Monday, March 11, 2013

Modest Constitutional Reforms

François Hollande will propose several constitutional reforms, but according to Médiapart they will be modest in scope. The four measures include elimination of the Cour de Justice de la République (currently charged with trying government ministers accused of infractions related to their official function), reform of the Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature, elimination of ex officio appointments to the Cour Constitutionnel (so that former presidents will no longer become justices automatically), and a ban on ministers holding local or regional executive functions.

Hollande will not attempt to ban all forms of le cumul des mandats, however, nor will he try to grant non-citizens a limited right to vote in local elections, eliminate the word "race" from the Constitution, ratify the European charter on regional languages, or enshrine laïcité as a constitutional principle. And the penal status of the president of the Republic will not be touched.

In short, the reforms that will be proposed are the most limited and least controversial of the proposals floated since Hollande's election. This is a sign that he doesn't feel he has much political capital to expend on controversial constitutional reforms right now.


Anonymous said...

It's not so much a question of political capital as of 60% of the vote in the Congrès, which Hollande simply does not have.


Anonymous said...

Yes, he really can't do more than this. However there are other areas where I hoped the government would be more creative.

A former PS voter who is quite disgruntled (R-rated vocabulary)

Mitch Guthman said...


I think he would be proposing modest reforms even if every member had sworn fealty to him because he's just a guy who proposes modest reforms.

I do have a question, however, about the French system. There's a lot of discussion here and in the papers that assumes a level of background in French politics that I simply don't have.

So here is my basic question for today: I don't really understand what is meant by "not having the votes".

Did Hollande take an informal sounding and decide that there would be a rebellion as there was against Thatcher Margaret) or are all votes "free votes"?

bernard said...


it's simple really. You can change the French constitution in one of two ways:

1) popular referendum. You submit a yes-no question to the whole electorate. Problem is, as President, you can never be sure what the electorate will really vote upon: the question or their degree of satisfaction of the way you are doing your job, or some other issue. So it probably would not be a clever idea right now. Further, the Left culturally dislikes referendum (though Mitterrand held a few) as they smell like Bonapartism (or its weaker version, Gaullism) with the way they bypass elected representatives such as parliament and the Senate.

2) You submit it to the Congress - no relation to the US House of Reps -. The Congress meets in session and is composed of all members of the Chambre des Députés (often called the lower chamber in international polit speak, though in France it is the essential senior chamber) and all members of the Senate (often called the upper chamber, but is in France ultimate subsidiary to the Chambre des Députés). The Congress can only be called for this kind of purpose and meets in Versailles usually (yes, in the Chateau, why do you ask? simply the only publicly owned, secure and large enough place for the huge assembly of close to 800 representatives plus their staff). It votes on the reform which is adopted if there are 2/3 in favor. So if you are Hollande and you have a majority in the Chambre des Députés and a majority in the Senate as he does, that is not enough, you would need to have a number of conservatives - the right - approve to get to 2/3. That is presumably what he means by not having the votes.