It is the biggest overhaul of the French constitution since it was adopted 50 years ago.
From the outset of his presidency, constitutional reform was a cornerstone of Nicolas Sarkozy’s policy.
In July last year, shortly after his election, Sarkozy outlined his vision, saying: “When a president governs, he should be able to give account of himself more than he can at the moment. I want to look at the possibility that the President of the Republic can address Parliament at least once a year to explain his actions and give account of the results.”
Opponents say lifting that ban, in place since 1875 to keep the executive and legislative separate, gives too much power to a single individual.
The reform amends the controversial article 49/3 – changes which curb the government’s ability to push-through laws in the event of stalemate. There are changes, too, to Article 16, which give the President powers to rule by decree for a limited time. And presidents will be limited to two five year terms.
The reform bill also contains a series of measures to overhaul parliament. Among the most significant, parliament will now have a major role in deciding parliamentary business – the agenda was set by the government alone. And the government will have to inform parliament of overseas troop deployments, and seek approval for any extension beyond four months.
The amount of time given to opposition voices in parliament is extended, and their representation strengthened in parliamentary commissions. And equality is enshrined in the constitution with equal access for men and women to top positions guaranteed by law.
The reforms mean the French people will have to approve EU membership for any new states by referendum, though that could be waived case-by-case with a 60 per cent vote in parliament. And regional languages will be enshrined in the constitution as part of the country’s cultural heritage, as is pluralism and freedom of the media.
Opposition socialists were angry though that the reform did not change the complex way senators are chosen, a system they believe has kept the left out of the upper chamber, even when they were in power.