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Article France: Bill to Amend Constitution Submitted

(June 19, 2018) On May 9, 2018, the French Prime Minister submitted a bill to the National Assembly (one of the two houses of the French Parliament) that aims to amend several provisions of the Constitution. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle pour une démocratie plus représentative, responsable et efficace [Constitutional Bill for a More Representative, Responsible, and Efficient Democracy], ASSEMBLEE NATIONALE [NATIONAL ASSEMBLY], No. 911, May 9, 2018.)  This bill addresses a fairly wide range of constitutional issues, the principal ones being discussed below.

Elimination of the Cour de justice de la république [Court of Justice of the Republic]

The proposed constitutional reform would eliminate the Cour de justice de la république, which was created in 1993 to try government cabinet members for criminal offenses committed during their time in office. (CONSTITUTION art. 68-1.) Instead of being tried by this special court, cabinet members would be tried according to normal rules of criminal procedure for offenses committed during their time in office but not related to their office, or by the Court of Appeals of Paris for offenses committed in their capacity as cabinet members. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle art. 13.)

Former Presidents Would No Longer Automatically Have a Seat on the Constitutional Council

The Conseil constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) is the only French court with jurisdiction over the constitutional validity of French laws. (CONST. arts. 61, 61-1, 62.) It also is responsible for monitoring the lawfulness of presidential elections and referendums, and has jurisdiction over litigations regarding legislative elections. (Id. arts. 58–60.) Ever since the current French Constitution was adopted in 1958, former presidents have automatically had a seat on the Constitutional Council, along with nine judges appointed by the president, the National Assembly, and the Senate. (Id. art. 56.) With this proposed reform, former presidents would no longer automatically have a seat on the Constitutional Council. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle art. 10.)

Consent of the National Council of Magistrates Would Be Necessary for the Appointment of Prosecutors and Investigative Judges

Currently, the executive branch must seek the advice of the Conseil national de la magistrature (National Council of Magistrates) before appointing prosecutors and investigative judges, but it does not need its consent. (CONST. art. 65, ¶ 5.) Under the proposed reform, the National Council of Magistrates’ consent would be required as well. (Projet de loi constitutionnelle art. 12.)

Economic, Social and Environmental Council Would Become the Civil Society Chamber

The Conseil économique, social et environnemental (Economic, Social and Environmental Council), an advisory body to be consulted for economic, social and/or environmental issues, would be replaced by Chambre de la société civile (Civil Society Chamber). (Id. art. 14.) This new body would have essentially the same role as its predecessor, but the bill aims to make its members more representative of civil society and to reinforce the Chamber’s advisory role. (Id. exposé des motifs [Explanatory Statement].)

Special Status for Corsica and Increased Autonomy to Overseas Regions and Départements

The constitutional bill, if adopted, would give Corsica the status of collectivités à statut particulier (Special Status Community), which would constitutionally enshrine a certain degree of autonomy for the island. (Id. art. 16.) Furthermore, the bill aims to increase the autonomy of French overseas regions and départements (the territorial subdivision of France between the region and the municipality) by providing procedures for them to request the authority to legislate for themselves on certain issues. (Id. art. 17.)

Streamlining the Legislative Process

The constitutional bill contains provisions to limit the back-and-forth between the two chambers of Parliament (the National Assembly and the Senate) that can occur when they cannot agree on a bill. (Id. art. 5.) If adopted, the reform would also bar members from submitting amendments that do not change the substance of the bill and amendments that are not directly related to the bill’s subject matter. (Id. art. 3.) Parliamentary commissions would handle a larger proportion of the legislative work, as only bills important enough to justify “a solemn debate” would be discussed in plenary sessions of the National Assembly. (Id. art. 4.) Furthermore, appropriations bills would be subject to an accelerated procedure, and the government would have the ability to prioritize bills that it deems important regarding economic, social, or environmental matters. (Id. arts. 6–8.)

Timeline and Reception

This constitutional bill is expected to be voted on by the National Assembly during this summer and then to be considered by the Senate in the fall. (Projet de loi : réforme des institutions, acte 1 [Bill: Institutional Reforms, Act 1], LA DEPECHE (May 8, 2018).) Overall, most of the proposed provisions appear to be considered uncontroversial by the general public. (Id.) However, certain voices—particularly from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party and from the center-right Les Républicains (The Republicans) party—have expressed concern that some of these reforms would weaken the French Parliament. (Des élus s’inquiètent de la réforme constitutionnelle [Some Elected Officials Worry About the Constitutional Reform], L’EXPRESS (May 9, 2018).)

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