France debates presidential immunity

16th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 16, 2007 (AFP) - The French parliament was Tuesday to debate a constitutional reform that protects the president from prosecution while in office, but leaves him open to face charges once his mandate ends.

PARIS, Jan 16, 2007 (AFP) - The French parliament was Tuesday to debate a constitutional reform that protects the president from prosecution while in office, but leaves him open to face charges once his mandate ends.

The bill also creates a US-style impeachment procedure that would allow a two-thirds majority in parliament to unseat the head-of-state in case of serious failings while in office.

During the run-up to the 2002 election President Jacques Chirac promised to "clarify" the judicial status of the head of state.

The reform keeps open the possibility that Chirac could face questioning after April's presidential election over party funding scandals dating from his long tenure as Paris mayor.

In particular Chirac could be investigated over illegal salaries paid to members of his RPR party out of Paris municipal coffers between 1988 and 1995 -- a case in which his ally former prime minister Alain Juppe was convicted in 2004.

Controversy has surrounded the judicial status of the French head of state since Chirac refused to testify in a corruption probe in 2001, invoking a 1999 constitutional court ruling that established his immunity from common law prosecution.

An October 2001 ruling later that year by France's high court of appeal -- the Cour de Cassation -- went further, saying that a serving president could not be prosecuted, charged or forced to testify in connection with any common law case.

However the Cour de Cassation also said that the president's period in office should not be taken into account under the statute of limitations.

Under the reform, articles 67 and 68 of the French constitution would be amended to reflect both court rulings -- and make it possible for the president to be impeached "in case of a failure in his duties manifestly incompatible with the exercise of his functions".

Both the ruling centre-right Union for a Poular Movement and the opposition Socialists have backed the text.

But the centrist Union for French Democracy said it would vote against it, saying the two-thirds majority neded in both houses of parliament made it "virtually impossible to carry out an impeachment".

UDF spokesman Francois Sauvadet said the two big parties -- each looking ahead to after the April presidential polls -- had "stitched up" the debate.

Meanwhile elder statesman and former Socialist justice minister Robert Badinter argued that the impeachment plans were "dangerous for the institutional balance" of power, because the indirectly elected French Senate overrepresents rural, right-wing areas.

"A right-wing president would never be impeached, while a left-wing one could be," Badinter argued on RTL radio.

"To project the American procedure of impeachment into French institutions by trying to adapt them, cannot work in France," he told RTL radio.

The reform needs to ratified by a congress of both houses of parliament in Versailles in February.

The congress will also decide whether to write the abolition of the death penalty into the French constitution.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article