Constitution of France
Overview
 
The current Constitution of France was adopted on 4 October 1958. It is typically called the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and replaced that of the Fourth Republic
French Fourth Republic
The French Fourth Republic was the republican government of France between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic, which was in place before World War II, and suffered many of the same problems...

 dating from 1946. Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 was the main driving force in introducing the new constitution and inaugurating the Fifth Republic
French Fifth Republic
The Fifth Republic is the fifth and current republican constitution of France, introduced on 4 October 1958. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, replacing the prior parliamentary government with a semi-presidential system...

, while the text was drafted by Michel Debré
Michel Debré
Michel Jean-Pierre Debré was a French Gaullist politician. He is considered the "father" of the current Constitution of France, and was the first Prime Minister of the Fifth Republic...

. Since then the constitution has been amended eighteen times, most recently in 2008.
The preamble of the constitution recalls the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is a fundamental document of the French Revolution, defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of "natural right", the rights of man are held to be universal: valid...

from 1789 and establishes France as a secular and democratic
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 republic, deriving its sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 from the people.

It provides for the election of the President and the Parliament
Parliament of France
The French Parliament is the bicameral legislature of the French Republic, consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly . Each assembly conducts legislative sessions at a separate location in Paris: the Palais du Luxembourg for the Senate, the Palais Bourbon for the National Assembly.Each...

, the selection of the Government, and the powers of each and the relations between them.
Encyclopedia
The current Constitution of France was adopted on 4 October 1958. It is typically called the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and replaced that of the Fourth Republic
French Fourth Republic
The French Fourth Republic was the republican government of France between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic, which was in place before World War II, and suffered many of the same problems...

 dating from 1946. Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 was the main driving force in introducing the new constitution and inaugurating the Fifth Republic
French Fifth Republic
The Fifth Republic is the fifth and current republican constitution of France, introduced on 4 October 1958. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, replacing the prior parliamentary government with a semi-presidential system...

, while the text was drafted by Michel Debré
Michel Debré
Michel Jean-Pierre Debré was a French Gaullist politician. He is considered the "father" of the current Constitution of France, and was the first Prime Minister of the Fifth Republic...

. Since then the constitution has been amended eighteen times, most recently in 2008.

Summary

The preamble of the constitution recalls the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is a fundamental document of the French Revolution, defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of "natural right", the rights of man are held to be universal: valid...

from 1789 and establishes France as a secular and democratic
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 republic, deriving its sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 from the people.

It provides for the election of the President and the Parliament
Parliament of France
The French Parliament is the bicameral legislature of the French Republic, consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly . Each assembly conducts legislative sessions at a separate location in Paris: the Palais du Luxembourg for the Senate, the Palais Bourbon for the National Assembly.Each...

, the selection of the Government, and the powers of each and the relations between them. It ensures judicial authority and creates a High Court (a never convened court for judging the President), a Constitutional Council, and an Economic and Social Council. It was designed to create a politically strong President.

It enables the ratification of international treaties and those associated with the European Union. It is unclear whether the wording (especially the reserves of reciprocity) is compatible with European Union law
European Union law
European Union law is a body of treaties and legislation, such as Regulations and Directives, which have direct effect or indirect effect on the laws of European Union member states. The three sources of European Union law are primary law, secondary law and supplementary law...

.

The Constitution also sets out methods for its own amendment either by referendum
Referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

 or through a Parliamentary process with Presidential consent. The normal procedure of constitutional amendment is as follows: the amendment must be adopted in identical terms by both houses of Parliament
Parliament of France
The French Parliament is the bicameral legislature of the French Republic, consisting of the Senate and the National Assembly . Each assembly conducts legislative sessions at a separate location in Paris: the Palais du Luxembourg for the Senate, the Palais Bourbon for the National Assembly.Each...

, then must be either adopted by a simple majority in a referendum, or by 3/5 of a joint session of both houses of Parliament (the French Congress) (article 89). However, president Charles de Gaulle bypassed the legislative procedure in 1962 and directly sent a constitutional amendment to a referendum (article 11), which was adopted. This was highly controversial at the time; however, the Constitutional Council
Constitutional Council of France
The Constitutional Council is the highest constitutional authority in France. It was established by the Constitution of the Fifth Republic on 4 October 1958, and its duty is to ensure that the principles and rules of the constitution are upheld.Its main activity is to rule on whether proposed...

 ruled that since a referendum expressed the will of the sovereign people, the amendment was adopted.

On 21 July 2008, Parliament passed constitutional reforms championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy is the 23rd and current President of the French Republic and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra. He assumed the office on 16 May 2007 after defeating the Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal 10 days earlier....

 by a margin of two votes. These changes, if finalized, introduce a two-term limit for the presidency, give parliament a veto over some presidential appointments, end government control over parliament's committee system, allow parliament to set its own agenda, allow the president to address parliament in-session, and end the president's right of collective pardon. (See French constitutional law of 23 July 2008
French constitutional law of 23 July 2008
The Constitutional law on the Modernisation of the Institutions of the Fifth Republic was enacted into French constitutional law by the Parliament of France in July 2008, to reform state institutions.-History:...

)

Impact on personal freedoms

Prior to 1971, though executive, administrative and judicial decisions had to comply with the general principles of law (jurisprudence
Jurisprudence
Jurisprudence is the theory and philosophy of law. Scholars of jurisprudence, or legal theorists , hope to obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of law, of legal reasoning, legal systems and of legal institutions...

 derived from law and the practice of law in general), there were no such restrictions on legislation. It was assumed that unelected judges and other appointees should not be able to overrule laws voted for by the directly elected French parliament.

In 1971, a landmark decision by the Constitutional Council
Constitutional Council of France
The Constitutional Council is the highest constitutional authority in France. It was established by the Constitution of the Fifth Republic on 4 October 1958, and its duty is to ensure that the principles and rules of the constitution are upheld.Its main activity is to rule on whether proposed...

 (71-44DC) cited the preamble of the Constitution and its references to the principles laid in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is a fundamental document of the French Revolution, defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of "natural right", the rights of man are held to be universal: valid...

 as a reason for rejecting a law that, according to the Council, violated one of these principles. Since then, it is assumed that the "constitutional block" includes not only the Constitution, but also the other texts referred to in its preamble: the Declaration, but also the preamble of the 1946 Constitution (which adds a number of "social rights", as well as the equality of males and females) and the Environment Charter of 2004.

Since then, the possibility of sending laws before the Council has been extended. In practice, the political opposition sends all controversial laws before it.

Amendments

The Constitution defines in Article 89 the rules for amending itself. First, a constitutional bill must be approved by both houses of Parliament. Then, the bill must be approved by the Congress
Congress of France
The French Congress is the name given to the body created when both houses of the present-day French Parliament—the National Assembly and the Senate—meet at the Palace of Versailles to vote on revisions to the Constitution or to listen to an address by the President of the French...

, a special joint session of both houses; alternatively, the bill can be submitted to a referendum
Referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

.

In 1962, president Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

 controversially submitted a bill to a referendum through another procedure defined at article 11 of the Constitution – see French presidential election referendum, 1962
French presidential election referendum, 1962
A referendum on the direct election of the President was held in France on 28 October 1962. It was approved by 62.3% of voters with a 77.0% turnout...

. This procedure has never been used since then for constitutional changes.

Past constitutions

France has had numerous past constitutions.
  • The ancien régime was an absolute monarchy
    Absolute monarchy
    Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

     and lacked a formal constitution; the régime essentially relied on custom
    Convention (norm)
    A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms or criteria, often taking the form of a custom....

    .

  • The Revolutionary Era
    French Revolution
    The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

     saw a number of constitutions:
    • The Constitution of 1791
      French Constitution of 1791
      The short-lived French Constitution of 1791 was the first written constitution of France. One of the basic precepts of the revolution was adopting constitutionality and establishing popular sovereignty, following the steps of the United States of America...

      , adopted 3 September 1791, established the Kingdom of the French
      Kingdom of the French (1791–1792)
      The Kingdom of France , officially known as the Kingdom of the French , was a short-lived constitutional monarchy that governed France from 3 September 1791 to 21 September 1792. De jure, the Kingdom of the French officially ended in 1814, after the restoration and when Louis XVIII became the De...

      , a constitutional monarchy, and the Legislative Assembly
      Legislative Assembly (France)
      During the French Revolution, the Legislative Assembly was the legislature of France from 1 October 1791 to September 1792. It provided the focus of political debate and revolutionary law-making between the periods of the National Constituent Assembly and of the National Convention.The Legislative...

      .
    • The Girondin constitutional project
      Girondin constitutional project
      The Girondin constitutional project, presented to the French National Convention on February 15 and 16, 1793, by Nicolas de Caritat, formerly the Marquis de Condorcet, is composed of three parts:...

       in process of being adopted before the coup that lead to the Montagnard faction being in control.
    • The Constitution of 1793
      French Constitution of 1793
      The Constitution of 24 June 1793 , also known as the Constitution of the Year I, or the The Montagnard Constitution , was the constitution instated by the Montagnards and by popular referendum under the First Republic during the French Revolution...

      , ratified 24 June 1793, was ratified but never applied due to the suspension of all ordinary legality 10 October 1793 (under the French First Republic
      French First Republic
      The French First Republic was founded on 22 September 1792, by the newly established National Convention. The First Republic lasted until the declaration of the First French Empire in 1804 under Napoleon I...

      )
    • The Constitution of 1795
      French Constitution of 1795
      The Constitution of 22 August 1795 was a national constitution of France ratified by the National Convention on 22 August 1795 during the French Revolution...

      , adopted 22 August 1795, established the Directory
      French Directory
      The Directory was a body of five Directors that held executive power in France following the Convention and preceding the Consulate...

      .
    • The Constitution of the Year VIII
      Constitution of the Year VIII
      The Constitution of the Year VIII was a national constitution of France, adopted December 24, 1799 , which established the form of government known as the Consulate...

      , adopted 24 December 1799, established the Consulate
      French Consulate
      The Consulate was the government of France between the fall of the Directory in the coup of 18 Brumaire in 1799 until the start of the Napoleonic Empire in 1804...

      .
    • The Constitution of the Year X
      Constitution of the Year X
      The Constitution of the Year X was a national constitution of France adopted during the Year X of the French Revolutionary Calendar...

      , adopted 1 August 1802, established the Consulate for Life
    • The Constitution of the Year XII
      Constitution of the Year XII
      The Constitution of the Year XII was a national constitution of France adopted during the Year XII of the French Revolutionary Calendar ....

      , adopted 18 May 1804, established the First French Empire
      First French Empire
      The First French Empire , also known as the Greater French Empire or Napoleonic Empire, was the empire of Napoleon I of France...

      .
  • Following the restoration of the Monarchy
    • The Charter of 1814
      Charter of 1814
      The French Charter of 1814 was a constitution granted by King Louis XVIII of France shortly after his restoration. The Congress of Vienna demanded that Louis bring in a constitution of some form before he was restored. It guaranteed many of the rights that most other countries in western Europe had...

      , adopted 4 June 1814, established the Bourbon Restoration
      Bourbon Restoration
      The Bourbon Restoration is the name given to the period following the successive events of the French Revolution , the end of the First Republic , and then the forcible end of the First French Empire under Napoleon  – when a coalition of European powers restored by arms the monarchy to the...

    • The Charter of 1815
      Charter of 1815
      The Charter of 1815, signed on April 22, 1815, was the French constitution prepared by Benjamin Constant at the request of Napoleon I when he returned from exile on Elba...

      , adopted 22 April 1815, was used during the Hundred Days
      Hundred Days
      The Hundred Days, sometimes known as the Hundred Days of Napoleon or Napoleon's Hundred Days for specificity, marked the period between Emperor Napoleon I of France's return from exile on Elba to Paris on 20 March 1815 and the second restoration of King Louis XVIII on 8 July 1815...

    • The Charter of 1830
      Charter of 1830
      The Charter of 1830 instigated the July Monarchy in France. It was considered a compromise between constitutionalists and republicans.-History:...

      , adopted 14 August 1830, established the July Monarchy
      July Monarchy
      The July Monarchy , officially the Kingdom of France , was a period of liberal constitutional monarchy in France under King Louis-Philippe starting with the July Revolution of 1830 and ending with the Revolution of 1848...

  • 19th century
    • The French Constitution of 1848
      French Constitution of 1848
      The Constitution of 1848 is the constitution passed in France on November 4, 1848 by the National Assembly, the constituent body of the Second French Republic...

      , adopted 4 November 1848, established the French Second Republic
      French Second Republic
      The French Second Republic was the republican government of France between the 1848 Revolution and the coup by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte which initiated the Second Empire. It officially adopted the motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité...

    • The French Constitution of 1852
      French Constitution of 1852
      The French Constitution of 1852 was enacted on January 14, 1852 by Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte . Slightly modified later that year, on December 25, 1852 the constitution became the basis for the creation of the French Second Empire....

      , adopted 14 January 1852, established the French Second Empire
    • The French Constitutional Laws of 1875
      French Constitutional Laws of 1875
      The Constitutional Laws of 1875 are the laws passed in France by the National Assembly between February and July 1875 which established the Third French Republic.The constitution laws could be roughly divided into three laws:...

       of the French Third Republic
      French Third Republic
      The French Third Republic was the republican government of France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed due to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, to 1940, when France was overrun by Nazi Germany during World War II, resulting in the German and Italian occupations of France...

      , 24 and 25 February, and 16 July 1875
  • 20th Century
    • The French Constitutional Law of 1940, adopted 10 July 1940, established Vichy France
      Vichy France
      Vichy France, Vichy Regime, or Vichy Government, are common terms used to describe the government of France that collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944. This government succeeded the Third Republic and preceded the Provisional Government of the French Republic...

    • The French Constitutional Law of 1945, adopted 1945, established the Provisional Government of the French Republic
      Provisional Government of the French Republic
      The Provisional Government of the French Republic was an interim government which governed France from 1944 to 1946, following the fall of Vichy France and prior to the Fourth French Republic....

    • The French Constitution of 1946, adopted 27 October 1946, established the French Fourth Republic
      French Fourth Republic
      The French Fourth Republic was the republican government of France between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic, which was in place before World War II, and suffered many of the same problems...

    • The French Constitution of 1958, adopted 4 October 1958, established the French Fifth Republic
      French Fifth Republic
      The Fifth Republic is the fifth and current republican constitution of France, introduced on 4 October 1958. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, replacing the prior parliamentary government with a semi-presidential system...

      , current Constitution in force

Further reading


See also

  • Article 49 of the French Constitution
    Article 49 of the French Constitution
    Article 49 of the Constitution of France is part of Title V: "On the relations between the parliament and the government" . It sets out the political responsibility of the French government to the parliament...

  • Constitutionalism
    Constitutionalism
    Constitutionalism has a variety of meanings. Most generally, it is "a complex of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law"....

  • Constitutional economics
    Constitutional economics
    Constitutional economics is a research program in economics and constitutionalism that has been described as extending beyond the definition of 'the economic analysis of constitutional law' in explaining the choice "of alternative sets of legal-institutional-constitutional rules that constrain the...

  • French Community
    French Community
    The French Community was an association of states known in French simply as La Communauté. In 1958 it replaced the French Union, which had itself succeeded the French colonial empire in 1946....

    , which succeeded the French Union
    French Union
    The French Union was a political entity created by the French Fourth Republic to replace the old French colonial system, the "French Empire" and to abolish its "indigenous" status.-History:...

  • Government of France
    Government of France
    The government of the French Republic is a semi-presidential system determined by the French Constitution of the fifth Republic. The nation declares itself to be an "indivisible, secular, democratic, and social Republic"...

  • Politics of France
    Politics of France
    France is a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, in which the President of France is head of state and the Prime Minister of France is the head of government, and there is a pluriform, multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is...


External links

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