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Politics of France

This article discusses political groups and tendencies in France; for information on the political and administrative structures of France, see Government of France.

French politics under the Fifth Republic

After Charles de Gaulle had the constitution of the French Fifth Republic adopted in 1958, France was ruled by successive right-wing administrations until 1981. Throughout the 1960s, left-wing parties fared rather badly in national elections. The successive governments generally applied the Gaullist program of national independence, and modernization in a dirigiste fashion. 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 however not absolute, since there were radio stations transmitting from nearby countries specifically for the benefit of the French). De Gaulle's social policies were decidedly conservative.

In May 1968, 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. The French electorate turned down a 1969 referendum on the reform of the French Senate, in a move widely considered to be mostly motivated by weariness with de Gaulle.

In 1981, François Mitterrand, a Socialist, was elected president, on a program of far-reaching reforms. After securing a majority in parliament through a snap election, his government ran a program of social and economic reforms:

  • social reforms:
    • abolition of the death penalty;
    • removal of legislation criminalizing certain homosexual behaviors (since the French Revolution, France had never criminalized homosexuality between adults in private, but since the 1960s homosexuality was officially considered an illness to cure);
  • economic reforms:
    • the government embarked on a wave of nationalizations;
    • the duration of the legal workweek was set to 39 h, instead of the previous 40 h.

However, in 1983, high inflation and economies 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 reverted by both subsequent left-wing and right-wing governments, the social reforms undertaken have stood still.

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

Recent French politics

During his first 2 years in office, President Jacques Chirac's prime minister was Alain Juppé, who served contemporaneously as leader of Chirac's neo-Gaullist (RPR) Party. 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 impopular and cause 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 European currency, Chirac decided in April 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 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 toward Economic and Monetary Union, albeit with greater attention to social concerns.

The tradition in periods of "cohabitation" (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.

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. However it ended, following the National Assembly elections that followed Chirac's heavy defeat of Jospin (who failed even to make it through to the second round of voting) in the 2002 presidential election. President Chirac's current prime minister is the right wing Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

A enduring issue is Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National party, whose anti-immigration, isolationist policies have him accused of racism and xenophobia.

Political groups

Political parties and leaders

In the "remarks" column: "minor" indicates a party that makes less than 3% in national elections; "major" indicates a party that can lead a national government; "one-person" indicates a party that has only one leading and commanding personality.

Name Name in English Acronym Leader or chairman Remarks
Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire Revolutionary Communist League LCR Alain Krivine
Lutte Ouvrière Workers' Struggle LO Arlette Laguiller, spokeswoman
Parti des Travailleurs Workers' Party PT minor
Parti Socialiste Socialist Party PS François Hollande major
Parti Radical de Gauche Left Radical Party PRG Jean-Michel Baylet minor; previously Parti Radical Socialiste, Radical Socialist Party or PRS, Mouvement des Radicaux de Gauche, Left Radical Movement or MRG, Radical
Parti Communiste Français French Communist Party PCF Marie-George Buffet
Union pour un Mouvement Populaire Union for a Popular Movement UMP Alain Juppé major; as of 2004, the president (Jacques Chirac), the prime minister (Jean-Pierre Raffarin) and the speakers of both houses of parliament are from UMP
Union pour la Démocratie Française Union for French Democracy UDF François Bayrou
Centre National des Indépendants et Paysans National Center of Independents and Peasants CNI, CNIP Annick du Roscoät minor, associated with UMP
Les Verts The Greens Gilles Lemaire
Génération Écologie Ecology Generation GE Brice Lalonde minor
Mouvement Écologiste Indépendant Independent Ecological Movement MEI Antoine Waechter minor
Front National National Front FN Jean-Marie Le Pen one-person
Mouvement National Républicain National Republican Movement MNR Bruno Mégret one-person
La Droite The Right Charles Millon minor, one-person
Mouvement des Citoyens Citizens' Movement MdC Jean-Pierre Chevènement minor, one-person
Mouvement pour la France Movement for France MPF Philippe de Villiers minor, one-person
Rassemblement pour la France et l'Indépendance de l'Europe Rally for France and European Independence RPFIE Charles Pasqua minor, one-person
Former parties of note
Rassemblement pour la République Rally for the Republic RPR Michelle Alliot-Marie major
Démocratie Libérale Liberal Democracy DL Alain Madelin originally Parti Républicain - Republican Party or PR

Political pressure groups and leaders

Workers' unions.

Employers' unions.

Peasants' unions.

  • Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d'Exploitants Agricoles
  • Centre National des Jeunes Agriculteurs
  • Confédération Paysanne

See also

External links

Last updated: 11-01-2004 09:41:09