France – Constitutional amendments

The French legislature – National Assembly and Senate – has just agreed a bill that is designed to reform a considerable number of articles of the 1958 constitution. The bill will go to a vote in a special Constitutional Congress on 27 July. As things stand, it seems to be touch and go as to whether the reforms will finally be adopted. The text is available on the National Assembly website here.

The bill will not alter France’s semi-presidential status. However, it includes a number of changes that affect the president and the legislature. In general terms, the reforms increase the role of the legislature at the expense of the government. However, the opposition socialists and some members of the centrists believe that the reforms do not go far enough. A three-fifths majority is required in the Congress and the bill is not guaranteed to have that level of support.

In terms of the changes, the government’s use of the infamous Article 49-3 will be restricted. Parliament has more say over presidential appointments. In general, parliament has more control over the legislative agenda and discussion of bills.

In addition, the president may now address parliament. However, the president’s use of emergency powers has been weakened somewhat. Also, crucially, the president is now term-limited. There is a two-term maximum (so 10 years).

There are also other key aspects of the reform that have little to do with France’s executive-legislative relations, but that do affect the system and the development of Europe more broadly. So, there are clauses relating to the possibility of laws being struck down as unconstitutional retrospectively and that include a degree of citizen involvement in the process. Also, the stipulation that there must be a referendum as regards the entry of any new member to the EU has been amended, in effect making it easier for EU enlargement to occur.

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