The first reference to ‘cohabitation’

Thinking about the origins of the term ‘semi-presidentialism’ (see previous post) got me thinking about the same issue with regard to ‘cohabitation’. In my head, I had in mind that the term was first used in France about the French system and that it was coined by former Prime Minister Edouard Balladur. Anyway, bearing in mind that my received wisdom about ‘semi-presidentialism’ was totally wrong, I decided to explore a little further and I found that I was not the first to think about this issue.

In his 1997 book, Alternance et cohabitation sous la Ve République, Jean Massot, constitutional lawyer and former head of the French Conseil d’Etat, spends the first few pages identifying the origins of the term. It transpires that, even though Wikipedia still thinks that Edouard Balladur was the first to use the term, this is not so.

According to Massot, Jean-Luc Parodi was the first use the term ‘cohabiter’ (to cohabit) in the context of semi-presidentialism in his 1973 thesis, La Ve République et le système majoritaire. However, another French political scientist/constitutional lawyer, Pierre Avril seems to have been the first to use the noun ‘cohabitation’ in a 1977 article in Revue du droit public. The term was then used more systematically by yet another political scientist/constitutional lawyer, Jean-Claude Colliard, in 1977 in the review Pouvoirs.

Massot makes the point that prior to about 1983 the term was used only intermittently and only in academic circles. For example, I have found another reference to the term by Jean-Luc Parodi in 1981 in the Revue française de science politique. However, by 1983, when it was becoming clear that the socialists would have difficulty winning the 1986 legislative election and, therefore, that President Mitterrand may have to cohabit with a right-wing government, the term started to be used more widely and by political figures. So, former PM Raymond Barre (who thought the president should resign rather than cohabit) uses the term in January 1983, former president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing uses it in March and Edouard Balladur in September.

So, once again, my received wisdom was wrong. Edouard Balladur did not invent the term, though I am still assuming that the term was first used in France. (For example, a Google Scholar search for ‘cohabitação’ on Portuguese pages generates nothing until the 1990s).

Of course, there was cohabitation in Finland as early as 1926 and in Weimar Germany as far back as 1920. While the term ‘cohabitation’ would not have been used, it would be interesting to know whether an equivalent term was in common usage in these countries.

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