"The President of the Republic has emerged as the effective head of the executive. He does not "solicit;" he commands: the prime minister and the government are not his equals but his servants" (Wright, 1989, p34). How did this come about? Was it an inevitable consequence of the constitutional arrangements of the Fifth Republic?.
The constitution of the Fifth Republic, which was drawn up in 1958 under the guidance of de Gaulle, was intended to create a system that would banish the instability of the Fourth Republic. To do this, it would seem that clear definitions of where certain powers, most notably the executive ones, lay would be an essential ingredient in it. Although arguments over where power lay were not explicitly responsible for the failure of the Fourth Republic, in order to create a system that allowed for substantial political movement, this form of clarity would seem to be a prerequisite. Yet the current French constitution is decidedly vague in specifying whether Prime Minister or President should wield the bulk of executive power. The President has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, but articles 20 and 21 state the it is the Prime Minister who is put "in general charge of the work of government" and who "decides and directs the policy of the nation." The only provision for total presidential control is in article 16, which allows the President to assume dictatorial powers if there is an imminent threat to the republic. This provision has only been invoked once. Apart from that, the only decisions the President can take without prime ministerial approval are when to dissolve the National Assembly (with the restriction that once done, this cannot be repeated within the following twelve months), to refer laws that might contravene the constitution to the Constitutional Council, to appoint three judges and the president of the Constitutional Council, and to address messages to parliament.