Towards a French Sixth Republic?

Nearly 50 years after the creation of the Fifth Republic by General Charles de Gaulle, Nicolas Sarkozy wants to change France’s fundamental institutions. But, with a majority of the public supporting the Fifth Republic's main principles – such as direct election of the president and a strong executive – any institutional rebalancing is unlikely to alter the constitutional structure very much.

PARIS – Nearly 50 years after the creation of the Fifth Republic by General Charles de Gaulle, Nicolas Sarkozy wants to change France’s fundamental institutions. An expert council will send him its proposals by November 1.

Whereas British democracy is deeply rooted despite its supposedly “unwritten” constitution, and the US constitution has been amended only 26 times since 1787, France has redrafted its constitution 15 times since 1789. Only the Third Republic (1875-1940) lasted longer than the current Fifth Republic.

Established quickly in 1958 by de Gaulle in the midst of the Algerian crisis, tthe institutions of the Fifth Republic came under fire from the very first day. The antagonism that much of the left felt toward the Fifth Republic, which was tailored to fit de Gaulle’s outsized figure, faded only in 1981, when François Mitterrand, one of de Gaulle’s most vocal opponents, benefited from the power vested in the presidency.

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