Executive, legislative, judicial: political philosophy teaches that a democratic state is based on the separation of these three branches of government, but is also grounded in the dynamic of opposition by which each branch checks and balances the others and wields no power exclusive to itself alone.

The economic crisis has swept away that old structure. In the three years it has been with us, with its outstanding episodes, its ironic succession of breakthroughs followed by disillusionment, the crisis reminds us how obsolete the structure has become.

So only a few hours after a satisfied Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel announce their European projects with great pomp, a rating agency ridicules and brushes them aside and places the euro zone on negative watch.

Cover up the political disarray

The founding basis of democracy is now being succeeded by a new and brutal organisation of forces. A new economic power with no opposition capable of either restraining or even regulating it lords it over all the others and dictates its own law. Never before has the balance of strengths and weaknesses been so apparent as it is now; never before has political power seemed so helpless.

The main issue of the presidential campaign will be to cover up the political disarray and the impossibility of taking any effective political action. The past three years have shown that the firefighters have been running after the fires, always arriving too late.

Commentators will focus on the beauty of the diplomatic moves and the skill of diplomatic compromise. Meanwhile, everything will depend, today and tomorrow, on how the social consequences of the crisis are managed.

Translated from the French by Anton Baer