This stops Private members bills or amendments by Parliament that do not come under the remit of there constitutional responsibilities as set out in article 37 (Knapp, Wright, p. 144). In addition the constitution also gives the Government the ability to intervene extensively the way legislation is drawn up. This helps the executive get bills passed and prevent private members bills from being carried. This also helps the Govt set the agenda. The next factor is the weakening of the committee structure.
In the 3rd and 4th republics Parliamentary committees for scrutinising government had a strong influence over the executive. From the 5th republic onwards, however, this power was to be greatly reduced with “powerful disincentives’ (Knapp, Wright, p. 142). These include that committees can not work for more than four months, they were to be held in secret and can be halted in the event of a judicial inquiry. To compare this system it can be seen that the French committee system is considerably weaker that that of the American system and even to the comparatively weak British System.
To continue this comparison with Britain the French Parliament does not enjoy the ability to set the agenda on debate, such as have emergency sessions or opposition days as the constitutional council ruled in the first few days of the 5th republic that these were unconstitutional. Hence the Parliament is not seen as an arena for political debate (Howarth. Varouxakis. 2003 p. 47) The constitution reverses the traditional principle that the Government can only make decrees on only a few areas and everything else is subject to legislation and hence parliamentary involvement (Howarth, Varouxakis. 2003 p. 45)
Finally, the ultimate weapon of the executive against the Parliament is under Article 49-3 of the constitution that makes every bill a question of confidence. This means to defeat a bill the National Assembly must table a motion of censure against the government within 24 hours or the bill passes. If the government loses they must resign, although, the interesting factor is that an absolute majority is required which effectively means abstentions count for the government. Even if the bill is defeated and the vote of no confidence won this is likely to cause dissolution of Parliament and a general election.
This weapon has been particularly important for the government in the two periods of cohabitation where this Article was used 45 times out of the overall 80 times it ever has been used. Some very important issues were won through this measure such as under Debre the Atomic Weapons Program and important social security measures under Rocard (Knapp, Wright, p. 139). This measure was reformed though in 1974 as I will mention later. As I have already touched on the French parliament needs to be compared to other countries in order for us to establish whether it can be seen as powerless.
When comparing the French system to that in Britain some important distinctions and similarities can be seen. What must be noted here is that Debre when shaping the 5th republic was interested in modelling the British system although de Gaulle was very much against this. The Westminster model does have many similarities to the French model. In Britain the executive also dominates parliament and there is a weak committee system. From this point of view the weakening of the National Assembly was merely bringing France in to the European standard on parliamentary power.
Rather than the 5th republics parliament being too week maybe the 4th republics parliament was too strong. However, I would argue there are some important distinctions in particular on the grounds that the British system is based on the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty which ultimately gives it the final say. In addition the notion of the separation of powers which the French system is based on albeit unevenly with executive dormice makes the National Assembly anonymous taking away the little power that can be found in the British system.
The parliament also does not have the power like in Britain to have emergency debates or opposition days as these were voted unconstitutional by the Constitutional Council in the first days of the 5th republic as I have said. In recent times however the use of ‘Questions to the Government’ has been used to force discussion on an issue. Although there is a lack of interest in the affairs of the National Assembly by the public (Howarth, Varouxakis. 2003 pp. 47-48). Another opposing comparison to the French system is the USA.
This system is the very opposite to that of Britain and is based on the originally French idea of the Separation of Powers, as put forward by Montesquieu (Williams, 1995). Here the executive is strongly restrained by Congress. While America also has a president it has none of the powers the French president has to implement policy. This is particularly the case on the budget which is controlled by congress. This is quite a distinction as the French system makes blocking the budget put forward by the Government very difficult and the Government almost always gets there way.
In recent years the French parliament has seen something of a resurgence. This was most obviously characterised by its ‘institutional reinforcement’ since 1974 (Knapp, Wright, p. 150). Under Giscard the right to refer bills to the constitutional council was given to sixty deputies or senators, opposed to just the prime minister or president under the original constitution. This offset some of the problems I have mentioned previously about article 58 of the constitution. This reform turned the institution into a weapon against the government opposed to a way to exercise executive power over the national assembly (Knapp, Wright, p.
150). Also in 1974 other reforms including questions to government also being initiated and was further strengthened in 1994 by the National Assembly president, Sequin. This created a more publicised (through television) questioning of the Government and gave the ministers less time to respond (Knapp, Wright, p. 151). The National Assembly’s committees were also strengthened by Fabius who was the National Assembly’s president from 1988 to 1992. These changes allowed the parliament hold the government directly to account and this change has been extensively used since (Knapp, Wright, p. 151).
There were also various other constitutional changes in regard to parliamentary power in 1995. All this has facilitated loosening of parliamentary discipline. To conclude the French Parliament has lost significant power through the constitution of the 5th republic as I have set out and it also suffers from a lack of respect and interest from the general public. This is caused by its ineffectiveness but also by its make up as the senate is very politically conservative and can be modelled to the House of Lords in Britain although it is elected (albeit indirectly) but for long 9 year terms.
The Deputies also cause disillusionment because of the serious lack of representation of women who only make up around 10% of the House and even more pressing the lack of ethnic minorities. Due to these problems many French citizens believe the National Assembly does not sufficiently hold the Government to account (Knapp, Wright p. 153). In referring back to the question, I do not believe that it can be said that the French parliament has become powerless particularly since the amendments in 1974 and it reasserting it-self in resent years.
It is still quite considerably weaker than many Parliaments in Europe and America although the institution of the National Assembly can not be seen as wholly insignificant and if nothing else does highlight issues that facilitate the Medias ability to hold the Government to account. However, certainly National Assembly will continue to struggle to hold the executive to account as and is never likely regain its strong centralised power that it enjoyed in the 4th republic. But ultimately, this could be seen as strength opposed to a weakness. Bibliography Hartley, A. (1971) Gaullism: The Rise and Fall of a Political Movement. London.
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