The Constitution of 4 October 1958 provides the institutional basis for the Fifth Republic. It has been amended several times to institute election of the President of the Republic by direct universal suffrage (1962), incorporate a new title defining the criminal liability of members of the Government (1993), establish a single parliamentary session, enlarge the area of application of the referendum (1995), transitional provisions relating to New Caledonia (1998), establishment of European Economic and Monetary Union, equal access of men and women to elective office and positions, recognition of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (1999), and shorten the Presidential term of office (2000).
President of the Republic
The Head of State is elected for a five-year term by direct universal suffrage. Nicolas Sarkozy was elected the sixth President of the Fifth Republic on May 6, 2007.
The President of the Republic appoints the Prime Minister and, on the latter’s recommendation, appoints the other members of the Government (article 8 of the Constitution). He presides over the Council of Ministers, promulgates Acts of Parliament and is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He may dissolve the National Assembly and in an emergency exercise special powers (article 16).
Prime Minister and government
Under the direction of the Prime Minister, the government sets national policy and carries it out. It is answerable to Parliament (article 20). The Prime Minister directs the operation of the government and ensures the implementation of legislation (article 21). François Fillon was appointed Prime Minister on May 17, 2007.
Parliament is formed of two assemblies:
The National Assembly comprises 577 deputies divided into the following groups as of the general election of June 2007:
— Union pour un Mouvement Populaire 313 (plus 5 affiliated)
— Socialiste Group 187 (plus 18 affiliated)
— New Centralist Movement : 20
— Groupe de la gauche démocrate et républicaine : 24
— Not registered in a group: 7 More information at http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr
The Senate has 331 senators divided into the following groups since the September 2004 election :
— Union pour un Mouvement Populaire : 155
— Socialist : 97
— Union centriste : 32
— Communiste Républicain et Citoyen : 23
— Rassemblement Démocratique et Social Européen : 17
— Not registered in a group: 7
More information at http://www.senat.fr
In addition to providing a check on the government, the two assemblies draw up and pass legislation. In the case of disagreement on a law the National Assembly makes the final decision.
The Constitutional Council, composed of nine members, is responsible in particular for overseeing the proper functioning of elections and for ruling on the constitutionality of organic laws and legislation submitted to it.
The "guardian of individual liberty" (article 66 of the Constitution), theFrench legal system is organized on the basis of a fundamental distinction between civil courts, with jurisdiction in disputes between private individuals or bodies, and administrative courts, with jurisdiction in all cases involving some form of dispute between a private individual or body (company, association, etc.) and a public body.
There are three types of courts
— specialized courts (juvenile courts, conseils des prud’hommes for industrial relations disputes, commercial courts for disputes involving business people or firms, and social security courts).
— civil courts
— criminal courts
which distinguish three types of offence: contraventions (petty offences), tried by police courts, délits (misdemeanours), tried by criminal courts and crimes (serious indictable offences), tried by the Assize Court (the only court with lay jurors and from which there is no appeal against sentences).
The highest judicial body is the Cour de Cassation which decides appeals on points of law and procedure and can set aside or quash judgements and remit cases for rehearing to one of the 35 courts of appeal for retrial.
The Conseil d’Etat
is the supreme administrative court and court of final appeal on the legality of administrative acts. It advises the government on draft legislation.
Source: Profile of France; printed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs
For further information
- Conseil Constitutionnel
- President of the Republic
- Prime Minister
- National Assembly