Reserve Power - Republics - France

France

Article 16 of the Constitution of France allows the President of the Republic to exercise exceptional powers in case of a national emergency. During this time, the President may not use his prerogative to dissolve the National Assembly and call early elections. He must still consult the Prime Minister, the leaders of both houses of Parliament and the Constitutional Council.

The inspiration for this disposition in the Constitution was the institutional chaos and lack of government authority which contributed to the French debacle in the Battle of France in 1940. On a larger scale, this is consistent with a tradition of the Roman Republic (which has always been an inspiration for the successive French Republics), to give six months of dictatorial power to a citizen in case of an imminent danger of invasion.

Article 16 rule has only been exercised once, in 1961, during a crisis related to the Algerian War in which Charles de Gaulle needed those emergency powers to foil a military plot to take over the government. In 1962, the Council of State ruled itself incompetent to judge measures of a legislative nature issued by the President under Article 16.

In his book, Le Coup d'État permanent (The Permanent Coup), François Mitterrand criticized Article 16 for allowing an ambitious politician the opportunity to become a dictator. However, he made no move to put away his reserve powers after he himself became President.

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