The System of Government in France

p. 362 - 363

The Martins and the Bernards are arguing about a favourite French topic: politics. In their argument, they mention the president, the National Assembly, the socialists and the right. They are all part of France's system of government.

France is a republic. The national government is made up of a president, a prime minister, other ministers and Parliament, which includes the National Assembly and the Senate. The president and all members of Parliament are elected.

The president appoints the prime minister, and together they choose the other' ministers. The president has the most powerful role in the government. He decides what will be done in all the areas he considers important. The prime minister must get Parliament to pass the laws the president wants passed. The prime minister also makes decisions in areas not covered by the president.

What happens if the prime minister does not agree with the president, or if Parliament will not pass the president's laws? The president can dismiss the prime minister at any time. He can dissolve the National Assembly and hold new elections. He can also hold a referendum, or a vote in which all the people of the country can decide on his policy. Most often, though, the president and the prime minister persuade Parliament to pass the laws the president wants.

France has two kinds of political parties. Parties on the right, which include conservatives and moderates, believe that government should do less. They think that private business and citizens should be left alone to do as they wish, provided they are not injuring other people.

Parties on the right want less government spending and lower taxes. They believe the national government should have a great deal of control over the different departments of France. Parties on the left range from socialists to communists. Socialists believe that government should help people through programs that share the country's wealth with everyone. They support government-owned industries. They like such measures as higher minimum wages, longer holidays for workers and health programs. They tend to support the idea that the departments of France should have more control over their own affairs. Communists believe that the government should control the economy completely. They want to see everything divided equally among the workers.

Sometimes the left is in power, and sometimes the right is in power. Since the French are almost evenly divided in voting for left and right, half of them are always unhappy with the government.
. What are some of the differences between parties on the right and parties on the left in France?

France is divided into 95 districts called departments. In each department the General Council and the commissioner decide about questions affecting that department. There are also many urban communities and local areas. Each has a mayor and a council to look after its affairs.

France also has a number of overseas departments and territories, all former colonies. The departments, which include a small group of islands off Canada's east coast called St. Pierre and Miquelon, are run exactly as departments in mainland France. The territories are run mainly by people appointed by the national government.

Charles de Gaulle

Charles de Gaulle (sharl' de gol) as president of France from 1944 to 1945 and from 1959 to 1969. Known as "Le Grand Charles", he had been captured in World War I by the Germans and tried to escape five times. During World War II, he was a colonel and then a general. When France surrendered to the Germans, de Gaulle refused to give up. He went to England to make radio broadcasts urging the French to resist the Germans. He so led the Free French forces in North Africa.

After the war, de Gaulle returned to France as the head of the government. When a new constitution gave more power to parliament and less to the president, he resigned. In 1958, de Gaulle was asked to return as president.

De Gaulle believed that France should be strong and the president should have a great deal of power. He made the office of president much more powerful. de Gaulle died in 1970 at the age of 80.