the Constitution and politics in France
A short guide to the institutions of power in France
Most recent page update; Jan 2015
France is a republic;
the institutions of governance of France are defined by the Constitution,
more specifically by the current constitution, being that of the Fifth
Republic. The Constitution has been modified several times
since the start of the Fifth Republic, most recently in July 2008, when
the French "Congress" (A joint convention of the two
chambers of Parliament) approved - by 1 vote over the 60% majority
required - constitutional
changes proposed by President Sarkozy.
Fifth Republic: The fifth republic was established in
1958, and was largely the work of General de Gaulle - its first
president, and Michel Debré his prime minister. It
amended 17 times. Though the French constitution is parliamentary, it
gave relatively extensive powers to the executive (President and
Ministers) compared to other western democracies.
The executive branch:
The head of state and head of the executive is the President,
elected by universal suffrage. Since May 2012, France's president is
François Hollande. Originally, a president of the Fifth
Republic was elected for a 7-year term (le
septennat), renewable any number of times. Since 2002 the
President has been elected for a 5-year term (le
quinquennat). Since the passing of the 2008 Constitutional
reform, the maximum number of terms a president can serve has been
limited to two.
President, who is also supreme commander of the military, determines
policy with the aid of his Council
of Ministers (Conseil
des ministres). The
residence of the President of the French Republic is the
Elysée Palace (le
palais de l'Elysée) in Paris.
President appoints a prime
minister (currently - 2015 - Manuel Valls ) , who
forms a government.
residence of the French Prime Minister is at Matignon House
(l'Hôtel Matignon) in Paris.
theory ministers are chosen by the PM; in practice unless the President
and the PM are from different sides of the political spectrum (a system
known as la
cohabitation), PM and president work together to form a
government. The President must approve the appointment of government
le Conseil des ministres, meets on
a weekly basis, and is presided over by the president.
Ministers determine policy and put new legislation before
Parliament in the form of bills (projets
de loi); within
the framework of existing law, they apply policy through decrees (décrets).
parliament is made up of two houses or chambers. The lower
and principal house of parliament is the Assemblée
national assembly; the second chamber is the Sénat
or Senate. Members of Parliament, called Députés,
are elected by universal suffrage, in general elections (élections
législatives) that take place every five years.
are elected by "grand electors", who are mostly other local elected
representatives. The electoral system for parliamentary
elections involves two rounds; a candidate can be elected on the first
round by obtaining an absolute majority of votes cast. The second round
is a runoff between two or more candidates, usually two.
Until 2014, the left-wing Socialist party had a majority in
houses. However, following the municipal elections, the Socialists lost
their majority in the Senate in September 2014. Senators are
chosen by "grands électeurs", notably by mayors and other
locally elected representatives.
the Minister of Justice, le
Garde des Sceaux, has powers over the
running of the justice system and public prosecutors, the judiciary is
strongly independent of the executive and legislative branches. The
official handbook of French civil law is the Code
proposed by government, and new pivate members bills (propositions
de loi) must be
approved by both chambers, before becoming law. However, by
virtue of Article 49.3 of the French constitution, a government can
override parliamentary opposition and pass a law without a
parilimentary vote. This does not happen frequently, and in the
framework of constitutional amendments, president Sarkozy
the possibility of using 49.3.
in 2015, Prime Minister Valls had to resort to using 49.3 in order to
push the controversial economic reforms of the "Loi Macron" through
parliament, in the face of a revolt by hard left members of his own
Laws and decrees are promulgated when the official text is published in
the Official Journal of the French Republic,
le Journal Officiel.
Constitutional Council ,
le Conseil constitutionnel, exists to determine
the constitutionality of new legislation or decrees. It has powers to
strike down a bill before it passes into law, if it is deemed
unconstitutional, or to demand the withdrawal of decrees even after
promulgation. The Council is made up of nine members, appointed (three
each) by the President of the Republic, the leader of the National
Assembly, and the leader of the Senate, plus all surviving former heads
In 2015, France is governed by the Socialist
The main political parties are:
the right: The
Popular Union Movement (UMP - Union
pour un Mouvement Populaire),
right: the New
Centre), and the Union of Democrats and
Independents (launched in 2012) l'Union
des démocrates et indépendants,
The Democratic Movement (Mouvement
the left: the
Socialist party (Parti
Socialiste, PS) -
since June 2012 the party in power.
The Radical left (les
Radicaux de gauche - a centre left group)
French Communist Party (parti
Communiste Français - PCF).
The Green Party (EELV -
(See more detailed article: Political
parties in France)
France also has some surprisingly resiliant extremist parties on the
left and on the right, including the NPA (Nouveau
parti anticapitaliste) and the trotskyist Workers' Party (Lutte
ouvrière), and the National Front (Front