WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic

Article I - Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common utility.

Article II - The goal of any political association is the conservation of the natural and imprescriptible [i.e., inviolable] rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, safety and resistance against oppression.

Article III - The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it.

Article IV - Liberty consists of doing anything which does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of each man has only those borders which assure other members of the society the enjoyment of these same rights. These borders can be determined only by the law.

Article V - The law has the right to ward [i.e., forbid] only actions [which are] harmful to the society. Any thing which is not warded [i.e., forbidden] by the law cannot be impeded, and no one can be constrained to do what it [i.e., the law] does not order.

Article VI - The law is the expression of the general will. All the citizens have the right of contributing personally or through their representatives to its formation. It must be the same for all, either that it protects, or that it punishes. All the citizens, being equal in its eyes, are equally admissible to all public dignities, places and employments, according to their capacity and without distinction other than that of their virtues and of their talents.

Article VII - No man can be accused, arrested nor detained but in the cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Those who solicit, dispatch, carry out or cause to be carried out arbitrary orders, must be punished; but any citizen called [i.e., summoned] or seized under the terms of the law must obey at the moment; he renders himself culpable by resistance.

Article VIII - The law should establish only strictly and evidently necessary penalties, and no one can be punished but under a law established and promulgated before the offense and [which is] legally applied.

Article IX - Any man being presumed innocent until he is declared culpable, if it is judged indispensible to arrest him, any rigor [i.e., action] which would not be necessary for the securing of his person must be severely reprimanded by the law.

Article X - No one may be questioned about his opinions, [and the] same [for] religious [opinions], provided that their manifestation does not trouble the public order established by the law.

Article XI - The free communication of thoughts and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man: any citizen thus may speak, write, print freely, save [if it is necessary] to respond to the abuse of this liberty, in the cases determined by the law.

Article XII - The guarantee of the rights of man and of the citizen necessitates a public force [i.e., a police force]: this force is thus instituted for the advantage of all and not for the particular utility of those to whom it is confided.

Article XIII - For the maintenance of the public force and for the expenditures of administration, a common contribution is indispensable; it must be equally distributed between all the citizens, by reason of their faculties [i.e., ability to pay].

Article XIV - Each citizen has the right of noting, by himself or through his representatives, the necessity of the public contribution, of free consent, of following the employment [of the contributions], and of determining the quotient [i.e., the share], the assessment, the recovering [i.e., the collecting] and the duration.

Article XV - The society has the right of requesting [an] account[ing] from any public agent of its [i.e., the society's] administration.

Article XVI - Any society in which the guarantee of rights is not assured, nor the separation of powers determined, has not a bit of Constitution.

Article XVII - Property being an inviolable and sacred right, no one can be deprived of private usage, if it is not when the public necessity, legally noted, evidently requires it, and under the condition of a just and prior indemnity [i.e., compensation].
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789

France is famous for having gone from a monarchy to a republic, but its political system changed no less than ten--that's right, ten--times since Louis XVI's head came off in 1793.

  • Firstly, France attempted to form a Republic--the First Republic (though of course, they didn't call it that at the time), which can be divided into roughly three parts. The first bit was the infamous Reign of Terror, in which there was no formal executive (the National Convention ran everything), but Robespierre, through his "Committee of Public Safety," ran the show. Then came The Thermidorian Reaction, in which the Reign of Terror ended; this happened in July 1794. The Reaction instituted a "Directory" of five men to hold executive power in France (an arrangement inspired by, of all things, Pennsylvania). This went on for five years, until, in 1799, General Napoleon Bonaparte seized power, more or less forcing the Assembly to declare him "First Consul of the Republic." However, it was still a republic...wasn't it?
  • Napoleon, deciding that being First Consul really didn't suit him, had himself declared Emperor of the French in 1804 [1], thus inaugurating the First Empire (again, they didn't call it that at the time). He set about conquering Europe. The other European powers ganged up on him in various ways, with limited success. But, beginning with his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, he overextended himself militarily, and was defeated and forced to abdicate in 1814. Exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba (as its ruler), he escaped back to France and raised another army, a period known as "The Hundred Days" [2]. Defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, he was exiled, rather more permanently, to the remote Atlantic island of St. Helena.
  • After Napoleon was safely out of everyone's way, Louis XVI's brother, also named Louis, took the throne as Louis XVIII of France[3]. This period is thus known as the Restauration. Louis XVIII reigned fairly uneventfully, leaving the throne to his other brother, Charles X. [4] The monarchy under the Restoration was more or less constitutional, but the king wielded great power, and Charles in particular longed for the might of Louis XIV; at the very least, he wanted to be rid of the pesky parliamentarians and their elections.
  • Eventually, things came to a head, and in July 1830, riots broke out. Charles X was forced to abdicate; his more liberal cousin, Louis-Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, was acclaimed "King of the French," and the constitutional July Monarchy was established. (Les Misérables is set here, against the tumult of the 1830 revolution. It also inspired Eugène Delacroix's painting of the "liberated" Liberty Leading the People.)
  • After eighteen years, however, many of the king's middle-class, liberal supporters began to chafe at the slow pace of reform under Louis-Philippe. In February 1848, revolution broke out, Louis-Philippe abdicated, and the Second Republic was proclaimed. Its first elected president was Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon's seemingly-inept nephew. Through clever manipulation of plebiscites, he managed to get hold of absolute power.
  • Flush with victory and a spirit rather like his uncle's, Louis-Napoleon proclaimed the Second Empire in 1852, declaring himself "Napoleon III" (on the theory that Napoleon's infant son had become "Napoleon II" after Uncle Nap's abdication [5]). In 1870, Napoleon fell into a trap and at war with Otto von Bismarck's Prussia. Briefly put, the Prussians, commanding several other German states as well, roundly kicked France's ass, leading "Napoleon III" to run off to England. Bismarck declared the German Empire at the Palace of Versailles, and annexed Alsace-Lorraine. Paris was taken over by leftists in an episode known as the Paris Commune, but they were bloodily crushed after 70 days [6]. But by the end of 1871, the time had come for a stable government, leading to...
  • The Third Republic. The early years were dominated by disputes among the two flavors of monarchist: the ultraconservative Legitimists, who wanted Charles X's son to become King, and the rather more liberal Orleanists, who supported the descendants of Louis-Philippe. As it happened, Charles X's only son was an elderly bachelor, meaning that they could conceivably have him become King and name the Orleanist claimant as his heir. Although he was willing to hand the throne to the Orleanist claimant,[7] but he refused to become a constitutional figurehead monarch ruling under the republican tricolor (which is what almost everybody wanted). So the royalists took to waiting until he died, so the Orleanist could take the throne. And they waited. And waited. And waited. And for six years the man would not die. Eventually, people got tired of waiting, and before the old sap could die, the French people decided that monarchy really wasn't on anymore if the fate of the country could be decided by the matter of a flag, and after a big crisis on 17 May 1877, the Third Republic settled into the form that it would take until 1940: a parliamentary republic, with very little role for the President and incessantly-changing political alliances.
  • In 1940, France was attacked and partially occupied by Nazi Germany. After their surrender, what remained of the Third Republic government established the Nazi-sympathetic, vaguely fascist Vichy Regime, named after the little town in the middle of the country that they moved their operations to. Though technically the whole country was subject to the Vichy Regime, and indeed it operated the civil administration all over France, the Germans occupied northern France, while southern France was basically German-free until 1942.
  • The Fourth Republic was established after the Second World War. More or less a revival of the Third Republic, it was doing okay until most of France's colonies decided they wanted independence, which brought France into several devastating wars: the First Indochina War, 1946-1954, brought Vietnam its independence until later. Shortly after, its colony Algeria demanded independence. This was not a simple matter: Algeria was also home to a million pieds-noirs (lit. "black feet"), French citizens descended from the previous century's colonization efforts, and they were determined to fight in Algeria "down to the last suitcase". France did so (to the point where Arabs to this day know the Algerian War of Independence as the "War of a Million Martyrs") until it became obvious that the tide of public opinion had turned. (Algeria would gain independence in 1962.) Complicating matters was that the government was woefully unstable: elections happened far more frequently than they really should have, and nobody could keep a majority in Parliament for very long. These two forces together--the failure to fight the colonial wars properly and chronic political instability--led to the eventual agreement that a new arrangement was necessary.
  • Sections of the French army agreed with the French population in Algeria and partly backed former war hero Charles de Gaulle, who recommended the creation of the Fifth French Republic in 1958. When de Gaulle started negotiating with the Algerian nationalists, the French army parts attempted a military coup which failed in three days. The Fifth French Republic is the current one.

France under the Fifth Republic is a semi-presidential unitary system, with both a President and a Prime Minister. This means, in theory, that both the President and PM have quite a bit of power. In Real Life, however, it means:

  • France's leader is the President when his party has the majority in the Parliament.
  • When the President's party does not have the majority in the Parliament, France's leader is the Prime Minister, except with diplomacy and military matters, where the responsibilities are shared. This is called "cohabitation" and it can be tense, especially when the two most important men in France hate each other's guts. This system has happened three times since 1986:
    • When François Mitterrand (left-wing) was President and Jacques Chirac (right-wing) was Prime Minister, 1986-1988.
    • When François Mitterrant (left-wing) was President and Édouard Balladur (right-wing) was Prime Minister, 1993-1995.
    • When Jacques Chirac (right-wing) was President and Lionel Jospin (left-wing) was Prime Minister, 1997-2002.

A very brief period of cohabitation (about a month) is more or less guaranteed to occur in 2012, as the left-wing François Hollande becomes President in mid-May, but the new Parliament is not elected until mid-June, and there isn't much point in appointing a new Cabinet for just one month. French legislative elections can be quite surprising, and given that the right wing has a slight lead in the polls, it is possible that another full term of cohabitation is in the offing.

The president was elected for seven years until a reform in 2000 that turned it into a five-year term. The goal was to synchronize the presidential election with the legislative one, eliminating the odds of a cohabitation. The presidential election is in two turns: usually more than ten candidates run for the office, and only two remain during the second turn.

The French Parliament is officially a bicameral legislature: the lower house (the National Assembly) is elected via Second Ballot (think Louisiana's run-off system), the PM is always from the political majority in the National Assembly, but the president chooses who from the winning party becomes PM (Theorically, the president chooses whoever he wants, but the PM needs the approval of the National Assembly to govern). The Senate is elected by a college of 150,000 great electors (all of them being elected officials, like deputies in the National Assembly, Mayors of the 36.000 French towns, etc...), and co-write the laws with the National Assembly: because its members are not directly elected, they are usually less known that the Deputies, and often accused of being in the Senate because they were unable to win a "real" election.

The president of the Senate is the "second most important person of the State". While not as powerful as the PM, if the President of the Republic dies or is incapacitated, the Senate president assumes his function until the President comes back to work or a new President is elected. Finally the economic, social and ecological council, which is made up of representatives of "professional organizations" (yep: trade unions have their own legislative chamber in France), is the third and least powerful chamber. (It only has a consultative role, yet going against it too often is not the smartest thing to do, being akin to declaring war against the very easy to anger French unions. God knows how many governments have lost elections or became powerless because they pissed them off.)

The Constitutional Council supervises elections and rules on the constitutionnality of laws both before and after they take effect. In this respect, it is similar to the United States Supreme Court, althought it is not at the top of the judicial hierarchy. Indeed, due to the particular organization of its judicial branch, it could be said that France has three Supreme Courts. The " Cour de Cassation" is the court of last resort for all judicial cases ( civil and criminal) and the " Conseil d'Etat" (lit. Council of State) -which also has some advisory functions to the executive-, for all administrative cases. The members of the Constitutional Council are 9 councillors nominated by the "three presidents" (President of the Republic, president of the National Assembly and president of the Senate). Former Presidents of the Republic are rightful members. The council currently has 12 members, with three surviving former Presidents of the Republic : Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Presidents of the Fifth Republic (starting from 1959) are as follows:

File:DeGaulle 2801.jpg
  • Charles de Gaulle (1959-1969): As a general, he became the chief of the Free French Forces during World War 2 after the fall of France. Talked on British radio on June 18th 1940 about fighting on. Needless to say, he became a hero of La Résistance. Became President due to his being rock-like and firm in the face of the Algerian War, although it turned out that he wasn't firm and rock-like the way his supporters wanted, and in fact gave Algeria its independence. Canadians remember him best for his infamous "Vive le Quebec libre!" comment at Expo 67 in Montreal, which emboldened Quebec separatists and pissed off English Canadians to no end. Despite his charisma and popularity, he was seen more and more as dictator-like as his term went on, and was considered way too conservative for the France of The Sixties - May 1968 will attest as much. He managed to survive the May 1968 revolt by calling a snap election where his party won a crushing majority, but quit after a referendum on reforming the Senate and administrative divisions was overwhelmingly defeated, because he had promised to resign if it failed. He is still seen as one of the greatest Frenchmen of all time. Famously depicted as very tall, with a big nose, wearing a military uniform with the trademark two-starred kepi and forming a "V" with his raised arms.
File:Pompidou 9733.jpg
  • Georges Pompidou (1969-1974): He is mostly famous for his huge eyebrows and keeping his cigarette in his mouth when in public, which was a good thing for political cartoonists. Ironically, he didn't die from throat cancer as one would assume, but from Waldenström's disease. Pompidou was less (way less) hostile to the European Economic Community than de Gaulle, his good relations with Chancellor Willy Brandt helping the emergence of the famed Franco-German cooperation, and he broke with his predecessor's obstructionism by voting in favour of the UK's membership. On the domestic front, he spent his first year in office dealing with the devaluation of the franc after the paralysis of May 1968, and his last year saw the long post-war boom (or the trente gloriouses, "thirty glorious years" despite only lasting from 1945 to 1973) sputter to a halt in the midst of the 1973 oil crisis.
    • Another thing he is associated with is the Pompidou Center, or "Beaubourg", a modern art museum with a... remarkable (and controversial) architecture. It started a tradition among presidents to create a cultural monument: The Louvre Pyramid for Mitterrand and the Quai Branly Museum for Chirac.
File:Giscard 391.jpg
  • Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1981): The youngest president of the Fifth Republic, he is mostly famous for telling Miterrand that he "doesn't have the monopoly of the heart", being seen as an arrogant douchebag, being accused of being offered diamonds by Central African dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and still being alive despite being very old now. Despite being a center-right President, he spearheaded liberal reforms on such social issues as the age of majority (reduced from 21 to 18), divorce, birth control, and abortion, and instituted France's high-speed rail and nuclear power systems. He is a major proponent of European integration.
File:Mitterrand 7575.jpg
  • François Mitterrand (1981-1995): The longest-serving President. He is the first left-wing President to be elected in the Fifth Republic. He has a daughter out of wedlock, Mazarine Pingeot. Mitterrand, who had become very unpopular in his later years, saw a surge of his popularity when his daughter's existence was made public. First, it happens that Mitterrand took care of his daughter: instead of hiding her far away from him, he secretly raised her while he was president. (Note: when French people talk about "family values", they are talking about being a good parent and not abandoning your kids. This is very different from the American definition of the term, which is basically a synonym for "conservative Christian values.") Second, as Holier Than Thou attitudes are seen by a great majority of French citizens as Straw Hypocrisy 101, only a few of Mitterrand's ennemies criticized him about this; actually, Giscard knew about Mitterrand's double life since The Seventies and never used it publicly against him. He was diagnosed a prostate cancer in 1981 and kept it hidden from public attention until 1992, as it would have seriously prevented his chances to be re-elected. He died of it at age 80 in 1996.
    • While he and his party initially attempted to follow a left-wing, Keynesian program in office, backtracking ensued rather quickly after it led to capital flight and problems with France's adherence to the Exchange Rate Mechanism, and for the rest of his term governance followed a centrist approach. Some of his term's policies, such as an increased minimum wage, the abolishment of the death penalty, the solidarity tax on wealth or the reduction of the legal workweek to 39 hours, have survived to this day despite being at times repealed (the solidarity tax on wealth was canceled in 1986 by a right-wing government, only to be reinstated in 1988 when the Socialists regained the Prime Minister's office) or failed to be implemented initially (the promised 35-hour workweek came about in 2000). Controversially, Mitterrand ordered the bombing of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship in 1985, is alleged to have sabotaged Western involvement during the Rwandan Genocide due to Misplaced Nationalism and favouritism towards the Rwandan dictatorship, abused the French anti-terrorist laws and established a special monitoring office to hide Mazarine's existence from the public, was revealed in 1994 to have held a bureaucratic post in Pétain's government, and his Prime Ministers after 1988 presided over a long string of scandals that tarnished the party, from the usual corruption up to knowingly giving haemophiliacs HIV-infected blood. By the end of his term, the Socialists and their allies had become so unpopular they'd suffered crushing defeats in the local and parliamentary elections of 1992 and 1993.
File:Chirac 3082.jpg
  • Jacques Chirac (1995-2007): Has an old reputation for being a crook and a liar, and yet managing to remain sympathetic to the public. Apparently, succeeded in winning the 1995 elections because a puppet satirizing him in the news-comedy show Les Guignols De L Info was very funny and likeable to viewers; his 2002 Landslide Election victory was because his opponent was a far-right nationalist. Became famous overseas for opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The main "antagonist" of Obelix and Co. was based on him (during his days as Prime Minister). Some would never live down his comment that there were too many immigrants in France, not to mention "the noise and the smell" that'd badger honest French citizens. Has a bit of a reputation as unprincipled: he campaigned in 1995 promising to "heal the social fracture" only to appoint a government that tried to push reforms of public services, controversially announced more atomic tests in 1995 before abandoning them after mere months, made the Call of Cochin in 1976 criticising the EEC-friendly Gaullists only to become a strong EU supporter in office, and so on. His first government, led by Alain Juppé, bombed so spectacularly (proposed changes to labour laws and public healthcare in 1995 led to France's largest strikes since 1968) he dissolved the National Assembly and called fresh elections to try and get a stronger mandate. This move backfired when a leftist coalition won a large majority, leading to a cohabitation with the socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin from 1997 to 2002, and making Chirac the first President to lose a snap election he called. D'Estaing holds a lifelong grudge against him because he feels that Chirac intentionally split the vote and helped Mitterrand win in 1981. Was previously the Prime Minister twice (between 1974-1976 and 1986-1988) and Mayor of Paris between 1977-1995, during which time he was accused of corruption and ultimately convicted after leaving office. The French electorate's view of him when he left office can be largely summed up as "good riddance" (and he was also severely unpopular in his first two years in office), whereas nowadays it's a bit closer to "y'know, he probably wasn't as bad as we thought."
    • An interesting piece of trivia: thanks to the 2002 election, Chirac simultaneously holds the record for winning a presidential election with the lowest percentage of votes (19,88% in the first round) and highest percentage of votes (82,21% in the second round), because the far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen had just enough votes to beat the socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round (16,86% to 16,18%) thanks to vote-splitting among the left but drew absolutely no sympathy outside of his electorate.
File:Sarkozy 4817.jpg
  • Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012): The most unpopular President of the Fifth Republic so far. When serving as Minister of the Interior, he was famous for his harsh anti-immigrant stance and getting rough against crime. His election as President was largely based on his charisma and the fact that he managed to attract numerous votes from the far-right, nobody else dared to do it before him. When elected, at the top of his popularity, he had the not-so-brilliant idea of partying in a very posh restaurant, having a holiday on a luxury yacht and tripling his own wage in the days following his election - suffice to say his socialite lifestyle during a time of economic crisis and painful austerity policies pissed of voters quite fiercely. He divorced his wife (his second divorce) and remarried supermodel Carla Bruni (not exactly First Lady material), who is often the focus of celebrity magazines. One of the biggest things the public would Never Live It Down is him replying "Get lost, dumbass!" to a man who refused to shake his hand ("Touch me not!")... on TV, too! (And while one of his minister was telling him "We're being filmed right now"). He was often mocked for his lower-than-average size and temper, which has brought many comparisons of him to Napoléon Bonaparte. Countless songs and parodies have actually been written about his temper, German Chancellor Angela Merkel once compared him to French actor Louis De Funès. Has been heavily criticized for trying to make his own son the president of the "EPAD", one of the biggest business district in the world, while said son was only 23 years old, and had no qualifications whatsoever. He is the father of the little Giulia since November 2011, given to him by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, becoming the first French president to become father during his term. He confirmed he will quit politics for good after the official transfer of power to François Hollande.
    • His unpopularity also comes from his cold disregard for massive popular protests, unlike Chirac who at least knew when to back down (see Juppé's failed 1995 reforms, or Dominique de Villepin's proposed changes to employment laws being scrapped in 2006 in the face of widespread opposition). He passed his first university reform (2007) during the summer vacation just after he was elected and the second one (2009) caused an unprecedented three month national strike in French universities. In 2008, he made the parliament ratify the Lisbon Treaty, even though the same treaty had been rejected by referendum in 2005[8]. And in 2010, the reform to push back the retirement age (which he had initially promised not to do) caused the biggest demonstrations since 1968. Add to that some doubts regarding his links to billionaire businesswoman Liliane Bettencourt (France's richest woman) and some African dictators, as well as numerous scandals involving members of his government (corruption, racism...), and it is needless to say a good part of French people grew really, really tired of him.
File:Hollande 6528.jpg
  • François Hollande (2012-current): The second left-wing President to be elected in the Fifth Republic, and the first non-married one. He has four children from his previous relation with Ségolène Royal (who was the socialist candidate for presidency in 2007) and his current mate is a political journalist, Valérie Trierweiler. First Secretary of the Socialist Party for eleven years between 1997 and 2008, he is also deputy of the National Assembly for Corrèze's 1st Constituency and President of the General Council of Corrèze [9]. His programme includes reflation and renegotiation of current European austerity policies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will likely not give up. Time will tell. Other notable scheduled measures include : retirement age back to 60 for people who started to work early in their life (18 mostly), increased minimum wage, massive taxes on highest financial incomes, capping tax loopholes, reducing the share of nuclear power in electricity generation, legalization of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption...

France used to be a very centralized country (Paris' urban area still has almost 20% of the population), but in recent times political power has become more decentralized. France is divided in 26 semi-autonomous Regions, 101 Departments (the most recent admitted being the teensy island of Mayotte), and more than 36,000 towns, cities, and villages: each of those subdivisions has its own responsibilities and control over its budget. By a ironic twist of fate, while the President (until recently) and National Assembly are conservative, most big cities, 60% of the Departments and 92% of the Regions are left-wing ruled. This, of course, creates more tension between the state and the local collectivities. Since October 2011, the Senate also has a left-wing majority, for the first time in the Fifth Republic. And this may be the case of the NA very soon.

Currently, the main parties of French politics are (from left to right) [10]

  • Lutte Ouvrière (LO, Workers' Struggle): A (very) old trotskyst party which gives great importance to the defense of workers' rights and revolution. Formerly led by Arlette Laguiller, who was the first woman to run in a French presidential election. Which she did 6 successive times.
    • Their candidate for the 2012 presidential election was Nathalie Arthaud (economy and management teacher). She scored 0.5%.
  • Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA, New Anticapitalist Party): Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A refoundation of an old trotskyst party, led by young postman Olivier Besancenot until recently, composed of and led by mostly non-professional militants, and proud of this fact. They put an emphasis on ecological and social issues and like the previous party, they consider only social struggle can bring any change.
    • Their candidate for 2012 was Philippe Poutou (worker in a car factory). He scored 1.5%.
  • Front De Gauche (Left Front): A gathering of several radical leftwing parties engaged in 2009. It includes the French Communist Party (PCF) led by Pierre Laurent, which was nearly dead after its disastrous score in 2007 (2%); the Left Party (PG) founded in 2009 by Jean-Luc Mélenchon who slammed the PS's door because of its more and more right-wing orientations; the Unitary Left (GU) led by Christian Picquet, a scission from the NPA (which refuses to join the Left Front); and four other small formations. The Left Front calls for a Constituency Assembly and a Sixth Republic. Their ideas are mostly similar to the NPA but they are less defiant towards change by institutions. In 2012 they were the emerging force of the election, and made an impression with massive open-air gatherings in Paris (120 000 people), Toulouse (70 000) and Marseille (100 000).
    • Their candidate for 2012 was Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Member of European Parliament). He scored 11%.
  • Europe-Écologie/Les Verts (EELV, Europe-Ecology/The Greens): A fusion between the old Green party and a more recent party led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a famous figure of the May 68 protests who is now more of a centrist. Currently, the party is led by Cecile Duflot. The political spectrum within the alliance is quite large, from de-growth activists to centrist liberals. Thus, the political line of the party is rather blurry.
    • Their candidate for 2012 was Éva Joly (a former Franco-Norwegian examining judge). She scored 2.5%.
  • Parti Socialiste (PS): The main left-wing party, currently in power, created in 1969. [11] Although it implemented a few acclaimed social reforms while in power (like the abolition of death penalty, the Minimum Income of Insertion, the Tax on Large Fortunes or the 35 hours working week), since the mid-80s, its economic views have progressively switched to the right, making it some kind of French Democratic Party. It antagonized many left-wing voters after most of its deputies and senators abstained for the vote on the Lisbon Treaty (2008) and more recently the vote on the European Stability Mechanism (March 2012), both of which they could have blocked. Currently led by Martine Aubry… or by God only knows who.
    • Their candidate for 2012 was François Hollande (deputy of the Corrèze department). He scored 28% in the first round and won the second round with 51,5%.
  • Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem): the main centrist party, founded by the former lead of the Union for French Democracy (UDF), François Bayrou (deputy of Pyrénées-Atlantique). Economically mildly liberal, it created a surprise in 2007 with a score of 18,5%, but nothing ensued from it. Bayrou explicitly cites the American Democrats as an inspiration (hard to believe, we know, but the "neither socialist nor conservative" thing is actually kind of appealing to some in France), and actually tried to call his party Parti démocratique, but learned that some dinky party nobody had ever heard of already had the name.
    • Their candidate for 2012 was François Bayrou once more. He scored 9.5%.
  • Debout la République (DLR, Stand Up Republic): Formerly a trend within the UMP, led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, it seceded and became an independent party in 2007, to represent the Gaullist right-wing. They defend a Keynesian capitalism against a deregulated, financial one, as well as a confederal model for the European Union. They also promote the Euro as a common reference currency while getting back national currencies in parallel.
    • Their candidate for 2012 was Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Deputy of the Essone department). He scored 2%.
  • Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement): Founded in 2002 by Jacques Chirac, it's actually a gathering of several right-wing parties but is basically the Spiritual Successor of the former Rally For Republic (RPR). [12] Known for its neoliberal economic views and its harsh positions on immigration and insecurity (even more so since Nicolas Sarkozy took the lead and wanted to attract far-right voters). If the PS is the Democratic Party, they are the Republicans. Currently led by Jean-François Copé. But as with the PS…
    • Their candidate for 2012 was the outgoing president, Nicolas Sarkozy. He scored 27% in the first round but was beaten in the second round with 48,5%.
  • Front National (FN): The main nationalist party, founded in the 70s by Jean-Marie Le Pen. Now led by his daughter Marine, and currently trying to un-demonize itself by tackling finance and neoliberalism (which it still promoted back in 2007). Ironically, they are no more considered antisemitic but are now seen as anti-islamic instead… They are even harsher on insecurity and immigration than the UMP, they're also against the Euro currency and promoted the return of death penalty in France. Notable for reaching the second turn in 2002, dovetailing the socialist candidate with 17%; if French people talk about "April 21", it refers to this. Yes, it was that big a shock. In 2012, Marine Le Pen managed to attract numerous votes among workers with her protectionist promises and capitalized heavily on anti-globalization and the hatred towards Nicolas Sarkozy (who attracted many FN voters in 2007 with his harsh positions on immigration and insecurity). The FN is now considered the third major French political party, to many people's dismay and fear.
    • Their candidate for 2012 was Marine Le Pen (Member of European Parliament). She scored 18%.

Depictions in fiction

  • Les Misérables was mentioned above as being set during the July revolution of 1830. This is true: the majority of the book's action, and its most famous scenes, concern the student revolts. But Victor Hugo's epic spans a far greater period of time. The book's first viewpoint character, the Bishop of Digne, is described as a nobleman who escaped the Terror and once met Emperor Napoleon. Fantine, an orphan, was born in that same era, when there was no church and legal records were chaotic. Many years later, when Jean Valjean finds Cosette, he slips a gold Louis into her shoe on Christmas Eve, setting her adoption as during the Restoration -- all this in the first half of the book.


  1. (he did not, however, snatch his crown from the Pope’s hands - that’s apocryphal)
  2. (not completely accurate, but close enough)
  3. their full, non-regnal names were Louis-Auguste (XVI) and Louis Stanislas Xavier (XVIII); Louis XVII was Louis XVI’s 8-year-old son Louis-Charles, who was considered to have inherited the title at his father’s death, though he was never crowned or anointed, and died aged 10, a prisoner of the Republic
  4. Born Charles Philippe, since you asked.
  5. Napoleon had formally declared his son to be this, and demanded recognition of this as a condition of his surrender and abdication, but was refused and forced to surrender unconditionally, renouncing all his descendants' right to rule
  6. The Commune is pretty much the first actual application of Socialism, during which the song L'Internationale was written. As brief as it was, some modern leftwing parties such as the Left Front still attach a great importance to it.
  7. He had the strongest claim anyway...unless you claim that Louis XIV had no right to give up his grandson Philip's claim to the French throne with the Treaty of Utrecht that settled the War of the Spanish Succession...yes, royalist politics can get a bit odd at times.
  8. More precisely, the rejected treaty was supposed to establish a "European Constitution", but the Lisbon Treaty is essentially the same thing, just rewritten a bit here and there
  9. Jacques Chirac carried on the very same functions in Corrèze. He and Hollande are good friends
  10. Note the words "liberal" and "liberalism" refer to right-wing, liberal capitalism here, not leftists.
  11. Initially there was one big socialist party called SFIO (Section française de l'internationale ouvrière, French Section of the Workers' International), then after the Tours congress in 1920, a majority joined the Third Communist International (read: the USSR) and became the French Communist Party, while the rest stayed away from it and became the Socialist Party in 1969. That's a very breif summary but we won't go into the details of the French left's tumultuous and convoluted history here
  12. In the very beginning, UMP used to mean "Union pour la majorité presidentielle" or "union for a presidential majority". Richard Nixon, anyone? Better try not to think too hard about it, honni soit qui mal y pense.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.