President of the
|Residence||Élysée Palace, Paris|
|Term length||Five years, renewable once|
|Inaugural holder||Charles de
8 January 1959
|Formation||Constitution of the Fifth
4 October 1958
This article is part of the series:
Other countries · Atlas
Four of France's five republics have had presidents as their heads of state, making the French presidency the oldest presidency in Europe still to exist in some form. In each of the republics' constitutions, the president's powers, functions and duties, and their relation with French governments differed.
For details about the French system of government see Government of France.
The president of France is also the ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra, Grand Master of the Légion d'honneur and the Ordre national du Mérite and honorary proto-canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.
The current President of the Republic is Nicolas Sarkozy, from 16 May 2007.
The French Fifth Republic is a semi-presidential system. Unlike many other European presidents, the office of the French President is quite powerful. Although it is the Prime Minister of France and parliament that oversee much of the nation's actual lawmaking, the French President wields significant influence. The president holds the nation's most senior office, and outranks all other politicians.
The president's greatest power is his or her ability to choose the Prime Minister. However, since only the French National Assembly has the power to dismiss the Prime Minister's government, the president is forced to name a prime minister that commands the support of the majority of this assembly.
Since 2002, the mandate of the president and the Assembly are both 5 years and the two elections are close to each other. Therefore, the likelihood of a "cohabitation" is lower.
Among the powers of the president:
All decisions of the president must be countersigned by the Prime minister, except dissolving the French National Assembly.
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 and this power is subject to countersigning by the Prime minister.
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 23 April to 29 September 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. He can also give an address in front of the Congress of France in Versailles. Outside sessions, Parliament shall be convened especially for this purpose.
From 1875 to 2008, the President was 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.
There is a tradition of so-called "presidential amnesties", which are something 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 offences 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 offered amnesty, 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 passed in 2002; none have yet been passed as of January 2008.
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.
Articles 67 and 68 organize the regime of criminal responsibility of the President. They were reformed by a 2007 constitutional act, in order to clarify a situation that previously resulted in legal controversies.
The President of the Republic enjoys immunity during his term: he cannot be requested to testify before any jurisdiction, he cannot be prosecuted, etc. However, the statute of limitation is suspended during his term, and enquiries and prosecutions can be restarted, at the latest one month after he left office.
The President is irresponsible for his actions in his official capacity, except for prosecution before the International Criminal Court and impeachment. Impeachment can be pronounced by the High Court, a special court convened from both houses of Parliament on the proposal of either House, should the president have failed to discharge his duties in a way that evidently precludes the continuation of his term.
Since a 1962 referendum, the President of France has been directly elected by universal suffrage; it was previously elected by an electoral college. Following a 2000 referendum, the length of the term was reduced from 7 to 5 years; the first election to a shorter term was held in 2002. President Chirac was first elected in 1995 and again in 2002. There was no term limit, so Chirac could have run again, but chose not to. He was succeeded by Nicolas Sarkozy on 16 May 2007. Since the constitutional law of 23 July 2008, a president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac are the only Presidents to date who have served a full two terms (14 years for the former, 12 years for the latter).
In order to be admitted as an official candidate, potential candidates must receive signed presentations (informally known as parrainages, for "godfathering") from more than 500 elected officials, mostly mayors. These officials must be from at least 30 départements or overseas collectivities, and no more than 10% of them should be from the same département or collectivity. Furthermore, one official may only present no more than one candidate.
There are approximately 45,000 elected officials that are on the list of such officials, including around 36,000 mayors.
Spending and financing of campaigns and political parties are highly regulated. There is a cap on spending, at approximately 20 million euros, and government public financing of 50% of spending if the candidate scores more than 5%. If the candidate receives less than 5% of the vote, the government funds €800,000 to the party (€150,000 paid in advance) Advertising on TV is forbidden but official time is given to candidates on public TV. An independent agency regulates election and party financing.
French presidential elections are conducted via run-off voting which ensures that the elected President always obtains a majority: if no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round of voting, the two highest-scoring candidates arrive at a run-off. After the president is elected, he goes through a solemn investiture ceremony called a "passation des pouvoirs" ("handing over of powers").
Upon the death or resignation of the President, the President of the Senate acts as interim president. Alain Poher is the only person to have served this temporary position. The first time was in 1969 after Charles de Gaulle's resignation and a second time in 1974 after Georges Pompidou's death. It is important to note that, in this situation, the President of the Senate became an Interim President of the Republic; they do not become the new President of the Republic as elected and therefore do not have to resign from their position as President of the Senate. In spite of his title as Interim President of the Republic, Poher is regarded in France as a former President and is listed in the presidents' gallery on elysee.fr (the President's official site). This is in contrast to acting presidents from the Third Republic.
The first round of a new presidential election must be organized no sooner than twenty days and no later than thirty-five days following the vacancy of the presidency. Because fifteen days can separate the first and second rounds of a presidential election, this means that the President of the Senate can only act as President of the Republic for a maximum period of fifty days. During this period of Interim president is not allowed to dismiss the national assembly nor are they allowed to call for a referendum or initiate any constitutional changes.
If there is no acting president of the senate, the powers of the president of the republic are exercised by the "Gouvernement", meaning the Cabinet. This has been interpreted by some constitutional academics as meaning first the Prime Minister and, if he is himself not able to act, the members of the cabinet in the order of the list of the decree that nominated them. This is in fact unlikely to happen, because if the president of the Senate is not able to act, the Senate will normally name a new president of the Senate, that will act as President of the Republic.
According to article 7 of the Constitution, if the presidency becomes vacant for any reason, or if the president becomes incapacitated, upon the request of the gouvernement, the Constitutional Council may rule, by a majority vote. that the presidency is to be temporarily assumed by the President of the Senate. If the Council rules that the incapacity is permanent, the same procedure as for the resignation is applied, as described above.
If the President cannot attend meetings, including meetings of the Council of Ministers, he can ask the Prime Minister to attend in his stead (Constitution, article 21). This clause has been applied by presidents travelling abroad, ill, or undergoing surgery.
The President of the Republic is paid a salary according to a pay grade defined in comparison to the pay grades of the most seniors members of the French Civil Service ("out of scale", hors échelle, those whose pay grades are known as letters and not as numeric indices). In addition he is paid a residence stipend of 3%, and a function stipend of 25% on top of the salary and residence indemnity. This gross salary and these indemnities are the same as those of the Prime Minister, and are 50% higher than the highest paid to other members of the government, which is itself defined as twice the average of the highest (pay grade G) and the lowest (pay grade A1) salaries in the "out of scale" pay grades. Using the 2008 "out of scale" pay grades  this amounts to a monthly pay of €20963, which fits the 19000€ quoted to the press in early 2008. Using the pay grades starting from 1 July 2009, this amounts to a gross monthly pay of 21131€.
|Candidates – Parties||1st round||2nd round|
|Nicolas Sarkozy||Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un mouvement populaire)||11,448,663||31.18%||18,983,138||53.06%|
|Ségolène Royal||Socialist Party (Parti socialiste)||9,500,112||25.87%||16,790,440||46.94%|
|François Bayrou||Union for French Democracy (Union pour la démocratie française)||6,820,119||18.57%|
|Jean-Marie Le Pen||National Front (Front national)||3,834,530||10.44%|
|Olivier Besancenot||Revolutionary Communist League (Ligue communiste révolutionnaire)||1,498,581||4.08%|
|Philippe de Villiers||Movement for France (Mouvement pour la France)||818,407||2.23%|
|Marie-George Buffet||French Communist Party (Parti communiste français)||707,268||1.93%|
|Dominique Voynet||The Greens (Les Verts)||576,666||1.57%|
|Arlette Laguiller||Workers' Struggle (Lutte ouvrière)||487,857||1.33%|
|José Bové||Alter-globalization activist||483,008||1.32%|
|Frédéric Nihous||Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Tradition (Chasse, pêche, nature, traditions)||420,645||1.15%|
|Gérard Schivardi||Workers' Party (Parti des travailleurs)||123,540||0.34%|
|Spoilt and null votes||534,846||1.44%||1,568,426||4.20%|
|Votes cast / turnout||37,254,242||83.77%||37,342,004||83.97%|
|Table of results - ordered by number
of votes received in first round, official results by Constitutional Council.
List of candidates source: Decision of March 19, 2007 by
the Constitutional Council.
First round results source: Official first round results
announced on April 25, 2007.
As of 2009 there were two living former Presidents:
According to French law, Former Presidents have guaranteed lifetime pension defined according to the pay grade of the Councillors of State, a courtesy diplomatic passport, and, according to the French Constitution (Article 56), membership of the Constitutional Council.
They also get personnel, an apartment and/or office, and other amenities, though the legal basis for these is disputed. In 2008, according to an answer by the services of the Prime Minister to a question from member of the National Assembly René Dosière, these facilities comprised: a security detail, a car with a chauffeur, office or housing space, maintained by the State. Two people service this space. In addition, the State funds 7 permanent collaborators.
|Nicolas Sarkozy||Carla Bruni
May 2007–October 2007
|Jacques Chirac||Bernadette Chirac||1995–2007|
|François Mitterrand||Danielle Mitterrand||1981–1995|
|Valéry Giscard d'Estaing||Anne-Aymone Giscard d'Estaing||1974–1981|
|Georges Pompidou||Claude Pompidou||1969–1974|
|Charles de Gaulle||Yvonne de Gaulle||1959–1969|
|René Coty||Germaine Coty||1954–1959|
|Vincent Auriol||Michelle Aucouturier||1947–1954|
|Paul Deschanel||Germaine Deschanel||1920|
|Émile Loubet||Marie Louis Picard||1899–1906|
|Jean Casimir-Perier||Hélène Casimir-Perier||1894–1895|
|Adolphe Thiers||Élise Thiers||1871–1873|
Adolphe Thiers, 74
The constitution of the Fifth Republic greatly increased the President's powers. A 1962 referendum changed the constitution, so that the President would be directly elected by universal suffrage and not by the parliament.
In 2000, a referendum shortened the presidential term from seven years to five years.
A maximum of two consecutive terms was imposed after the 2008 constitutional reform.