What’s cooking in Paris? French Casserolade

By Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

A noun that first appeared in France around 1830 has resurfaced in recent days: Casserolade. The word refers to a form of protest which consists of a group of people making noise by banging pots, lids, pans and other noisy utensils. Protesters sometimes take a decidedly creative approach to their protest, and the same goes for the accompanying memes.

Last Monday, for example, more than 350 noisy concerts began at 8 p.m., scattered throughout France, as French President Emmanuel Macron gave a televised speech. “Macron doesn’t listen to us, we don’t listen to him either,” the protesters shouted. The response wasn’t long in coming: “It’s not cooking pots that will move France forward,” the French president said last Wednesday during a factory visit in Alsace. The traditional pot manufacturer Cristel, however, saw things differently.

Meanwhile, all of France is laughing at the ban on cooking pots, also known as “portable sound devices” in official parlance, issued yesterday in Ganges (southern France). The reason for the ban was Emmanuel Macron’s visit to a school in Ganges.

EU parliamentarians are surprised

The result is a veritable dialogue of deaf ears between the French executive and civil society, with each insisting on its positions. This status quo and its explosive potential did not escape the notice of EU parliamentarians who gathered in Strasbourg this week for a plenary session and exchanged views on the French constitutional framework in the corridors. Almost invariably, one question emerged: How could a law as important as the one on pension reform be passed without parliamentary approval?

“It is crucial to understand that it is not necessarily constitutional jurisdiction that is being questioned, but the conditions under which it is exercised in France,” writes Lauréline Fontaine, a professor of public law, in a guest editorial in the daily Le Monde.

Constitution strongly aligned with the president

The French constitutional system is heavily focused on the executive branch, and in particular on the president of the republic, write Laurent Pech, professor of European law at Middlesex University in London, and Sébastien Platon, professor of public law at the University of Bordeaux, in a study commissioned by the European Green Party. The current French constitution also allows executive interference in the legislative sphere in some cases, the two researchers further point out.

However, the ongoing protests since January show that the French are less and less willing to accept this vertical power. This is all the more true because the exercise of this power is taking place in a context in which the functioning of the health, education and justice systems has deteriorated. And galloping inflation is only adding fuel to the fire of already fierce political protests.

Civil liberties weakened

What about the structural counterforces? It is well known that the countervailing forces offered by a federal administrative and political structure in a country like Germany do not exist in France. This lends particular weight to the action of civil society as a counterforce.

“Is this country really exemplary in terms of the rule of law? It must be noted that civil liberties have been weakened over the last decade,” writes Thomas Perroud, professor of public law at Panthéon-Assas University, in the study mentioned above. Indeed, to respond to the terrorist attacks and later to the health crisis, successive governments introduced prolonged states of emergency that were then normalized in the current legal framework, he explains.

The French constitutional framework thus allows for a solitary exercise of power, which France’s traditional partners felt during his trip to China. Macron’s statements on China and Taiwan caused all the more confusion because they seemed to ignore all the talks and meetings held with them in advance.

Marine Le Pen benefits from the crisis

A year after his re-election, Macron seems quite isolated, with a badly damaged image, even abroad. And the French head of state will begin the second year of his second term next Monday, burdened by an unpopularity that could make him dangerous. A year after his re-election, he must try to regain control of this strange five-year term that seems to be slipping away from him.

Because there are real questions and concerns about the future of France. The far right has arrived at the center of power in Italy, Sweden and Finland, and is knocking on the door in Belgium and Spain. The fact is that there is more at stake in France than the reform of the pension system. The country is in a social, political and democratic crisis. The fact that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party is the big winner of Macron’s crisis is hardly disputed in France at the moment.


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