The executive-legislative relations form crucial subsystems of the larger political system for making decisions in their special areas. The legislative and executive branches have become the key of the positive governmental process with the inclination of the judicial branch in the last decades. The aim of the paper is to compare and contrast two democratic countries, France and Brazil, in terms of institutional structure of executive-legislative relations, and examine the differences in the policy-making process.
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France: political structure
France is a unitary semi-presidential republic. France has a dual executive: the president’s role as France’s head of the State and the prime minister’s as chief processor and coordinator of government business, are fixed. The prime minister and the government are responsible to the National Assembly and must therefore command a majority there. A president with a friendly majority will enjoy a wide choice of possible prime ministers from his camp (Balgersheim and Daloz 36). Where the president faces a hostile parliamentary majority, however, he has no choice but to appoint the prime minister acceptable to that majority – usually the effective leader of the parliamentary opposition to himself. he parliamentary elections of 1986, 1993 and 1997, therefore, opened periods of uneasy ‘cohabitation’ within france’s twin-headed executive: between a left-wing president (Mitterrand) and a right-wing premier (Jacques Chirac in 1986, Édouard Balladur in 1993); or between a right-wing president (Chirac) and a left-wing premier (Lionel Jospin) from 1997(Balgersheim and Daloz, p. 38). The Constitution (1958) strengthens the authority of the executive branch. In France, the executive branch is rules by the president and the government (the prime minister) (Balgersheim and Daloz, p. 36).
Mexico: political structure
Mexico is a federation based on the congressional system. Mexico’s constitution stipulates a presidential democracy with a federal structure, a separation of powers between executive and legislative branches of government, electoral selection of the principal executive and all legislative positions at all levels of government, and rights to free speech and free association for all citizens (Camp, p. 192). These institutional arrangements have not, however, produced democratic practice, at least in the views of the majority of social scientists who analyze Mexican politics and of a vast number of Mexican citizens who have demanded more democracy in their nation (Camp, pp. 176-178).
Comparison of France and Mexico
The main difference between France and Mexico is the structure and nature of the executive-legislative relations. Mexico singles out three levels of government: the state government, the federal Union and the Municipals. Thus, both countries have bicameral legislature: a Senate and the Chamber of Disputes in Mexico and a Senate and A National Assembly in France. Following Cleary and Stokes (2006), the Mexican regime nevertheless remains highly centralized and relatively deaf to the criticism of political opponents, most of whom have no access to power, because the candidates of the Institutional Revolutionary Party nearly always win legislative and executive offices (Cleary and Stokes, p. 65). In Mexico, the president is the head of the state and the government. The president has the authority to execute and enforce the law, and has the right to veto bills (Kabashima and White, p. 54).
The remarkable feature of Mexico is presidentialism. Presidents issue executive orders and sponsor all important legislative bills. Presidentially sponsored bills generally pass the Congress with few significant changes. Hence, in addition to being the chief executive, the president is the chief legislator. Mexico is neither entirely a democratic nor authoritarian state. “The federal executive branch, similar to its control over the other national branches of government” (Camp, p. 192). Usually, cohabitation prime ministers, having won the job thanks to their support within the parliamentary majority, have been politically much stronger than their counterparts of ‘normal’ times, raised to the premiership by the president’s choice. A president and prime minister from the same camp may be extremely close, like Chirac and Alain Juppe, or endure execrable personal and political relations, as Mitterrand did with Michel Rocard; cohabitation, on the other hand, may see a civilised ‘modus vivendii develop, as it quickly did between Mitterrand and Balladur (Cleary and Stokes, p. 76).
In contrast, the president of France, with his unique legitimacy as the people’s direct choice, unmovable during his term except by trial for high treason, and able to appoint the prime minister and call parliamentary elections (though not more than once a year) and referenda (under certain conditions), is normally master both of France’s politics and of its policies, internal and external (Sarkozy, p. 43). “Thus in completely separating the Executive from the Legislature they made impossible the establishment of the parliamentary system” (Bodley, p. 253). Faced with a hostile parliamentary majority, the president ineluctably loses many of his powers (and notably the freedom to choose his prime minister, and control over domestic policy); and he has to struggle to retain many of the rest, and to avoid returning to the relative impotence of his predecessors of earlier republics. Presidential primacy meant, in essence, that the president would not only be head of State and crisis manager but also the nation’s chief policy-maker and its first politician. In France, the Assembly has the right to dismiss the Cabinet. The legislative power of the Senate is limited (National system of political economy, p. 37).
In France, both the president and prime ministers wield power according to political circumstance, their powers remain grounded in the constitutional text. The constitution makes the prime minister the leading manager of government business through parliament (Bodley, p. 230). Aside from the parliamentarians themselves, s/he is the only possible initiator of legislation and of extraordinary sessions of parliament. It is the prime minister who asks the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament) for a vote of confidence in the government, or makes a specific bill a question of confidence, which the Assembly can only reject if an absolute majority of its members pass a vote of censure (Bodley, p. 233). It is the prime ministers, as head of the government, who wields the battery of constitutional provisions designed to curb the activities of parliament. In Mexico, presidents issue executive orders and sponsor all important legislative bills. Presidentially sponsored bills generally pass the Congress with few significant changes. Hence, in addition to being the chief executive, the president is the chief legislator (Camp, p. 182).
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These institutional structures have a significant impact on the policymaking process and international relations. In Mexico, the government merely ‘executes’ presidential policies, and has still acquired quasi-constitutional status as a shorthand for the foreign policy and defense concerns at the heart of the president’s policy-making role. “Mexican society who want some part in national policy decisions must make their concerns and interests known to the executive branch at the highest possible level. Yet as Daniel Levy and Gabriel Szekely observed, this is difficult to accomplish” (Camp, p. 180). In contrast, in France the variable relationship between the parliamentary majority and the president is of crucial importance to the distribution of power (Bodley, p. 235). The president fixes the agenda and timetable of the Council of Ministers and determines the program of the government. He signs the decrees essential to the implementation of government legislation. Though the prime minister and ministers both control implementation documents, the major decrees, are signed by the president as well as the prime ministers in the Council of Ministers. In contrast, the Mexican political system does not permit effective representation of diverse currents of opinion in its executive and legislative offices (Camp, p. 178).
The main difference in policymaking is that in France ministers have contributed substantially to the policy-making process while in Mexico the president directs the policy-making process. No one, in short, can develop independent institutional bases of power; heretofore, all political positions have required either the PRI’s nomination or the president’s appointment. The president is traditionally the effective head of the party. The power of the presidency in Mexico has permitted an extreme centralization of power (thus a country formally federal in structure). Following Camp (2006): “Decision-making in Mexico is still dominated by the executive branch, centralized in the person of the president”. The interest-group leaders who play important parts in a subsystem come as spokesmen for and symbols of special sets of values held by segments of the public. It is possible to say that the institutional structure of France gives more autonomy and independent policy-making for the prime minister and the Cabinet while in Mexico the policymaking is exercised by the president.
- Balgersheim, H., Daloz, J.-P. Political Leadership in a Global Age: The Experience of France and Norway. Ashgate Publishing, 2003.
- Bodley, J. E.C. France: Volume 2: Book III – The Parliamentary System; Book IV – Political Parties. Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.
- Camp, R.A. Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Consolidation. Oxford University Press, USA; 5 edition, 2006.
- Cleary, M.R., Stokes, S.C. Democracy and the Culture of Skepticism: Political Trust in Argentina and Mexico. Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2006.
- Kabashima, I., White III, L. T. Political System, and Change: A World Politics Reader Princeton University Press, 2007.
- National system of political economy. Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, 2005.
- Sarkozy, N. Testimony: France in the Twenty-first Century. Pantheon, 2007.