politics in france essay

Essay format: Please read carefully

Analyze TWO of the following four topics. You must limit yourself in your answers to 6 pages in total, that is, about 3 pages per topic, double-spaced for each answer. Wherever appropriate, insert references to readings and lecture notes/ slides from 120C. Place references in ( …) such as (Smith, 2015, p. 7)

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Your answers should reflect your own understanding of the topics you select. However, you may wish to refer to course materials to inform your analysis. Use quotes only where absolutely necessary. Exams will be evaluated on the depth and completeness of your understanding. All works will be proofed by Turnitin for plagiarism, which is a serious university offense.

1- French Party System Development and Elections

Discuss the development of party competition in the post-WWII era. Then consider why today the French party system appears to be in extraordinary disarray. How has this been manifested, including in the current presidential campaign? Why has this happened?

2- Presidential Power in France

Founded in 1958, General de Gaulle’s 5thRepublic created a constitutional framework that stresses executive authority and provides for a strong presidency. However, not all presidents in the history of the Fifth Republic have been able to exercise power effectively, consistently and without losing popular support. This is especially so for France’s two most recent presidents: Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande, and perhaps the present incumbent, Emmanuel Macron.

Discuss how we can best assess variations in the exercise of presidential power in the 5thRepublic.

3- Historic Turning Points in the Making of Modern France

France has endured many traumatic regime changes. Which three such changes in the modern era (defined by about 1750 to the present) do you consider the most significant? In your answer, discuss

a) When and how have such changes happened?

b) What have these regime changes meant in terms of institutional, social and economic transformations?

4-France in Social Turmoil?

For most observers, France appears to be a peaceful, prosperous democratic polity. Yet ever since 1789 France has also been characterized by historic episodes of social and political turmoil and unrest, including occasional outbursts of violent forms of protest. Some would further argue that in these moments of stress we observe, as well, a deep confrontation between an “elite France” and “the other France”?

Consider whether we should evaluate French politics as essentially stable and elitist, or as more typically chaotic and disruptive.

What evidence, from your knowledge of French politics, supports or challenges such divergent views on what best characterizes French politics. Discuss and analyse with respect to your knowledge gained from on this course.

Some notes i got from class:


  • Centers of powers that coexist but are incompatible with each other

The Gaullist Tradition

  • De Gualle as Founder
  • He was Conservative
  • And a major political party
  • Generational changes of names

Wont ask about the senate (?)

Primary system

Original Government

  • Beginning of the 1700s France’s system of absolute monarchy had been a model for most of Europe
  • However, confrontations arose to create political institutions that adapted to the modern and secular world, and their outcome strongly influenced the direction of French life during the Revolution
  • The absolutists System and its weakness
    • Monarchical- so called absolute monarchy
    • Unlike the king of England who needed the approval of Parliament to enact laws and collect taxes
    • The French King did not share his legislative power with any other institution
    • He commanded the army and navy and the entire machinery of governmental administration and he was also the supreme judge, to whom verdicts in any other court could be appealed.
    • government positions were owned by families however the kind could not abolish venal office unless he reimbursed their holders. The system of venal office holding limited the kings control of his own government.


  • Evident in tax collection
  • Tax farmers had every incentive to collect as much money as possible from the subjects and then forward as little as possible to Versailles
  • Causing the government to become short of money and to borrow from others
  • Parlements-says that the judges are defenders of the rights of the king’s subjects
  • As long as the parlements remained untamed
  • Wars caused the ministers to raise more money
    • War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War
  • Economic distress and religious quarrels added to their difficulties
  • Not to mention religious strains
  • Parliament and ministerial authorities clashes

First World’s War

  • Pitted French forces against the British on the seas, in distant North America, and on the Indian subcontinent
  • Same time had to fight Frederic the great armies in Germany- Frederic considered the greatest military commander in his day, inflicted a painful defeat on the French in 1757
  • In North America, the British captured all of French Canada in 1760
  • Seized french colonies in the caribbean, and french possession in India

Treaty of Paris

  • Signed in February 1763, set the seal of defeat that cost the French monarchy in money and prestige

Collapse of the Old Monarchy

  • Demographic expansion and economic change led to pressure on the land a widening gap between rich and poor, but living conditions for most of the population were better by the 1780s than they had been at the death of Louis XIV in 1715
  • Bourgeois resentment against the special privileges of the nobles were strong, but many wanted to gain noble status
  • New cultural and intellectual values that undermined faith in traditional institutions i.e. church has spread even among some of the lower classes
  • 1789 was different from three decades of episodes of breakdown
    • Brought all the social, cultural, economic and political conflicts of eighteenth century France
  • Estates- General
    • Clergy, the nobility, the Third Estate (Commoners)
    • The two privileged estates- the clergy and the nobles- made up 3 percent of the population and controlled the assembly’s three chambers and could dominate its proceedings.
    • The elections to the Estates- General transformed the notion of governing according to public opinion from an abstract slogan into a living reality
    • List of grievances- consensus in favor of the creation of some form of representative government , the abolishment of tax privileges and other forms of legal inequality
    • However the nobles offered few concession on issues raised by peasants.
  • Everywhere royal authority dissolved and power passed onto the hands to the Assembly and adopted the new symbols of patriotism.

The radical Revolution?

Economic Depression and Political Crisis

  • One reason for the difficulties in the early republican supremacy was the economic climate
  • Entailed a slowing of growth- but not a severe economic contraction and it did not affect the living standards as strongly bc unemployment was not as severe and prices of consumer goods actually fell faster than wages


  • Had particular appeal in heavily industrialized areas where workers were concentrated in large factories
  • Purpose of a socialist political party was to educate workers and organize them into a powerful political party that would ultimately carry out a revolution against the bourgeois capitalist order
  • Success would grow with the proletariat

The revival of the Parliamentary Republic

  • By the time the new constitution was finally established, other issues especially economic problems dominated the public’s mind
  • The liberation had failed to stimulate a real recovery from wartime poverty

2nd Republic

  • Napoleon nephew
  • education
  • Franco prussian war- prussia
  • Lost crediblity
  • Makes way to third republic
  • Third republic
    • World War 2 in decline
    • Establishing VICHY REGIME
    • Great depression
  • DREYFUS AFFAIR- third republic
  • After the franco prussia
  • – ACCUSED of treason- for prussia
  • Racist against jew- military officer
  • In favor of dreyfus- against the church, socialist
  • Not in favor- monarchist, church

From the Fourth to the Fifth Republic

  • Disillusionment with the changes made after the war paved the way for a steady shift toward more conservative ministries.
  • The resistance activists- looked forward to a cultural and intellectual renewal as well as a political and social one.
  • Visible effect to liberation- to bring prominence a new generation of intellectuals inspired by the ideal of political commitment

Mendez- France

  • Courageous member of the Resistance during the war
  • Advocated a policy of rigorous austerity and concentration on industrial modernization after liberation
  • Wholeheartedly supported parliamentary government
  • Believed that fourth republic institution could be made to function if it found leaders of sufficient energy and integrity

Unlike Charles de Gaulle

  • The other strong man waiting in the wings
  • Did not support parliamentary gov

The need to make french industries competitive with those neighbors provided a contributing stimulus to the process of economic modernization

The Algerian War

  • Spreading nationalist revolt in Algeria
  • National Liberation Front (FLN) – Launched an armed campaign to drive the French out.
  • Algeria was different from other colonies
  • At Home- combined impact of the war, inflation, and efforts pursued by Mendes-France to make the economy more efficient set off a new right-wing protest movement

The communists remained the largest single party

  • The extremist poujade movement obtained almost 12 percent of the vote

As the sense of crisis deepened , public confidence in the fourth republic diminished

Turned to wartime hero Charles de Gualle

  • Former leader seemed to stand above parties and possess the qualities the situation demanded
  • Obtained power on his own without subordinating himself either to the politicians or the generals

France’s Fourth republic disintegrated because of its inability to master the challenge of adapting France to a new political world despite some success in modernizing the country’s social and economic structures.

  • Constant changing of governmenets
  • Lots of cohabitation – average life span was 8 months
  • Algerian crisis and indo china war
  • Algerian crisis- military coup – overthrow the french government
  • Losing a war

De Gaulle’s Republic

  • Country’s political institutions were changes and a new regime the Fifth Republic was established
  • The stability resulting from the new constitution gave the country a chance to recognize the significance of the social and economic changes already begun before may 1958
  • The president was to be elected, not by the members of the two assemblies but by a cast electoral college made up of some seventy thousand local and national officials
  • Therefore claim that his authority rested on a broader base
  • The President was to name the prime minister, and he could appeal directly to the nation on issues he regarded a vital bny calling referenda. In times of a crisis the new constitution authorized the president to assume emergency powers.

Fifth Republic

  • Took a clear cut presidential character
  • A directly elected National Assembly, balanced by a Senate chosen by indirect election. The prime minister, designated by the president still needed the Assembly’s approval to govern

A social transformation

  • Political stability and economic prosperity of the decade set the stage for profound transformations in French society.
  • The new society was characterized by a dramatic increase of living standards, a steady shift to new forms of work, an increase in leisure time, and a change in patterns of personal and family life.
  • The DeGaulle Years- were a time where french families were able to satisfy this yearning
  • Sharp increase of population- resulted in a demand for more teachers and more schools
  • Shift to a more technologically oriented economy encouraged the new generation to stay in school longer and demand more specialized instruction
    • Secondary education had to expand even faster than primary schooling

Changing structure of French Society

  • Nature of available employment possibilities was changing rapidly
  • The percentage of the population employed in agriculture plunged, particularly as a result of the Fifth Republic’s push for the modernization of that sector
  • The French middle classes’ preoccupations changed accordingly, from a desire to maintain individual economic autonomy to a greater concern about opportunities for promotion on the job and for greater freedom in private life
  • Low skilled jobs were being filled by immigrants
  • However, due to low unemployment rates during this time no concern were pressed

Charles dE GUALLE

  • WAR HERO in world war 1
  • Free france -to reject german occupation
  • Always wanted to fifth republic
  • Presidential has refe

Chapter 1

  • President Sarkozy 2007-2012
  • Inappropriate president
  • Engaged in personal excess that provoked widespread disapproval.
  • Was the first incumbent president of the Fifth Republic seeking reelection who did not lead in the first ballot round
  • Campaign was consistent with his use of electoral programmes and ideology
  • Built on limitless personal


  • Accidental president
  • Public would favour an economically realistic social- democratic campaign message
  • All talk no results

Both did not confront head on problems or adjust the french economy so it could compete and thrive in the globalized world

The presidency under the Fifth Republic

  • The constitution of the Fifth Republic created a dual executive one in which both the prime minister and president are important political actors
  • The government decides and directs the policy of the nation and that it has the administration and the armed forces at its disposal

The political aspects of Parliament

  • For the first time under the Fifth republic, France is experiencing a left wing unified government
  • France has a semi- presidential regime with a bicameral legislature, a directly elected president and a prime minister leading the cabinet.
  • As a consequence the two chambers of the legislature and executive branch may both be divided or unified; the pattern of government control in france is thus complex and may have many different features
  • Unified government means that the majority party or coalition does not require the cooperation of any opposition party in order to legislate
  • Divided government the majority party or coalition does require such cooperation

Patterns of government control in France

  • Cohabitation is a case of divided government that stems from a situation of a divided executive that occurs when the president and the prime minister are partisan rivals.
  • The president is not devoid of all influence during these periods.
  • According to tradition of the “reserved domain” an opposition president continues to play a preeminent role in the field of defense and foreign policy
  • He/She may slow down the legislative process such as asking for a new reading of a law or refusing to sign or refusing an opening of a parliamentary session.
  • Only the National Assembly and the prime minister are certain to belong to the same partisan camp since the parliamentary character.. In other words- the prime minister must have the confidence of the assembly
  • French senators are elected through indirect universal suffrage
  • Their electorate approx- 150,000 officials is composed of city councillors, regional councillors, department councillors, mayors and deputies
  • 90 percent of them are delegates appointed by municipal councils