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Dominique Rousseau

The Fifth French Republic Is Dying — Long Live Democracy! Publication date : May 10, 2007

The First French Republic was consular, the Second was presidential, the Third and Fourth were parliamentary, but the Fifth seems to have no distinguishing qualities. Although the French Constitution of 1958 (which founded the Fifth Republic) undoubtedly instituted a parliamentary regime, many of its characteristics harked back to a presidential era, and the Fifth Republic soon became swamped in a plethora of attributes: consular, Orleanist, Bonapartist, semi-presidential, presidential, senatorial, monarchist, parliamentary, and even dictatorial. Today, almost fifty years later, it is obvious that the Fifth French Republic is not a dictatorship, yet it remains just as poorly defined as in the past. It has guaranteed stability, and as such should be defended. But can it be said that it “works” well? Shouldn't it be held responsible for many current political problems? And has it prepared France for the challenges of the future? It would seem that part of it no longer works. Dominique Rousseau argues that when the nation's belief in the social relevance of its Constitution falters, its institutions are endangered. What, he asks, should be done then? To reply to this question, he re-examines the history of the Fifth Republic, which has never ceased seeking its point of equilibrium. He argues that from the start it was perceived, if not conceived, as a transitional, stopgap Republic, but that it became rapidly entrenched. Over the years, in order to adapt to the changing times, it has been so drastically transformed that little is left of its original characteristics. Despite its successes and metamorphoses, the Constitution “of 1958”, created in defiance of parliamentary democracy, continues to challenge citizen democracy. Doubtless it can still survive, but for how long and at what price? Does the French Constitution guarantee a truly democratic political process? In its present form, does it favour greater democracy, or will it hinder the necessary development toward increased participation and a better balance of power? Dominique Rousseau is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Montpellier and a member of the University Institute of France.