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NUMERO 14 - 12/06/2024

 The 2024 European election in France: Continuity and innovation amid domestic and international turmoil

A speech given by Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950 is widely seen as a foundational act in the European integration process. France’s institutional framework is currently defined by the Constitution of 4 October 1958, adopted after Charles de Gaulle returned to office. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic was elaborated at a time when the Algerian crisis was at its peak; to manage the conflict with the National Liberation Front and to provide a way out, the new Constitution addressed the chronical weakness and instability of the French executives. The Constitution of the Fourth Republic, enacted in 1946, was decried as epitomizing all the flaws of the régime des partis, as France’s party-dominated parliamentarism was polemically known. The Constitution of 1958 is based on two pillars. First, although the government is responsible to the National Assembly (that is, the lower house of the French bicameral Parliament), the former has a very strong position in the legislative process thanks to the entrenchment of several tools of parlementarisme rationalisé. Second, the constitutional role of the President of the Republic is considerably strengthened; Article 5 of the Constitution (hereinafter Const.) confers on the head of state, among others, the power to “ensure, by his arbitration, the proper functioning of the public authorities and the continuity of the state”. Since the adoption of a groundbreaking constitutional amendment in 1962, the President of the Republic has been elected by direct universal suffrage. A defining feature of the French form of government is the presence of a diarchic executive, with a directly elected President of the Republic and a Prime Minister responsible to the National Assembly. In the founding years of the Fifth Republic, General de Gaulle actively contributed to cementing a distinctive reading of the constitutional provisions, whereby the President of the Republic defines the major policy orientations, and the Prime Minister is in charge of the day-by-day political routine. Article 9 Const., according to which the head of state presides over the meetings of the Council of Ministers, has been key to fostering this evolution. Barring periods of cohabitation, the President of the Republic, although the Constitution does not confer on him the power to dismiss the Prime Minister, may expect to secure the latter’s resignation whenever he asks him or her to leave. The dominant role of the head of state has been further enhanced by a constitutional amendment adopted in 2000, which reduced the duration of the presidential term from seven to five years. At the same time, the electoral calendar was redefined so as to have presidential elections followed by legislative elections. The combined effect of these reforms was to confirm presidential dominance within the executive and to make the presidential election the cornerstone of the whole electoral calendar... (continues)

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