France is a unified state republic, combined presidential
and parliamentary. Also see AbbreviationFinder for abbreviation of FR and its meanings of France. The current Constitution (Fifth Republic)
entered into force on October 4, 1958 and was last amended
in 2005. It replaced the Constitution of the Fourth Republic
President and Government
The head of the Republic is the president, elected in the
general election for five years. Prior to 2002, the
president was elected for seven years. To be elected, a
candidate must have an absolute majority. If no one gets
such a majority in the first round of elections, a new round
of elections will be held in which only the two most
prominent candidates from the first round will participate.
The president appoints the prime minister and other members
of government and also has a great influence on the
formulation of the policy, especially foreign and defense
President can dissolve the National Assembly and print new
elections, refer important issues to the referendum and can,
in crisis situations, rule through decrees. He can also
withhold his signature on government decrees and thus
temporarily suspend government proposals.
The government's work is led by the prime minister, but
in practice the president has been the dominant head of
state. During the periods when the president and the
government (as a result of the majority of the National
Assembly) have belonged to each party, there has been a
tightening between the president and the prime minister.
These periods of so-called cohabitation, 1986–1988,
1993–1995, and 1997–2002, have helped to strengthen the
parliamentary element of the governing body. But the
presidential touch of the French government has remained
stronger than one might have expected.
The creator of the Fifth Republic, former President
Charles de Gaulle, wanted to strengthen a weak executive
power over a fragmented, unpredictable and therefore
"strong" national assembly. His wishes have so far been
The legislative authority is added to the parliament,
which consists of a Senate and a National Assembly.
Following a reform dated June 30, 2003, the number of
senators has risen in recent elections. The aim has been to
adapt the system to the demographic trends in France. Before
the reform, the Senate consisted of 321 representatives,
while after the 2017 election it consists of 348 members.
The senators are elected for a six-year term by an
electorate of about 150,000 people, consisting of members of
the National Assembly and delegates from the ministries and
municipal councils. Half the Senate is renewed every three
The National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) has 577
members. In 2012, 11 of these members were elected by
Frenchmen abroad, following a change in the electoral system
in 2010. Members are elected in general elections from
single-person districts, and so a re-election is held if no
candidate gets at least half the votes in the first
election. The National Assembly is elected for five years,
but can be dissolved before the term of office expires.
Of the two chambers, the National Assembly is by far the
most important. It is also the National Assembly the
government is responsible to. Lawsuits, including finance
laws, are dealt with first in the National Assembly, and in
the event of disagreement between the chambers, there are
rules that give the National Assembly the final say.
There are several provisions that limit the Assembly's
authority in legislative matters. The areas that require
parliamentary laws are explicitly listed. In all other
matters the authority lies with the executive. The
government can also ask the parliament to delegate the
legislative authority in specific areas for a limited
period, however, so that the laws can be stopped by
subsequent parliamentary veto.
The government is in fact directing Parliament's
legislative work, including through its right of proposal.
But the government can also stop parliamentary proposals if
they lead to increased government spending or reduced state
revenues, or if it believes the proposals go to areas
reserved for the government. The government can also stop
proposals it dislikes by keeping them off the agenda.
Otherwise, the government can demand that framework votes be
held, that is, votes on an entire law or part of a law
(usually a finance law), which only includes changes that
the government accepts. Such, and other executive,
prerogatives have helped the government to retain the upper
hand in relation to the legislative power.
In line with the political integration efforts within the
EU, in which France has acted as a force in many cases, a
series of constitutional changes in recent years have
regulated the relationship between French state law and EU
law, including by introducing a constitutional requirement
for referendum in France to ratify important EU treaties,
such as the admission of new member states. In a 2005
referendum, a majority of voters said no to the new EU
The French party system is loosely composed than is usual
in Western Europe, and many of the parties function to a
large extent as not very close election organizations.
During the Fifth Republic, four party groupings have been
dominant: on the left the oldest (and best-organized)
parties, the Communists and the socialists, the center and
on the right the newer and more personal-based parties, a
liberal/republican center party and the conservative
Gaullist party - both parties have had different names and
have also been subject to splits and shelling.
From the 1990s, new party groups related to ecology (Les
Verts) and immigration resistance (Front National) gained
some importance, while the influence of the Communist Party
has diminished. There is a large undergrowth of small lots,
both on the left and right, and in the center, as well as
lots with regional roots.
In keeping with the strong French atheist traditions, the
public sector has been quite extensive in France. France has
a relatively large welfare state, and the authorities have
tried to limit growth in welfare spending. The debate on
welfare benefits has revolved around working hours, social
security benefits, educational conditions and health
services. The proposals for cuts have led to major protests
from the population and to increased tensions in French
Traditionally, France has had a very centralist form of
government, with the 101 ministries (96 in France itself) as
the most important local units. The ministries were
previously governed by government-appointed prefects. These
could set aside decisions made by the elected councils.
However, during the Fifth Republic, decentralization took
place. In 1973, 22 regions were established (expanded by
four overseas in 2003); these received their own elected
representatives from 1983. The elected councils and their
leaders now have a completely different authority than
before and are no longer to the same degree as before under
As part of the decentralization, the region of Corsica
gained the status of territorial collectivité, with its own
elected legislative assembly. France has five overseas
regions (in French: Département d'outre-mer (DOM)). These
were raised from ministries in 2003 and include Guyane
Française, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and Mayotte
In addition, the five overseas collectives (in French:
collectivité d'outre-mer (COM)). These include French
Polynesia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and
Miquelon and the Wallis and Futuna Islands.
The overseas regions are governed by a people-elected
council; the territoriales of the five collectivities also
have elected assemblies. The former overseas territory of
New Caledonia in the Pacific, after constitutional
amendments in 1998 and 2007, has the status of collectivité
sui generis with considerable autonomy.
In 1958, France was given a quasi-judicial institution,
the Constitutional Council, which can test legislative and
administrative decisions in relation to the constitution.
The Council has nine members, who are appointed by the
President and the two Presidents of Parliament (three each)
for nine years.
The French judiciary is divided into three systems: one
for civil, one for criminal and one for administrative law.
They are largely based on the great law books that came
under Napoleon 1. The civil justice structure consists of
476 local tribunaux d'instance and 181 tribunaux de grande
instance at the department level.
The criminal justice structure includes police courts at
the bottom, at the next level a tribunal correctionnel and
at the department level a cour d'assises. Appeals from both
of these structures go to 27 appeals courts and then to the
Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation). The Supreme Court
consists of a first president, presidents of each of six
chambers, as well as 88 judges and 65 junior judges; cases
are usually dealt with by seven judges.
The administrative courts handle cases against the state
administration. There are 31 general regional courts and
several specialized courts that hear cases in the first
instance. The Council of State (Conseil d'Etat) is an appeal
body in administrative matters. The President may be put
before a parliamentary specially appointed national court.
The same court can convict government members of crimes and