French Fourth Republic

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French Republic
République française

1946–1958
 

Flag Emblem
(unofficial)
Motto
"Liberté, égalité, fraternité" (French)
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
Anthem
"La Marseillaise"

Dark green: Fourth French Republic.
Light green: French possessions.
Capital Paris
Languages French
Government Multi Party Parliamentary republic
President
 -  1947–1954 Vincent Auriol
 -  1954–1959 René Coty
Prime Minister
 -  1947 Paul Ramadier
 -  1958–1959 Charles de Gaulle
Legislature National Assembly
Historical era Cold War
 -  Established 14 October 1946
 -  Disestablished 4 October 1958
Area
 -  1957 889,898 km² (343,592 sq mi)
Currency French franc (FRF)

The French Fourth Republic was the republican government of France between 1946 and 1958, governed by the fourth republican constitution. It was in many ways a revival of the Third Republic, which was in place before World War II, and suffered many of the same problems. France adopted the constitution of the Fourth Republic on 13 October 1946.

The Fourth Republic saw an era of great economic growth in France and the rebuilding of the nation's social institutions and industry after World War II, and played an important part in the development of the process of European integration which changed the continent permanently. The greatest accomplishments of the Fourth Republic were in social reform and economic development. In 1946, the government established a comprehensive social security system that assured unemployment insurance, disability and old-age pensions, and health care to all citizens.[1]

Some attempts were also made to strengthen the executive branch of government to prevent the unstable situation that had existed before the war, but the instability remained and the Fourth Republic saw frequent changes in government – there were twenty-one administrations in its twelve year history. Moreover, the government proved unable to make effective decisions regarding decolonization of the numerous remaining French colonies. After a series of crises, most importantly the Algerian crisis of 1958, the Fourth Republic collapsed. Wartime leader Charles de Gaulle returned from retirement to preside over a transitional administration which was empowered to design a new French constitution. The Fourth Republic was dissolved by a public referendum on 5 October 1958 which established the modern-day Fifth Republic.

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Founding of the Fourth Republic (1944–47)[edit]

After the liberation of France, the Vichy government was dissolved and the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) was instituted. With most of the political class discredited and containing many members who had more or less collaborated with the enemy, Gaullism and communism became the most popular political forces in France.

Charles de Gaulle led the GPRF from 1944 to 1946. Meanwhile, negotiations took place over the proposed new constitution, which was to be put to a referendum. De Gaulle advocated a presidential system of government, and criticized the reinstatement of what he pejoratively called "the parties system". He resigned in January 1946 and was replaced by Félix Gouin (SFIO). Ultimately only the French Communist Party (PCF) and the socialist SFIO supported the draft constitution, which envisaged a form of government based on unicameralism; but this was rejected in the referendum of 5 May 1946.

For the 1946 elections, the RGR (Rassemblement des gauches républicaines), which encompassed the Radical-Socialist Party, the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance and other conservative parties, unsuccessfully attempted to oppose the Christian democrat and socialist MRP-SFIO-PCF alliance. The new constituent assembly included 166 MRP deputies, 153 PCF deputies and 128 SFIO deputies, giving the tripartite alliance an absolute majority. Georges Bidault (MRP) replaced Félix Gouin as the head of government.

A new draft of the Constitution was written, which this time proposed the establishment of a bicameral form of government. Léon Blum (SFIO) headed the GPRF from 1946 to 1947. After a new legislative election in June 1946, the Christian democrat Georges Bidault assumed leadership of the Cabinet. Despite de Gaulle's so-called discourse of Bayeux of 16 June 1946 in which he denounced the new institutions, the new draft was approved by the French people, with 53% of voters voting in favor (with an abstention rate of 31%) in the referendum held on 13 October 1946. This culminated in the establishment in the following year of the Fourth Republic, an arrangement in which executive power essentially resided in the hands of the President of the Council (the Prime Minister). The President of the Republic was given a largely symbolic role, although he remained chief of the French Army and as a last resort could be called upon to resolve conflicts.

Failure of the new parliamentary system[edit]

The intention of the new Constitution's authors was to rationalize the parliamentary system. Ministers were accountable to the legislative body, the French National Assembly, but some measures were introduced in order to protect the Cabinet and to reinforce the authority of the Prime Minister of France, who led the Cabinet. The goal of the new constitution was to reconcile parliamentary democracy with ministerial stability.

For instance, under the new Constitution, the President of the Council was the leader of the executive branch (Prime Minister of France). The President of the French Republic, elected by the Parliament (the National Assembly and the Council of the Republic), played a symbolic role. His main power was to propose a Prime Minister, who was subject to election by the National Assembly before forming a Cabinet. Only the Prime Minister could invoke a parliamentary vote on legitimacy of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister was also the only member of the executive able to demand a vote of confidence from the National Assembly (in the Third Republic any minister could call for a vote of confidence). The Cabinet could be dismissed if an absolute majority of the National Assembly's members voted against the Cabinet. Finally, the National Assembly could be dissolved after two ministerial crises in the legislature.

However, these constitutional measures did not work. In January 1947, after his election by the National Assembly and the nomination of his ministers, Prime Minister Paul Ramadier called for a vote of confidence in order to verify that the Assembly approved the composition of his Cabinet. This initiated a custom of double election, a vote for the Prime Minister followed by a vote of confidence in the chosen Cabinet, that weakened the Prime Minister's authority over the Cabinet. Cabinets were dismissed with only a plurality (not the absolute majority) of the National Assembly voting against the Cabinet. Consequently, these ministerial crises did not result in the dissolution of Parliament. Thus, as in the Third Republic, this regime was characterized by ministerial instability.

The Fourth Republic was also a victim of the political context. The split of the three-parties alliance in spring 1947, the departure of Communist ministers, Gaullist opposition, and the new proportional representation did not create conditions for ministerial stability. Governmental coalitions were composed of an undisciplined patchwork of centre-left and centre-right parties. Finally, the Fourth Republic was confronted with the collapse of the French colonial empire.

European Unity[edit]

The creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was first proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman and French economic theorist Jean Monnet on 9 May 1950 as a way to prevent further war between France and Germany. Though the United Kingdom was invited, its Labour government, then preparing for a re-election fight, did not join the initiative.[2] It was formally established in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris, signed by France, Italy and the three Benelux states: Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Between these states the ECSC would create a common market for coal and steel. The ECSC was governed by a 'High Authority', checked by bodies representing governments, Members of Parliament and an independent judiciary.

The ECSC was superseded, on 25 March 1957, by the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community (which would, in 1993, become the European Union through the Treaty of Maastricht).

Collapse[edit]

The trigger for the collapse of the Fourth Republic was the Algiers crisis of 1958. France was still a colonial power, although conflict and revolt had begun the process of decolonisation. French West Africa, French Indochina, and French Algeria still sent representatives to the French parliament under systems of limited suffrage in the French Union. Algeria in particular, despite being the colony with the largest French population, saw rising pressure for separation from the Metropole. The situation was complicated by those in Algeria, such as white settlers, who wanted to stay part of France, so the Algerian War became not just a separatist movement but had elements of a civil war.

Further complications came when a section of the French Army rebelled and openly backed the "Algérie française" movement to defeat separation. Revolts and riots broke out in 1958 against the French government in Algiers, but there were no adequate and competent political initiatives by the French government in support of military efforts to end the rebellion owing to party politics. The feeling was widespread that another debacle like that of Indochina in 1954 was in the offing and that the government would order another precipitous pullout and sacrifice French honor to political expediency. This prompted General Jacques Massu to create a French settler's committee[3] to demand the formation of a new national government under General Charles de Gaulle, who was a national hero and had advocated a strong military policy, nationalism and the retention of French control over Algeria. General Massu, who had gained prominence and authority when he ruthlessly suppressed Algerian militants, famously declared that unless General de Gaulle was returned to power, the French Army would openly revolt; General Massu and other senior generals covertly planned the take-over of Paris with 1,500 paratroopers preparing to take-over airports with the support of French Air Force units.[3] Armored units from Rambouillet prepared to roll into Paris.[4]

On 24 May, French paratroopers from the Algerian corps landed on Corsica, taking the French island in a bloodless action called "Opération Corse".[3][4] Operation Resurrection would be implemented if de Gaulle was not approved as leader by the French parliament, if de Gaulle asked for military assistance to take power, or to thwart any organized attempt by the French Communist Party to seize power or stall de Gaulle's return.

Charles de Gaulle, who had retired from politics a decade before, placed himself in the midst of the crisis, calling on the nation to suspend the government and create a new constitutional system. On 29 May 1958, French politicians agreed upon calling on de Gaulle to take over the government as prime minister. The French Army's willingness to support an overthrow of the constitutional government was a significant development in French politics. With Army support, de Gaulle's government terminated the Fourth Republic (the last parliament of the Fourth Republic voted for their dissolution) and drew up a new constitution proclaiming the French Fifth Republic in 1958. (Algeria became independent on 5 July 1962.)[citation needed]

Prime Ministers[edit]

Prime Ministers during the French Fourth Republic
Prime Minister Starting Party
Paul Ramadier 22 January 1947 SFIO
Robert Schuman 24 November 1947 MRP
André Marie 26 July 1948 Radical
Robert Schuman 5 September 1948 MRP
Henri Queuille 11 September 1948 Radical
Georges Bidault 28 October 1949 MRP
Henri Queuille 2 July 1950 Radical
René Pleven 12 July 1950 UDSR
Henri Queuille 10 March 1951 Radical
René Pleven 11 August 1951 UDSR
Edgar Faure 20 January 1952 Radical
Antoine Pinay 8 March 1952 CNIP
René Mayer 8 January 1953 Radical
Joseph Laniel 27 June 1953 CNIP
Pierre Mendès-France 18 June 1954 Radical
Edgar Faure 23 February 1955 Radical
Guy Mollet 31 January 1956 SFIO
Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury 12 June 1957 Radical
Félix Gaillard 6 November 1957 Radical
Pierre Pflimlin 13 May 1958 MRP
Charles de Gaulle 1 June 1958 UNR

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "France", Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2001. © 1993-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
  2. ^ Dell, Edmund (1995). The Schuman Plan and the British Abdication of Leadership in Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press.[page needed].
  3. ^ a b c Jacques Massu obituary
  4. ^ a b Crozier, Brian; Mansell, Gerard (July 1960). "France and Algeria". International Affairs (Blackwell Publishing) 36 (3): p. 310. doi:10.2307/2610008. JSTOR 2610008. 

Coordinates: 48°52′0″N 2°19′59″E / 48.86667°N 2.33306°E / 48.86667; 2.33306