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Five minutes to understand: France’s 2022 presidential election

It's still more than six months away, but France's next presidential election is already the source of fevered speculation, so here's a quick guide to how it will work and what happens next.

Five minutes to understand: France's 2022 presidential election
France will pick its next president in the spring of 2022. Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP


The mandate of current incumbent Emmanuel Macron runs until May 13th, 2022.

French presidents are elected for a five-year period (reduced from seven years in 2000) and presidents may serve no more than two consecutive terms in office. The set period in office means that elections are held on pre-scheduled dates, as in the USA, rather than called at a date to suit the country’s leader, as in the UK.

Polling days will be on April 10th for the first round and April 24th for the second round. As is usual in French elections, both polling days are Sundays.


Voting in French presidential elections is held in two rounds.

Voters can cast their ballot for any of the legally declared candidates in the first round. If no candidate wins a clear majority of 50 percent or more of the vote then a second round of voting is held two weeks later where voters go back to the polling booths and cast their vote for one of the two candidates who took the most votes in the first round. 


This is of course the million-euro question – who is standing in 2022? With eight months to go until the election several candidates have already declared their intention to run and opinion polls are weighing up the chances of the likely candidates – however the official list of candidates is not actually published until around seven weeks before the election.

In order to be listed on the ballot paper, candidates must secure at least 500 signatures from local or national elected officials (eg MPs, local mayors) and those officials must represent at least 30 different areas (départements or overseas territories) of France. 

In reality of course, most people begin campaigning long before, but the official election campaigning period lasts just four weeks. During that time there are strict limits on how much each candidate may spend, while TV and radio stations must give strictly equal air time to all candidates.

Macron has so far not confirmed whether he will be a 2022 candidate and many of the major parties have not picked their candidates yet.

Who can vote?

To vote in a presidential election you need to be over 18 and a French citizen. EU citizens who are permanent residents in France can vote in local and European elections, but not presidential ones. If you are a foreigner who has taken French citizenship you can vote, while French nationals living overseas also get to keep their votes, and in fact have special MPs who represent the interests of French people living abroad.

You vote directly for your preferred candidate. 

Who will win?

Good question! Probably the only thing that can be said with certainty about French presidential elections is that they are unpredictable.

Here is the expert analysis of columnist John Lichfield on the likely outcomes.

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Can France’s Constitution be changed to add the right to abortion?

In the wake of the American Supreme Court's decision to end abortion rights for women in the US, French politicians from the centre and the left say they will move to have the right to terminate pregnancy enshrined in France's Constitution - so how easy is it to amend the Constitution in France?

Can France's Constitution be changed to add the right to abortion?

France’s first Constitution came into force in 1791, written by the French Revolutionaries and promising liberté, egalité and fraternité.

Those values are still very much in evidence in France today (in fact they’re carved into every public building) but in 1791 medicine involved bleeding, social networks meant gossiping with your neighbours over the wall and wigs made out of horsehair were very fashionable – in short, things change.

And the French constitution changes with them.

In fact, even talking about ‘the’ constitution is a little misleading, since France has had 15 different constitutions between the French Revolution of 1789 and the adoption of the current constitution in 1958 – the birth of the Fifth Republic.

Since 1958, there have also been 24 revisions to the constitution. Introducing it, then-President Charles du Gaulle said “the rest is a matter for men,” (we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant people, since women did have the vote by then) in other words, he envisaged that it would be revised when necessary.

So the short answer is that constitutional change in France is possible – and there is significant precedent for it – but there are several steps involved. 

What does it take to change the Constitution?

Changing the constitution in France requires Presidential approval, plus the approval of both houses of parliament (the Assemblée nationale and the Senate) and then the approval of the final text by a three-fifths majority of two parliaments.

The other option is a referendum, but only after the two assemblies have voted in favour.

In short, it needs to be an issue that has wide and cross-party support.

Articles 11 and 89 of the French constitution cover changes.

Article 11 allows for a constitutional referendum, which is a tool that is intended to give the people decisive power in legislative matters. A high-profile example of this is when former French President Charles de Gaulle employed Article 11 to to introduce the appointment of the president by direct universal suffrage in 1962, which modified then-Article 6 of the constitution. However, this method of changing the constitution is controversial, and can technically only be done for specific themes: the organisation of public authorities, economic and social reforms, or to ratify international treaties. Technically it does not require the referendum to first pass through parliament.

What did previous reforms cover?

Looking at the reforms in the last 60 years, the scope has been pretty wide.

The French Constitution was substantially amended to “take account of these new developments, needs, ideas, and values.” The goal of these amendments was to better “define and control the power of the executive, to increase the powers of Parliament, and to better assure the protection of fundamental rights.”

About 47 articles were amended or drafted, and some new provisions came into force immediately, such as the limitation to two consecutive presidential terms. 

Examples range from the 2000 Constitutional referendum where French people voted to shorten the presidential term from seven years to five years; the 2007 constitutional amendment to abolish the death penalty, and several amendments to adapt the French constitution to make it compatible with EU treaties such as the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties. 

Is a constitutional change more powerful than a law?

The most recent call for change – sparked by events in America – is to add the right to abortion into the constitution.

The right to abortion in France is protected by the “Veil law,” which was passed in 1975, so is there a benefit to adding it to the constitution as well?

Simply being a law does not give a definitive and irrevocable right to abortion in France and the law can be changed – parliament recently elongated the legal time limit for performing an abortion up to 14 weeks, which shows that under different circumstances lawmakers would be free to remove these provisions and chip away at the “Veil law.”

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What is the law on abortion in France?

If a majority of deputés agreed on a text banning abortion it could become law (although there are other procedural steps to pass through and such a decision would be challenged in the courts). Whereas, as outlined above, changing a constitutional right requires a much broader consensus from across the political spectrum.

In short, enshrining the right in the constitution would provide further protection for the right in the event of a future government that is anti-abortion – Marine Le Pen, who came second in the recent residential election has always been very vague on whether she supports the right to abortion, while many in her party are openly anti-abortion.

Why has France had so many constitutions?

The simple answer is that France’s many constitutions have reflected the shift between authoritarianism and republicanism throughout French history.

France is currently on its Fifth Republic, and its history since the French Revolution has also involved several periods of restoration of the monarchy and a brief period under an Emperor – all of these different regimes have required their own constitution.

READ MORE: Explained: What is the French Fifth Republic?

During the tumultuous revolutionary period, France had several constitutions, culminating in “Constitution of the Year XII,” which established the First French Empire. When the monarchy was restored, a new constitution codified the attempt to establish a constitutional monarchy.

France’s current constitution ushered in the Fifth Republic, largely at the behest of General Charles de Gaulle who was called to power during the May 1958 political crisis. One of the defining characteristics of the Fifth Republic is that it is a democracy, though the executive (the president) holds a significant amount of power.

So far, the Fifth Republic’s constitution has lasted 64 years, and should the Fifth Republic last until 2028, it will be the longest Republic – even longer than the Third Republic which endured from 1870 to 1940.

Could France have a new constitution in the future?

It is very possible. Former left-wing presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has proposed a Sixth Republic, which, according to France 24, would involve “proportional representation to make parliament more representative; giving citizens the power to initiate legislation and referendums, and to revoke their representatives; and scrapping special powers that currently give France’s executive right to pass legislation without parliamentary approval.” 

Mélenchon failed in his 2022 presidential bid however, so the Fifth Republic is still – for the moment – on course to beat that longevity record.