Important characteristic of French constitution:
Written constitution: It is a written constitution. It was not framed and adopted by a constituent assembly. A small cabinet committee was appointed by de Gaulle's government to draft a constitution. The draft was considered by a consultative committee consisting of 39 members. The committee approved the text. Then it was submitted to the people for their approval at a referendum.
Rigid constitution: it is a rigid constitution. It can't be amended by the ordinary law making procedure. The process of amendment includes a referendum.
The declaration of Rights of 1789 Adopted: An important feature of the constitution is that it reaffirms the Rights of Man and the principle of National sovereignty as defined by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. The entire constitution is permeated by these rights and principles.
Basic Democratic Principles defined and adopted: the basic democratic principles have been incorporated in the constitution. Article 2 states that France is a Republic, indivisible, Secular, democratic and social. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before law without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs. The motto of the Republic is '' liberty, equality and fraternity." Its principle is ''government of the people, by the people and for the people. '' National sovereignty belongs to the people. Suffrage is universal, equal and secret. Political parties and groups are guaranteed for freedom to carry on their activities.
Strong Presidency: The constitution provides for a strong president. The position of the president under the constitution of the third and fourth republics was very weak. He is neither reigned not governed. But the position of the president under the fifth Republic is ordinances decided upon in the council. He is the commander of the armed forces and presides over the higher councils and committees of national defence. He can dissolve the National assembly. He can assume special powers in an emergency.
Limited powers of parliament: the new constitution provides for a parliament with limited powers. Parliament can legislate only on matters enumerated in the constitution. The Government can make laws on all other matters by simple decree. The parliament is not a supreme law making authority. Its legislative competence is restrictive powers
Mixture of Parliamentary and Presidential system: The constitution combines the elements of both parliamentary and presidential systems. The council of ministers is responsible to the National assembly. The assembly may question the responsibility of the government by a motion of censure or when it disapproves the programmed or a declaration of general policy of the government, the premier must submit the resignation of the government to the president. A minister can't be a member of the National assembly or of the senate.
Bicameral legislature: It is consist of two chambers, namely the National assembly and the senate. The deputies of the National assembly are elected by direct suffrage. The deputies are elected for a term of five years, whereas the senators have a term of nine years.
The constitutional council: The constitution provides for a constitutional council. It consists of nine members whose term of office lasts nine years and in not renewable. Three of its members are appointed by the president of the Republic, three by the president of National assembly and three by the president of Senate. Its main functions are to ensure the regularity of the election of the president of the Republic and to examine the validity of organic laws before their promulgation.
The high court of justice: It is composed of members elected, in equal number, by the National assembly and the senate after each general or partial election to those bodies. It elects its president from among its members. Its main function is to try the President of the Republic for high treason and the members of the Government for their crimes and misdemeanor committed in the exercise of their duties
The high council of Judiciary: The constitution lies down that the President of the Republic shall be the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary. It provides for a high council of the judiciary to assist him. It consists of nine members appointed by the President of the Republic who himself is it s president. The Minister of justice is its vice president. The function of the council is to present nominations for Judges of the supreme court of Appeal and to give its opinion on proposal of the Minister of Justice in respect of the nomination of other judges. It is also consulted on questions of pardon.
The economic and social council: The constitution provides for the establishment of an Economic and Social council whose function is to give its opinion on the government bills, ordinances and decrees as well as on Parliamentary bills submitted to it.
Referendum: Another important feature of the constitution is that the president of the Republic can submit certain issues to the people at a referendum. The president of the Republic on the proposal of the Government or on joint motion of two assemblies may submit to referendum any bill dealing with the organization of the governmental authorities, entailing approval of community agreement, or providing for authorization to ratify a treaty that, without being contrary to the constitution, might effect the functioning of existing institutions.
The French community: It has instituted the French community which consists of the French Republic and the associated states. The Republic itself consists of Metropolitan France, the overseas Territories and the overseas Departments. The overseas Territories may retain their status within the Republic or become overseas Departments of the Republic or member states of the community. The states in the community enjoy autonomy, administer themselves and manage their own affairs democratically and freely. There is only on citizenship in the community. The community's jurisdiction extends over foreign policy, defence, currency, common economic and financial policy as well as on policy on strategic raw materials. The president of the Republic is the President of community.
The Executive: President and Prim minister:
Election of the president:
The president of France is directly elected, for the term of seven years. There is no bar to re election. He is elected by an absolute majority of the votes cast. If this is not obtained on the first ballot, there is a second ballot on the second Sunday following. Only the two candidates, who have received the greatest number of votes on the first ballot, present themselves, taking into account the possible withdrawal of more favored candidates. Impeded in its functioning, the functions of the president are temporarily exercised by the President of the Senate and if the latter is in his turn impeded in the exercise of these functions by the government.
Powers of the President:
Executive Powers: The president performs all those functions which are usually performed by a constitutional head of a state.
¨ He appoints prim minister and on his proposal the other members of the government and terminates their appointment.
¨ Presides over the council of ministers.
¨ He is the commander of the armed forces of the country.
¨ The president accredits Ambassadors and envoys extra ordinary to foreign powers and receives the foreign Ambassadors and envoys.
¨ He makes the appointments to civil and military posts of the State.
¨ He signs ordinances and decrees decided upon in the council of ministers. He promulgates laws passed by parliament and sends messages to the two house of parliament.
¨ He negotiates and ratifies treaties.
¨ He has the right of pardon.
¨ He is keep informed of all negotiations leading to the conclusion of an international agreement not subject to ratification.
President as Arbiter: It is the duty of the president to see that the constitution is respected. He shall ensure, by his arbitration, both the proper functioning of the governmental authorities and the community of the state. He shall guaranteed national independence, of the territory, and of respect for community agreements and treaties.
Discretionary Powers: The constitution vests the president with discretionary powers. He can dissolve the National assembly. He may submit certain bills to a referendum. He may decide not to submit a constitutional amendment to a referendum. Instead, he may submit it to a joint sitting of the parliamentary assemblies. He has emergency powers.
i) Dissolution of National assembly: First the president can declare the dissolution of the national assembly.
¨ The only limitation on his power of dissolution is that he can't dissolve it twice within the year following the fresh elections after dissolution.
¨ The other limitation is that the president must consult the prim minister and president of the assemblies before declaring the dissolution. But it is a sheer formality. The president may refuse dissolution when asked by the prime minister
ii) Submission of bill: The second discretionary power of the president relates to submission of bills to a referendum. The president may decide that a constitutional amendment passed by parliament need not be submitted to a referendum. In that case, the proposed amendment is submitted to a joint sitting of the two assemblies and if it is accepted by a three – fifth majority of the votes cast it becomes an amendment of the constitution. Thus initiative for referendum lies with the president.
iii) Emergency powers: When the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the nation, the integrity of its territory or the fulfillment of its commitments are threatened in a grave and immediate manner and when the regular functioning of the constitutional governmental authorities is interrupted, the president of the republic shall take necessary measures and inform nation of these measures. However, he shall take these measures after official consultation with the premier, the presidents of the assemblies and the constitutional council.
iv) Organic Laws: The president must submit to the constitutional council organic laws before their promulgation and regulations of Parliamentary assemblies before they come into force. This act of the president doesn’t need the countersignature of the premier.
The Prime Minister:
The fifth Republic provides for a parliamentary form of government with strong president. The prime minister is appointed by the president. He may appoint any person to that office. He need not have to be the Member of Parliament. According to the old constitution the president can't appoint the prime minister until he had received a confidence vote in the Assembly. Under the new constitution the president can appoint him without consulting any party or person. The prime minister remains in office as long as he enjoys the confidence of the Assembly. The president can't dismiss him, until he chooses to present, his government's resignation.
His power and position:
The prime minister selects his ministers who are appointed by the president who can again refuse any person selected by the prime minister to be the minister. The ministers shall not be the members of any house of the parliament. The council of ministers is presided over by the president and not the prime minister. The policy of the nation is actually determined by the president. The president can refuse to hold a referendum proposed by the prime minister. The position of the prime minister is insignificance when compared to prime minister of India and British prime minister. The constitution of the fifth French Republic has exalted the presidency at the cost of the prime minister and the cabinet.
1. The prime minister shall direct her conduct of government affairs. He shall be responsible for national defence. He has the power to make regulations and to make appointments to civil and military posts. He ensures the implementation of legislation.
2. He may delegate certain of his powers to ministers. He deputizes for the president of the republic as chairman of the council and committees.
3. He may deputize for him as chairman of a meeting of the council of ministers by explicit delegation and for a specific agenda.
It is consist of two houses, namely the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly is the lower house and the Senate is the upper house of the chamber. The Deputies of the National assembly is elected by directly and the Senate will be elected by indirect suffrage and also the memberships of the parliament have been determined by Organic Acts. The National Assembly has 465 plus Overseas Deputies. It is elected through two ballot systems in single member constituencies. They have to obtain an absolute majority of the votes cast in the first ballot and a simple majority in the second ballot. The life of the Assembly is five years, but it can be dissolved earlier.
The Senate consists of the representatives of the territorial entities of the Republic. Thus the membership of 307 is divided between Metropolitan France, overseas departments, overseas territories and the French citizens living abroad. The term of the Senate is nine years, one- third of its members retiring every three year.
Powers and function of the Parliament:
1. Legislative functions of the Parliament: The French Parliament is not a sovereign law making body. Its powers are limited. The subjects on which parliament can make laws have enumerated in the constitution. It establish the rules like civil rights and fundamental rights to the citizens for their public liberties, national defence on respect of their persons and property, the creation of new jurisdictions and the status of judges, rates and methods of collective taxes of all types, the insurance of currency, nationality, status and legal capacity of persons. Rights of education and also labour and trade union law and social security. Transfers of company ownership form the public to the private sector.
2. Financial powers: In financial matter also parliament doesn’t enjoy supreme powers. The government prepares the Budget and sends it to the National Assembly and after that it goes to the Senate, which enjoys equal power and the bill must passed by both the houses. According to the constitution if the Assembly has not completed the first reading within forty days, then the government refers it to the senate. If it doesn’t voted after 70 days, the government may apply its provisions by ordinance. The parliament doesn’t have the right to bring any changes in financial bill. If it result in increase and decrease in expenditure, it has the rights to cut in expenditure.
3. Executive Powers: Parliament controls the members of the government, they are responsible to it.
4. Declaration of war: In France parliament authorizes declaration of war. Treaties are negotiated and ratified by the president of the republic. But peace treatise, agreements relative to international organization, finances of the state, those relative to the status of persons, exchange or additional of territory are ratified only by law.
5. Electoral powers: The president of the National Assembly and Senate elect three members each to the constitutional council. The members of the high court of justice are elected in equal number by the National Assembly and the Senate from within their ranks.