The French political system has a nice little gimmick: fire the prime minister. France, unlike, say, the United States, divides – in theory – its head of state and head of government into two government posts: president and prime minister, respectively. But no one runs for prime minister in France.
France holds a presidential election, the president is the leader and sets the agenda, and a prime minister is simply appointed to carry out the presidential dictates amongst the myriad ministries. The prime minister cannot set the agenda and has no independent power which cannot be checked by the president, and may be dismissed by the president. It is really France’s idea of the Vice-president, a middle man between the president and the cabinet. Expect America’s Vice-president cannot fired (only evicted by the Senate) while France’s prime ministers are routinely fired. And how!
Whenever a French president fouls up and his poll numbers drop, he blames his prime minister and then fires him as a way both to feign a distance from his own presidential troubles and to engage in a gimmick so as to convince the French public now that the second-in-man-in-“charge” has been fired for following the unpopular orders of the president somehow the president should be forgiven and things will be better.
It is a no fault way for the president to pretend accountability and there for hope to improve his standing. Firing the prime minister is supposed to symbolize that things will be different, never mind that the prime minister is only an executioner and not an agenda setter. The president’s true act of accountability would be firing himself.
But, alas, politicians do what they always have. Jacques Chirac fired his prime minister after the French voted down the EU constitution even though it was Chirac who promoted it and decided on a referendum. And now his successor Sarkozy is deeply unpopular and due to his own policies and demeanor and, incidentally, he has this weekend fired his prime minister as a means to improve his standing. Ironically his prime minister is the most popular member of the Sarkozy team.
But Sarkozy hopes the firing will signal an effort to shake things up, which is what the French want but they may wait two years to personally bring about a new change by holding to account the actual head of government: Sarko.