Good Essay On The French Fourth Republic
The French Fourth Republic is also known as the republican government of France that lasted from 1946 and 1958, and was governed by its own fourth republican constitution. It is said that there are many similarities between the French Third Republic and the French Fourth Republic, and thus both republics had the same issues and problems. In general, this period saw the country grow in economic terms and the rise of social and political institutions which were destroyed during the Second World War (Fieschi, 2004). However, it is also said that this republic was quite unstable, and was unable to resolve many of the socio-political challenges it faced at the time. This short paper posits that the French Fourth Republic was unstable mainly because it did not have the strong institutional bases through which it could become more legally authoritative over its constituents.
The French Fourth Republic
The new constitution of the Fourth Republic greatly decreased the powers of the President. Because of this, the current President, Charles de Gaulle, resigned in the beginning of 1946. Under the provisions of the new constitution, the colonial empire of the country was organized into a federation named the French Union. Soon, in Indochina, the movement towards independence ended in a bitter war between the Vietminh (Communists) and the French as well as pro-French armies. Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Indochina independence movement, scored a vital military victory in 1954, and eventually Indochina became free of French rule (Page, 2003). Soon, other French colonies began to demand their independence.
The instability in the government of the Fourth Republic was further compounded by its constitution granting the majority of power in the hands of the parliament. However, parliament was often deadlocked because there were many parties holding seats in parliament. Each party of course had its own self-interests and motives which often clashed with one another, and hence decision making was extremely difficult. Coalitions in parliament often disbanded after a while, with new coalitions taking their place. The bigger number of parties in parliament made it easier to vote out an administration rather than to vote a new one in, and this also led to the cabinets being changed very often. The average duration of a cabinet in office during this time was about six months, and so there were about 24 cabinets who served during this 12 year period. This then made governing very difficult for each particular cabinet, and cabinet members themselves could not govern efficiently because they knew anyway that their tenure was not going to last. Civil servants who did not like the minister they were serving under knew that they could not follow orders or carry out the plans of the minister since he was going to be replaced soon anyway (Huber and Martinez-Gallardo, 2004). The frequent changing of cabinet ministers clearly reflected a lack of stability in the institutions that were supposed to be in place in government.
Until 1947, the French governments were based on the idea of tripartism, which was actually the sharing of power among three main parties. During this time, the main coalition included the Communist Party, the Socialists and a Christian Party, known as the MRP. As there were three parties, oftentimes, these coalitions could not see eye to eye and make congenial decisions on matters of state. The coalitions were too big in terms of members, and if there were compromises made, these did not last too long. The Communists were often frowned upon by the Socialists, especially now that the Cold War was about to begin (The State of The Century, 2012).
Failure in parliamentary procedures can be seen in the fact that under the new constitution, the President of the Council is the leader of the executive branch, or the Prime Minister. The President of France is simply a symbolic or ministerial position and yet is still elected by parliament. It is only the Prime Minister who can call for a vote in the parliament on legitimizing the cabinet. The cabinet may be dismissed if a majority of the parliament voted against the cabinet. Also, parliament could not be dissolved even after two consecutive ministerial crises. This situation resulted in chaos. When the Prime Minister would call for a vote to legitimize the cabinet, parliament had to follow suit. If parliament did not like the cabinet, it could dismiss the same immediately. For instance, after the election of Paul Ramadier in 1947 as Prime Minister, he then called upon parliament to deliver its approval for the cabinet that he had recently formed. Ramadier had formed a coalition government with Communists included. Soon, he removed the Communists from his own government (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015).
Experts say that even if coalitions and cabinets changed regularly in the Fourth Republic, this republic may have survived if it were not for the international crises. While governing the country was quite difficult already, the French Fourth Republic had to contend with Indochina and then the demand for freedom by its other colonies, in particular, Algeria. In the 1950s, the French army in Algeria was unable to crush a local rebellion that sought the independence of the country. Algeria in particular was difficult to let go of as there were over a million French residents in Algeria at the time. Thus the immediate trigger for the collapse of the French Fourth Republic is said to be the crisis in Algeria. The Algerian War of Independence had been going on already since 1954, and it was led by the heads of the National Liberation Front in its desire to restore the state of Algeria and to do this within an Islamic framework. This fight for independence by the National Liberation Front led to a political crisis in the Fourth French Republic.
Combined with the inherent weakness in the institutions of government, as well as the recent failures of the French military in French Indochina a few years earlier, and occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, the weak Fourth Republic once more was put under the world spotlight at this time. Also, while the French army thought that it could put down the revolutionaries after a couple of years, it felt that the very weak French government would eventually accede to the demands of the revolutionaries and declare Algeria an independent state. The army then issued an ultimatum to the government for it never to give Algeria its independence. Also, the French military launched Operation Resurrection – a plan to unseat the current government in France. Paratroopers were then to be dropped in Paris and were ordered to take control of the government. This then gave former leader Charles de Gaulle to once more take an active role in French government. As De Gaulle was a general, the French military felt very comfortable with his return, and confident that his return will signal the evolution of a strong French government.
The original thesis of this paper stated that the weak institutional bases failed to legitimize the power of the Fourth French republic such that it governed ineffectively, and eventually, former leader General Charles de Gaulle stepped in once more to assume the role of head of government in the Fifth French Republic. The first proof of this thesis is that the constitution of the Fourth French republic was inherently flawed as the Prime Minister presents his own cabinet, but that approval of the cabinet and the dismissal of the same will have to come from the parliament. In addition to this, parliament was made up of coalitions of political groups with varied interests such that they could hardly reach common ground when making decisions for the country. The groups were even sometimes suspicious of one another’s motives when passing bills or simply making decisions for the country.
The country’s military also had to contend with its growing weakness. The country then lost its colonies in Indochina, and was about to lose Algeria, which was considered the jewel in the crown of France’s colonies. There was also the question of many French citizens who had settled in Algiers – what would happen to them if Algiers obtained independence? The military itself had even launched its own version of a coup d’ etat of the French government as it felt that its own government was to weak, and would eventually grant Algeria its independence. Eventually, former President Charles de Gaulle came back to power after a decade’s hiatus so as to rule the country once more, but not without making changes to the system of government that would hopefully make France a great player once more on the world stage.
Encyclopedia Britannica. 2015. Paul Ramadier. [online]. Accessed from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/490424/Paul-Ramadier [12 January 2015].
Fieschi, C. 2004. Facism, Populism and the French Fifth Republic. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
Huber, J. and Martinez-Gallardo, C. 2004. Cabinet Instability and the Accumulation of Experience: The French Fourth and Fifth Republics in Comparative Perspective. British Journal of Political Science, 34, pp. 27-48.
Page, M. 2003. Colonialism: An International, Social, Cultural and Political Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA; ABC-CLIO.
The State of the Century. 2012. De Gaulle’s Creation: France’s Fiercely Independent International Identity. [online]. Accessed from: https://thestateofthecentury.wordpress.com/tag/may-1958/ [12 January 2015].
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