When the ministers lose the election arbitration

Legislative elections were not only a challenge for Emanuel Macron to gain a majority to rule, they were also a personal test for the members of government who presented themselves there. The head of state has indicated that in case of defeat, his ministerial candidates will have to resign. This rule would therefore apply to Justin Benin (Secretary of State for Maritime, Reconciliation), Brigitte Bourguignon (Minister of Health, Pass-de-Calais), Amelie de Montchalein (Minister for Environmental Change and Solidarity, Esson), and Richard Ferrand. (President of the National Assembly, Finistère) defeated in their constituency. Although this practice was established by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, what does it mean for the concept of ministerial power?

Under the Fifth Republic, having a mandate (local, national or European) to be a minister was not a necessary condition. Moreover, ministerial and parliamentary functions are inconsistent (Article 23 of the Constitution). Then why a minister will stand in the assembly election?

A mandate to weigh politically

For a (former) member of government, standing for election makes it possible to measure his political and electoral weight. The vote serves as the responsibility of the holder of a minister’s portfolio: it may be an approval vote. The failure of Jean-Michel Blanker in the first round of this legislative election, then a heavyweight in the first five-year governments of Emanuel Macron, could portray this electoral approval as an assessment of his passage in national education.

The rule of resignation in case of defeat in the Assembly elections reinforces the notion that a minister is valid for his office because he has the confidence of the voters in the constituency.

Containing an order, the minister put “a thorough knowledge of the movement and functioning of social gear, and especially of the political machine,” to use the expression of sociologist Roberto Mitchell. This power can be exercised by a minister who is involved in the decision-making process who seeks favorable arbitration by expressing their proximity to the “case” but also by being a tenor of the parliamentary majority.

Finally, since the 2008 constitutional reforms, ministers who have left the government can regain their seats as MPs. This makes it possible for political influence to continue even after the government leaves.

Showing: A risk since 2007

Running has become a risk since 2007, and the forced resignation rule could explain some candidates leaving for fear of losing their place in government. In 2012, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Minister for Women’s Rights and spokesperson for the Ayrault government, withdrew her candidacy in Rhône’s 47th district, where all five had won 56.57% of the vote, ahead of her opponent on the right.

This year, government heavyweights such as Eric Dupont-Moretti and Agnes Panier-Ranachar have dropped out of the House-de-France in the legislature despite their primary objectives. In fact, in the June 2021 regional elections, they both received 8.67% of the vote.

In 2007, new Prime Minister Franোয়াois Fillon forced his ministers to resign in the wake of the failure of the legislature, explaining that “when we do not have the support of the people, we cannot stay in government.” Elaine Zupek, the Minister of Ecology, had to resign after the defeat in Girond’s 2nd Constituency. In 1988, Michelle Rockard made a queer-like rule, but only for outgoing ministers-deputies. At the time, Georgina Dufoix (Minister for Family Affairs) and Catherine Trottman (Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Employment) resigned.

A rule with missing arguments

Bruno Dagaran, a professor of public law, recalls that the resignation rule was already in place in 1967. In addition to the fact that the ban has no legal basis, he criticizes a “follow-up argument” to the rule. Ministers do not present themselves during legislative elections and are therefore not responsible for ballot box judgments.

In this regard, it is interesting to see the evolution of ministerial candidates in legislative elections since the introduction and replication of this rule in 2007.

Table showing the evolution of nominations and results in assembly elections. Legislature (appointment of ministers), data.gouv (results of assembly elections), j. Robin, Contributed by the author

We note that the average of ministerial candidates since 2007 is close to 0.5 and in 2017, there are fewer ministerial candidates which can be explained by the renewal of the political class.

At that time, several members of the government never held political office (Agnes Bujin, Sophie Clujel, Laura Fleisel, Franোয়াois Nissen or Friedrich Vidal) or came from civil society (Nicholas Hult, Marlene Shippa, Muriel Penicoud, Munir Mahzubi).

Moreover, of the six ministerial candidates, only Monir Mahjoubi has never used an electoral mandate before, others are outgoing deputies (and MEP for Mariel de Sarnage). So ministers already experienced in electoral practice to submit votes during this legislative election in 2017.

Strengthen the role and technical skills of the President

Outside of the candidacy, political scientists Francois Abel and Emiliano Grossman have noticed a decline in the number of ministers in the long run or otherwise occupied mandates as deputies. During the observation period of 1959-2012, they found that an average of 67% of ministers received parliamentary mandates, but this practice has undergone significant changes. They explained that during Nicolas Sarkozy’s five-year term, the government was chosen not to rely on a majority for a majority. This has contributed to the strengthening of the role of the head of state as the real leader of the majority.

Finally, political scientist Delphine Dulung explains that the Fifth Republic has brought in technical skills as a new source of legitimacy. Franোয়াois Abel and Emiliano Grossman remind us:

General de Gaulle chose to rely on trusted individuals, mainly from the top administrations and resistance, and therefore reluctant to appoint his ministers from among the deputies, most of whom were already in office under the Fourth Republic.

Appointing people from “civil society” or higher civil service without holding a parliamentary mandate or other mandate – ministers such as Emanuel Macron, Eric Dupont-Moretti or Nicholas Hult; Prime ministers like Georges Pompido, Raymond Barre, Dominic de Villepin or, most recently, Elizabeth Bourne – have been the regular practice of government since 1958.


By Julien Robin PhD student in political science, University of Montreal

Author Jean-Franোois is doing his thesis under the supervision of Godbout.