Salient features of the Constitution:-
The latest constitution of France has been a focus of criticism. The supporters of this constitution call it the best constitution which would give stability to France, whereas the critics call it a Monarchist constitution or at best a Parliamentary Monarchy. Before we judge the constitution, it is better if we look into the characteristics of the new constitution.
A Written Constitution:-
The constitution of the Fifth Republic is written one. It consists of 15 chapters and 90 articles. This is, however, smaller than the constitution of the Fourth Republic, which had 12 chapters and 106 articles.
A Rigid Constitution:-
The method of amendment in the constitution is rigid, unlike the British Constitution. The initiative for amending the constitution belongs to the President of the Republic on the proposal of the Prime Minister and to the Parliament. An amendment moved by the government or the Parliament must be passed by both the Houses in identical terms and should also be ratified by a referendum. If the President of the Republic moves any amendment it shall came before the Parliament convened as congress and must be approved by 3/5th majority of the votes cast. In this case the amendment shall not be submitted to a referendum. It may, however, be noted that the constitution prohibits such an amendment which may affect the Republican form of government or the integrity of the state.
A Child of Emergency:-
The constitution of the fifth Republic is called the child of emergency. It was made when there was fear of civil war and the Algerian question was still unsolved. The political structure of the government at Paris was also about to disintegrate with the frequent changing ministries. Because of weak government at home France had lost Indo-China, Tunisia and Morocco within a short period. People wanted a new constitution which would give them a stable government and save the prestige of the country.
Republican Nature of the Constitution:-
The constitution gives France a Republican form of Government. Article 89 of the constitution clearly lays down that Republican form of government shall not be the object of an amendment. In other words France shall not have monarchy but the Head of the State shall be an elected President.
Democratic Form of Government:-
The constitution declares France to be a Democracy. Article 2 gives the world famous definition which says that the Government will be “that of the people, for the people, and by the people”.
According to Article 2 of the constitution, “National Sovereignty belongs to the people, who shall exercise this sovereignty through their representative and through the referendum. It also forbids the delegation of sovereignty to either an individual or a section of the people because many a times in France autocracy establish itself in one form or the other, after getting the powers from the Parliament, in 1804 Napoleon established his empire over the ashes of the Constitution of the Consulate. Similarly in 1852 Napoleon-III abrogated the democratic constitution of the Second Republic and declared himself as the Emperor of France.
Like the Indian constitution, the constitution of the Fifth Republic also declares France to be a Secular State. In other words there will be no state religion and all the religions will be equal before the state.
Guarantee of Social and Political Rights:-
The constitution of the fifth Republic guarantees social and political rights to the citizens of France. These rights are not given in a separate chapter, as is done in the constitutions of India, Pakistan and Russia, but form a part of the preamble of the constitution.
The new constitution has substantially increased the powers of the President. The President under the Fourth Republic was only titular executive like the King or Queen of England. But the constitution of the Fifth Republic has made him in the words of Mendas France, a non-hereditary monarch. He enjoys the power of appointing the Prime Minister and other ministers. He can also dissolve the National Assembly and declare emergency.
The Parliament consists of two chambers the National Assembly and the Senate. The powers of the National Assembly are substantially reduced as compared to the powers enjoyed by it under the Fourth Republic. Earlier it had the sole right to legislate, but now in the field of law-making the Senate also had a hand. The council of Republic under the Fourth Republic is now named as the Senate and has been given much more power than the council – which was very weak chamber
Two Governmental Systems:-
The constitution has established two governmental systems – one for France proper and the other for the French community. The government of the France community is formed with the idea of appeasing the overseas territories of France. The overseas territories have been given autonomy and a separate set of government consisting of a President, and Executive Council and a Senate.