France Government and Politics

France is a unified state republic, combined presidential and parliamentary. 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 of 1946.

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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 policy.

The 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 fulfilled. Check Countryaah for other countries that start with F.


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 years.

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 Constitution.

Party System

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 society.

Administrative division

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 state control.

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 (since 2011).

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 wrongdoing.

France Head of Government

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