A constitution is the fundamental and basic law, of a country. The constitution determines the fundamental political principles of the government, rules of procedure of that government, rights and obligations of the citizenry and methods to ensure accountability of governmental branches.
As it is well-known, France has had a tormented constitutional history, going through many
different political regimes, and no less than ﬁfteen constitutions since the French Revolution
in 1789. As written by Van Nifterik: “the French should know about constitutions! One can differ as to whether the history of France should be considered a fruitful garden of constitutional thought, a graveyard of constitutional experiments, a ‘musée des constitutions’, or a mineﬁeld; in any case it is beyond doubt that the French are rather experienced in constitutions and
The current constitution, which provides for the basic rules for France’s Fifth Republic, was adopted in 1958. It is the longest lasting French constitution after the constitutional laws of the Third Republic (1875). But such longevity did not come without its reforms and amendments. The Fifth saw its constitutional text amended twenty-four times so far. But if France’s journey has been eventful, it has not been pointless. One could argue that France’s rich political thought forced such institutional pluralism – that, and a pursuit of perfection.
There are some benefits to such trials and errors indeed. If anything, France learnt early on to define what it did not want.
As to the signiﬁcance of the Constitution in French political life, it is important to
recall that prior to 1958, the system was centered on the principle of general will, which was, in the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the expression of the “volonté générale.”
As such, it was sovereign and should not be subject to judicial control.
This reluctance to submit statutes to any kind of judicial oversight was also reminiscent of the long-standing distrust of the French political class and society towards judges, dating back to the Ancien Régime, where judges (parlements) had been mostly concerned about maintaining privileges.