Presidentialism in contemporary France : De Gaulle and Mitterrand
This thesis examines the evolution of presidentialism in contemporary France, with particular reference to the presidencies of Charles de Gaulle (1958-1969) and Francois Mitterrand (1981-88), as articulated in constitutional studies, political writings and speeches, electoral programmes and polemics, journalism and other sources. Since the foundation of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the nature and extent of presidential power in France have been the subject of intense critical scrutiny. While there is a growing corpus of writings reflecting the diverse interpretations of the President's function, no study has yet focused upon an analysis of the debate itself. The thesis is primarily a textual study, based upon a wide range of sources. It opens with a discussion of the 1958 Constitution, the texts on which it was based, the writings of those most closely involved in its drafting and the different historical, ideological and cultural considerations underlying the concept of presidential power which it articulates. The thesis then examines the body of opposition to this conception of the presidency, focused most sharply in the polemical writings of Francois Mitterrand in the 1960s and '70s. By exploring the evolution of Mitterrand's opposition to the style of presidentialism emerging under de Gaulle, Pompidou and Giscard d'Estaing, the study identifies the beginnings of the Left's reconciliation to the institutions of the Fifth Republic, whilst also highlighting the many tensions and ambiguities to which this evolving stance gave rise. The thesis then goes on to consider how Mitterrand's tenure of the French presidency subjected that office to the most exacting interrogation since the foundation of the Fifth Republic. The study shows how Mitterrand's first septennate invites a fundamental re-appraisal of the nature and limits of preSidential power in contemporary France. In so dOing, it calls for a new understanding of an office subject to a range of constitutional, political, personal and Circumstantial factors. The study shows how, during his first term of office, Mitterrand explored the full spectrum of presidential power, from the confident interventionism ensured by the landslide SOCialist victory in 1981 to the tightly restricted 'cohabitation' with the right-wing government of Jacques Chirac. There is, the thesis argues, a whole tradition of French Socialist ideology bound up in Mitterrand's early critiques of the Gaullist presidency, while his first seven years in power brought about important shifts in his own perception of presidential power and redefined the terms in which the debate over presidential ism in France was to be conducted. The writings of such contemporary analysts as Avril, Gicquel, Duverger and Colombani attest to the complexity of the questions raised by this study and suggest ways in which Mitterrand's exercise of pre-Sidential power brought new dimensions to a debate that has been ongoing since 1958.