Chirac stamps his mark on the constitution Chirac makes impression on the French

Changes will 'narrow the gap between people and parliament'



Less than three months after taking office, Jacques Chirac has placed his stamp on the French constitution, easily securing the passage of three amendments through a special constitutional congress, held in the splendour of the palace of Versailles.

According to President Chirac, who initiated the amendments, they are designed to narrow the gap between parliament and people, and his supporters have described them as the most significant constitutional change since the introduction of direct elections to the presidency in 1962. Critics say they could dangerously enhance the power of the President and have called for the constitutional checks on his power to be rigorously observed.

The amendments had been voted through the two houses of parliament in record time. The merest hint that MPs might be recalled from holiday to attend a congress in mid-August was sufficient to ensure that all debates and votes were completed by last weekend.

The almost 900 deputies assembled at 3pm. The session was opened by the National Assembly Speaker, Philippe Seguin, and the amendments were introduced by the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, who defended them as revitalising democracy in the spirit of De Gaulle's Fifth Republic.

After statements, for and against, by all political groups, deputies voted in alphabetical order, starting with the letter drawn at random by the chairman, giving in a white card to vote for the amendment, a blue card against, or a red card to abstain. Cards were placed in an urn for electronic counting. They were approved by 674 votes, with 178 against. A three-fifths majority is required to change the constitution.

All were subject to detailed scrutiny and redrafting in parliament and committee. One was specifically promised by Mr Chirac in his election manifesto. This provides for referendums on social and economic policy matters. Hitherto, the scope of referendums was so restricted they were hardly used.

The second amendment, reportedly requested by Mr Seguin, extends the parliamentary year to a single session of nine months, in place of the current two three-month terms.

The third amendment curbs the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by members of parliament, specifically allowing police investigations into a deputy or senator while parliament is sitting, without the question having to be referred to the MP's peers.

There was a fourth amendment, which appears to be largely a tidying-up exercise, which removes the word "community" from clauses of the constitution which concern relations between France and its former colonies. It establishes a clear distinction between France's dependencies, which are treated as part of France, and its ex-colonies, now recognised as independent nations.

The provision for referendums met hostility from traditional parliamentarians, who felt the power of parliament was being reduced, and from the Socialists and Communists who believed a president might use a referendum to bypass opposition in parliament. The right has an 80 per cent majority, so the question does not arise, but this would change if the opposition obtained a much larger number of seats after the 1997 legislative elections.

The single concession offered by Mr Chirac allows parliament to debate (but not vote on) the wording of a referendum in advance. But it will not be able to discuss or alter the result. Mr Chirac has promised his first referendum will be on education reform, where professional lobbies and students have long blocked change.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own