The governments under General de Gaulle from 1959 to 1969
The constitution of the Fifth Republic brought about a fundamental shift in public powers and redefined relations within the executive. The government "determines and prosecutes the policy of the nation" (art. 20), but the President still plays a predominant role , even though the Prime Minister, who is "responsible for national defence", "directs the actions of government" (art 21). The legitimacy of the head of government derives solely from the Head of State who "appoints the Prime Minister (...) and other members of the government and brings their terms of office to a close", and who is no longer subject to investiture by parliament. Article 16 gives the President extraordinary, though only temporary, powers in crisis situations, and these powers were invoked on several occasions during the Algerian conflict. As head of the armed forces, "negotiating and ratifying treaties" (art. 52), the Head of State kept a firm grip on matters of defence and foreign affairs.
General de Gaulle appointed three Prime Ministers, three very different personalities. Michel Debré (January 1959 - April 1962) devoted his efforts to consolidating financial recovery and modernising the economy. The key question, however, which highlighted both the power of the President as the Head of State and the personality of the Prime Minister, entirely at the service of the state, was the question of Algeria on which their opinions differed. Debré remained loyal to General de Gaulle who accepted his resignation after the referendum on the independence of Algeria.
Georges Pompidou (April 1962 - July 1968) headed a series of governments in which members of other parties served alongside historic Gaullists. The first Pompidou government was formed on 15 April 1962. With the Algerian question settled, the Prime Minister turned his attention to the modernisation of France. De Gaulle's determination to base the presidential elections on universal suffrage triggered an initial crisis in the National Assembly which passed a vote of no confidence against the government in October 1962. General de Gaulle kept the government in place despite its defeat. The National Assembly was dissolved and elections were not held until after the referendum of November 1962 introducing presidential election by direct universal suffrage. After the general election, Georges Pompidou offered his resignation but was re-appointed Prime Minister to January 1966. After offering his resignation yet again in the wake of the presidential elections of December 1965, he was appointed Prime Minister and formed a government. He again submitted his resignation after the March 1967 general election, but was asked to serve yet again as head of government. At this point, Georges Pompidou began more and more to emerge as the head of the mainstream Gaullist movement, the UDR, and as a possible successor to the General.
|Michel Debré (8 January 1959 - 14 April 1962)|
|Georges Pompidou (I : 14 April - 28 November 1962)|
|Georges Pompidou (Il : 28 November 1962 - 8 January 1966)|
|Georges Pompidou (III : 8 January 1966 - 1 April 1967)|
|Georges Pompidou (IV : 6 April 1967 - 10 July 1968|
|Maurice Couve de Murville (10 July 1968 - 20 June 1969)|
Seeing Pompidou's hesitancy, de Gaulle accepted his resignation on 10 July 1968 and appointed in his place Maurice Couve de Murville (Prime Minister from July 1968 to the General's resignation on 28 April 1969), who had previously served as Minister for Foreign Affairs since 1958 and Minister of Finance for the past month. This final government had time only to embark on university reform (the orientation act drawn up by Edgar Faure) and to deal with the financial crisis of November 1968 before the referendum of April 1969 on regionalisation and the reform of the Senate, a referendum opposed by certain members of the government.
Although the Constitution stipulated that the determination and execution of national policy was the task of government, in the view of General de Gaulle it was the President who should inspire any and all government action. The Prime Minister did not enjoy the title of head of government, since there was only one head of the state, the President of the Republic. The disciplined organisation of the Council of Ministers and of press conferences were signs of the Head of State's authority over the government and explained why some spoke of de Gaulle as a "Republican monarch".