French constitution: Features, Comparison with Indian + other constitutions

France is known as ‘Laboratory of Political experiment’.

It has a unitary form of government and nature of the government is called as semi-Presidential type

It has some features of Parliamentary system and others of Presidential system

  1. The French Parliament does not have supremacy even in lawmaking. There is a list for which the legislature can make laws, whereas rest of the matters are taken care of by the President (i.e. he makes the laws).
  2. This is perhaps the only Democratic Constitution based on the Principle of Supremacy of Executive.
  3. France suffered from political instability. Hence, the Constitution of the 5th Republic provides a strong President, with a fixed term of 5 years, and he enjoys a lot of powers.

President

  1. The French President is the most powerful within the French system as well as amongst all other executive across world democracies
  2. Privileges of the Office of the President of US, i.e. security of tenure and being the head of the Government as well as head of the State is combined with the privileges of the Office of the British P.M. i.e. power to dissolve the Assembly (which the American President doesn’t enjoy)

France has PM as well as President.

French PM, unlike that in India and Britain, is assistant to the President. There is a division of functions, rather than

There is a division of functions, rather than the division of power between the two positions. The French President deals with foreign policy and national concerns. The PM, on the other hand, deals with day to day routine functions of the Government and local domestic issues.

PM is appointed by the President. The President doesn’t have a completely free-hand in PM’s election. The person appointed as PM must enjoy the confidence of the House.

Concept of ‘Cohabitation’

A situation where the President and the PM belong to different political parties

PM may choose his cabinet colleagues. None of the members of the Govt. can be a part of the legislature

Cabinet is presided over by the President.

The Lower House can pass the ‘Censure Motion’ against the PM and his CoM, which would imply that they must resign

The President is elected for a fixed term. Initially, the term was 9 years, reduced to 7 years and at present is 5 years.

They follow Second Ballot system (i.e. an absolute majority of the total votes polled is needed)

The President of the Republic shall be elected by an absolute majority of votes polled: if in the first round of elections, no person gets absolute majority only the top two candidates remain and the rest are eliminated. The second round of election takes place, in which one person is able to get the absolute majority.

Removal of the President

  1. The President can be impeached on the same ground as the US President. However, the process is ambiguous.
  2. Article 67 of the Constitution suggests that both the Houses should pass an identical motion.
  • After this, the President’s case will be dealt with by a special body called the High Court of Justice.
  1. This body also trails cases of corruption and conspiracies against the state by government ministries.

Emergency Powers of the President

Article 16 of the Constitution gives the real emergency powers to the President. In this situation he assumes unlimited powers and it is like democratic dictatorship or democratic coup-detat.

Comparative Analysis of the US and French Presidents

  1. The US President cannot dissolve the Assembly, whereas the French President can do so. The only limitation is that he can’t do so more than twice a year.
  2. Unlike the US President, the French President can assume dictatorial powers under Article 16.

Comparative Analysis of the French President and British P.M

The British P.M. can remain in office only as long as he enjoys majority in the lower house. The President of France, on the other hand, is elected for a fixed term.

The Legislature

The Legislature is clearly subordinate to the Executive in the French system. Article 37 of the Constitution puts clear limitation on the legislative power of the French Parliament.

It mentions that the Parliament can make laws only on the matters enumerated in the Constitution. On all other matters, the government can make laws by simple order or decree.

The President can directly influence the legislative functions of the assembly through the P.M. If the assembly doesn’t agree to a particular bill, it can be given for referendum by the President.

The French Parliament is bicameral, consisting of two houses: National Assembly and the Senate.

National Assembly

As is the case with other bicameral Parliaments, the French bicameralism is an unequal system since the National Assembly has much broader powers than those of the Senate:

  1. It alone can hold the Government accountable by refusing to grant it ‘confidence’ or by passing a censure motion (following the same idea, only the National Assembly can be dissolved by the President of the Republic).
  2. In the case of disagreement with the Senate, the Government can decide to grant the National Assembly “the final say” in the legislative procedure (except for constitutional acts and institutional acts concerning the Senate);
  • The Constitution provides the National Assembly with a more important role in the examination of the finance bill and the social security financing bill. Thus, the tabling for a first reading of such bills must be before the National Assembly and the time limits granted for their examination are much longer for the National Assembly.

The Senate

In contrast to the National Assembly, the Senate cannot be dissolved.

The fact that Senate is a permanent body plays an important role in accounting for the stability of the Government when the post of the French Republic’s President falls vacant.

Owing to above, it’s the President of the Senate who is appointed the President of French Republic if the latter is prevented from doing so, if he falls ill or resigns. Thus, a case of power vacuum is prevented, in case the President’s office falls vacant.

This interim is limited to the time needed to organize a presidential election (in practice, it lasts around 50 days).

Prominent Features of the French Constitution

  1. Organic Law:An organic or fundamental law is one that forms the foundation of a government or organization. A Constitution is a particular form of organic law for a sovereign state. The French Constitution has certain laws mentioned as organic laws. Laws made by the Parliament and the orders of the Executive must confirm to the Organic laws. So these laws have to be reviewed by a body known as the Constitutional Council. It has 9 members – three are representatives of the President, three are representatives of the French National Assembly, and the remaining three are representatives of the Senate.
  2. High Council of Justice: The purpose is the nomination of the judges. This body is headed by the President and the members of the Judiciary. The President is also known as the ‘guardian of Judiciary’.
  3. Economic and Social Council: Constitutional advisory body on social and economic issues.

Amendment of the Constitution

  1. Rigid process
  2. Both the Houses of Parliament have to pass a resolution by 3/5th majority.
  3. The President may also choose to refer the amendment to people by referendum.

By B2B

Revisiting the Basics

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