France Internal Politics

France Institutional Organization and Internal Politics

France is a constitutional republic, with a semi-presidential parliamentary regime (with strong powers in the hands of the president of the republic) and, following the constitutional reform of 2003, with a decentralized organization. The legislative body consists of a bicameral parliament: next to the National Assembly (577 members elected for five years), there is the Senate, made up of 321 members appointed on a territorial basis and in office for nine years, renewed by two thirds every three years. At the time of the seven-year period, the legislative elections were held separately from the presidential ones and, therefore, it could happen that the parliamentary majority was not an expression of the president’s party. In these cases there was the so-called ‘cohabitation’: the president, to maintain confidence in parliament, he was forced to appoint a prime minister from the opposite political side. This happened three times: between 1986 and 1988, between 1993 and 1995 and between 1997 and 2002.

Since the presidency of Charles De Gaulle, the head of state has assumed a much more important role in the French system of government than that attributed by the constitutional charter. More in detail, when the presidential majority and that of the National Assembly (the only chamber for which the executive is responsible) coincide, the president assumes, in fact, the role of real guide of the government and the first minister becomes his main collaborator (despite the fact that in the history of the Fifth Republic there has been no lack of tensions between presidents and prime ministers). In other words, the president takes possession of the executive, endowed by the 1958 Constitution with considerable powers in matters of initiative and legislative debate and further strengthened by the affirmation of the majority logic.

According to, the adoption for the National Assembly of a double-round majority electoral system with a deadline (today equal to 12.5% ​​of those entitled to vote) and the presidential election by universal suffrage with double-round ballot bipolarization of the party system and, therefore, to the formation of solid and cohesive parliamentary majorities. This bipolarization took shape around the figure of two presidential candidates, able to overcome the first electoral round and challenge each other in the second, thus favoring the overlap between presidential majorities and parliamentary majorities. The assumption by the president of the role of effective leader also of the parliamentary majorities has therefore allowed the president to extend his control over the executive too.

During the cohabitation phases, however, the president was forced to retreat and the prime minister re-appropriated the leadership role of the government recognized by the Constitution. The centrality of the president was reinforced by the reform of the Constitution introduced in 2000 and which became operational for the first time in 2002, when the presidential and legislative elections coincided. With that reform, the presidential term was reduced to five years, the same length as the National Assembly. The coincidence of the two mandates (now highly probable) has made the parliamentary majority even more dependent on the figure of the president (since presidential elections precede legislative elections), whose election has a dragging effect on consultations for the ‘National Assembly.

Another revision of the Constitution was approved in July 2008 at the initiative of Nicolas Sarkozy. The objective of the reform process was, on the one hand, to provide at least partial constitutional recognition to the effective relations between the president, prime minister and members of the government and legislature; on the other hand, that of re-evaluating the role of the latter (while always maintaining a majority perspective, where the executive maintains primacy over the legislative).

In reality, the first objective has not been achieved. In fact, there has been no explicit rationalization of relations between the president and the other institutions, with the exception of the possibility for the president to present his program each year with a speech in front of the assembled chambers, which is then discussed in a debate without vote and in the absence of the president. In addition, the few limits placed on the exercise of presidential power concern not so much the role of leader of the majority and real guide of the government, as that of head of state (the limitation of presidential mandates to two should be noted). More significant results, on the other hand, were achieved in relation to the role and operation of the parliament. This has been equipped with tools that should make it possible to contribute more effectively to the writing of laws and to exercise the control function; the executive, in turn, saw a relative attenuation of its possibilities of intervention.

In the last round of elections for the presidential elections in May 2012, François Hollande, leader of the Socialist Party, won the ballot against Nicolas Sarkozy, outgoing president and exponent of the neo-Gallist party Union pour un mouvement populaire with 51.6% of the votes (Ump), renamed in May 2015 with the name of Les Républicains. The subsequent legislative elections in June 2012 further strengthened this result, giving the center-left coalition a large parliamentary majority. The unpopular measures that Hollande was forced to adopt to cope with the poor state of health of the French economy and the standards imposed by Europe, however, caused the new president a clear loss of support.. The ambitious progressive program promoted by the president during the electoral campaign, which was to create new public jobs and reduce the retirement age, has not been realized, and the French population is forced to face a steep increase in taxes and unemployment. The measures aimed at containing the budget deficit within 3% in order to respond to the conditions of the EU have also caused a change in the pro-European sentiments nurtured by the French population. In August 2014, discussions within the majority front on France’s economic policy stance led to the resignation of Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Although these have returned, there has been a government reshuffle, a symptom of an increasingly difficult political situation.

The discontent has degenerated into an aversion that compromises the consensus of the incumbent president and strengthens the party of the social right that is the spokesperson for anti-Europeanism, the National Front, which established itself as the first party in the country in the European elections in May 2014. In this difficult situation politics, it is difficult to hypothesize a reconfirmation of François Hollande and of the same P sin the presidential elections scheduled for 2017. The disastrous polls would even presuppose his exclusion from the second round of elections, assuming an unprecedented scenario of challenge between the National Front and Les Republicains. If the figure of Marine Le Pen remains steadfast at the head of the National Front, within the French Republican party a challenge seems to be looming between the former prime minister Alain Juppé and the former president Nicolas Sarkozy. A challenge in which the latter, however, seems to be able to enjoy the benefits given by the recent electoral successes, obtained as president of the party.

France Internal Politics