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Newsletter July 2022

Europe, a school of compromise

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The French legislative elections put the government in a situation that is quite unusual under the Fifth Republic but very ordinary elsewhere in Europe. The Czech government, which takes over the European presidency this semester, is based on an alliance of five parties. An absolute majority is now the exception rather than the rule in most national parliaments, where representation is often fragmented. The European Parliament, too, embodies this fragmentation of political movements, especially since the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats lost in 2019 their historic pre-eminence over this institution.

The French Presidency of the EU Council, which has just ended, has shown that neither the diversity of the EU-27 bloc nor the heterogeneity of the forces within the European Parliament – nor the war in Ukraine – prevented political agreements on far-reaching legislation. The culture of compromise has permeated the European decision-making process since its origins. The European Commission already anticipates it into its draft directives and regulations. The European project itself is by definition a compromise, unless one wishes to project one’s own ideology onto it.

France, which is used to shaping European compromises in Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg, will have to get used to it at home. This will force the executive to move away from the verticality so linked to the Fifth Republic. But oppositions must also put aside their easy and immediate posture of intransigence that they stick to with the sole aim of preserving themselves before the next elections.

“Interests always compose, passions never”, according to the French moralist Vauvenargues. The most vile political passions risk being unleashed in the ranks of an Assemblée Nationale, fearing its forthcoming dissolution, and spill over into the streets. But a stalled war, a strained electricity grid, slow growth, persistent inflation and potential social disorder may prevent the politics of the worst. Public opinion will be the spur that will lead the parties to compromise or not.

Compromise must therefore regain its nobility. It does not only express the momentary state of equilibrium of a balance of power but implies a common will to move forward. As the philosopher Olivier Abel defines it, compromise does not serve to resolve a political conflict but to “make it sustainable”.

This requires respect for the rules of debate, mutual esteem, which does not prevent adversity, and consensus on France’s Republican fundamentals, which does not suppress plurality. The media have a primary responsibility in structuring the debate. The various intermediary bodies, so dear to Jacques Delors in particular, also play a role in the dissemination of a culture of compromise, which forces people to prioritise. To put up with differences over convictions that are secondary to the central theme. To abstain sometimes in a constructive way. French elected representatives can undoubtedly learn some good practices from their European counterparts. Those that will give representative democracy back all its vitality.

Sébastien Maillard, Director of the Jacques Delors Institute