5th Republic of France
Until the second half of the 20th century, a colourful and unsettled history existed in France. While one of the first two constitutions 1787 American Constitution is still in force today with minor changes, 1791 French Constitution which is adopted in the same years could not continue even a year. More than a half dozen regime followed this until the second half of the 20th century. In chorological order;
– Swiss-type directorial system followed shortly after the Constitution of 1793.
– After this, two imperial periods took place under the leadership of Bonapart; and British-type monarch between these two periods.
– American-style democracy was tried between the years of 1848-1851.
– Between the years of 1875-1940, relatively stable parliamentary democracy was experienced.
– 4th Republic which was established after the World War II could take in turmoil until 1958.
When the country was on the brink of a civil war due to the crisis in Algeria in 1958, French people were looking at their history of 169 years and they could not see anything other than the trash of regimes. It was difficult to believe that there may be a stable democratic order in France. Due to the attitude of the Socialist Government towards colonial regime, army which was unsupported in the Algeria war was furious and preparing a coup d’état.
End of the May 1958, the national hero of World War II General Charles de Gaulle, who was enjoying his retirement in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, was called to duty by the President Rene Coty. In June 1 1958, parliament transferred the powers of the government to de Gaulle. De Gaulle prevented the coup d’état but this was not the major success of him. The new constitution which de Gaulle had considered for many years was submitted to the public referendum on 28th of September in 1958; and it was adopted as 5th Republic Constitution. That was the great permanent work of de Gaulle and stabilized the French democracy.
5th Republic Constitution of France drew a middle way between presidential system and parliamentary system. Later, in the political literature, it was called as “semi-presidential system”. President is elected by the single-grade popular vote and in a system of two-rounds. As in every country, president is responsible for the stability of constitutional order and the harmony of the state bodies. Constitution provides them with wide powers to fulfil these tasks. This issue will be mentioned in detail later.
Here, primarily we see de Gaulle as a significant person. He was an important actor in the establishment of 5th Republic. Charles de Gaulle complained about that 4th Republic Constitution gives too much authority to the parliament and too little authority to the president. However, left wing parties in France wanted that power of the president should be limited in order to prevent the dictatorship as in Vichy government. Charles de Gaulle resigned in January 1946; and new constitution was adopted in October 1946. In order to make the changes he wanted, he found his party in 1947; but his movement could not be successful. He left the politics in 1953. 4th Republic in France was a period which was full of political crisis due to the failures in Indochina War and the unsolved problems in Algeria. De Gaulle thought that political weakness in France was resulted from the Constitution of 4th Republic. As a condition of returning to politics, he asked wide authority which was limited by 6 months and he proposed the preparation of a new constitution and submission of this constitution to the referendum. On 28 September 1958, the constitution which was submitted to the referendum was accepted by the 79.2% of the votes. A choice of being independent or acceptance of the new constitution was offered to the French colonies. All colonies except Guinea adopted the new constitution. Then, Guinea was the first independent colony. In the parliamentary elections held in November 1958, the party of de Gaulle took the majority of the votes. De Gaulle was nominated for the presidency in January 1959 and elected as president by 78% of the votes of the parliament.
After coming to the power, the one of the issues cared by de Gaulle was Algeria issue. Although de Gaulle thought that the war can be won militarily, he thought that this situation is untenable in international environment. Therefore, by allowing this colony to be independent, he disappointed the French nationalists. This decision drew reaction from the French citizens in Algeria and the supporters in Europe. Moreover, Organisation Armee Secrete which was established by the extreme rightist colons tried to kill de Gaulle. The riots of French soldiers, police and colons in Algeria were suppressed by force. Although some generals in the French army tried to prevent this situation, they failed.
After the World War II, the European states which were absolute owner of the world in the past have lost their dominance to United States and the Soviet Union. France, a great empire in the past, was saved from the German invasion through the efforts of the USA and Britain. After the war, France was dependent on the assistance of USA to guarantee the territorial unity against Soviet Union. To eliminate this situation has been one of the main purposes of de Gaulle.
De Gaulle thought that united Europe could create a third pole against Soviet Union and USA. In order to achieve this objective for the development of diplomatic and the trade relations with Germany, he worked hard. He spent much effort for the development of the European Economic Community (now European Union). As de Gaulle wanted, France should have nuclear weapons in order to follow an independent foreign policy. De Gaulle took the initiatives for the development of nuclear weapons in order to strengthen France against Soviet Union.
Despite of the all success of de Gaulle, he was subject to the heavy criticisms in France. These criticisms were on the rigid and conservative government. Even though the free elections and the freedom of the press, government was monopolizing the television and radio broadcastings. Government intervened the regulation of these broadcasts and kept non-objective broadcastings. Society was encouraged to behave conservatively, especially about the place of the women. Such situations led the displeasure among university students and the events of May 1968. The demonstrations and the strikes in May 1968 were as challenge against de Gaulle. University and high school students and workers clashed with the police; and numerous people were wounded. De Gaulle went to Germany and he discussed with the General Massu about the possibility of military intervention for these events. Then, he dissolved the parliament and new elections were held. Despite all the oppositions, the party of de Gaulle and its allies obtained the 358 of 487 seats in the parliament. On 28 April 1969, he resigned after the rejection of the change which gives more power to local councils and limits the power of French Senate. This can be seen as a political suicide of de Gaulle as a result of the events of 1968. He was died in 1970 at his home…
After the resignation of de Gaulle, Alain Poher was the president temporally. Later, between the years of 1969-1974, Georges Pompidou was president. In 1974, Valery Giscard d’Estaing came as president. Until 1981, he seated in this presidency chair. After the death of Pompidou, he was a candidate for presidency in the elections in May 1974. In the second round, he was elected as president by taking the %50.1 of the votes against Mitterrand. He accelerated the policy of economic improvement. And also, he prepared the economy and society reforms. In his book Francis Democratica which was published in the same year, he advocated the pluralist democracy, which is different from the Marxism and classical liberalism, and the unique way of France for the society. After the 1978 elections, he again became prime minister. He could not achieve great success in improving the economy. He maintained the economic and politic position of France towards African countries. He frequently stressed on the independency of France in the political decisions from the super powers. He lost the 1981 Presidency elections and Mitterrand came to the power by taking the %48.25 of the votes. Giscard was the founder of European Union and the father of European Council and European Parliament. And also he was the architecture of the EU Constitution.