President of the French Republic

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The President of the French Republic (French: Président de la République française) colloquially referred to as President of France, is France's elected Head of State and also the ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra and Grand Master of the Légion d'honneur.

Four of France's five republics have had presidents as their heads of state, making the French presidency the oldest presidency in Europe. In each of the republics' constitutions the president's powers, functions and duties, and their relationships with French governments differed.

The current President of the Republic is Jacques Chirac.


Presidential attributions

Unlike many other European presidents, the office of the French President is quite a powerful one, especially in matters of foreign policy. Although it is the prime minister and parliament that oversee much of the nation's actual lawmaking, the French President has a sizeable influence, both formally and due to constitutional convention. The presidency is the nation's foremost office, and he outranks all other politicians.

Perhaps the president's greatest power is his ability to choose the prime minister. However, since only the French National Assembly has the power to dismiss the Prime Minister's gouvernement, the president is forced to name a prime minister that is agreeable to the majority of this assembly.

  • When the majority of the Assembly has opposite political views to that of the president, this leads to political cohabitation. In that case, the president is rather powerless, since he has little power that he can exert by himself. Still, the constitutional convention is that the president directs foreign policy, though he must work on that matter with the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  • When the majority of the Assembly sides with him, the President takes a more active role and may, in effect, direct the country's policy. The prime minister is then often a mere "fuse" — replaced when the administration becomes too unpopular.

Among the formal attributions of the president:

  • The president promulgates laws (i.e. signs them before they are published as official).
    • The president has a very limited form of suspensive veto: when presented a law, he can request another reading of it by Parliament; but if the law is presented a second time, he has to sign it.
    • The president may refer a law to the Constitutional Council prior to promulgation.
  • The president may refer laws to referendum.
  • The president names certain high officials (with the assent of the cabinet).
  • The president names certain members of the Constitutional Council.
  • The president receives foreign ambassadors.
  • The president may grant a pardon (but not an amnesty) to convicted criminals; the president can also lessen or suppress criminal sentences. This was of crucial importance when France had the death penalty: criminals sentenced to death would generally request that the president turn their sentence into life imprisonment.

There is a tradition of so-called "presidential amnesties", which are somewhat of a misnomer: after the election of a president, and of a National Assembly of the same party, parliament traditionally votes a law granting amnesty for some petty crimes. This practice has been increasingly criticized, particularly because it is believed to incite people to commit traffic offenses in the months preceding the election. Such an amnesty law may also authorize the president to designate individuals who have committed certain categories of crimes to be amnestied, if certain conditions are met. Such individual measures have been criticized for the political patronage that they allow. Still, it is argued that such amnesty laws help reduce prison overpopulation. An amnesty law was voted in 2002; it is unknown whether one will be voted in 2007.

The difference between an amnesty and a presidential pardon is that the former clears all subsequent effects of the sentencing, as though the crime had not been committed, while pardon simply relieves the sentenced individual from part or all of the remaining of the sentence.


Since 2000 the President of France is directly elected to a five-year term by the French people. (It was a seven-year term before 2000). President Chirac was first elected in 1995 and again in 2002. His current term will thus expire in 2007. There is no term limit, so Chirac could theoretically run again.

François Mitterrand is the only President to date who has served a full two terms.

The method of French presidential elections is run-off voting which ensures the elected President always obtains a majority of the vote.

After the president is elected, he goes through a solemn investiture ceremony.[1]

Current constitutional powers

The constitutional attributions of the president are defined in Title II of the Constitution of France.

Article 5 The President of the Republic shall see that the Constitution is observed. He shall ensure, by his arbitration, the proper functioning of the public authorities and the continuity of the State. He shall be the guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity and observance of treaties.

Article 8 The President of the Republic shall appoint the Prime Minister. He shall terminate the appointment of the Prime Minister when the latter tenders the resignation of the Government. On the proposal of the Prime Minister, he shall appoint the other members of the Government and terminate their appointments.

Article 9 The President of the Republic shall preside over the Council of Ministers.

Article 10 The President of the Republic shall promulgate Acts of Parliament within fifteen days following the final adoption of an Act and its transmission to the Government. He may, before the expiry of this time limit, ask Parliament to reconsider the Act or sections of the Act. Reconsideration shall not be refused.

While the president has to sign all acts adopted by parliament into law, he cannot refuse to do so and exercise a kind of right of veto; his only power in that matter is to ask for a single reconsideration of the law by parliament.

Article 11 [the president may submit laws to the citizens in a referendum]

Article 12 The President of the Republic may, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the assemblies, declare the National Assembly dissolved. A general election shall take place not less than twenty days and not more than forty days after the dissolution. The National Assembly shall convene as of right on the second Thursday following its election. Should it so convene outside the period prescribed for the ordinary session, a session shall be called by right for a fifteen-day period. No further dissolution shall take place within a year following this election.

Article 13 The President of the Republic shall sign the ordinances and decrees deliberated upon in the Council of Ministers. He shall make appointments to the civil and military posts of the State. [...]

Article 14 The President of the Republic shall accredit ambassadors and envoys extraordinary to foreign powers ; foreign ambassadors and envoys extraordinary shall be accredited to him.

Article 15 The President of the Republic shall be commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He shall preside over the higher national defence councils and committees.

Article 16 Where the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the Nation, the integrity of its territory or the fulfilment of its international commitments are under serious and immediate threat, and where the proper functioning of the constitutional public authorities is interrupted, the President of the Republic shall take the measures required by these circumstances, after formally consulting the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the assemblies and the Constitutional Council. He shall inform the Nation of these measures in a message. The measures must stem from the desire to provide the constitutional public authorities, in the shortest possible time, with the means to carry out their duties. The Constitutional Council shall be consulted with regard to such measures. Parliament shall convene as of right. The National Assembly shall not be dissolved during the exercise of the emergency powers.

Article 16, allowing the president a limited form of rule by decree for a limited period of time in exceptional circumstance, has been used only once, by Charles de Gaulle during the Algerian War, from April 23 to September 29, 1961.

Article 17 The President of the Republic has the right to grant pardon.

Article 18 The President of the Republic shall communicate with the two assemblies of Parliament by means of messages, which he shall cause to be read and which shall not be the occasion for any debate. Outside sessions, Parliament shall be convened especially for this purpose.

Since 1875, the President is prohibited from entering the houses of Parliament.

Article 19 Acts of the President of the Republic, other than those provided for under articles 8 (first paragraph), 11, 12, 16, 18, 54, 56 and 61, shall be countersigned by the Prime Minister and, where required, by the appropriate ministers.


Upon the death or resignation of the President, the President of the Senate becomes interim president. Alain Poher is the only person to have served this temporary position. In the case of the demise of the President of the Senate, the government (as in: the cabinet) assumes the President's powers.

The government has to organize elections as soon as possible during the interim period.

Other information

The official residence and office of the president is the Élysée Palace in Paris. Other presidential residences include:

  • the Fort de Bregançon, in southeastern France, is the current official presidential vacationing residence;
  • the Hôtel de Marigny; standing next to the Élysée Palace, it houses foreign official guests;
  • the Château de Rambouillet is normally open to visitors when not used for (rare) official meetings;
  • the Domaine National de Marly is normally open to visitors when not used for (rare) official meetings;
  • the Domaine de Souzy-la-Briche, not a historical monument, is a private residence.


Under the Third and Fourth Republic, which were parliamentary systems, the office of President of the Republic was a largely ceremonial and powerless one.

Presidents of France

The list below follows on from List of French monarchs.

  • Senate President Alain Poher twice acted as President for a few months immediately following de Gaulle's resignation (1969) and Pompidou's death (1974).

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