Are French Presidents Impeachable?

October 2, 2019

In the News

Last week, the US House of Representatives launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump after the release of a whistleblower report accusing him of pushing the Ukrainian President to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. The inquiry will determine if there is enough evidence to pursue impeachment.

The House of Representative’s power to impeach is embedded in the US Constitution. Congress is permitted to remove a president or other “officer” from office under the following conditions:

The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. — US Constitution, Article II, Section 4

The House of Representatives has the power to impeach, and the Senate serves as the court to hear the trial. If found guilty following the trial, said official is removed from office.

While the impeachment process has long been embedded in the US Constitution, France created a similar mechanism to remove a president only several years ago. France adopted a constitutional revision in 2014 that granted Congress the ability to launch a US-style impeachment of the president. According to Article 68 of the French Constitution, the President of the French Republic may be dismissed only in the event of a breach of duties conflicting with the performance of the president’s term. Before the revision, the strongest protections under the law were afforded to the president, who even now remains protected from criminal prosecution while in office.

The details surrounding the impeachment processes remain general for both countries. Neither the French nor US Constitution specify the exact definition impeachable offenses or establish standard of proof that must be met to convict. In both countries the goal of the impeachment mechanism is to prevent potential abuses of executive power and not to judge the policy of a president.

Only a handful of impeachment proceedings have taken place in both countries. Three US Presidents have been subjected to impeachment proceedings to date, and none has been removed from office. Presidents Andrew Johnson (1968) and Bill Clinton (1999) were acquitted; President Richard Nixon resigned from office before the end of the procedure (1974). In France, the proposal to dismiss President Hollande for disclosure of classified information signed in 2016 was rejected upon first examination by the Assembly.

The French-American Foundation hosts regular programs and events on American and French politics. Our most recent Transatlantic Forum in Chicago, titled “American Elections & Trade Wars,” took place at the beginning of October. For more information about our initiatives, see the program calendar on our website.

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