Emmanuel Macron is the winner, but what can a French president actually do?

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron has just been handed the most powerful position in France, and he’s got big plans for how he’ going to use it. But just how much will he be able to actually do?

The post of president comes with more power than most democratic leaders, more than in Germany and the UK, and some say the US too.

With Charles de Gaulle in 1958 came France’s 5th Republic when presidential powers were extended, and since then French politics has been marked by political “strongmen” in the Palais Royal.

So what does a French president do?

The French president is both the head of state and the head of the executive, which means they officially represent France (like a monarch) and are responsable for governing the county.

The job title includes appointing high ranking civil servants and judges, negotiating and ratifying treaties, and being commander in chief of the armed forces, in charge of France’s nuclear weapons.

As president, Macron will preside over the Council of Ministers, the National Defence Council, Higher Council of the Judiciary and the Executive Council of the Community.

He will also name three of the nine members of the Constitutional Council, including its president, which he can call upon to decide on the constitutionality of a law.

However, since a change to the constitution made by Sarkozy in 2008, the president can’t serve more than two consecutive terms. Previously there was no limit.

What about the Prime Minister?

The President picks the Prime Minister, who is usually from the same party, so the President is the effective head of the executive and can impose their views on the Prime Minister.

However, every now and again something called “cohabitation” happens.

No, the Prime Minister and President don’t have to share a flat together. It’s when the majority in parliament is different to the party of the President and so they are forced to choose a Prime Minister from the opposing party.

This is all quite tricky for Macron, who broke away from the Socialists to form his won En Marche! movement. See the link below to get a feel for how problematic this is for him.

When “cohabiting”, the Prime Minister shares the role of the head of the executive, usually with turbulent results.

This has only occurred three times in France, famously in 1986 when Socialist president François Mitterrand shared power with right wing Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, and happened again in 1993-1995 and in 1997-2002.

But even in cohabitation, the president still controls diplomatic and defence policy.

Could he take France out of the EU?

Well, first off, he won’t. Marine Le Pen promised to hold a Frexit referendum but that’s not going to happen under the pro-EU Macron.

But whether he could actually do it is a little more complicated.

The French president can call a referendum on their own under Article 11 of the constitution, but the vote can’t change the constitution and would need to be signed off by the constitutional court.

Normally, any constitutional change has to be put forward by the government and approved by both the upper and lower houses and by a referendum or by majority 60 percent in parliament – something that would prove difficult for parties with very few MP’s.

Who are they accountable to?

Parliament has little control over the president’s powers, but as of 2014 can impeach a president if they’re deemed to be failing to fulfill their duties. Previously they could only be given the boot in cases of “high-treason”.

The only real accountability the president has is when he or she runs for re-election.

While in office, the president enjoys immunity from prosecution and cannot be ordered to appear as a witness. They can also pardon offenders from prison.

Are there any other perks?

Among the obvious perks of the job there are a few stranger things that come along with the title.

As president of France you also become the co-prince of Andorra, the grand master of the Order of the Legion of Honour and an honorary canon of a the Saint John Lateran Archbasilica in Rome.

By Rose Trigg

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