Written by Yann-Sven Rittelmeyer.
Introduction to France’s parliamentary system
The role of the French Parliament has varied under successive French Republics. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic, adopted in 1958, was amended by referendum in 1962 to establish the direct election of the President by universal suffrage. This created a hybrid political regime with some presidential and some parliamentary characteristics, sometimes described as a ‘semi-presidential regime’ or a ‘hyper-presidential’ regime.
The government is responsible to Parliament, but contrary to classical parliamentary regimes, the President plays an important role. The President has the power to dissolve the National Assembly (Assemblée nationale). He or she appoints the Prime Minister, as well as – on the recommendation of the Prime Minister – the other members of the government.
Traditionally, the Prime Minister makes the government’s programme or a general policy statement an issue of a vote of confidence before the National Assembly. The latter can overthrow the government, but is largely subordinate to the executive – consisting of the President and the government placed under the authority of the Prime Minister. In periods of ‘cohabitation‘, the National Assembly plays a greater role in supporting the Prime Minister, who in this specific configuration acts as leader of the majority.
Legislative powers are exercised by the two houses, who vote on laws, monitor government action and assess public policy. The National Assembly (Assemblée nationale) is elected for five years by direct universal suffrage. The indirectly elected Senate (Sénat) represents the ‘territorial communities of the Republic’ (Article 24 of the Constitution) and shares legislative power with the National Assembly. It embodies continuity, as it cannot be dissolved and half of its Members are renewed every three years. However, in cases of disagreement, the National Assembly has the final say.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The French Parliament and EU affairs‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.