PARIS — A young president elected on a promise of change, who proclaimed throughout his campaign that France “wants to be governed from the center,” chooses a young prime minister from a different party who will help him build parliamentary support.
Two years later, the relationship ends in bitter acrimony. The PM resigns and goes on to mount a relentless assault on his former boss from the trenches of parliament. He succeeds — at least in making sure the president fails at the ballot box when he seeks a second term.
That’s how Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who was elected president in 1974, and Jacques Chirac, his first prime minister, became bitter enemies more than 40 years ago. And it explains why those French politicians who are old enough to remember are looking at the new executive couple of President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe with a wary eye.
What if, after a brief honeymoon, Macron and Philippe’s political interests were to diverge?
“There are many reasons for a potential rivalry between a president and his PM,” said a prominent member of parliament from the conservative Républicains, who asked not to be named because he didn’t want to “pre-judge” the Macron-Philippe duo.
“You could imagine that differences might come up on what type of compromise to accept to mollify the unions, for example” — a Macron aide
“In a nutshell: If they succeed in their action, they both want to claim responsibility. But when trouble strikes, they want to leave the other with the hot potato,” he said.
Add to this the permanent suspicion attached to the job of prime minister ever since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958: What happens when the prime minister starts harboring presidential ambitions for himself?
Of course, the comparison with France’s current political situation isn’t perfect: To begin with, Philippe, although a nice catch for Macron, is hardly a political…