What could Nouveau Front Populaire bring in directly by French decree

More tax bands, minimum wage increases, fixed food prices, civil servant salaries, retirement age reversal… not all can be changed without a vote from MPs

The left-wing alliance won the most seats, but are far short of an absolute majority, limiting their ability to pass bills via votes

France’s left-wing alliance the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) looks set to form the next French government, after its surprise win in Sunday's legislative elections. 

Whilst the group does not have a majority in the Assemblée nationale – nor has it confirmed who it wishes to appoint as prime minister – politicians from the bloc have announced they are beginning to plan for their time in office. 

This lack of an absolute majority in the chamber – the group has 182 seats (it would need a minimum 289 out of 577 for an absolute majority) – means the NFP will need to find allies to pass laws the traditional way (voting on bills). 

However, some in the group say their policies, which include bringing back wealth tax, increasing the minimum wage and fixing the price of 'key goods' such as food items and energy – an overview of which you can read below – can be passed by decree. 

Read more: What are key ideas of election winning (Nouveau) Front Populaire?

Far-left talisman and integral figure of the group Jean-Luc Mélenchon said on Sunday that the NFP “will enact its programme, and nothing but its programme… and will enact its entire programme.” 

“From this summer, the measures set out in this programme can be taken by decree without a vote,” he added, referencing the group’s lack of absolute majority.

Despite his claims, however, the group will be limited in what can be passed without a parliamentary vote. 

Why can decrees be used in France? 

When the constitution of the Fifth Republic was written, drafters predicted hung parliaments with no overall winner would be likely, due to the way MPs are voted for.

Whilst France has seen three ‘cohabitations’ (where the president and prime minister belong to opposing political blocs), a number of parliaments created after legislative elections have seen no party gain an absolute majority, and require groups to work in coalition governments. 

In fact, only three parliaments of the Fifth Republic – 1968, 1981, and 2017 – have seen one party win an absolute majority of seats (other parliaments have though seen common-sense coalitions between parties that are ideologically similar, such as the Socialist and Communist Parties). 

In cases where a coalition is not an option, the constitution allows for decrees to pass certain rules without the need for a vote so as to keep the country running even if parliament is gridlocked. 

Read more: ‘France is ungovernable’: what experts say about election results

What policies can be passed by decree?

Laws relating to the areas of civil rights, immigration, criminal code, labour and working laws, social security and benefits, and annual government budgets, must all be passed by votes (or Article 49.3 – more on this below).

Anything else can technically be passed by a decree. 

Key policies of the NFP such as indexing civil servant wages, and increasing the minimum wage to €1,600 net per month, therefore do not directly fall under these areas, and could be passed with a decree bypassing a vote in parliament. 

However, many other policies in the group’s manifesto, including a reverse of the pension age increase, would come into direct conflict with existing laws. 

Decrees cannot overwrite existing laws, and cases where a policy relates directly to a law (such as changing the pension age, or introduction of a new tax), legislature needs to be rewritten. 

This can only be done via a parliamentary vote, which again leads to the group’s problem of not having an absolute majority.

Even in cases where decrees can temporarily be passed – such as changes to the minimum wage – eventually a budget or finance bill would have to include these changes, which itself needs to be voted on.

The only alternative to passing budgets and other laws in parliament via a vote is the controversial Article 49.3, used by President Macron’s party to bring in the pension reform. 

Read more: Explainer: what is France’s article 49.3 and why is it in the news?

Left-wing politicians at the time attacked the presidential camp for using this method, calling it ‘undemocratic’, so it is unclear whether the group will also be willing to use it. 

President usually signs decrees too 

In addition, decrees are usually not signed by the prime minister alone but are also co-signed by the president. 

This is done on a case by case basis, but the president is likely to intervene in any decrees he deems too radical, and block their passage. 

These conditions mean, then, that it is highly unlikely the group could pass swathes of their manifesto by decree, and will likely be limited to minor changes… and even then, they will likely require the president’s approval to pass them.