ATver the past two decades, Germany has carried out painful reforms accompanied by serious changes in social policy. The “Hartz IV” reforms revolutionized the labor market and the “retirement at 67” was adopted in order to guarantee the financing of the pension system. Yet protests and opposition to these reforms have never reached the level or intensity that they are experiencing in France.
While in France up to a million people took to the streets to denounce a crisis of the regime or to call for « put the Ve Retired Republic », thousands of people have certainly demonstrated against the reforms across the Rhine, but the challenge was not slow to run out of steam. This is due to the fact that there are in Germany, when social pressure rises, “valves” to make it fall.
At the origin of these differences between the two countries, diametrically opposed constitutional rights. After the unfortunate experience of a President of the Reich elected by direct universal suffrage and having all the powers in his hands, the German Constitution of 1949 – or Basic Law – was designed to limit this concentration. The two ballots intended to elect the President and the Parliamentary Assembly have been replaced by a single election to appoint the Bundestag. Parliamentary majorities have also been stabilized by the institution of an electoral threshold. For its part, France has taken the opposite path.
Equidistance with the executive and the Parliament
In 1958, the Ve République was established in response to parliamentary instability and numerous changes of government. It resulted a strong state headed by a president with multiple prerogatives who makes compromise look like a weakness and parliament as the mere accessory of personalized power. Voters have accepted this relative insignificance of Parliament: during legislative elections, abstention is twice as high as for the presidential election.
It is symptomatic that there is no equivalent in Germany of Article 49.3 of the Constitution which allows the government to “pass by force” against Parliament. The Federal Chancellor cannot circumvent Parliament to impose laws. The “Hartz IV” reforms and that of retirement at 67 were subject to a turbulent but regulatory parliamentary procedure, at the end of which a majority was found. Thus, the culture of compromise is enshrined in the German Constitution. It is also a tradition in social policy.
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