The New Balance of Power in France after the Revision of the Constitution
The amendments made to the French Constitution in July 2008, consisting of a modernisation of the state institutions, are probably the most fundamental ever to have taken place in France during the Fifth Republic – that is, since the current French Constitution of 1958 was adopted – because of the unprecedented number (47 articles have been either added or modified) and scope of the amendments.
This latest constitutional law, passed finally on 21 July 2008 by the Congress (i.e. a joint session of both houses of Parliament in the Palace of Versailles), aims at strengthening the role of the Parliament, renewing the way in which executive power is exercised and granting new rights to citizens.
The article focuses on the two first above-mentioned purposes set out in the constitutional law, which deal with adjusting the balance of power between the executive and the legislative branch, essentially to the benefit of the latter. This concerns firstly the new functions of the Parliament in respect of its legislative and supervisory function, as a consequence of the relaxation of the mechanisms of the so-called “rationalisation of parliamentarism”, which is to be characterized by the fact that the government plays a leading role in legislative activities. Secondly, the new provisions establish additional limits on the powers of the President of the Republic.
The constitutional reform, led primarily by the French head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, as it was part of his political programme in the presidential election of 2007, contains some ambiguities. First, it is said to be a renewed definition of the separation of powers and a transformation of the Fifth Republic, and yet it was clearly specified, originally by President Sarkozy, that the revision of the Constitution should not result in a change to the main balance between the institutions or the establishment of a new Sixth Republic. Second, one can observe that the reparliamentarisation of the French political system will ultimately contribute to making the system even more presidential.