10 Things you should know about the French President

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The Fifth Republic gives the French President extensive executive powers in France. The Chief of state is popularly elected to a five-year term and holds the highest office in the country. To date in 2019, Emmanuel Macron is the 8th president of the Fifth Republic in office. Here are our top 10 curious facts about the function of a French President…


The historic residence of the French President

Elysée Palace © French Moments

The front gate of the Elysée Palace © French Moments

The President of France officially resides in the Palais de l’Élysée (Élysée Palace). This is where he has his office. The exact address is number 55 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

The palace was completed in 1722. It was then known as Hôtel d’Évreux. King Louis XV bought the estate to host his mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour. During the Napoleonic Era, the Emperor used it as a private residence. The palace has been the official residence of the President of the French Republic since 1848.

Élysée Palace Paris

The President Office in 2014 © Remi Vostok 91 – licence [CC BY-SA 2.0] from Wikimedia Commons


Great residences for the French President’s vacation

Brégançon Fort © Patrub01 - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Brégançon Fort © Patrub01 – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Apart from the Élysée Palace, the French President enjoys a wide range of holiday residences to choose from for his next holidays:

  • the Brégançon Fort, in the French Riviera between Toulon and Saint-Tropez.
  • the Hôtel de Marigny, which is located next to the Élysée Palace. It houses foreign official guests on their stay.
  • the Souzy-la-Briche Domain. The estate has not been used since 2007. It is available for lease.

However, in 2009, the Marly National Domain and the Rambouillet Castle were entrusted to the Ministry of Culture. Now open to visitors, the sites are rarely used for official meetings.


A powerful President

Nicolas Sarkozy 2008 Bastille Day Parade © Marie-Lan Nguyen - licence [CC BY-SA 2.5] from Wikimedia Commons

Nicolas Sarkozy 2008 Bastille Day Parade © Marie-Lan Nguyen – licence [CC BY-SA 2.5] from Wikimedia Commons

The French President enjoys powerful attributes and holds a significant influence in the nation. He outranks all politicians in France and can choose the Prime minister.

In fact, the President can dissolve the French National Assembly. In addition, he promulgates laws (and has a suspensive veto).

He enjoys great authority in the fields of national security and foreign policy. He is indeed the Commander-in-Chief of the French Armed Forces. The President may order the use of nuclear weapons.

Presidents Trump and Macron at DDay75 in May 2019

Presidents Trump and Macron at DDay75 in May 2019, Normandy

As such he opens the traditional military parade of Bastille Day. The parade takes place on the 14th July on the Champs-Élysées and runs from from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.

President of the French Republic

President François Hollande on TV broadcast

The French president may grant a pardon (but not an amnesty) to convicted criminals.

The French President and the World

Most importantly the French president represents France in Europe and internationally. He is invited to the major meetings of heads of states: the European Council, the G8…

Bush and Chirac [public domain]

Bush and Chirac [public domain]


The French President: a few curious titles

The President of France is by virtue of office the Co-Prince of Andorra. The other co-prince being the bishop of Urgell in Spain.

Andorra Parliament © Maria Rosa Ferre - licence [CC BY-SA 2.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Andorra Parliament © Maria Rosa Ferre – licence [CC BY-SA 2.0] from Wikimedia Commons

He is also the honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome and of the Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne cathedral. The President is the proto-canon of the Notre-Dame cathedral of Embrun.

Not bad for the Head of a secular state!

And what about the First Lady of France?

In France, the President’s spouse or partner do not possess any official title. They often play a protocol role at the Elysée Palace and during official visits.

The current First Lady of France is Brigitte Macron, wife of Emmanuel Macron (born in 1953).


A not-so-big salary

Coat of Arms of the French Presidency

Coat of Arms of the French Presidency

In 2015, the monthly net salary of the President of the French Republic is €14,910.

He also enjoys a couple of stipends on top of his salary.

  • The first one is called ‘indemnité de résidence’ of 3%.
  • The second is the ‘indemnité de fonction’ of 25%.

His salary and the residence stipend are taxable for income tax.

However, compared to the salaries of French CEOs and other heads of state, the French presidential annual wages are rather low:

  • Maurice Lévy, Publicis: $25,4 millions
  • Barack Obama, US President: $400.000
  • Angela Merkel, German Chancellor: $280.000
  • François Hollande, French President: $200,000.

Sources: Fortune, Proxinvest


The presidential cars of the French Presidents

Peugeot 607 used on the inauguration of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 © Thomas doerfer - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Peugeot 607 used on the inauguration of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 © Thomas doerfer – licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Therefore, each French president uses a different official state car.

  • Charles de Gaulle had a Citroën DS,
  • Georges Pompidou a Citroën SM,
  • Valéry Giscard d’Estaing a Peugeot 604,
  • François Mitterrand a Renault (30, 25, Renault Safrane),
  • Jacques Chirac a Renault Safrane, a Peugeot 607 and a Citroën C6,
  • Nicolas Sarkozy a Peugeot 607, a Citroën C6, and a Renault Vel Satis, and
  • François Hollande a Citroën DS5 Hybrid4. 
  • Emmanuel Macron an armoured Renault Espace V and a Peugeot 5008 II.

Note that they are all French makes!


A President chosen by the French citizens since 1958

Meeting of candidate Sarkozy in Cernay, Alsace © French Moments

2017 Meeting of candidate Sarkozy in Cernay, Alsace © French Moments

The President of France is directly elected by universal suffrage, that is the right to vote to adult citizens.

His mandate lasts 5 years (7 years before 2002). Unlike in the United States, there is no limit on the number of terms.

The President who served the longest was François Mitterrand (14 years from 1981 to 1995, 2 terms).


Bummer! Here comes the opposition

Since the introduction of the Fifth Republic, the President usually works in a system of government whose members are from the same political party.

The Prime minister is chosen from the majority of members elected in the National Assembly.

Then what happens if a parliament is elected with a majority that is not the President’s?

The later is forced to choose a Prime minister of that party. This situation is called ‘cohabitation‘ in French.

Mitterrand and Chirac © Bart Molendijk : Anefo - licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons

President Mitterrand and Prime minister Chirac © Bart Molendijk : Anefo – licence [CC0] from Wikimedia Commons

The system of Cohabitation occurred three times during the Fifth Republic:

  1. 1986-1988 (President: François Mitterrand [left]with Jacques Chirac as Prime minister [right]),
  2. 1993-1995 (President: François Mitterrand [left]with Edouard Balladur as Prime minister [right]), and
  3. 1997-2002 (President: Jacques Chirac [right]with Lionel Jospin as Prime minister [left]).

Seven Presidents in the Fifth Republic so far

Since the creation of the Fifth republic in 1958, there has been seven presidents elected by universal suffrage. None of them are women.

As in September 2019 there are three living former French presidents: Valéry-Giscard d’Estaing, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.

1. Charles de Gaulle

  • Born 22/11/1890 – died 09/11/1970.
  • In office from 1959 to 1969.
  • Political party: Right.
Charles de Gaulle © La Documentation française. Photo Jean-Marie Marcele

Charles de Gaulle © La Documentation française. Photo Jean-Marie Marcele

2. Georges Pompidou

  • Born 05/07/1911 – died 02/04/1974.
  • In office from 1969 to 1974.
  • Political party: Right.
  • He is the only President of the 5th Republic to have died in office.
  • Cultural Legacy: Centre-Pompidou (Paris)
Georges Pompidou © La Documentation française. Photo François Pagès : Paris-Match

Georges Pompidou © La Documentation française. Photo François Pagès : Paris-Match

3. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – also known as VGE

  • Born 02/02/1926.
  • In office from 1974 to 1981.
  • Political party: Centre-Right.
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing © La Documentation française. Photo Jacques-Henri Lartigue.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing © La Documentation française. Photo Jacques-Henri Lartigue.

4. François Mitterrand

  • Born 26/10/1916 – died 08/01/1996.
  • In office from 1981 to 1995.
  • Political party: Left.
  • Cultural Legacy: the Grands Projets. They include 8 sites in Paris. The Louvre Pyramid, Orsay Museum, Parc de la Villette, Arab World Institute, Opéra Bastille, Grande Arche de La Défense, Ministry of Finance in Bercy and the National Library of France.
François Mitterrand © La Documentation française. Photo Gisèle Freund.

François Mitterrand © La Documentation française. Photo Gisèle Freund.

5. Jacques Chirac

  • Born 29/11/1932 – died 26/09/2019.
  • In office from 1995 to 2007.
  • Political party: Right.
  • Cultural Legacy: Musée du Quai Branly (Paris)
Jacques Chirac © La Documentation française. Photo Bettina Rheims.

Jacques Chirac © La Documentation française. Photo Bettina Rheims.

6. Nicolas Sarkozy

  • Born 28/01/1955.
  • In office from 2007 to 2012.
  • Political party: Right.
Nicolas Sarkozy © Documentation française

Nicolas Sarkozy © Documentation française. Photo Philippe Warrin

7. François Hollande

  • Born 12/08/1954.
  • In office from 2012 to 2017.
  • Political party: Left.
François Hollande Photo Raymond Depardon

François Hollande Photo Raymond Depardon. Magnum. La Documentation française

8. Emmanuel Macron

  • Born 21/12/1977.
  • In office from 2017 (to 2022).
  • Political party: En Marche.
Emmanuel Macron President

The official portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron


Famous quotes by French Presidents

The words of French Presidents can be remembered as history-making, provocative or controversial. Here are a few examples…

Charles de Gaulle: “I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.”

Charles de Gaulle: “Vive le Québec libre !” (Long live a sovereign Quebec!)

Charles de Gaulle:How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”

Georges Pompidou:My fate is to be President of the Republic – or leader of the opposition”

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing: “Vous n’avez pas, M. Mitterrand, le monopole du cœur.” (You do not have, Mr Mitterrand, the monopoly of heart).

Jacques Chirac: “Never make up with extremism, racism, antisemitism or rejecting whoever is different.”

Nicolas Sarkozy: “Casse toi alors, pauvre con !” (Sod off then, asshole!). On 24/01/20 08 at the Salon de l’Agriculture. A famous insult to someone who had refused to shake the president’s hand because he did not want to be dirtied.

Nicolas Sarkozy: “Canadians are friends and Quebecers are my family.”

François Hollande: “I am attached to the French language. I will defend the ubiquitous use of French.”

Emmanuel Macron:We need people who dream impossible things, who maybe fail, sometimes succeed, but in any case who have that ambition.”


More info about the French President


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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