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Constitution of France

The current Constitution of France was adopted on October 4, 1958, and has been amended 17 times, most recently on March 28, 2003. It is typically called the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and replaced that of the Fourth Republic dating from October 27, 1946. Charles de Gaulle was its main instigator; the constitution was drafted by Michel Debré.

Impact with respect to personal freedoms
Past constitutions
French Fifth Republic
Foundation by Charles de Gaulle
After De Gaulle
See also

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 of Justice, 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 (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.

Impact with respect to 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 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 referenced 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.

Past constitutions
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:

A liberal monarchical constitution was adopted October 6, 1789 and accepted by the king on July 14, 1790.

The Constitution of 1791 or Constitution of September 3, 1791 established a limited monarchy and the Legislative Assembly.

The Constitution of 1793 or Constitution of June 24, 1793 (Fr. Acte constitutionnel du 24 juin 1793), or Montagnard Constitution (Fr. Constitution montagnarde) was ratified, but never applied, due to the suspension of all ordinary legality October 10, 1793 (French First Republic)
The Constitution of 1795, Constitution of August 22, 1795, Constitution of the Year III, or Constitution of 5 Fructidor established the Directory.

The Constitution of the Year VIII, adopted December 24, 1799, established the Consulate.

The Constitution of the Year X established a revised Consulate, with Napoleon as First Consul for Life.

The Constitution of the Year XII established the First French Empire.

Following the restoration of the Monarchy

The Charter adopted on June 4, 1814 reestablished the Monarchy

The additional act to the Constitutions of the Empire during the Hundred Days, April 23, 1815 (brief return of Napoleon to power)

The Charter adopted on August 14, 1830 ("July Monarchy")

19th century
The constitution of the Second French Republic, November 4, 1848

The constitution of the French Second Empire, January 14, 1852

The constitution of the French Third Republic, February 24 and 25, and July 16, 1875

20th century
(Vichy France, Pétain's WWII government that collaborated with Nazi Germany, had no formal constitution.)

The constitutional law of November 2, 1945 – post-WWII provisional government

The constitution of the French Fourth Republic, October 27, 1946

The constitution of the French Fifth Republic (current), October 4, 1958

French Fifth Republic

The Fifth Republic is the fifth and current republican constitution of France, which was introduced on October 5, 1958. The Fifth Republic emerged from the ashes of the French Fourth Republic, replacing a weak and factional parliamentary government with a stronger, more centralized semi-presidential system.

See Government of France for a discussion of the current workings of the French government and Politics of France for a discussion of current politics.

Foundation by Charles de Gaulle
The impetus behind the creation of the Fifth Republic was the Algerian Crisis. Although France had since parted with many of its colonies, such as many of those in West Africa and Southeast Asia, it still retained Algeria, which had a large French population that opposed decolonization. Algeria eventually became independent on July 5, 1962, despite the efforts of a handful of intransigent officers of the anti-decolonization movement. De Gaulle publicly condemned their terroristic acts on Algeria and France alike, arranging a peace with the Algerian nationalist rebels. Finally, France had acquired the stability that its voters clamored for, and Algeria was independent.

Charles de Gaulle used the crisis as an opportunity to create a new French government with a stronger office of president, which before was largely that of a figurehead. French presidents, as in preceding constitutions, were given a long term (7 years, now reduced to 5 years) and currently still have more internal power than most of their European counterparts in parliamentary democracies. On September 28, 1958, a referendum took place and 79.2% of those who voted supported the new constitution.

The president was initially elected by an electoral college, but in 1962 de Gaulle proposed that the president should be directly elected by the citizens in a referendum. Although the method and intents of de Gaulle in that referendum were highly contested by most political groups except for the Gaullists, the change was approved by the French electorate. Given the runoff voting system used in the presidential election, the president of the Republic has a high degree of legitimacy, since he has to obtain a majority at either the first or second round of elections.

After De Gaulle
De Gaulle was succeeded by Georges Pompidou (1969–1974), Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1974–1981), François Mitterrand (1981–1995), and Jacques Chirac (since 1995).
Since 1970, there have been minor changes to the Constitution: removal of sections discussing the now defunct "French community", setting the length of the presidential term to 5 years like that of Parliament, establishing workable rules for the criminal responsibility of ministers for acts within their functions, and enabling some powers to be transferred to the European Union.

The Fifth Republic, with a president with significant official functions and a great political clout, is sometimes criticized as being "monarchic". François Mitterrand famously criticized De Gaulle's way of governing as being a "permanent coup d'état". Many, especially on the Left such as Arnaud Montebourg or Les Verts argue that a new constitution should be drafted and a Sixth republic should be formed. However, there is little sign that such a change may happen any time soon.

See also

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