Sarkozy drops bid for more presidential powers

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PARIS, Nov 13 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy, ignoring the advice of a special commission, has abandoned proposed constitutional changes that would have handed him formal charge of setting government policy.

In a letter to Prime Minister Francois Fillon dated today Sarkozy also stood by a campaign pledge to limit the president to two successive terms in office -- a proposal the commission had dropped.

Sarkozy gave Fillon until December 15 to draft a bill that would include proposals giving parliament greater oversight over presidential appointments and government action. Lawmakers would have an initial debate on the changes by February.

''After reflection, I don't think it is desirable to change articles 5, 20 and 21, which define the respective roles of the president, prime minister and the government,'' Sarkozy wrote.

''Once a change of regime has been ruled out, it seems to me that any change in the current phrasing presents more disadvantages than advantages,'' he said.

Sarkozy had previously signalled he wanted the constitution to reflect the reality that the president runs the country when the head of state enjoys a majority in parliament.

In a break with tradition, Sarkozy has involved himself directly in the day-to-day running of the country -- a task traditionally left to the prime minister.

But critics said enshrining such a hands-on approach in the basic law would create a constitutional crisis should the president face a hostile majority in parliament, something which happened to his conservative and Socialist predecessors.

Sarkozy's U-turn on constitional change follows a report last month by a commission he set up after his election in May.

It was headed by his former mentor Edouard Balladur, a one-time French prime minister, but included experts and politicians of all political shades.

The commission had proposed clarifying the constitution so that the president ''defines'' the policy of the nation, leaving the government to ''lead'' the policy programme.

But critics said that would give too much power to the head of state whose considerable powers already include nominating the prime minister, the right to dissolve the National Assembly and responsibility for foreign and defence policy.

Other constitutional changes supported by Sarkozy include:- * granting the president the right to address either, or both houses of parliament * parliamentary oversight of some presidential nominations * limits to the president's powers to declare a state of emergency * a ban on government ministers holding executive office in local government * a debate on restricting use of a constitutional device that allows government to ram through laws via a confidence vote * greater oversight powers for parliamentary commissions, enhanced rights for opposition parties in parliament * a national debate about introducing a measure of proportional representation in the Senate or National Assembly REUTERS SBC VC2122

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