The Foreigner’s guide to French politics

Known as ‘The Fifth Republic’, the French political system is a mixed presidential/parliamentary system with a President who is head of state, sharing power with a Prime Minister who is the head of government. The French as a nation are very fond of politics so, if you plan to spend any time in France, it is sensible to have at least a vague grip on the political landscape of the country.

Parliament is made up of the National Assembly (the lower house) which sits in the Palais Bourbon with 577 députés elected from single member constituency in a two-rounds system. The Senate (the upper house) is housed inside the Luxembourg Palace and has more than 300 senators elected by around 150,000 officials from around the country and is politically conservative.  Under the constitution, the two houses have similar powers.

There is a multi-party system with a great many different political parties which can be roughly categorized as ‘Left’ or ‘Right’. Here are the main ones:

The left

The Parti Socialiste or Socialist Party (PS) is the main party on the Left and was formed around 40 years ago from an alliance of parties of the non-Communist left with a welfare state and participative democracy as cornerstone policies. Since June 2012, the Parti Socialiste has been the party in power.

The right

The ‘conservative’ Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Popular Union Movement) or UMP is one of the largest parties. It was created by Jacques Chirac after he was re-elected as President in 2002 and it united the Right in a single party. It covers a range of opinions ranging from traditional conservatives, social liberals to more-right leaning, neo-conservatives. It describes itself as a ‘Gaullist’ party, upholding social conservatism which is patriarchal and nationalistic.

The UMP are allied in parliament with the centre right party, Nouveau Centre (New Centre). In September 2012, a new centrist federation Union des Démocrates et Indépendants (UDI) was formed.

Finally, there is the Parti Radical, the oldest political party in France, and a progressive and humanist party once of the Left, is now a corporate member of the UMP.

Although these parties represent the French political Right, they are probably closer politically to the Democrats and Labour, than to the Republicans and Conservatives, in the US and UK.

The middle 

Former presidential candidate François Bayrou set up the Mouvement Démocratique (Democratic Movement) or MoDem as a middle way party.

The Alliance Centriste is another centre-right party.

This year we also have a self-styled ‘centriste’ politician, Emmanuel Macron who has recently declared himself as a presidential candidate having resigned from his position as France’s Economy Minister. In terms of policy, he claims to represent a ‘Third Way’, a neoliberal agenda offering structural reform and promising to listen to the people; the broom that promises to sweep clean and start politics anew.

The far right

The Mouvement Pour la France (Movement for France), a small sovereignist party, rather similar to the UK’s UKIP party, is positioned between the Right and the Far Right.

The Front National (National Front) or NF was founded by Jean Marie Le Pen in 1972 and is currently led by his daughter Marine Le Pen. Similar to the British BNP, the Front National is an extreme Right wing party which campaigns on national preference, law and order and anti-immigration issues.

Both parties are calling for France to leave the European Union.

The next French general election is next Spring 2017 and looks like shaping up to be a battle between the right (Filllon, whose polices are being hailed as ‘neo-Thatcherite) and the far right (Marine Le Pen who is positioning her party as the populist choice).

After the UK and US unexpected election results of 2016, I’m certainly not making any predictions!


Thanks to Expatica, Wikipedia and France24 for some of the above


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