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French Fourth Republic


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The constitution of the Fourth Republic was approved in 1946, with the National Assembly accorded more power than it could usefully exercise, while the President was assigned a largely ceremonial role which nevertheless allowed him some discretion in the many cabinet crises that followed. The parties were better structured and more clearly differentiated than previously, but two large anti‐system forces, Communists and Gaullists, supported by nearly half of the electorate, did nothing to promote consensus or stability. With twenty‐five governments in twelve years, effective power shifted by default to the highly effective administration. The Fourth Republic was never popular but managed some notable achievements, namely, the rapid post‐war recovery and subsequent ‘economic miracle’, coupled with the introduction of indicative planning, innovations in industrial relations, and the extension of welfare provision. In foreign policy France was integrated into NATO, played a leading role in the creation of the European Community, prepared the way for decolonization in black Africa, and finally (and reluctantly), conceded independence in Indo‐China. However, the Algerian problem finally exposed the fragility of the system. With opinion in France moving towards a negotiated settlement, in May 1958, the army in Algeria rebelled—not to overthrow the republic but to keep Algeria French. For the sequel, see Fifth Republic.

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Subjects: Politics.


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