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Life in France

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France is a semi-presidential representative democratic republic, in which the President of France is head of state and the Prime Minister of France is the head of government, and there is a pluriform, multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the government, Senate and National Assembly. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.


Left and Right in France and main political parties

Since the 1789 French Revolution, the political spectrum in France has obeyed the left-right distinction. However, due to the historical association of the term droite "right" with monarchism, conservative or right-wing parties have tended to avoid officially describing themselves as representing the "right wing".


The Left

At the beginning of the 20th century, the French Left divided itself into :

After World War I

  • The Anarchists suffer the nationalism due of the WWI and they are not significant like in Spain, and have lost the CGT majority (they joined the CGT-U and after created the CGT-SR.
  • The SFIO had split in the 1920 Tours Congress, where a majority of SFIO members created the French Section of the Communist International (the future PCF)
  • The SFIC, which quickly turned into a pro-Stalinist and isolated party (no alliances), lost many of its original members, and changed only in 1934 (after a fascist attack to the Parliament in february 6 1934) when it integrated the Popular Front.
  • The minority of the SFIO who refused to join the Comintern retained the name and, led by Léon Blum, gradually regained ground from the Communists.
  • The Radical Party, which inherited of the tradition of the French Left and of Radical Republicanism (sharing left-wing traits such as anti-clericalism), progressively move more and more to the mainstream center, being one of the main governing parties between the two world wars.

The Left was in power during:

After World War II

=====The Old Left=====Prime ministers of these guys were

The New Left (or Second Left)

The Old Left was contested on its left by the New Left parties including the

However, the emblem of the New Left was the Unified Socialist Party, or PSU.

The Moderate Centre-Left

After the end of the Cold War

The Right

The right-wing has been divided into three broad families by historian René Rémond.


Counter-revolutionaries who opposed all change since the French Revolution. Today, they are located on the far-right of the French political spectrum.

These included:


Orleanists had rallied the Republic at the end of the 19th century and advocated economic liberalism (referred to in French simply as libéralisme). Today, they are broadly classified as centre-right or centrist parties.

These included:

Today, a large majority of the politicians of Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Movement can be classified in this family.


These included:

then the Union of Democrats for the Republic


The Gaullist UDR was then transformed by Jacques Chirac in the Rally for the Republic (RPR) in 1976, a neo-Gaullist party which embraced economic liberalism.

In 2002 the RPR became the Union for the Presidential Majority and then the Union for a Popular Movement in an attempt to unify the French conservatives together with a minority of the Union for French Democracy (UDF).

In 2007, a section of the remaining UDF, headed by François Bayrou, refused to align themselves on Nicolas Sarkozy and created the MoDem in an attempt to make space for a center-right party.

In conclusion, Jean-Marie Le Pen managed to unify most of the French far-right in the National Front, created in 1972 in the aftermaths of the Algerian War, which succeeded in gaining influence starting in the 1980s.

Residual monarchists movements, inheritors of Charles Maurras' Action française, also managed to survive, although many of them joined Le Pen's FN in the 1980s. Some neo-fascists who considered Le Pen to be too moderate broke away in 1974 to form the Parti des forces nouvelles, which maintained close links to the far-right students' union Groupe Union Défense.

Another important theoretical influence in the far-right appeared in the 1980s with Alain de Benoist's Nouvelle Droite movement, organized into the GRECE.

Despite Le Pen's success in the 2002 presidential election, his party has been weakened by Bruno Mégret's spin-out, leading to the creation of the National Republican Movement, as well as by the concurrence of Philippe de Villiers' Movement for France, and also by the internal struggles concerning Le Pen's forthcoming succession.

The Fifth Republic (1958-1981)

During the Fifth Republic, founded in 1958 amid the troubles brought by the Algerian War (1954-62), France was ruled by successive right-wing administrations until 1981. The successive governments generally applied the Gaullist program of national independence, and modernization in a dirigiste fashion.

The political instability characteristic of the Fourth Republic was gone. The far-right extremists who had threatened military coups over the question of French Algeria largely receded after Algeria was granted independence. The French Communist Party's image gradually became less radical. Politics largely turned into a Gaullists vs left-wing opposition.[1]

The Gaullist government, however, was criticized for its heavy-handedness: while elections were free, the state had a monopoly on radio and TV broadcasting and sought to have its point of view on events imposed (this monopoly was not absolute, however, since there were radio stations transmitting from nearby countries specifically for the benefit of the French).

Although Gaullism, which had gained legitimacy during World War II, initially also attracted several left-wing individuals, Gaullism in government became decidedly conservative.

In 1962, de Gaulle had the French citizens vote in a referendum concerning the election of the president at universal suffrage, something which had been discredited since Napoleon III's 1851 coup. 3/5th of the voters approved however the referendum, and thereafter the President of the French Republic was elected at universal suffrage, giving him increased authority on the Parliament. De Gaulle won the 1965 presidential election, opposed on his left by François Mitterrand who had taken the lead of the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left, a coalition of most left-wing parties (apart from the French Communist Party, then led by Waldeck Rochet who did call to vote for Mitterrand).

In May 1968, a series of worker strikes and student riots rocked France. These did not, however, result in an immediate change of government, with a right-wing administration being triumphantly reelected in the snap election of June 1968. However, in 1969 the French electorate turned down a referendum on the reform of the French Senate proposed by de Gaulle. Since the latter had always declared that in the eventuality of a "NO" to a referendum he would resign, the referendum was also a plebiscite. Thus, the rejection of the reform by more than 52% of the voters was widely considered to be mostly motivated by weariness with de Gaulle, and ultimately provoked his resignation that year.

May '68 and its aftermaths saw the occupation of the LIP factory in Besançon, one of the major social conflict of the 1970s, during which the CFDT and the Unified Socialist Party, of which Pierre Mendès-France was a member, theorized workers' self-management. Apart of the PSU, the autonomist movement, inspired by Italian operaismo, made its first appearance on the political scene.

Georges Pompidou, de Gaulle's Prime Minister, was elected in 1969, remaining President until his death in 1974. In 1972, 3/5 of the French approved by referendum the enlargement of the European Economic Community (CEE) to the United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, and Norway.

After Pompidou's sudden death, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing managed to overhaul the remaining Gaullist barons — with the help of Jacques Chirac —, and won the subsequent election against François Mitterrand on the left. Giscard transformed the ORTF, the state organism in charge of media, and created several different channels, including Radio France. However, it was not until François Mitterrand's accession to the Élysée Palace in 1981 that media were liberalized.

The Fifth Republic (1981-1995)

In 1981, François Mitterrand, a Socialist, was elected president, on a program of far-reaching reforms (110 Propositions for France). This was enabled by the 1972 Common Program between the PS, the PRG and the PCF — which had remained, just as in Italy, a strong party through-out the Cold War.

After securing a majority in parliament through a snap election, his government ran a program of social and economic reforms:

However, in 1983, high inflation and economic woes forced a dramatic turnaround with respect to economic policies, known as rigueur (rigor) – the Socialist-Communist government then embarked on policies of fiscal and spending restraint. Though the nationalizations were subsequently reversed by both subsequent left-wing and right-wing governments, the social reforms undertaken have remained standing.

Furthermore, the end of the Trente Glorieuses (Thirty Glorious) period of growth witnesses the beginning of a structural unemployment, which became an important political issue. Since the 1980s, unemployment has remained permanently high, at about 10% of the population, regardless of the policies applied to fight it.

In 1986, Jacques Chirac's neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) party won the legislative election.

For the first time in the Fifth Republic, a left-wing President was forced to compose with a right-wing Prime minister, leading to the first cohabitation. Although many commentators were surprised at the time, and considered it to be an institutional crisis, some claiming the Fifth Republic could not accommodate itself of such rivalry at the head of the state, cohabitation repeated itself after the 1993 elections, when the RPR again won the elections, and then after the 1997 elections, when the Socialist Party won, leading to the constitution of Lionel Jospin's Plural Left government while Chirac was only at the beginning of his first presidential term. The tradition in periods of "cohabitation" (a 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, as that was a tradition issued from de Gaulle.

Since then, the government alternated between a left-wing coalition (composed of the French Socialist Party (PS), the French Communist Party (PCF) and more recently Les Verts, the Greens) and a right-wing coalition (composed of Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR), later replaced by the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), and the Union for French Democracy, UDF). Those two coalitions are fairly stable; there have been none of the mid-term coalition reorganizations and governments frequently overthrown which were commonplace under the Fourth Republic.

The 1980s and 1990s saw also the rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front (FN), a far-right party which blames immigration, more particularly immigration from North African countries such as Algeria, for increased unemployment and crime. The social situation in the French suburbs (banlieues: literally, "suburbs", but in France a euphemism for large suburban housing projects for the poor, with a high proportion of the population of North African descent) still have to be successfully tackled. Jean-Marie Le Pen's relative success at the French Presidential election, 2002 has been attributed in part to concerns about juvenile criminality.

Massive general strikes followed by all the trade-unions were triggered in November-December 1995, paralyzing France, in protest against the Juppé plan of libéral (in French, free market) reforms. These strikes were generally considered a turning point in the French social movement. It remains to be seen how much of these reforms will now be enacted by Sarkozy's first government, as Sarkozy was elected President on a similar platform in May 2007.

The Fifth Republic (1995-2007)

During his first two 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). Chirac and Juppé benefited from a very large, if rather unruly, majority in the National Assembly (470 out of 577 seats).

However, the administration was increasingly embroiled in corruption scandals regarding the past of the RPR (see Corruption scandals in the Paris region); furthermore, some reforms were highly unpopular and caused a series of strikes.

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 currency of the EU, Chirac decided in April 1997 to call early elections.

The Left, 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). President Chirac named Jospin prime minister on June 2, and Jospin went on to form a Plural Left 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 towards Economic and Monetary Union, albeit with greater attention to social concerns.

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.

The right in power 2002-

However, it ended subsequent to the legislative elections that followed Chirac's decisive defeat of Jospin (who failed even to make it through to the runoff) in the 2002 presidential election.

This led to President Chirac's appointment of Jean-Pierre Raffarin (UMP) as the new prime minister.

On May 29, 2005, French voters in the referendum on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe turned down the proposed charter by a wide margin.

This was generally regarded as a rebuke to Chirac and his government as well as the PS leadership, the majority save for the leftist faction and Laurent Fabius — had supported the proposed constitution. Two days later, Raffarin resigned and Chirac appointed Dominique de Villepin, formerly Foreign Minister as Prime Minister of France.

An enduring force is Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front party, whose anti-immigration, isolationist policies have been described by critics as inspired by xenophobia. Le Pen's survival into the runoff of 2002 had many observers worried this time, but in the 2007 first round Le Pen finished a distant fourth.

The February 23, 2005 French law on colonialism was met by a public uproar on the left-wing. Voted by the UMP majority, it was charged with advocating historical revisionism, and after long debates and international opposition (from Abdelaziz Bouteflika or Aimé Césaire, founder of the Négritude movement), was repealed by Jacques Chirac himself.

In Autumn 2005, civil unrest erupted in a number of lower classes suburbs due to the violence of the police. As a result, the government invoked a state of emergency which lasted until January 2006.

In 2006, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin enacted amendments that established a First Employment Contract, known as the CPE, a special kind of employment contract under which workers under the age of 26 could be hired and fired liberally.

Proponents of the measure argued that French workforce laws, which put the burden of proof on the employer for dismissing employees, dissuaded employers from hiring new employees; according to them, this is one reason while the unemployment rate of those under 26 is 23% and that of youngsters from some lower classes neighbourhoods as high as 40%, and not the refusal of exploitation to enrich the wealthy class.

However, the plan backfired, with criticism both on the way the law was passed (using an exceptional legislative procedure) and on the law itself, which was criticized both for weakening workers' rights in general, and for singling out the young disfavourably instead of attempting to cure more general issues. Following the 2006 protests against the CPE, the government had to withdraw the legislation.

Following from these events, Villepin lost all hopes of winning the presidency, and his government no longer tried to enact reforms.

The issue of liberalism or socialism

One of the great questions of current French politics is that of libéralisme — that is, economic liberalism, individualism society and the kingdom of money, as opposed to government intervention in the economy.

Broadly speaking, supporters of libéralisme want to let the forces of the free market operate with less regulation. For example, they want little regulation of the workforce and repeal of French laws setting a 35-hour work week rather than leaving this to contract negotiations.

Critics of libéralisme, argue that governmental intervention is necessary for the welfare of workers. They point out that great gains in workers' rights were historically achieved by government intervention and social mobilization (as during the Popular Front).

Similarly, proponents of libéralisme favour free markets and the free movement of goods, which critics contend benefit the wealthy class at the expense of the ordinary worker.

French conservative parties such as the UMP, or before that the RPR, the UDF or the Independent Republicans all supported economic liberalism.

According to historian René Rémond's famous classification of the right-wings in France, this tradition belongs to the Orleanist inheritance, while Gaullists inherited from Bonapartism and a tradition of state intervention issued from the National Council of Resistance (CNR)'s welfare state program after the war.

However, neo-Gaullists have since rallied economic liberalism. The so-called right-wing of the PS: Francois Hollande, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Ségolène Royal have done likewise.

Libertarianism as such is rare in France; it is considered a form of ultra-liberalism or neo-liberalism and upheld only by right-wingers such as Alain Madelin.

Some rightists, such as Nicolas Sarkozy, favour radical change in the relationship between the government and the free-market.

They argue that for the last 30 years, under both left-wing and right-wing governments, the French have been misled into believing that things could go on without real reforms. One may say that they favour a Thatcherite approach.

Others on the right (including Dominique de Villepin) as well as some on the left argue in favour of gradual reforms.

In comparison, the refusal of the French electorate to vote for the proposed European Constitution was interpreted by some — in particular the French Communist Party and far-left parties such as LO or the LCR as a popular refusal of libéralisme, which the European Union is perceived to embody. Some such as Laurent Fabius have argued that the Socialist Party should thus have a more "left-wing" line.

It is worth noting that the French political system is currently undergoing a loss of legitimacy as the abstention rates has more and more increased over the last elections to reach record levels so far.

2007 presidential campaign

Unions and leaders

Workers' unions.

Employers' organisations.

  • Movements of French Corporations (Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF), formerly known as CNPF), sometimes referred to as patronat.
  • General confederation of the little and middle corporations ("Confederation Générale des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises") (CGPME), aligned its position to the MEDEF.

See also


  1. ^ H. G. Thorburn, Towards a More Simplified Party System in France, Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Jun., 1968), pp. 204-216

External links


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