to the Constitution in 2008
On 21st July
2008, the French "Congress" - an exceptional joint sitting
of the two chambers of the French Parliament, the Chambre des
and the Sénat - approved the most fundamental changes to the
Constitution since it was first set up in 1958.
The result of the vote was a cliffhanger to the end, with many Deputies
from the ruling UMP party unwilling to predict whether the proposal
would achieve the required three-fifths majority of votes
required. In the end, the Congress accepted the proposal by
539 votes to 357, one vote more than the 538 required.
On opposition benches, anger was immediately vented against the one
member of the Socialist Party who voted in favour of the changes.
Defying the official party line, former Socialist minister Jack Lang
publicly announced that he would vote in favour of the changes -
claiming that most of the proposed changes had been Socialist policy
for many years. Had he voted against the reform, the proposals would
not have gone through.
The modifications essentially change the relations of power between the
President and Parliament.
Until 2008, the French president was barred from adressing parliament,
under the principle of the separation of executive and
legislative power. From now on, the President can address a joint
session of the French Congress once a year, a right similar to that
given to Presidents of the United States through the annual State of
the Union address. Similarly, as in the USA, a French president can now
only be elected for two terms of office - though these are five-year
(The length of the presidential term in office was previously reduced
from seven years to five, by President Chirac; the situation is thus
now a long way from the unlimited seven-year terms that were enshrined
in the original constitution of the Fifth Republic. President
Mitterrand served two full seven-year terms.)
also gets strengthened powers.
From now on, a parliamentary commission can veto presidential
appointments, notably appointments to the Constitutional Council
(Conseil constitutionnel), to the Senior Council of Magistrates
(Conseil supérieur de la magistrature) , and the new
There are also considerable restrictions on the use of the
much-maligned "Article 49.3" of the Constitution. This is the clause in
the French constitution that allows legislation to be pushed through by
the government without parliamentary approval. This article can now
only be applied in the case of financial bills, bills dealing with the
financing of the health service, and one other bill per parliamentary
French citizens living overseas will from now on be represented in the National Assembly
by their own Deputies.
Until now, as Supreme head of the Armed Forces, the French President
was able to declare war without consulting Parliament.. From now on,
the President must inform parliament of any troop deployment overseas,
and Parliament must approve any military deployment lasting over four
liberties, citizens' rights.
Finally, the Constitutional changes introduce new civil liberties.
Individuals can now appeal to the Constitutional Council if they
believe that they are victim of a law that runs counter to the basic
civil liberties guaranteed by the French Constitution.
For other issues, the changes establish an official ombudsman, a
"defender of citizens' rights".
The changes also introduce the notion of "Popular referendum" into
French political life. From now on, a referendum can be organised if
the request is made by at least 10% of French electors, with the
support of at least 20% of MPs..
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