Motion of censure


July 3, 2022

The motion of censure is the main means available to a parliament to show its disapproval of government policy and force it to resign, in other words to show its distrust of the government in place. It must often be presented by a precise fraction of deputies (often at least a tenth) and adopted by an absolute majority of the members constituting the chamber (some countries even provide for two-thirds of the votes for reasons of government stability). In some countries, the system is called a "constructive vote of no confidence". Clearly, the motion must provide for the name of a replacement for the head of the overthrown government. This is the case of Germany (Article 67 of the Basic Law, 1949), Armenia, Belgium, Spain (Article 113 of the Spanish Constitution, 1978), Poland and Tunisia . The motion of censure applies both in semi-presidential regimes, such as that of France, and in parliamentary regimes such as the United Kingdom. Other countries, such as Canada, provide for the principle of “double censure”: the adoption of a motion of censure leads to the dissolution of the chamber, which can dampen the enthusiasm of certain deputies. However, logic dictates that censorship in government leads to early elections, as the crisis between the executive and the legislature can only be decided by the voters.

A tool of parliamentary systems

In a parliamentary system, parliament plays a fundamental role in overseeing the government (in addition to its traditional powers of drafting the law and voting on the budget). This control can lead to the questioning of the government and its policy, within the framework of the involvement of ministerial responsibility according to different techniques (including the motion of censure). The right to question the responsibility of the government is often the act of the lower chamber alone (French Fifth Republic, Spain, Germany) but is sometimes entrusted to both chambers (Italy, French Third Republic).


National Assembly

Third Republic

During the Third and Fourth Republics, the government could be easily overthrown because of the relatively loose terms of ministerial responsibility. The governments of the two republics owed all their legitimacy to parliament, the President of the Republic doing little more than proposing them to the assemblies, to which he also owed his function. Too little support from parliament, even without a vote of no confidence, often led them to resign. The motion of censure under the Third Republic worked in the form of the right of interpellation, a single deputy could "interpellate" the government, and the Chamber vote after debate a text which, when it was unfavorable to the government, involved its departure.

Fourth Republic

Under the Fourth Republic, the National Assembly was more powerful than the Senate. The Senate no longer has the responsibility to overthrow the government and the Senate loses its assent power. The National Assembly can overthrow the government either by rejecting a question of confidence posed by the latter or by taking the initiative, by voting a motion of censure. According to the constitution of October 27, 1946, “The vote by the National Assembly of a motion of censure entails the collective resignation of the cabinet. This vote can only take place one clear day after the filing of the motion. It takes place by public ballot. The motion of censure can only be adopted by an absolute majority of the deputies in the Assembly. ". Ministerial responsibility could be exercised after the government took office, on the initiative of parliamentarians via a motion of