- Constitution of France
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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 dating from 1946. Charles de Gaulle was the main driving force in introducing the new constitution and inaugurating the Fifth Republic, while the text was drafted by Michel Debré. 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 from 1789 and establishes France as a secular and democratic republic, deriving its sovereignty from the people.
It provides for the election of the President and the Parliament, 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.
The Constitution also sets out methods for its own amendment either by referendum 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, 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 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 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)
Impact on personal freedoms
Prior to 1971, though executive, administrative and judicial decisions had to comply with the general principles of law (jurisprudence 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 (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 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.
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, a special joint session of both houses; alternatively, the bill can be submitted to a referendum.
In 1962, president Charles de Gaulle controversially submitted a bill to a referendum through another procedure defined at article 11 of the Constitution – see French presidential election referendum, 1962. This procedure has never been used since then for constitutional changes.
France has had numerous past constitutions.
- The ancien régime was an absolute monarchy and lacked a formal constitution; the régime essentially relied on custom.
- The Revolutionary Era saw a number of constitutions:
- The Constitution of 1791, adopted 3 September 1791, established the Kingdom of the French, a constitutional monarchy, and the Legislative Assembly.
- The Girondin constitutional project in process of being adopted before the coup that lead to the Montagnard faction being in control.
- The Constitution of 1793, 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)
- The Constitution of 1795, adopted 22 August 1795, established the Directory.
- The Constitution of the Year VIII, adopted 24 December 1799, established the Consulate.
- The Constitution of the Year X, adopted 1 August 1802, established the Consulate for Life
- The Constitution of the Year XII, adopted 18 May 1804, established the First French Empire.
- Following the restoration of the Monarchy
- 19th century
- 20th Century
- The French Constitutional Law of 1940, adopted 10 July 1940, established Vichy France
- The French Constitutional Law of 1945, adopted 1945, established the Provisional Government of the French Republic
- The French Constitution of 1946, adopted 27 October 1946, established the French Fourth Republic
- The French Constitution of 1958, adopted 4 October 1958, established the French Fifth Republic, current Constitution in force
- Frédéric Monera, L'idée de République et la jurisprudence du Conseil constitutionnel – Paris : L.G.D.J., 2004 -.
- Martin A. Rogoff, "French Constitutional Law: Cases and Materials" – Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 2010.
- Article 49 of the French Constitution
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- Current text of the Constitution in French (Constitutional Council) and in English (National Assembly)
- Original text of the Constitution of 4 October 1958, as published in the Journal Officiel de la République Française on 5 October 1958
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