The Fifth Republic, France's current republican system of government, was established by Charles de Gaulle under the Constitution of the Fifth Republic on 4 October 1958.[1] The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the Fourth Republic, replacing the former parliamentary republic with a semi-presidential, or dual-executive, system[2] that split powers between a Prime Minister as head of government and a President as head of state.[3][4] De Gaulle, who was the first French President elected under the Fifth Republic in December 1958, believed in a strong head of state, which he described as embodying l'esprit de la nation ("the spirit of the nation").[5]

The Fifth Republic is France's third-longest political regime, after the hereditary and feudal monarchies of the Ancien Régime (Late Middle Ages – 1792) and the parliamentary Third Republic (1870–1940).

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The trigger for the collapse of the French Fourth Republic was the Algiers crisis of 1958. France was still a colonial power, although conflict and revolt had begun the process of decolonization. French West Africa, French Indochina, and French Algeria still sent representatives to the French parliament under systems of limited suffrage in the French Union. Algeria in particular, despite being the colony with the largest French population, saw rising pressure for separation from the Metropole. The situation was complicated by those in Algeria, such as white settlers, who wanted to stay part of France. The Algerian War was not just a separatist movement but had elements of a civil war. Further complications came when a section of the French Army rebelled and openly backed the "Algérie française" movement to defeat separation.[6] Charles de Gaulle, who had retired from politics a decade before, placed himself in the midst of the crisis, calling on the nation to suspend the government and create a new constitutional system. De Gaulle was carried to power by the inability of the parliament to choose a government, popular protest, and the last parliament of the Fourth Republic voting for their dissolution and the convening of a constitutional convention.[7]

The Fourth Republic suffered from a lack of political consensus, a weak executive, and governments forming and falling in quick succession since 1946. With no party or coalition able to sustain a parliamentary majority, Prime Ministers found themselves unable to risk their political position with unpopular reforms.[8]

De Gaulle and his supporters proposed a system of strong presidents elected for seven-year terms. The President, under the proposed constitution, would have executive powers to run the country in consultation with a prime minister whom he would appoint. On 1 June 1958, Charles de Gaulle was appointed head of the government;[9] on 3 June 1958, a constitutional law empowered the new government to draft a new constitution of France,[1] and another law granted Charles de Gaulle and his cabinet the power to rule by decree for up to six months, except on certain matters related to the basic rights of citizens (criminal law, etc.[vague]).[10] These plans were approved by more than 80% of those who voted in the referendum of 28 September 1958.[11] The new constitution was signed into law on 4 October 1958.[12] Since each new constitution established a new republic, France moved from the Fourth to the Fifth Republic.

The new constitution contained transitional clauses (articles 90–92) extending the period of rule by decree until the new institutions were operating. René Coty remained President of the Republic until the new president was proclaimed. On 21 December 1958, Charles de Gaulle was elected President of France by an electoral college.[13] The provisional constitutional commission, acting in lieu of the Constitutional Council, proclaimed the results of the election on 9 January 1959. The new president began his office on that date, appointing Michel Debré as Prime Minister.

The 1958 constitution also replaced the French Union with the French Community, which allowed fourteen member territories (these did not include Algeria) to assert their independence.[14] 1960 became known as the "Year of Africa" because of this wave of newly independent states.[15] Algeria became independent on 5 July 1962.


The president was initially elected by an electoral college, but in 1962 de Gaulle proposed that the president be directly elected by the citizens, and held a referendum on the change. Although the method and intent of de Gaulle in that referendum were contested by most political groups except for the Gaullists, the change was approved by the French electorate.[16] The Constitutional Council declined to rule on the constitutionality of the referendum.[17]

The president is now elected every five years, changed from seven by a constitutional referendum in 2000, to reduce the probability of cohabitation due to former differences in the length of terms for the National Assembly and Presidency. The President is elected in a jungle primary: if one candidate gets a majority of votes in the first round that person is president-elect; if no one gets a majority in the first round, the two candidates with the greatest number of votes go to a second round.

Two major changes occurred in the 1970s regarding constitutional checks and balances.[18] Traditionally, France operated according to parliamentary supremacy: no authority was empowered to rule on whether statutes passed by Parliament respected the constitutional rights of the citizens.[19] In 1971, the Constitutional Council, arguing that the preamble of the Constitution referenced the rights defined in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the preamble of the 1946 Constitution, concluded that statutes must respect these rights and declared partially unconstitutional a statute because it violated freedom of association.[20] However, only the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the President of each house of Parliament could ask for a constitutional review before a statute was signed into law, which greatly reduced the likelihood of such a review if all these officeholders happened to be from the same side of politics, which was the case at the time. In 1974, a constitutional amendment widened this prerogative to 60 members of the National Assembly or 60 members of the Senate.[21] From that date, the opposition has been able to have controversial new statutes examined for constitutionality.[22]

Presidents of the Fifth Republic

  Socialist (PS)   Centrist (CD)   Centrist (REM)   Republican (UDF)   Gaullist (UNR; UDR; RPR)   Neo-Gaullist (UMP)

President Lived from to Party
Charles de Gaulle 1890–1970 8 January 1959 28 April 1969 (resigned) UNR then UDR
Alain Poher 1909–1996 28 April 1969 15 June 1969 (interim) CD
Georges Pompidou 1911–1974 15 June 1969 2 April 1974 (died in office) UDR
Alain Poher 1909–1996 2 April 1974 19 May 1974 (interim) CD
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing b. 1926 19 May 1974 21 May 1981 UDF
François Mitterrand 1916–1996 21 May 1981 17 May 1995 Socialist
Jacques Chirac b. 1932 17 May 1995 16 May 2007 RPR then UMP
Nicolas Sarkozy b. 1955 16 May 2007 15 May 2012 UMP
François Hollande b. 1954 15 May 2012 14 May 2017 Socialist
Emmanuel Macron b. 1977 14 May 2017 Incumbent REM

President image gallery

Prime Ministers of the Fifth Republic

Édith Cresson, the first Female Prime Minister

  Socialist (PS)   Centrist (REM)   Republican (UDF)   Gaullist (UNR; UDR; RPR)   Neo-Gaullist (UMP; LR)

Name Term start Term end Political Party President
Michel Debré 8 January 1959 14 April 1962 UNR Charles de Gaulle
Georges Pompidou 14 April 1962 10 July 1968 UNR
Maurice Couve de Murville 10 July 1968 20 June 1969 UDR
Jacques Chaban-Delmas 20 June 1969 6 July 1972 UDR Georges Pompidou
Pierre Messmer 6 July 1972 27 May 1974 UDR
Jacques Chirac (1st term) 27 May 1974 26 August 1976 UDR Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Raymond Barre 26 August 1976 21 May 1981 UDF
Pierre Mauroy 21 May 1981 17 July 1984 Socialist François Mitterrand
Laurent Fabius 17 July 1984 20 March 1986 Socialist
Jacques Chirac (2nd term) 20 March 1986 10 May 1988 RPR
Michel Rocard 10 May 1988 15 May 1991 Socialist
Édith Cresson 15 May 1991 2 April 1992 Socialist
Pierre Bérégovoy 2 April 1992 29 March 1993 Socialist
Édouard Balladur 29 March 1993 18 May 1995 RPR
Alain Juppé 18 May 1995 3 June 1997 RPR Jacques Chirac
Lionel Jospin 3 June 1997 6 May 2002 Socialist
Jean-Pierre Raffarin 6 May 2002 31 May 2005 UMP
Dominique de Villepin 31 May 2005 17 May 2007 UMP
François Fillon 17 May 2007 15 May 2012 UMP Nicolas Sarkozy
Jean-Marc Ayrault 15 May 2012 31 March 2014 Socialist François Hollande
Manuel Valls 31 March 2014 6 December 2016 Socialist
Bernard Cazeneuve 6 December 2016 10 May 2017 Socialist
Édouard Philippe 15 May 2017 Incumbent LR Emmanuel Macron
(since 2017)

Institutions of the Fifth Republic

Institutions of the Fifth Republic
Schema of the flow of power in the Fifth Republic

See also


  1. ^ a b Loi constitutionnelle du 3 juin 1958 portant dérogation transitoire aux dispositions de l'article 90 de la Constitution (in French).
  2. ^ Lessig, Lawrence (1993). "The Path of the Presidency". East European Constitutional Review. Fall 1993 / Winter 1994 (2/3): 104 – via Chicago Unbound, University of Chicago Law School. 
  3. ^ Richburg, Keith B. (25 September 2000). "French President's Term Cut to Five Years". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 February 2017. 
  4. ^ "12 People Who Ruined France". Politico. 29 December 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2017. 
  5. ^ Kubicek, Paul (2015). European Politics. Routledge. pp. 154–56, 163. ISBN 978-1-317-34853-5. 
  6. ^ John E. Talbott, The War Without a Name: France in Algeria, 1954-1962 (1980).
  7. ^ Jonathan Fenby, The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved (2010) pp 375-408.
  8. ^ Philip M. Williams, Crisis and Compromise: Politics in the Fourth Republic (1958)
  9. ^ Décret du 1er juin 1958 portant nomination des membres du gouvernement
  10. ^ Loi no 58-520 du 3 juin 1958 relative aux pleins pouvoirs (in French).
  11. ^ Proclamation des résultats des votes émis par le peuple français à l'occasion de sa consultation par voie de référendum, le 28 septembre 1958
  12. ^ Constitution, Journal Officiel de la République Française, 5 October 1958
  13. ^ Proclamation des résultats du scrutin du 21 décembre 1958 pour l'élection du Président de la République, Président de la Communauté; text version
  14. ^ Cooper, Frederick. "Possibility and Constraint: African Independence in Historical Perspective". Journal of African History. 49 (2). doi:10.1017/S0021853708003915. 
  15. ^ Abayomi Azikiwe, "50th Anniversary of the 'Year of Africa' 1960", Pan-African News Wire, 21 April 2010.
  16. ^ Constitutional Council, Proclamation of the results of the 28 October 1962 referendum on the bill related to the election of the President of the Republic by universal suffrage
  17. ^ Constitutional Council, Decision 62-20 DC of 6 November 1962
  18. ^ F. L. Morton, Judicial Review in France: A Comparative Analysis, The American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Winter, 1988), pp. 89–110
  19. ^ M. Letourneur, R. Drago, The Rule of Law as Understood in France, The American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1958), pp. 147–177
  20. ^ Constitutional Council, Decision 71-44 DC of 16 July 1971
  21. ^ Loi constitutionnelle no 74-904 du 29 octobre 1974 portant révision de l'article 61 de la Constitution (in French).
  22. ^ Alain Lancelot, La réforme de 1974, avancée libéral ou progrès de la démocratie ?

Further reading

  • Atkin, Nicholas. The Fifth French Republic (European History in Perspective) (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Bell, David S. and John Gaffney, eds. The Presidents of the French Fifth Republic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) 219pp.
  • Bell, David S., and Byron Criddle. Exceptional Socialists: The Case of the French Socialist Party (2014)
  • Berstein, Serge, and Jean-Pierre Rioux. The Pompidou Years, 1969-1974 (The Cambridge History of Modern France) (2000) excerpt
  • Brouard, Sylvain et al. The French Fifth Republic at Fifty: Beyond Stereotypes (French Politics, Society and Culture) (2009)
  • Chabal, Emile, ed. France since the 1970s: History, Politics and Memory in an Age of Uncertainty (2015) Excerpt
  • Cole, Alistair. François Mitterrand: A study in political leadership (1994)
  • Corbett, Anne, and Bob Moon, eds. Education in France: continuity and change in the Mitterrand years 1981-1995 (Routledge, 2002)
  • Fenby, Jonathan The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved (2010) pp 375-635.
  • Fenby, Jonathan France: A Modern History from the Revolution to the War with Terror (2016) pp 359-484
  • Gaffney, John. Political Leadership in France. From Charles de Gaulle to Nicolas Sarkozy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
  • Gaffney, John (2012). "Leadership and Style in the French Fifth Republic: Nicolas Sarkozy's Presidency in Historical and Cultural Perspective". French Politics. 10: 345–363. doi:10.1057/fp.2012.18. 
  • Lewis-Beck, Michael S., et al. eds. French Presidential Elections (Palgrave Macmillan; 2012) 232 pages; studies of four presidential contests over the past two decades.
  • Nester, William R. De Gaulle's Legacy: The Art of Power in France's Fifth Republic (2014)
  • Praud, Jocelyne and Sandrine Dauphin, eds. Parity Democracy: Women's Political Representation in Fifth Republic France (2011)
  • Rogoff, Martin A. French Constitutional Law: Cases and Materials (Durham, Carolina Academic Press, 2010.[1]
  • Short, Philip. Mitterrand: A Study in Ambiguity (2013)
  • Thody, Philip. The Fifth French Republic: Presidents, Politics and Personalities: A Study of French Political Culture (1998) excerpt and text search
  • Wall, Irwin. France Votes: The Election of François Hollande (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.)

In French

External links