fall from the sky. To build it, it was necessary to deploy a lot of political work which has continued to expand since Pompidou. A whole part of the Prime Minister's agenda, both formal and informal, is thus occupied by the management of relations with parliamentarians.

Delphine Dulong revises the too conventional notion of deputies ankle boots. She highlights all the different facets of what she calls a symbolic trade (p. 234), which is played out between the Prime Minister and the majority parliamentarians.

Rather than constraint or threat, the relationship is built around multiple small concessions and attentions such as the acceptance of an amendment, the granting of a mission or simply the fact of listening to advice and feedback. ground proposed by deputies and senators. A whole subtle set of low-noise relationships accompanies the learning of voting discipline.

Grayness or salience?

In the fourth and final part, Delphine Dulong places all the actors on the stage of media and political theater. This allows him to insist and conclude on the logic of the images. It is also through this that we can best grasp the contradictory injunctions (p. 288) which hang over successive Prime Ministers.

Either they adopt a gray duty, according to the expression of Michel Rocard (p. 304), and they are not likely to offend the President. Either they assume their media salience (p. 311), with all the risk of tension between Matignon and Llyse. In both cases, they lose.

From this point of view, the famous expression the hell of Matignon is true not only for the exhausting pace of work, but even more for the dilemma attached to role of the actor forced to act oblivious to the primacy of the President, but obliged to assume the ordinary nature of public policies and the prosasm of work with its majority in Parliament.

All in all, we can only rejoice at having such a book at our disposal, which did not yet have an equivalent. Delphine Dulong is the first to consider all the facets rather than taking a specialized approach. The interest of the book lies as much in its content as in the methodological approach that it succeeds in imposing throughout the pages: it demonstrates that, whether through sociology or through history, the study of institutions on the condition of understanding them in movement remains essential to the understanding of politics. This seems to be obvious, but it was worth remembering.