The Constitution of October 4, 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 reduction of the Presidential term of office (2000).
The Constitutional Council, composed of nine members, is responsible for overseeing the proper functioning of elections and for ruling on the constitutionality of organic laws and legislation submitted to it.
More information at www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr
President of the Republic
The Head of State is elected for a five-year term by direct universal suffrage. The five-year term was established following the referendum of September 24, 2000.
Nicolas Sarkozy became 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).
More information at www.elysee.fr
Prime Minister and Government
Under the direction of the Prime Minister, the government establishes and carries out national policy for which it is accountable before Parliament (article 20).
The Prime Minister directs the operation of the government and ensures the implementation of legislation (article 21). The current Prime Minister François Fillon was appointed on May 17, 2007.
More information at www.premier-ministre.gouv.fr
The Parliament is formed of two assemblies:
- The Senate, elected for a nine-year term by indirect universal suffrage, with one third renewed every three years. The last election took place in September 2004.
- The National Assembly, whose members (deputies) are elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term. The most recent general election was held in June
In addition to providing a check on the Government, the two assemblies draw up and pass legislation. In case of disagreement on a law, the National Assembly makes the final decision.
The Senate has 331 senators divided into the following groups since the September 2004 election :
- Union pour un Mouvement Populaire group (UMP) : 156
- Socialist group : 97
- Union centriste group : 33
- Communiste, républicain et citoyen group: 23
- Rassemblement Démocratique et Social Européen (RDSE): 15
- Not registered in a group: 7
More information at www.senat.fr
The National Assembly
The National Assembly comprises 577 deputies divided into the following groups as of the general election of June 9 and 16, 2002:
- Union pour un mouvement Populaire 35 (plus 10 affiliated)
- Socialistes 141 (plus 8 affiliated)
- Union pour la Démocratie française 27 (plus 4 affiliated)
- Communistes et républicains 22
- Not registered in a group: 11
- Vacant seats: 2
More information at www.assemblee-nationale.fr
The "guardian of individual liberty" (article 66 of the Constitution), the French legal system is organised on the basis of a fundamental distinction between ordinary courts, with jurisdiction over disputes between private individuals or bodies, and administrative courts, with jurisdiction in all cases involving some form of dispute between citizens and public authorities.
There are two types of courts :
> Civil courts:
Ordinary (regional court) or specialised (district courts, commercial courts, social security courts and the Conseils des prud’hommes for labor relations disputes between employees and employers).
> Criminal courts, which distinguish three types of offence:
- Contraventions (petty offences), tried by police courts,
- délits (misdemeanors), tried by criminal courts,
- Crimes (serious indictable offences) tried by the Assize Court (the only court with lay jurors and whose sentences cannot be appealed).
There is a specific court for minors, the Youth Court, for both civil and criminal cases.
The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court of Appeal, which is responsible for examining appeals against the decrees of lower courts.
The Council of State is the supreme administrative court and court of final appeal on the legality of administrative acts.
The government also consults the Council of State on draft legislation and on some draft orders.
National anthem and motto
The national anthem is the Marseillaise, composed in Strasbourg in 1792 and originally known as the Battle Hymn of the Army of the Rhine; it became the national anthem on July 14, 1795.
The motto of the French Republic is "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".
The French flag
In 1789, the Marquis de La Fayette added the colour white, symbolising royalty, to the red and blue cockade of the Paris National Guard. The tricolour flag is the official standard of the French Republic.
In 2004, the defence budget stood at €32.40 billion or 2.01% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 11.42% of the national budget.
Reflecting the determination of the President of the Republic and the Government to equip France with defence resources to meet its requirements, the Defence Programme Law for the period 2003-2008 defines quantified targets for resources and personnel as part of an effort to adjust our defence system to present-day goals and issues.
This is shown by:
- A strengthening of the resources to combat terrorism,
- The security and reliability of French nuclear deterrence,
- France’s involvement in crisis prevention and resolution (operational deployment of 15,000-20,000 military personnel),
- Military co-operation with NATO and the European Union.
In 2004, the French armed forces include:
162,350 in the army
54,656 in the navy
69,276 in the air force
103,806 in the national Gendarmerie
46,620 in joint services (health, social welfare, etc.).
More information at www.defense.gouv.fr