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The President of the National Assembly
The President of the National Assembly plays an essential role in French political life, not only on account of his position within the institutions of the Republic and his essential contribution to the proper running of the National Assembly, but also on account of his responsibility for the modernization of the National Assembly, for its opening-up to citizens and for its influence in the world. This role has been strengthened by the Constitutional Act of July 23, 2008 and by the subsequent modification in the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly
This explains why the National Assembly in the Fifth Republic, as during the previous Republics, has often been presided over by high-profile politicians. The following men have been Presidents since 1958: Jacques Chaban-Delmas (1958-1969, 1978-1981 and 1986-1988), Achille Peretti (1969-1973), Edgar Faure (1973-1978), Louis Mermaz (1981-1986), Laurent Fabius (1988-1992 and 1997-2000), Henri Emmanuelli (1992-1993), Philippe Séguin (1993-1997), Raymond Forni (2000-2002), Jean-Louis Debré (2002-March 2007), Patrick Ollier (March-June 2007) and Bernard Accoyer (since June 2007).
At its first sitting, the newly elected Assembly, chaired by its most senior member, elects its President. This election, which is valid for the term of the Parliament, is held by secret ballot at the rostrum. If the absolute majority of votes cast is not obtained at the first two rounds of the ballot, then a relative majority is enough at the third. In the case of a tie then the eldest candidate is elected.
I. – THE INSTITUTIONAL ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT
1. – Compulsory Consultation
The President of the National Assembly must be consulted by the President of the Republic in two occasions:
- the dissolution of the National Assembly (article 12 of the Constitution);
- the implementation of emergency powers by the President of the Republic (article 16 of the Constitution);
- He is also consulted by the Prime Minister when the latter seeks the holding of extra days of sitting beyond the usual one hundred and twenty days which each Assembly may hold during its normal session (article 28 of the Constitution).
2. – Powers of appointment of the President of the National Assembly
The President of the National Assembly appoints, at the same time as the President of the Republic and the President of the Senate, one member of the Constitutional Council at each three-yearly partial renewal of this body (article 56 of the Constitution). Since the revision of July 23, 2008, this appointment is made after the opinion of the Law Committee of the National Assembly has been given.
According to the terms of the new version of article 65 of the Constitution, the President of the National Assembly appoints, after the opinion of the Law Committee of the National Assembly has been given, two of the six people who will sit in the sections of the High Council of the Judiciary which have jurisdiction over judges and over public prosecutors.
In addition to the appointments he makes in accordance with the Constitution, the President of the National Assembly appoints one or several members of various councils and independent administrative authorities (the High Council for Audiovisual Matters, the Board of Directors of the Bank of France, the National Commission on Data Protection and Liberties, the Financial Markets Authority, the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications and Post, the High Authority Against Discrimination and for Equality, etc.).
He also appoints, by virtue of Law n°2009-39 of January 13, 2009, one of the qualified people on the commission provided for by article 25 of the Constitution which is responsible for publicly expressing an opinion on the Government and Private Members’ Bills defining the constituencies for the election of Members of the National Assembly, or modifying the distribution of the seats of Members of the National Assembly or of Senators.
Furthermore, certain texts grant him the task of appointing one or several M.P.s to sit on bodies on which representation of the parliamentary assemblies is provided for. This is notably the case for the Commission on Access to Administrative Documents, the Steering Committee on Employment, the High Council for Public Service Railways or the National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Life Sciences and Health.
3. – Powers of referral of the President of the National Assembly
a) Referral to the Constitutional Council
The President of the National Assembly may refer bills to the Constitutional Council before their promulgation (article 61 of the Constitution) and may call on it to decide if an international agreement contains any clauses contrary to the Constitution (article 54 of the Constitution).
In the case of disagreement with the Government, he may call on the Constitutional Council to decide if a Members’ bill or an amendment is, or is not, a matter for statute or is, or is not, contrary to a delegation of authority granted by virtue of article 38 of the Constitution (article 41 of the Constitution).
After thirty days of the exercise of emergency powers, the President of the National Assembly, may, by virtue of article 16 of the Constitution, refer the matter to the Constitutional Council so that it may decide if the conditions laid down in the same article still apply.
In accordance with the new version of article 39, paragraph 4, of the Constitution, in the case of disagreement between the Conference of Presidents and the Government on the matter of knowing if the presentation of bills allows their inclusion on the agenda of the National Assembly, the President of the National Assembly may refer the matter to the Constitutional Council which shall rule within a period of eight days.
b) Referral to other bodies
The President of the National Assembly may also, by law, refer matters to:
- The Court of Budgetary and Financial Discipline;
- The National Consultative Committee on Ethics in Life Sciences and Health;
- The High Council for Audiovisual Matters;
- The Council for the Rights of Future Generations.
He may also, at the request of one of the standing committees of the National Assembly, communicate to the Ombudsman of the Republic any petition which has been referred to the National Assembly.
Moreover, article 70 of the Constitution provides that Parliament may consult the Economic, Social and Environmental Council. The President of the National Assembly used this particular prerogative for the first time in September 2009 by referring the problem of the taxing of daily allowances in the case of a work-related accident, to the said Council.
4. – Chairmanship of congress and of the high court
The President of the National Assembly presides over the Congress when it is called in order to carry out a constitutional revision, to ratify a membership to the European Union not submitted to referendum or when the President of the Republic takes the floor before it in accordance with article 18 of the Constitution.
When, pursuant to article 68 of the Constitution, Parliament sits as the High Court, it is presided over by the President of the National Assembly.
II. – THE ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT WITHIN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
1. – Role concerning the terms and status of m.p.s
The President of the National Assembly receives all decisions and communications which could have a bearing on M.P.s’ terms of office or status:
- Decisions of the Constitutional Council concerning electoral disputes, resignations or vacant seats;
- Correspondence concerning parliamentary immunity;
- Declarations of professional activities;
- Membership of political groups and declarations regarding their membership, if that be the case, of the opposition;
- Declarations of membership of parties for the financing of public subsidies to political parties.
He must then implement the procedures provided for in such circumstances either through his own initiative or by referring the matter to the Bureau.
2. – Chairmanship of the decision-making bodies of the assembly
Each week, the Conference of Presidents is convened, if necessary, by the President of the National Assembly on the day and at the time which he sets. The new Rules of Procedure provide that it may also be convened by the President upon the request of a political group chairman so that it may exercise its new prerogatives: opposition to the inclusion on the agenda of a bill or of the implementation of the accelerated procedure. The President may also convene the Conference of Presidents for any other reason.
The agenda for two weeks out of four is set by the National Assembly on the proposition of the Conference of Presidents. It is the task of the President of the National Assembly to gather the various proposals for the agenda for these two weeks and to make a summary of them to the Conference.
The President convenes and presides over the Bureau of the National Assembly.
In accordance with the terms of article 146-2 of the Rules of Procedure, he chairs the Commission for the Assessment and Monitoring of Public Policies which was set up in 2009.
3. – Role of the president in the legislative procedure
As regards the chairmanship of plenary sittings, it is the President’s duty:
- To open, close or adjourn the sitting;
- To chair the debates in accordance with the decisions taken by the Conference of Presidents;
- To decide the order of speaking and to give speakers the floor;
- To oversee the respect of the Rules of Procedure, as well as of constitutional or institutional provisions;
- To maintain order in the Chamber.
In the carrying out of these functions the President may be replaced by one of the Vice Presidents of the National Assembly.
In addition the President:
- Oversees the running of the Committees which he convenes for their constitution;
- Receives the tabling of all initiatives (Government bills, Members’ bills, resolutions, motions etc.);
- Sends Government and Members’ bills for examination to the relevant committee;
- Oversees the implementation of the correct procedure for written and oral questions;
- Transmits the bills which have been passed to the relevant authorities.
- He makes a decision on the financial admissibility of amendments tabled on a bill discussed in plenary sitting as soon as such amendments are tabled. This power is delegated to the Chairman of the Finance Committee.
- Since the constitutional revision of July 2008, the President of the National Assembly has four new prerogatives which are linked to the legislative procedure:
- Article 39, paragraph 5 of the Constitution allows the President to refer a Member’s bill tabled by an M.P. for an opinion of the Conseil d’Etat, before its examination in committee, subject to the agreement of its author;
- Article 41, allows him, during the legislative procedure, to argue the inadmissibility of an amendment or of a Member’s bill for not being a matter for statute;
- In accordance with article 45, paragraph 2, the President of the National Assembly and the President of the Senate, acting jointly, may, in the case of a Member’s bill, call a meeting of a joint committee after two readings (a single reading if the accelerated procedure has been implemented);
- The President also monitors the subject of draft resolutions tabled by virtue of article 34-1, since a resolution may not be included on the agenda if it is on the same subject as a previously tabled resolution during the same ordinary session.
4. – Other roles of the President
The President of the National Assembly is in charge of the internal and external security of the National Assembly (ordinance n° 58-100 of 17 November 1958 concerning the running of parliamentary assemblies). He thus has at his disposal and under his orders, a military unit, whose responsibility it is to oversee the security of the Palais Bourbon and the parliamentary precincts.
() And thus answers the conditions laid down by article 8 of the Institutional Act n°2009-403 of April 15, 2009, concerning the application of articles 34-1, 39 and 44 of the Constitution (impact study, application mechanisms, linking with European law etc.)