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What is the French System of Government?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The French system of government is a semi-presidential system that sets a high value on the separation of powers, along with freedoms for citizens. The Constitution of 1958 sets most of the principles which govern the country out, with additions being added periodically to keep it current and useful. Although the French Constitution does not specifically include a Bill of Rights, the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” written in 1789, is mentioned in the Constitution. This document played an important role in the French revolution, spelling out rights and principles which were believed to be vital to living happily and freely. The nation's motto is liberte, egalite, fraternite, which translates as “liberty, equality, brotherhood.”

Three different branches make up the French government: the presidential branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch. The powers of the presidential branch are split between the president and a prime minister whom he or she appoints. The legislative branch is broken up into a National Assembly, voted in by the populace, and a Senate, appointed by an electoral college. The judicial branch is quite complex and extensive, with a Court of Cassation serving as the court of last resort and a Council of State to provide judicial review and interpret laws.

Multiple political parties work together with the framework of the French system of government. They often form cooperative coalitions to accomplish things that they would be unable to do individually. Two major coalitions represent parties on the left and right, and one usually controls the government at any given period of time. The diverse parties within the government allow for a greater range of ideas within the government, leading to more progressive legislation and reform.

All French citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to vote in elections. Convicted criminals may have their right to vote abridged under certain circumstances. In order to run for public office, a citizen must be a registered voter, and the commission of certain crimes may bar someone from running for office. The president is elected for a five year term, as are members of the National Assembly. Senators are appointed for six year terms, with one third of the Senate rotating out at a time.

The prime minister is an interesting figure in the French system of government. In order to serve, he or she must be approved by the National Assembly, which can force both the president and the prime minister out with a vote. This can sometimes lead to a situation in which the president and the prime minister are of different party beliefs, to satisfy the National Assembly. The prime minister makes a number of executive decisions, which are subject to review by other branches.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon931218 — On Feb 07, 2014

The vice-president is only a collaborator with the U.S President. The prime minister is more than that. France is a parliamentary system and the tradition is the president chooses the prime minister in the major party in the national assembly. If they are from the same party, it's difficult to separate their respective power because they are both working.

The separation of their power is clearly in "cohabitation" when the prime minister not come from the presidential party. France had three governments in this case during the five republics.

In this situation, the prime minister does all, but diplomacy, military affair and public order stay in the president's hands, and he can choose the ministries from those administrations, but the prime minister leads all the other ministries, even the very influential ministry of finances.

By anon929639 — On Feb 01, 2014

France is becoming a dictatorship. The president has all powers; he can cancel a court's decision. He completely controls the media (see gayet gate). Revolution is boiling here, and it might explode anytime.

By anon292965 — On Sep 23, 2012

How does the government serve the French people?

By Babalaas — On Jul 01, 2010

The roles of the president and prime minister are very different. The Prime minister of France is in charge of creating regulations and laws; basically being the head of government. The French President is the Head of state, having the power of executive order, and the obligation to choose the Prime Minister.

The power of the president lies in the make-up of parliament. If the president and parliament are of the same political affiliation, the president is quite powerful. If they are of different political affiliation then the presidents power is diminished. This is because the parliament has to approve the presidents choice of prime minister.

The Prime minister and the his ministers (what we would consider a cabinet) make laws to be passed by parliament. This gives the prime minister considerable power. Remember though, this power is only granted because s/he was selected by the president and confirmed by parliament.

The president is elected by the people as well as members of parliament; making them career politicians. Because the prime minister is not elected, s/he is usually someone from the private sector or military who is not involved in politics. This helps the French Government to be swift acting, and gives the citizens some measure of direct control.

By PelesTears — On Jun 30, 2010

What are the roles of the President and Prime minister in the French Government? Are they similar to the roles of the president and vice president in the United States? The French system of government seems similar to ours, but I never understood the role of a Prime minister.

Maybe one is in charge of domestic policy while the other is in charge of foreign policy. Can anyone explain this to me in a little more detail? Thanks.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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