why questions to the government have become boring

Their backs were full… and their bellies were full. Two straight hours of questions to the government (QAG) right after lunch every Tuesday? “ Indigestible », breathes a deputy, who had just set up a QAG when Marianne asked for it. The reform proposed by the President of the National Assembly, Yaël Braun-Pivet, is “ better » than the current system, this same elected official confides to us, but “ it’s not a revolution “. Tested until February, this new version adopted by the lower house consists of spreading this QAG session over time: 1 hour 15 minutes on Tuesday and 45 minutes on Wednesday. A distribution substantially similar to the system which existed before the 2019 reform, carried by the Macronist Richard Ferrand, i.e. one hour on Tuesday and one hour on Wednesday. Yaël Braun-Pivet’s objective is to revive this system of questioning the executive, which often sees participants get tired after an hour. “ On the perch, I see that I lose 50% of everythingshe explained on RTL on October 3. After the first hour (On two)I lose 50% of deputies, 50% of members of the government and I lose 50% of French people. »

Originally, this device created under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was a ” strong moment of visibility of parliamentary politics », reminds Marianne Benjamin Morel, lecturer in public law at the University of Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas. However, this function has increasingly been fulfilled outside the walls of Parliament. No need to wait for the QAG anymore. for a minister to make announcements or answer questionsadds the doctor in political science. There are television and radio morning shows with journalists, but also social networks which will take care of it. » « The QAG moment has lost its sacredness », adds the specialist. The fault, in part, is the rise of new technologies.

A weaker Parliament

But this disinterest is also the sign of a regime where the role of Parliament is not as central as in a chemically pure parliamentary democracy. Thus, when questioned by a deputy, ministers, who are not responsible to the Assembly, are not required to respond in any case. It is the government that simply decides who responds to what. It often even happens that the Prime Minister is questioned… without her deigning to respond. Another minister then takes his place. But that’s the “game.” The deputies want to give importance to their intervention: they therefore call on the main government figure. In return, she can choose to downplay the theme of the question… and pass the hot potato on to one of her colleagues.

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Above all, if the National Assembly can overthrow the government in place with a motion of censure, the central figure of the executive is embodied by the President of the Republic. But he is not responsible to the deputies. While QAGs were designed to give Parliament more weight, they do not radically change the situation regarding the overall state of its powers.

United Kingdom, Germany: examples?

Elsewhere in the world, there are processes similar to QAG, but “ not necessarily in the same settings as them », Indicates Benjamin Morel. In the United Kingdom, for example, the head of government gets cooked during “Prime Minister’s Questions” (PMQs). Every Wednesday, around midday, they take place for half an hour, which can quickly seem like a “bad quarter of an hour”. “PMQs” begin with an open question from a member of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister responds to him. Then, the opposition leader can ask up to six questions. The same procedure is then repeated with the boss of the second opposition force. For comparison, let’s imagine Emmanuel Macron in the hemicycle of the Palais Bourbon under the fire of questions from Marine Le Pen and Mathilde Panot. Enough to offer some great slices of politics.

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This English-style scenario had been envisaged by Yaël Braun-Pivet, but Élisabeth Borne, after having considered it, refused it, according to The Parisian. We understand his apprehension when we know that Tony Blair, Labor and head of the British government between 1997 and 2007, was overcome by intense stress every Wednesday which caused him painful stomach aches, as he recounts in his memoirs: “This has without doubt been the most distressing, disconcerting, overwhelming, terrifying and exhausting experience of my life as Prime Minister. You know that scene from Marathon Man where the evil Nazi doctor played by Laurence Olivier pierces the nerve of Dustin Hoffman’s tooth? Around 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning, I would have traded 30 minutes of PMQ for 30 minutes of this. »

In 2014, British researcher Christopher Reid highlighted that PMQs are “ a means of testing, under conditions of extreme stress, the skills of party leaders whose performances are subject to public scrutiny “.

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But there are alsocontrol and agenda setting mechanisms which differ significantly, which are much more thematic “, explains Benjamin Morel. Like Germany where the Bundestag closely controls the Chancellor’s European policy. “ Even before he went to Brussels for a European summit, Olaf Scholz (current head of German government) must follow red lines which are set by parliamentariansexplains the lawyer. These are moments of great media coverage. » What can lead to « the Chancellor to say during these European meetings that, on certain points it is impossible for him to move, blocked by the Bundestag », concludes Benjamin Morel.

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