Since the Referendum on the Direct Election of the President of the French Republic in 1962, the President has been directly elected by universal suffrage; he or she was previously elected by an electoral college.
After the Referendum on the Reduction of the Mandate of the President of the French Republic, 2000, the length of the term was reduced to five years from the previous seven; the first election to a shorter term was held in 2002. President Chirac was first elected in 1995 and again in 2002. At that time, there was no limit on the number of terms, so Chirac could have run again, but chose not to. He was succeeded by Nicolas Sarkozy on 16 May 2007.
Following a further change, the Constitutional law on the Modernisation of the Institutions of the Fifth Republic, 2008, a president cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac are the only Presidents to date who have served a full two terms (14 years for the former, 12 years for the latter).
In order to be admitted as an official candidate, potential candidates must receive signed nominations (informally known as parrainages, for "sponsors") from more than 500 elected officials, mostly mayors. These officials must be from at least 30 départements or overseas collectivities, and no more than 10% of them should be from the same département or collectivity. Furthermore, each official may nominate only one candidate. There are exactly 45,543 elected officials, including 33,872 mayors.
Spending and financing of campaigns and political parties are highly regulated. There is a cap on spending, at approximately 20 million euros, and government public financing of 50% of spending if the candidate scores more than 5%. If the candidate receives less than 5% of the vote, the government funds €8,000,000 to the party (€4,000,000 paid in advance). Advertising on TV is forbidden but official time is given to candidates on public TV. An independent agency regulates election and party financing.
French presidential elections are conducted via run-off voting which ensures that the elected President always obtains a majority: if no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round of voting, the two highest-scoring candidates arrive at a run-off. After the president is elected, he or she goes through a solemn investiture ceremony called a "passation des pouvoirs" ("handing over of powers").
The French Fifth Republic is a semi-presidential system. Unlike many other European presidents, the French President is quite powerful. Although it is the Prime Minister of France and parliament that oversee much of the nation's actual day-to-day affairs, the French President wields significant influence and authority, especially in the fields of national security and foreign policy. The president holds the nation's most senior office, and outranks all other politicians.
The president's greatest power is his/her ability to choose the prime minister. However, since the French National Assembly has the sole power to dismiss the Prime Minister's government, the president is forced to name a prime minister who can command the support of a majority in the assembly.When the majority of the Assembly has opposite political views to that of the president, this leads to political cohabitation. In that case, the president's power is diminished, since much of the de facto power relies on a supportive prime minister and National Assembly, and is not directly attributed to the post of president.
When the majority of the Assembly sides with them, the President can take a more active role and may, in effect, direct government policy. The prime minister is then the personal choice of the President, and can be easily replaced if the administration becomes unpopular. This device has been used in recent years by François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, and François Hollande.
Since 2002, the mandate of the president and the Assembly are both 5 years and the two elections are close to each other. Therefore, the likelihood of a "cohabitation" is lower. Among the powers of the government:The president promulgates laws.
The president has a very limited form of suspensive veto: when presented with a law, he or she can request another reading of it by Parliament, but only once per law.
The president may also refer the law for review to the Constitutional Council prior to promulgation.
The president may dissolve the French National Assembly
The president may refer treaties or certain types of laws to popular referendum, within certain conditions, among them the agreement of the Prime minister or the parliament.
The president is the Commander-in-Chief of the French Armed Forces.
The president may order the use of nuclear weapons.
The president names but cannot dismiss the Prime minister. The president names and dismisses the other ministers, with the agreement of the Prime minister.
The president names most officials (with the assent of the cabinet).
The president names certain members of the Constitutional Council.
The president receives foreign ambassadors.
The president may grant a pardon (but not an amnesty) to convicted criminals; the president can also lessen or suppress criminal sentences. This was of crucial importance when France still operated the death penalty: criminals sentenced to death would generally request that the president commute their sentence to life imprisonment.
All decisions of the president must be countersigned by the prime minister, except dissolving the French National Assembly, choice of prime minister, dispositions of Article 19.
The constitutional attributions of the president are defined in Title II of the Constitution of France.
Article 5 The President of the Republic shall see that the Constitution is observed. He shall ensure, by his arbitration, the proper functioning of the public authorities and the continuity of the State. He shall be the guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity and observance of treaties.
Article 8 The President of the Republic shall appoint the Prime Minister. He shall terminate the appointment of the Prime Minister when the latter tenders the resignation of the Government. On the proposal of the Prime Minister, he shall appoint the other members of the Government and terminate their appointments.
Article 9 The President of the Republic shall preside over the Council of Ministers.
Article 10 The President of the Republic shall promulgate Acts of Parliament within fifteen days following the final adoption of an Act and its transmission to the Government. He may, before the expiry of this time limit, ask Parliament to reconsider the Act or sections of the Act. Reconsideration shall not be refused.
While the president has to sign all acts adopted by parliament into law, he cannot refuse to do so and exercise a kind of right of veto; his only power in that matter is to ask for a single reconsideration of the law by parliament and this power is subject to countersigning by the Prime minister.
Article 11 The president could submit laws to the people in a referendum with advice and consent of the cabinet.
Article 12 The President of the Republic may, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the assemblies, declare the National Assembly dissolved. A general election shall take place not less than twenty days and not more than forty days after the dissolution. The National Assembly shall convene as of right on the second Thursday following its election. Should it so convene outside the period prescribed for the ordinary session, a session shall be called by right for a fifteen-day period. No further dissolution shall take place within a year following this election.
Article 13 The President of the Republic shall sign the ordinances and decrees deliberated upon in the Council of Ministers. He shall make appointments to the civil and military posts of the State. [...]
Article 14 The President of the Republic shall accredit ambassadors and envoys extraordinary to foreign powers ; foreign ambassadors and envoys extraordinary shall be accredited to him.
Article 15 The President of the Republic shall be commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He shall preside over the higher national defence councils and committees.
Article 16 Where the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the Nation, the integrity of its territory or the fulfilment of its international commitments are under serious and immediate threat, and where the proper functioning of the constitutional public authorities is interrupted, the President of the Republic shall take the measures required by these circumstances, after formally consulting the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the assemblies and the Constitutional Council. He shall inform the Nation of these measures in a message. The measures must stem from the desire to provide the constitutional public authorities, in the shortest possible time, with the means to carry out their duties. The Constitutional Council shall be consulted with regard to such measures. Parliament shall convene as of right. The National Assembly shall not be dissolved during the exercise of the emergency powers.
Article 16, allowing the president a limited form of rule by decree for a limited period of time in exceptional circumstance, has been used only once, by Charles de Gaulle during the Algerian War, from 23 April to 29 September 1961.
Article 17 The President of the Republic has the right to grant pardon.
Article 18 The President of the Republic shall communicate with the two assemblies of Parliament by means of messages, which he shall cause to be read and which shall not be the occasion for any debate. He can also give an address in front of the Congress of France in Versailles. Outside sessions, Parliament shall be convened especially for this purpose.
From 1875 to 2008, the President was prohibited from entering the houses of Parliament.
Article 19 Acts of the President of the Republic, other than those provided for under articles 8 (first paragraph), 11, 12, 16, 18, 54, 56 and 61, shall be countersigned by the Prime Minister and, where required, by the appropriate ministers.
Article 49 Para 3 allows the president to adopt a law on his authority. To this end, the prime minister goes before the lower and upper houses, reads out the bill to the legislators and closes with "the administration engages its responsibility" on the foregoing. Deprived of Gaullist party support halfway into his seven-year term spanning 1974 to 1981, Pres. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing relied heavily on this provision to stalemate Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac's attempt to bring him back under Gaullist control.
There is a tradition of so-called "presidential amnesties", which are something of a misnomer: after the election of a president, and of a National Assembly of the same party, parliament traditionally votes a law granting amnesty for some petty crimes. This practice has been increasingly criticized, particularly because it is believed to incite people to commit traffic offences in the months preceding the election. Such an amnesty law may also authorize the president to designate individuals who have committed certain categories of crimes to be offered amnesty, if certain conditions are met. Such individual measures have been criticized for the political patronage that they allow. Still, it is argued that such amnesty laws help reduce prison overpopulation. An amnesty law was passed in 2002; none have yet been passed as of January 2008.
The difference between an amnesty and a presidential pardon is that the former clears all subsequent effects of the sentencing, as though the crime had not been committed, while pardon simply relieves the sentenced individual from part or all of the remainder of the sentence.
Articles 67 and 68 organize the regime of criminal responsibility of the President. They were reformed by a 2007 constitutional act, in order to clarify a situation that previously resulted in legal controversies.
The President of the Republic enjoys immunity during his term: he cannot be requested to testify before any jurisdiction, he cannot be prosecuted, etc. However, the statute of limitation is suspended during his term, and enquiries and prosecutions can be restarted, at the latest one month after he leaves office.
The President is not deemed personally responsible for his actions in his official capacity, except where his actions are indicted before the International Criminal Court (France is a member of the ICC and the President is a French citizen as another following the Court's rules) or where impeachment is moved against him. Impeachment can be pronounced by the Republican High Court, a special court convened from both houses of Parliament on the proposal of either House, should the president have failed to discharge his duties in a way that evidently precludes the continuation of his term.
Upon the death, removal, or resignation of the President, the President of the Senate takes over as acting president. Alain Poher is the only person to have served in this temporary position twice: the first time in 1969 after Charles de Gaulle's resignation and a second time in 1974 after Georges Pompidou's death. In this situation, the President of the Senate becomes Acting President of the Republic; he or she does not become the new President of the Republic as elected and therefore does not have to resign from his or her position as President of the Senate. In spite of his title as Acting President of the Republic, Poher is regarded in France as a former President and is listed in the presidents' gallery on the official presidential website. This is in contrast to acting presidents from the Third Republic.
The first round of a new presidential election must be organized no sooner than twenty days and no later than thirty-five days following the vacancy of the presidency. Because fifteen days can separate the first and second rounds of a presidential election, this means that the President of the Senate can only act as President of the Republic for a maximum period of fifty days. During this period of Interim president is not allowed to dismiss the national assembly nor are they allowed to call for a referendum or initiate any constitutional changes.
If there is no acting president of the senate, the powers of the president of the republic are exercised by the "Gouvernement", meaning the Cabinet. This has been interpreted by some constitutional academics as meaning first the Prime Minister and, if he is himself not able to act, the members of the cabinet in the order of the list of the decree that nominated them. This is in fact unlikely to happen, because if the president of the Senate is not able to act, the Senate will normally name a new president of the Senate, that will act as President of the Republic.
During the Third French Republic the President of the Council of Ministers acted as President whenever office was vacant. According to article 7 of the Constitution, if the presidency becomes vacant for any reason, or if the president becomes incapacitated, upon the request of the gouvernement, the Constitutional Council may rule, by a majority vote, that the presidency is to be temporarily assumed by the President of the Senate. If the Council rules that the incapacity is permanent, the same procedure as for the resignation is applied, as described above.
If the President cannot attend meetings, including meetings of the Council of Ministers, he can ask the Prime Minister to attend in his stead (Constitution, article 21). This clause has been applied by presidents travelling abroad, ill, or undergoing surgery.
During the Second French Republic, there was a Vice President. The only person to ever hold the position was Henri Georges Boulay de la Meurthe.
The President of the Republic is paid a salary according to a pay grade defined in comparison to the pay grades of the most senior members of the French Civil Service ("out of scale", hors échelle, those whose pay grades are known as letters and not as numeric indices). In addition he is paid a residence stipend of 3%, and a function stipend of 25% on top of the salary and residence indemnity. This gross salary and these indemnities are the same as those of the Prime Minister, and are 50% higher than the highest paid to other members of the government, which is itself defined as twice the average of the highest (pay grade G) and the lowest (pay grade A1) salaries in the "out of scale" pay grades. Using the 2008 "out of scale" pay grades this amounts to a monthly pay of 20,963 €, which fits the 19,000 € quoted to the press in early 2008. Using the pay grades starting from 1 July 2009, this amounts to a gross monthly pay of 21,131 €.
The salary and the residence stipend are taxable for income tax.
The official residence and office of the president is the Élysée Palace in Paris. Other presidential residences include:the Hôtel de Marigny; standing next to the Élysée Palace, houses foreign official guests;
the Château de Rambouillet is normally open to visitors when not used for (rare) official meetings;
the Domaine National de Marly is normally open to visitors when not used for (rare) official meetings;
the Fort de Brégançon, in southeastern France, the official presidential vacation residence until 2013, became a national monument and opened to the public in 2014. The president's private quarters there are still available for his (rare) use. La Lanterne became the official presidential vacation residence at that time.
There are three living former French Presidents:
According to French law, Former Presidents have guaranteed lifetime pension defined according to the pay grade of the Councillors of State, a courtesy diplomatic passport, and, according to the French Constitution (Article 56), membership of the Constitutional Council.
They also get personnel, an apartment and/or office, and other amenities, though the legal basis for these is disputed. In 2008, according to an answer by the services of the Prime Minister to a question from member of the National Assembly René Dosière, these facilities comprised: a security detail, a car with a chauffeur, first class train tickets and an office or housing space, maintained by the State. Two people service this space. In addition, the State funds 7 permanent collaborators.
President Hollande announced in 2016 a reform of the system. Former Presidents won't get a car with chauffeur anymore, and the personnel in their living space is cut. The number of collaborators is reduced but a State flat or house remains available for former Presidents. Train tickets are also available if the trip is justified by the function of former President. The security personnel around the former Presidents is maintained.
- Alain Poher – as President of the Senate was called on to serve as Interim President of France in April–June 1969 and April–May 1974
- Jacques-Charles Dupont de l'Eure, Chairman of the Provisional Government and de facto head of state in 1848: served less than three months;
- Executive Commission: joint head of state with five co-presidents in 1848: served less than two months. François Arago was its most prominent member;
- Louis-Eugène Cavaignac, head of government and de facto head of state in 1848: served about six months;
- Louis Jules Trochu, President of the Government of National Defense and de facto head of state (served 4 months, September 1870 to January 1871);
- Philippe Pétain, Chief of State of Vichy France: served four years (considered an illegal usurper by later governments);
- Charles de Gaulle, First President of the 1944-46 Provisional Government: served over one and a half years;
- Félix Gouin, Second President of the Provisional Government: served five months;
- Georges Bidault, Third President of the Provisional Government: served five months;
- Léon Blum, Fourth President of the Provisional Government: served one month;
Under the Third and Fourth Republic, which were parliamentary systems, the office of President of the Republic was a largely ceremonial and powerless one.
The constitution of the Fifth Republic greatly increased the President's powers. A 1962 referendum changed the constitution, so that the President would be directly elected by universal suffrage and not by the Parliament.
In 2000, a referendum shortened the presidential term from seven years to five years.
A maximum of two consecutive terms was imposed after the 2008 constitutional reform.