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Politics of France

A popular referendum approved the constitution of the French Fifth Republic on September 28, 1958, greatly strengthening the authority of the presidency and the executive in relation to Parliament. Under the constitution, a president was originally elected for a seven year term; this however has now been reduced to five years. Presidential arbitration assures regular functioning of the public powers and the continuity of the state. The president names the prime minister, presides over the cabinet, commands the armed forces, and concludes treaties.

Table of contents

The President of the Republic & the Executive

The president may submit questions to a national referendum and can dissolve the National Assembly. In certain emergency situations, the president may assume full powers. Under the Third and Fourth[?] Republics, France had a Westminister system style of government, with an executive in effect chosen by and answerable to, parliament. This however was dramatically changed in the Fifth Republic. Under the new system created by Charles de Gaulle, the President is the preeminent executive figure, who names the Prime Minister and cabinet, which is composed of a varying number of ministers, ministers-delegates, and secretaries of state. Where the President's political party or supporters control parliament, the President is in effect the dominant player in executive action, chosing whomever he wishes for government, and having it follow his political agenda. However where the President's political opponents control parliament, the President's dominance can be severely limited, as he must choose a prime minister and cabinet reflecting the majority in parliament. Where parties from opposite ends of the political spectrum control parliament and the presidency, the power-sharing arrangement is known as Cohabitation.

The National Assembly

Parliament meets for one 9-month session each year: under special circumstances the president can call an additional session. Although parliamentary powers have diminished from those existing under the Fourth Republic[?], the National Assembly can still cause a government to fall if an absolute majority of the total Assembly membership votes to censure.

The National Assembly is the principal legislative body. Its deputies are directly elected for 5-year terms, and all seats are voted on in each election. Senators are chosen by an electoral college for 9-year terms, and one-third of the Senate is renewed every 3 years. The Senate's legislative powers are limited; the National Assembly has the last word in the event of a disagreement between the two houses. The government has a strong influence in shaping the agenda of Parliament. The government also can link its term to a legislative text which it proposes, and unless a motion of censure is introduced (within 24 hours after the proposal) and passed (within 48 hours of introduction - thus full procedures last at most 72 hours), the text is considered adopted without a vote.

The Judiciary

The most distinctive feature of the French judicial system is that it is divided into the Constitutional Council and the Council of State. The Constitutional Council examines legislation and decides whether it conforms to the constitution. Unlike the United States Supreme Court, it considers only legislation that is referred to it by Parliament, the prime minister, or the president; moreover, it considers legislation before it is promulgated. The Council of State has a separate function from the Constitutional Council and provides recourse to individual citizens who have claims against the administration.

Moving towards decentralisation

Traditionally, decision-making in France has been highly centralized, with each of France's departments headed by a prefect appointed by the central government. In 1982, the national government passed legislation to decentralize authority by giving a wide range of administrative and fiscal powers to local elected officials. In March 1986, regional councils were directly elected for the first time, and the process of decentralization continues, albeit at a slow pace.

Modern French Politics under President Chirac

During his first 2 years in office, President Jacques Chirac's prime minister was Alain Juppé[?], who served contemporaneously as leader of Chirac's neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic[?] (RPR) Party. Chirac and Juppé benefited from a very large, if rather unruly, majority in the National Assembly (470 out of 577 seats). Mindful that the government might have to take politically costly decisions in advance of the legislative elections planned for spring 1998 in order to ensure that France met the Maastricht criteria[?] for the single European currency, Chirac decided in April 1997 to call early elections. The Left, however -- led by Socialist Party leader Lionel Jospin, whom Chirac had defeated in the 1995 presidential race--unexpectedly won a solid National Assembly majority (319 seats, with 289 required for an absolute majority) in the two rounds of balloting, which took place May 25 and June 1, 1997. President Chirac named Jospin prime minister on June 2, and Jospin went on to form a government composed primarily of Socialist ministers, along with some ministers from allied parties of the Left, such as the Communist Party and the Greens. Jospin stated his support for continued European integration and his intention to keep France on the path toward Economic and Monetary Union, albeit with greater attention to social concerns.

The tradition in periods of "cohabitation" (president of one party, prime minister of another) is for the president to exercise the primary role in foreign and security policy, with the dominant role in domestic policy falling to the prime minister and his government. Jospin stated, however, that he would not a priori leave any domain exclusively to the president.

Chirac and Jospin worked together, for the most part, in the foreign affairs field with representatives of the presidency and the government pursuing a single, agreed French policy. Their "cohabitation" arrangement was the longest-lasting in the history of the Fifth Republic. However it ended, following the National Assembly elections that followed Chirac's heavy defeat of Jospin (who failed even to make it through to the second round of voting) in the 2002 presidential election. President Chirac's current prime minister is the right wing Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

To be updated since last 2002 elections

Country name:
conventional long form: French Republic
conventional short form: France
local long form: République Française
local short form: France

Data code: FR

Government type: republic

Capital: Paris

Administrative divisions -- régions -- départements
Note: Metropolitan France is divided into 26 regions (including the "territorial collectivity" of Corse or Corsica and overseas regions) and is subdivided into 100 departments; see entries for the 4 overseas departments (Guyane française, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion) and the overseas territorial collectivities (Mayotte, Saint Pierre et Miquelon)

Dependent areas: Bassas da India, Clipperton Island, Europa Island, French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, Glorioso Islands, Juan de Nova Island, New Caledonia, Tromelin Island, Wallis and Futuna

Note: the US does not recognize claims to Antarctica

Independence: 486 (unified by Clovis I)

National holidays: National Day, Taking of the Bastille, July 14 (1789)

Constitution: September 28, 1958, amended concerning election of president in 1962, amended to comply with provisions of EC Maastricht Treaty in 1992; amended to tighten immigration laws 1993

Legal system: civil law system with indigenous concepts; review of administrative but not legislative acts

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
Chief of state: President Jacques Chirac (since 17 May 1995)
Head of government: Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin (since 6 may 2002)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president on the suggestion of the prime minister
elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; election last held 21 April and 5 May 2002 (next to be held by May 2007); prime minister nominated by the National Assembly majority and appointed by the president
election results: Jacques Chirac elected president; percent of vote, second ballot - Jacques Chirac (RPR) 82.21%, Jean-Marie Le Pen (FN) 17.71%

See also the lists of the French Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Legislative branch: The bicameral Parliament or Parlement consists of the Senate or Senat (321 seats - 296 for metropolitan France, 13 for overseas departments and territories, and 12 for French nationals abroad; members are indirectly elected by an electoral college to serve nine-year terms; elected by thirds every three years) and the National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (577 seats; members are elected by popular vote under a single-member majoritarian system to serve five-year terms)
Elections: Senate - last held 27 September 1998 (next to be held September 2001); National Assembly - last held 25 May-1 June 1997 (next to be held NA May 2002)
Election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - RPR 99, UDC 52, DL 47, PS 78, PCF 16, other 29

National Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PS 245, RPR 140, UDF 109, PCF 37, PRS 13, MEI 8, MDC 7, LDI-MPF 1, FN 1, various left 9, various right 7

Judicial branch: Supreme Court of Appeals or Cour de Cassation: judges are appointed by the president from nominations of the High Council of the Judiciary

Constitutional Council or Conseil Constitutionnel, three members appointed by the president, three members appointed by the president of the National Assembly, and three appointed by the president of the Senate

Council of State or Conseil d'Etat

Political parties and leaders:

Political pressure groups and leaders:

  • Communist-controlled labor union (Conféderation Generale du Travail) or CGT, nearly 2.4 million members (claimed)
  • independent labor union or Force Ouvriere, 1 million members (est.)
  • independent white-collar union or Conféderation Generale des Cadres, 340,000 members (claimed)
  • Union of French Corporations (Mouvement Des Entreprises de France) or MEDEF or Patronat
  • Socialist-leaning labor union (Conféderation Francaise Démocratique du Travail) or CFDT, about 800,000 members (est.)

International organization participation: ACCT[?], AfDB, AsDB, Australia Group, BDEAC[?], BIS, CCC, CDB[?] (non-regional), CE, CERN, EAPC, EBRD, ECA (associate), ECE, ECLAC[?], EIB, EMU, ESA, ESCAP, EU, FAO, FZ[?], G-5[?], G-7, G-10[?], IADB[?], IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IEA[?], IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Inmarsat, InOC[?], Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, MINURSO[?], MIPONUH[?], MONUC[?], NAM (guest), NATO, NEA[?], NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, SPC, UN, UN Security Council[?], UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIFIL[?], UNIKOM, UNITAR[?], UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNOMIG[?], UNRWA, UNTSO, UNU, UPU, WADB[?] (nonregional), WCL, WEU, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, Zangger Committee

Flag description: three equal vertical bands of blue (hoist side), white, and red; known as the French Tricouleur[?] (Tricolor); the design and colors are similar to a number of other flags, including those of Belgium, Chad, Ireland, Côte d'Ivoire, and Luxembourg; the official flag for all French dependent areas

See also : France



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