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. The Fifth Republic emerged from the collapse of the Fourth Republic, replacing the former parliamentary republic with a semi-presidential, or dual-executive, system that split powers between a Prime Minister as head of government and a President as head of state. 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").
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. 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.
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.
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; on 3 June 1958, a constitutional law empowered the new government to draft a new constitution of France, 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]). These plans were approved by more than 80% of those who voted in the referendum of 28 September 1958. The new constitution was signed into law on 4 October 1958. 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. 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. 1960 became known as the "Year of Africa" because of this wave of newly independent states. 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. The Constitutional Council declined to rule on the constitutionality of the referendum.
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. 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. 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. 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. From that date, the opposition has been able to have controversial new statutes examined for constitutionality.
|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|
Charles de Gaulle
Served 1969, 1974 (as interim)
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Incumbent since May 2017
|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
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