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Government and Politics of Selected European States

Midterm Period

The watershed event in European History:
French Revolution began in 1789 and ended
in the late 1790s with the ascent of
Napoleon Bonaparte*. During this period,
French citizens razed and redesigned their
countrys political landscape, uprooting
centuries-old institutions such as absolute
monarchy and the feudal system.
Enlightenment Ideals:
French Revolution was influenced by
Enlightenment ideals, particularly the
concepts of popular sovereignty and
inalienable rights. Although it failed to
achieve all of its goals and at times
degenerated into a chaotic bloodbath, the
movement played a critical role in shaping
modern nations by showing the world the
power inherent in the will of the people.
Origin of the Revolution:
Historians disagree in evaluating the factors
that brought about the Revolution. To some
extent at least, it came not because France
was backward, but because the country's
economic and intellectual development was
not matched by social and political change.
In the fixed order of the ancien rgime,
most bourgeois were unable to exercise
commensurate political and social influence.
King Louis XIV, by consolidating absolute
monarchy, had destroyed the roots of
feudalism; yet outward feudal forms
persisted and became increasingly

France was still governed by privileged
groupsthe nobility and the clergywhile
the productive classes were taxed heavily to
pay for foreign wars, court extravagance,
and a rising national debt. For the most
part, peasants were small landholders or
tenant farmers, subject to feudal dues, to
the royal agents indirect farming (collecting)
taxes, to the corve (forced labour), and to
tithes and other impositions. Backward
agricultural methods and internal tariff
barriers caused recurrent food shortages,
which netted fortunes to grain speculators,
and rural overpopulation created land

In addition to the economic and social
difficulties, the ancien rgime was
undermined intellectually by the apostles of
the Enlightenment.

Economic reform, advocated by
the physiocrats (177476), was thwarted by
the unwillingness of privileged groups to
sacrifice any privileges and by the king's
failure to support strong measures.

The direct cause of the Revolution was the
chaotic state of government finance.
Effects of the Revolution:
The French Revolution, though it seemed a
failure in 1799 and appeared nullified by
1815, had far-reaching results. In France
the bourgeois and landowning classes
emerged as the dominant power. Feudalism
was dead; social order and contractual
relations were consolidated by the Code
Napolon. The Revolution unified France
and enhanced the power of the national
state. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic
Wars tore down the ancient structure of
Europe, hastened the advent of nationalism,
and inaugurated the era of modern, total
French Political Culture:
The government of France is a unique
hybrid of presidential and parliamentary
systems that reflect rich political traditions
and culture - The conflictual political culture
of France currently is somewhat more
consensual than in the past.
Economic, Social and Geographical Characteristics

French political culture is greatly influence
by economic, social, and geographical
characteristics of France.

Important characteristics of the French
population have shaped the political culture.
France is the least densely populated
country in Europe, with an approximate
population of 57 million. Although the
typical French citizen lives in an urban area
today, the agricultural areas of France
remain strong. A big social and economic
gap exists between Parisiens and the rest of
the country with per capita income in Paris
about 60% higher than in the rest of the
country. The Northeast Quadrant around
Paris is highly urbanized and industrialized,
while the west and the south remain rural
and agricultural. France is famous for its
wine, produce, poultry, grains, and geese.
The geography of France has influenced its
political, economic, and cultural
development. Its fertile soil has played a
large role in the country's reputation as a
world culinary centre. France has extensive
coastal areas on the Atlantic Ocean, English
Channel, and Mediterranean Sea, so fishing
and shipping play a significant role in the
French economy.

Importance of Ideology and History
The French are fascinated with their own
history and love abstract and symbolic
discussions. Perhaps this modern
characteristics has its roots in the days of
the absolute monarchs when intellectuals
and bourgeoisie had no status, and in
response to their demands, the monarchs
gave them the right to discuss abstractions

Distrust of Government and Politics

The modern tendency to distrust
government probably has its roots in the
French Revolution and the resulting conflicts
between monarchists and republicans. The
tendency to think that centralized
government is not to be trusted does not
affect the loyalty that the local government
officials or representatives inspire. The
citizen seems to believe that all deputies to
the National Assembly are not to be trusted,
with the exception of his/her own.


The legitimacy of the government is based
largely on a broad-based nationalism, a
pride in France, love of history, and instinct
to preserve French culture that is alive in
the hearts of most French citizens. Despite
the conflict and disagreements, French
political culture is held together by this very
important nationalism.

Conflictual Political Culture

A very strong characteristic of the French
political culture is the agreement to
disagree. The division in political opinions
into "left" and "right" goes back to the
French Revolution, and remains an
important force today. Consensus often has
been reached by uniting behind a strong,
charismatic leader, only to be lost when the
leader dies or goes into disfavour. Cycles of
consensus followed by alienation seem to
be typical of the French political culture.

Election in France:
France is a representative democracy.
Public officials in the legislative and
executive branches are either elected by the
citizens (directly or indirectly) or appointed
by elected officials.

Referendums may also be called to consult
the French citizenry directly on a particular
question, especially one which concerns
amendment to the Constitution.

France elects on its national level a head of
state the president and a legislature

The president is elected for a five-year term
(previously, seven years), directly by the

In addition, French citizens elect a variety of
local governments. There also are public
elections for some non-political positions,
such as those for the judges of courts
administering labor law (conseils de
prud'hommes), elected by workers and
employers, or those for judges
administering cases of rural land leases.

France does not have a full-fledged two-
party system; that is, a system where,
though many political parties may exist,
only two parties are relevant to the
dynamics of power.

However French politics displays some
tendencies characterizing a two-party
system in which power alternates between
relatively stable coalitions, each being led
by a major party: on the left, the Socialist
Party, on the right, the UMP and its


Elections are conducted according to rules
set in the Constitution of France,
organisational laws (lois organiques), and
the electoral code.
Elections are always held on Sundays in

The campaigns end at midnight the Friday
before the election; then, on election
Sunday, by law, no polls can be published,
no electoral publication and broadcasts can
be made.

The voting stations open at 8 am and close
at 6 pm in small towns or at 8 pm in cities,
depending on prefectoral decisions.

By law, publication of results or estimates
is prohibited prior to that time; such results
are however often available from the media
of e.g. Belgium and Switzerland, or from
foreign Internet sites, prior to that time.

The first estimate of the results are thus
known at Sunday, 8pm, Paris time; one
consequence is that voters in e.g. French
Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe knew
the probable results of elections whereas
they had not finished voting, which
allegedly discouraged them from voting.

For this reason, since the 2000s, elections
in French possessions in the Americas, as
well as embassies and consulates there, are
held on Saturdays as a special exemption.

The French Parliament:
(French: Parlement franais) is
the bicameral legislature of the French
Republic, consisting of the Senate (Snat)
and the National Assembly (Assemble
Each assembly conducts legislative sessions
at a separate location in Paris: the Palais du
Luxembourg for the Senate and the Palais
Bourbon for the National Assembly.
Each house has its own regulations and
rules of procedure. However, they may
occasionally meet as a single house,
the French Congress (Congrs du Parlement
franais), convened at the Chteau de
Versailles, to revise and amend
the Constitution of France.
Parliament meets for one nine-month
session each year: under special
circumstances the President can call an
additional session. Although parliamentary
powers have diminished from those existing
under the Fourth Republic, the National
Assembly can still cause a government to
fall if an absolute majority of the total
Assembly membership votes acensure
motion. As a result, the "gouvernement"
(the term is similar to "cabinet" in the UK or
"administration" in the USA, and consists of
the Prime Minister and ministers) may be
from the same political party as the
Assembly and should be supported by a
majority there to prevent a "motion de
censure" or vote of no-confidence.
However, the President appoints the Prime
Minister and the ministers and is under no
constitutional, mandatory obligation to
make those appointments from the ranks of
the parliamentary majority party; this is a
safe-guard specifically introduced by the
founder of the Fifth Republic, Charles De
Gaulle, to prevent the disarray and horse-
trading caused by the Third and Fourth
Republics parliamentary rgimes; in practice
the prime minister and ministers do come
from the majority although
President Sarkozy did appoint Socialist
ministers or secretary of state-level junior
ministers to his government. Rare periods
during which the President of France is not
from the same political party as the Prime
Minister are usually known as cohabitation.
The President chairs the "conseil des
ministres", not the Prime Minister.
The cabinet (in French: "gouvernement" or,
when it sits in session every Wednesday
"conseil des ministres") has a strong
influence in shaping the agenda of
The government also can link its term to a
legislative text which it proposes, and
unless a motion of censure is introduced
(within 24 hours after the proposal) and
passed (within 48 hours of introduction
thus full procedures last at most 72 hours),
the text is considered adopted without a
vote. However, this procedure has been
limited by the 2008 constitutional
amendment. Legislative initiative rests with
the National Assembly.
Members of Parliament enjoy parliamentary
immunity. Both assemblies have committees
that write reports on a variety of topics. If
necessary, they can establish parliamentary
enquiry commissions with broad
investigative power.
However, the latter possibility is almost
never exercised, since the majority can
reject a proposition by the opposition to
create an investigation commission. Also,
such a commission may only be created if it
does not interfere with a judiciary
investigation, meaning that in order to
cancel its creation, one just needs to press
charges on the topic concerned by the
investigation commission. Since 2008, the
opposition may impose the creation of an
investigation commission once a year, even
against the wishes of the majority.
However, they still can't lead investigations
if there is a judiciary case going on already
(or started after the commission was
*Napoleon Bonaparte- He implemented a wide array of liberal reforms
across Europe, including the abolition of feudalism and the spread
of religious toleration. The first emperor of France, is regarded as one
of the greatest military leaders in the history of the West.
* After a series of costly foreign wars that weakened the government, the French Revolution
plunged France into a bloodbath beginning in 1789 with the establishment of the First
Republic and ending with a new authoritarianism under Napolon Bonaparte, who had
successfully defended the infant republic from foreign attack and then made himself first
consul in 1799 and emperor in 1804. The Congress of Vienna (1815) sought to restore the
pre-Napoleonic order in the person of Louis XVIII, but industrialization and the middle class,
both fostered under Napolon, built pressure for change, and a revolution in 1848 drove Louis
Philippe, last of the Bourbons, into exile. Prince Louis Napolon, a nephew of Napolon I,
declared the Second Empire in 1852 and took the throne as Napolon III. His opposition to the
rising power of Prussia ignited the Franco-Prussian War (18701871), which ended in his
defeat, his abdication, and the creation of the Third Republic.