Does France have a ‘speaker’ in its parliament?

John Bercow, who recently stepped down, made the role of Speaker of the House of Commons famous even in France thanks to his memorable interventions during Brexit legislation debates and booming cries of “Ordeeeer, ordeeer”. Does the French parliament have an equivalent? [Editor’s note: the speaker is now Sir Lindsay Hoyle] J.P.

27 November 2019
ohn Bercow, who recently stepped down and Richard Ferrand (right)
By Oliver Rowland

Yes, but the role is not the same in France.

The French equivalent of the House of Commons, l’Assemblée Nationale, is led during debates by its president, who is currently Richard Ferrand, one of the MPs of the ruling LREM party of President Macron.

The president of the National Assembly is deemed to be the fourth most important person in the French state, after the president, prime minister and the president of the Senate.

The president of the assembly is elected by his or her peers and has a mandate that lasts for the whole of the parliament so the position is is renewed every five years after legislative elections.

The role is, in France, less spectacular than that of the British speaker. Debates are sometimes animated, notably during Questions to the Government, which takes place for two hours every Tuesday, but they are nonetheless very controlled.

The order and timing of interventions are set beforehand for French MPs and the president invites them to speak, but cannot decide who speaks.

The National Assembly hémicyle – referring to the semicircular shape of the debating chamber –  is very large, so it does not have the same intimacy as the Commons, a factor Winston Churchill used to especially appreciate.

The term hémicycle is also used by French people to refer to the assembly itself.

The role of president is subject to strict rules in the laws and constitution and he or she does not have a “referee” role or a choice about what is debated. This makes for debates that are calmer and do not require him or her to intervene very often, which means that people do not comment about the role of the president of the assembly so much.

In comparison, the speaker of the Commons has to juggle with constitutional rules that derive from acts, case law and customs that sometimes date to the Middle Ages and the Magna Carta.

His or her role as a “referee” is therefore important and sometimes gives rise to noisy objections, hence the need for the cries of “Ordeeer” which add colour to the proceedings.

Mr Ferrand, 57, a former journalist, is an MP for Finistère, Brittany, and was formerly a member of the Socialist Party before joining LREM.

To watch the French parliament see: videos.assemblee-nationale.fr/seance-publique.

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