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French MPs poised to get powers to sack president

Joshua Melvin · 22 Oct 2014, 16:34

Published: 22 Oct 2014 16:34 GMT+02:00

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French MPs could soon have new powers in their hands that would allow them to depose the president.

In a 324-18 vote, in which communists dissented, the Senate backed the legislation this week and now it’s up to France’s Constitutional Council to give final approval - or not.   

Given Hollande's approval ratings being at an all time low, there may be some in France eagerly hoping that the powers are approved.

Fortunately for Hollande being disliked by most voters and failing to cut record unemployment aren't likely enough to get him sacked.

The process of booting out a president would be neither quick nor easy. Sacking the head of state could only be initiated in a case of “a serious breach of duties manifestly incompatible with exercising his term".

Hard to do

It would require two-thirds majority votes in both houses of parliament and a final secret ballot, which would also need two-thirds backing from lawmakers.

Under current rules the only way to boot the president is if the National Assembly accuses him of high treason and sends him before the High Court, which is composed of MPs. The procedure’s never been used in modern France.

The legislation has been winding its way through the French legislative process since 2007, when it was first proposed as part of set of constitutional reforms. It was subsequently approved by the National Assembly in 2012 and finally this week it made it to the floor of the upper house.

Immunity in place

It doesn’t appear this legislation, if it becomes law, would end the protection from prosecution that is afforded in the constitution to French presidents. As it stands French heads of state are untouchable in criminal and civil matters during their five-year terms.

The end of the presidencies of both Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy signaled a rush of legal activity that ended with a corruption conviction for Chirac. Though he’s targeted in a half dozen investigations, Sarkozy has avoided being convicted so far.

Story continues below…

Presidents in other countries enjoy far less protection than their counterparts in France. In the United States presidents can face both civil and criminal prosecution while they are in office.

France's antiquated approach to giving full immunity to its president, similar that given to royalty in other eras, have frequently come in for criticism, but the rule is not targeted by any major active effort to undo it at present.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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