Only one motion of censure was adopted under the Fifth Republic (and it did not succeed with its authors)

Only one motion of censure was adopted under the Fifth Republic (and it did not succeed with its authors)

With the Borne government’s recourse to Article 49.3 of the Constitution to pass its pension reform and the filing of motions of censure by the opposition, this is an opportunity to look at an exceptional point in history: unique motion of censure, to date, adopted under the Fifth Republic, and which turned to the advantage of a president, de Gaulle, who precisely wanted to strengthen presidential power.

At the origin of the regime, in 1958, the President of the Republic is, according to the new Constitution, elected by a college of 80,000 electors, much larger than in the Third and Fourth Republics, where the election was made by the only deputies and senators. The memory of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the only President of the Republic elected by universal suffrage (in fact semi-universal, since women did not have the right to vote) in 1848, and who had himself appointed emperor by plebiscite in 1852 after his coup d’etat in 1851, weighed in the choice of the following regimes: avoid giving too much weight to a President of the Republic consecrated by all the citizens. In 1958, Charles de Gaulle was elected president, for a term of seven years (the passage to the five-year term will not take place until 2002).

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On September 20, 1962, General de Gaulle announced on television the holding of a referendum on the election of the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage, in application of Article 11 of the Constitution (a legally very controversial choice – but the normal procedure, going through Parliament, had no chance of success, hence this circumvention).

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He addressed a message to Parliament on October 2. A motion of censure was then tabled, the same day, with the first signatories Paul Reynaud (independent), Guy Mollet (socialist), René Simonnet (MRP) and Maurice Faure (radical).

“This Assembly is not degenerate enough to deny the Republic”, says Paul Reynaud, previously a supporter of General de Gaulle. Georges Pompidou, Prime Minister, replies:

“The National Assembly keeps – it is normal – a dominating place in the State and its weapons are powerful. The risk of power imbalance exists in the direction of weakening the powers of the executive. »

The motion of censure is adopted on October 5, with 280 votes (the necessary majority was 241). General de Gaulle dissolves the Assembly on October 9, and will not accept the resignation of the Pompidou government, submitted on October 6, until November 28, after the legislative elections.

In the referendum of October 28, the “yes” to the presidential election by direct universal suffrage won 62.25% of the votes cast. The legislative elections of 18 and 25 November saw the success of the UNR-UDT (Gaullist party) which won 233 seats (+ 56) to the detriment of the independents (- 86) who formed, around Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who had campaign for the “yes”, the group of independent republicans (35 elected), allied with the UNR-UDT – Paul Reynaud is beaten in the first round. The Communist Party can once again form a group (+29 seats) and François Mitterrand returns to the benches of the National Assembly (see this summary and the transcript partial parliamentary exchanges during the motion of censure). Pompidou is in the process reappointed to Matignon.

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Big winner of the referendum and the legislative elections, General de Gaulle will be re-elected, this time therefore by universal suffrage, in 1965 – in the second round, against François Mitterrand. In 1964, the latter devoted a book, “the Permanent Coup d’Etat”, to de Gaulle’s Constitution, but he did not change anything about the institutions once at the Elysée Palace in 1981. This did not prevent him to say Many times :

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When the motion of censure was tabled, the deputy and former chairman of the council (In 1940) Paul Reynaud for the opponents, and Georges Pompidou for the government, exchanged views in the Assembly.

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Paul Reynaud (1878-1966, moderate right, support until 1962 of General de Gaulle) holds this speech:

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“And now a question arises: how could we have slipped into such intellectual disorder? Here is the answer: General de Gaulle wanted to combine the honors due to the Head of State with the powers of the Prime Minister. He wanted to be both Churchill and King George VI, Chancellor Adenauer and President Luebke. From then on, the 1958 Constitution was doomed.

To carry out his plan, General de Gaulle chose his prime ministers and his ministers from among his familiars and from among senior civil servants of great talent accustomed to obeying their hierarchical superiors. (Applause from the same benches.)

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Also, for four years, in spite of Article 20 of the Constitution, France has been governed by the President of the Republic, which was accepted by some, tolerated by others, because of the cruel ordeal that France suffered in Algeria.

General de Gaulle was so anxious to act that he mistrusted Parliament.

Now, in all civilized countries, Parliament is considered as representative of the nation, with its qualities and its faults, with its diversities, even its contradictions. But when the elected representatives deliberate and vote, they are invested with this eminent quality of representatives of the nation.

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For us Republicans, France is here and not elsewhere. »

“To admit that it is otherwise is to admit the end of the Republic. The conflict between General de Gaulle and us is there. This is what made him slide down the slope of personal power. The temptation to have the President of the Republic elected by universal suffrage comes from there. (…) Since 1789, the representatives of the people, so decried today, know well that they are, taken in isolation, only modest, precarious, fallible, often vilified spokespersons. But they also know that together they are the nation and that there is no higher expression of the will of the people than the vote they cast after public deliberation.

It is this faith that brings together today, for the honor of the Republic, elected officials of all creeds and all political affiliations…”

“For a long time people will say of a politician: ‘How did he vote on October 4?’ It is our honor as parliamentarians that is at stake.

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Also, Prime Minister, go and tell the Elysée that our admiration for the past remains intact but that this Assembly is not degenerate enough to deny the Republic. (Loud applause on the right, on some benches in the center and left, center left and far left). (…) »

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The Prime MinisterGeorges Pompidou, replica:

“Others, and even among those who in 1958 appealed to General de Gaulle and rallied to the idea of ​​a Head of State fully exercising the responsibilities of his office, this rallying was given from the end of the lips and according to a temporary conjuncture.

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One politician suggested that, rather than reforming the 1946 Constitution, de Gaulle should be given full powers for two or three years. It was thus demonstrated that one had recourse to an exceptional personality for a temporary rescue but that, for the rest, one thought only of returning to former habits by more or less promising to try to do better the next time. (Applause left and center.)

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For those, as Albert Bayet said: “de Gaulle was a bad time to pass”. (Laughter and applause on the same benches.)

Even today, what is it? What is the purpose of this great battle, if not to tell de Gaulle that he has had his day, his regime with him, and that we want to find ourselves among ourselves, as before?

And yet, ladies and gentlemen, what ignorance of the perils that await us and, in general, of modern reality!

To the right. What perils?

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Mr. Prime Minister. We should only see that in all the great states, by various means, we have ended up, because it is a necessity, in the presence at the head of affairs of a man who, by one process or another, appears as obviously invested with the confidence of the nation and able to embody it in the face of external or internal dangers (…)

Mr. Prime Minister. Remember, ladies and gentlemen, the difficulties encountered in playing this role by the presidents elected by Parliament, often after a series of interminable ballots, and which, even when they acquired in the exercise of their functions , the respect of the people, as all have been able to do, were often, at the start, little or badly known and always disarmed in the face of the divisions of our political parties. I could cite here the Memoirs of President Poincaré, despaired in the early days of his seven-year term by the incessant crises as the specter of war rose on the horizon. In the same spirit, we could recall the experience of President Albert Lebrun and I myself quoted the message of the last President of the Fourth Republic. (…)

In a country as evolved as France, in a people who have had so many experiences, adventurers no longer have their place through election, and, moreover, we see them prefer the coup de force and the assassination which no constitutional precaution can prevent. » (…)

If the National Assembly overturns the Government, the President can dissolve it, but the new Assembly will be in place for at least a year and he will have to put up with it. (Applause left and center.)

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In fact, the National Assembly keeps – it is normal – a dominating place in the State and its weapons are powerful. The risk of power imbalance exists – I repeat – in the sense of weakening the powers of the executive.

It is this danger that we wish to ward off by trying to maintain the importance of the office of President of the Republic, by interesting for this purpose in his election each citizen who should feel directly concerned by the choice of the head of the state in order to feel thereby personally associated with the main lines of national policy. »

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