France’s Dissonance Quartet

PARIS – Mozart’s “Dissonance Quartet” is arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of chamber music ever written. The title, linked to its highly unusual first movement, describes perfectly the far less beautiful state of French politics today.

A quartet of figures currently dominate France’s political stage: two on the left, François Hollande and Manuel Valls; and two on the right, Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé. It is an understatement to say that contrary to the prerequisites of chamber music, they do not play together, but more or less openly against one another.

On the left, catastrophic results for the ruling Socialists in municipal elections in March revealed the depth to which Hollande’s popularity has sunk. With the Socialists facing a similar drubbing in the upcoming European Parliament election, Hollande had no choice but to install his highly popular interior minister, Manuel Valls in the Hôtel Matignon (the prime minister’s office).

For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, power seems to be dramatically shifting away from the Elysée Palace (the seat of the presidency). The letter and spirit of France’s constitution makes the prime minister the country’s second in command – “my collaborator,” as Sarkozy said of François Fillon – whose key role is to protect the president. But now Hollande is completely dependent on his prime minister.