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Useful Notes / French Political System

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The Palais Bourbon in Paris, home of the lower legislative house of every French government since 1798, up to and including today's French National Assembly.

"Article I - Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common utility."
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789note 

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

Presidents of the Fifth Republic are now listed here, along with the other French presidents.

  • 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 note , in which there was no formal executive (the National Convention ran everything), but Robespierre and the "Committee of Public Safety" ran the show −at least theoretically−, while France was at war with the neighbouring monarchies and the 1793 constitution ended up stillborn. 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 Napoléon Bonaparte seized power, more or less forcing the Assembly to declare him "First Consul of the Republic," inaugurating the "Consulate" in which, despite there being three Consuls, the First Consul held a truly remarkable amount of power. However, it was still a republic, if only in theory.
  • Napoleon, deciding that being First Consul really didn't suit him, had himself declared Emperor of the French in 1804 note , 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 successnote . 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" note . 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,note  largely because Louis XVIII had spent the revolutionary years in England (building connections that brought him British support) and because Talleyrand persuaded the Russian Emperor, Alexander I, to support a Bourbon restoration (Alexander had previously favored installing Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte—at the time Crown Prince of Sweden, don't ask why—as the new Emperor under Napoleon's constitution).note  This period is thus known as the Restoration. Louis XVIII reigned fairly uneventfully, leaving the throne to his other brother, Charles X. note  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,note  was acclaimed "King of the French," and the constitutional July Monarchy was established. (Les Misérablesnote  is set here, against the tumult of the 1830 revolution and subsequent revolts. 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. He promptly overthrew the government in a military coup d'etat and held a rigged plebiscite granting him 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 note ), thus earning the dubious distinction of becoming both the first elected president and last monarch of France's history. His reign is a complex back-and-forth between periods of hard monarchy and more liberal ones. He is also known for having legalized the perhaps frenchest labour tradition: going on strikenote . Napoleon III got France involved in wars (against Austria in Italy and against Russia on the Crimea) and foreign adventures, like the disastrous attempt to install an emperor in Mexico. In 1870, Napoleon fell into a trap and went to 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 go into exile in England after his release from captivity in Kassel (former residence of one of his other uncles, King Jérôme Bonaparte of Westphalia). Bismarck declared the German Empire at the Palace of Versailles, and annexed Alsace-Lorraine. Paris was taken over by socialists in an episode known as the Paris Commune, but they were bloodily crushed after 70 days note . But by the end of 1871, the time had come for a stable government, leading to...
  • The Third Republic. This was proclaimed after Napoleon III surrendered to the German armies at Sedan in 1870, but the subsequent course of the war meant that its provisional government had to leave Paris and only returned, first to Versailles, then to Paris, after the peace treaty with the new German Empire was concluded. The early years were dominated by disputes among the two flavors of monarchist: the ultraconservative Legitimists, who were by and large aristocratic and/or deeply Catholic and wanted Charles X's grandson to become King, and the rather more liberal Orléanists, largely bourgeois or otherwise middle-class, who supported the descendants of Louis-Philippe. Between them, they had a large majority, and the Orléanists had a plurality, so they sought to make a deal—you know, standard parliamentary negotiations. They quickly settled on a governing platform and agreed in principle to the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, the only sticking point being who would become king—and on that front, they found themselves (they thought) in luck.

    As it happened, Charles X's only grandson, Henri, Comte de Chambord, was an elderly childless bachelor, meaning that they could have him become King and name the Orléanist claimant, Louis-Philippe's son Philippe, comte de Paris, as his heir. All it would take to make this work was the assent of both of the royals in question. Philippe had no problem waiting, as anticipated. But although the Comte de Chambord was willing to hand the heirship to the throne to the Comte de Paris,note  he refused to become a constitutional figurehead monarch ruling under the republican tricolor (which is what almost everybody wanted—even the Legitimists). So the royalists took to waiting until he died, so Philippe 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 Chambord (1820-1883) could kick the bucket, the French people decided that monarchy really wasn't on anymore if the fate of the country could be decided by the matter of one man's opinions about a flag and voted in a republican majority in Parliament for the first time (as a result, republicans like Georges Clemenceau joked that the Comte de Chambord was "the French Washington": the man without whom the Republic would not exist).

    After a big crisis on 17 May 1877 (involving a constitutional dispute between a monarchist president and republican parliament) 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. It was the world's first parliamentary republic in the modern sense—i.e. with a figurehead President and all-powerful Prime Minister, essentially the republican version of a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. This system (with minor variations) is today actually the most common form of government in Europe—though funnily enough, France doesn't use it (see the Fifth Republic below).

    For all its alleged instability, the Third Republic has thus far proved to be the longest-lived French regime since 1789, lasting just under 70 years. (The only other system to come close—the current system, the Fifth Republic—won't match it until 2028.note )
  • 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 Etat Français ("French State"), better known as the 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 (minus Nice, occupied by Fascist Italy) 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 for a bit. Shortly after, Algeria also demanded independence. This was not a simple matter: Algeria was not just part of France (for well over a century, northern Algeria was politically considered no different than any region of mainland France, with full voting rights and representation in Parliament), but also home to a million pieds-noirs (lit. "black feet"), ethnic French citizens descended from the previous century's settlement 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 she couldn't pour the resources she needed into the war-effort without wrecking her economy and that the tide of public opinion within France itself had turned (Algeria would gain independence in 1962). Complicating matters was that the government shared the woeful instability of the Third Republic: elections happened far more frequently than they really should have, and nobody could keep a majority in Parliament for very long. The first president of the Fourth Republic, Vincent Auriol, endured 18 different governments in a seven-year term in office; on leaving he stated "The work was killing me; they called me out of bed at all hours of the night to receive resignations of prime ministers!" 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, parts of the French army 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. Since 2002, both the president and the parliament have 5-year terms which makes cohabitation a lot less likely. It has however happened three times in the past:
    • When François Mitterrand (left-wing) was President and Jacques Chirac (right-wing) was Prime Minister, 1986-1988.
    • When François Mitterrand (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.

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 or at least seriously reducing 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. This leads to one of the more likely scenarios for a future cohabitation: if there were to be another repeat of the 2002 race (in which the far-right candidate managed to make it into the second round because the mainstream left was too fractured, giving the center-right candidate an easy second-round victory; theoretically the opposite could happen but it's unlikely as historically there are fewer right-wing parties and presidential candidates), and the left is less unpopular than the Socialists were in 2002 and actually manage to win a parliamentary majority, it's not inconceivable that you could get a cohabitation then.note 

The French Parliament is a bicameral legislature: the lower house (the National Assembly) is elected via Second Ballotnote , the PM is always from the political majority in the National Assembly, but the president chooses who from the winning party becomes PM (theoretically, 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 than the Deputies note , and often accused of being in the Senate because they were unable to win a "real" election. The same criticism is often leveled at candidates to the European Parliament, which is one of a number of reasons why few French voters care about the European elections.

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. note  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 constitutionality of laws both before and after they take effect. In this respect, it is similar to the United States Supreme Court, although it is not at the top of the judicial hierarchy. The French have an allergy to judicial power and judge-made law dating back to the parlements (which were law courts) of the ancien regime, and as such have developed a highly complex and overlapping judicial system designed to confound the ability of judges to act as a check on the other two branches; as a result, the Constitutional Council is one of three high judicial bodies in France. The "Cour de Cassation" is the court of last resort for all judicial cases (civil and criminal) and is the only one of the three bodies that is strictly judicial. 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 councilors 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 two surviving former Presidents of the Republic : Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Nicolas Sarkozy. Although Nicolas Sarkozy has since resigned from it, since 1. members of the Constitutional Council are supposed to stay neutral with regard to party politics and 2. because the CC decided to invalidate his 2012 presidential campaign funds. François Hollande, most recent former president, is allowed to join but has not sat on the council as of October 2022 and pledged to never do so.

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; this is just as well, since France really is quite diverse and benefits when government recognizes that. 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 an ironic twist of fate, until recently, while the President and National Assembly were conservative, most big cities, 60% of the Departments and all but one Region was left-wing ruled. This, of course, created more tension between the state and the local collectivities. In October 2011, the left also gained a majority in Senate, for the first time in the Fifth Republic, but lost it in 2014. The PS also lost many departments to the right in the 2015 departmental elections.

Currently, the main parties of French politics − at least those you are likely to hear or read about in the media − are (from left to right) note
  • Lutte Ouvrière (LO, Workers' Struggle): A (very) old Trotskyist party which gives great importance to the defense of workers' rights and revolution. They developed a rather secretive culture due to a history of being hunted both by the Nazis and the Stalinists during the War. Its most famous spokeswoman was Arlette Laguiller, who was the first woman to run in a French presidential election. Which she did 6 successive times, scoring as high as 5-6% in 1995 and 2002. Like all Trotskyist parties, though, they don’t really care about winning elections, only using them as platforms to make their voice heard. The party is notorious for its utter refusal to make alliances with anyone, even the ideologically and militantly close NPA.
    • Their candidate for the 2022 presidential election was Nathalie Arthaud (economy and management teacher) in her third attempt. She placed last, at 0.6% of the votes.
  • Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA, New Anticapitalist Party): Exactly What It Says on the Tin. A refoundation of an old Trotskyst party (the Revolutionary Communist League, LCR), whose most famous figures are postman Olivier Besancenot in the 2000s and Philippe Poutou in the 2010s.note  They're 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 brings any change. In 2021, the party split, with its revolutionary faction becoming the party "Revolution Permanente" (RP, Continuous Revolution). RP unsuccessfully tried to have its own candidate, Anasse Kazib, run for the 2022 election.
    • Their candidate for 2022 was Philippe Poutou (worker and union leader in a car factory) in his third attempt. He placed second to last, with 0.8% of the votes.
  • La France Insoumise (LFI, Unyielding France): A movement (they don't want to be called a "party") created by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former Socialist Party senator, who slammed its door in 2008 because of its increasingly rightwing orientations. After his departure he created the small Parti de Gauche (PG, Left Party) with fellow socialist dissidents, and forged an alliance with the Communist Party and several other small formations to create the Front de Gauche (FG, Left Front). All was well until the 2012 presidential election and the future looked bright, but soon after the Front started to fall apart, mostly because of persisting political and strategic disagreements with the Communists and Mélenchon's character getting on some people's nerves. Mélenchon grew tired of that and in February 2016 launched a new movement called La France Insoumise to start his presidential campaign without waiting for the Communists' support. LFI's program puts an emphasis on institutional reform through a constituency assembly for a 6th Republic, as well as on environmental issues by opposing nuclear power and intensive chemical agriculture. Other points include leaving NATO and the WTO, and disobeying European treaties if they contradict their platform. In just over a year, the movement became the de facto leading force of the left following the PS’s collapse in 2017, but failed to really expand its influence in other electionsnote , with internal tensions mostly due to their leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon being a very polarizing character. Despite that, following the 2022 presidential elections they managed to form a coalition with the following three leftwing parties for the next parliament elections, something that seemed unthinkable just a month prior.
    • Their candidate in 2022 was Jean-Luc Mélenchon in his third and allegedly last attempt. He had the first round's third best score with 22% of the votes. They won 75 seats at the National Assembly in 2022, out of 151 seats for the alliance they spearheaded, the "NUPES".
  • Parti Communiste Français (PCF, French Communist Party): In the early 20th century, there was a heated debate within the original socialist party, the SFIO note  about whether they should pursue gradual reform or total revolution, especially after the Russian Revolution happened in 1917. The result was the Tours congress in 1920, where a majority split to become the French Communist Party, and joined the Communist International led by the Bolsheviks. The PCF was a very strong and radical party, weighing around 20% of voters for decades, and also used to hold controversial views, notably defending Stalin and the USSR despite evidence of their less-than-stellar track record... And then, François Mitterrand happened (see the Socialist Party below). Long story short, from the eighties on the party experienced a steady decline, not helped by the fall of the Soviet Union, as their political views gradually became more moderate and consensual. The short-lived governmental alliance with the Socialists in the late nineties was but a brief respite, and by 2007 the party was ailing, scoring less than 2% in the presidential election. Between 2009 and 2015, they were the leading force of the Left Front alliance, but even that eventually fell through, and now the PCF doesn't quite know where it's going. The party shares quite a few common views with LFI, but also clashes with them on some major issues, notably regarding ecology (they're largely pro-nuclear). It is currently led by Fabien Roussel. Also, the century-old daily "L'Humanité" was the party's official newspaper until the mid-nineties and remains closely connected to it.
    • Their candidate in 2022 was Fabien Roussel. He ended up with 2.3% of the vote. They obtained 12 seats at the National Assembly in 2022 as part of the "NUPES" alliance (151 seats in total).
  • 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 (and left the party a few years later). Currently, the party is led by David Corman. 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, but mostly on the center-left. During the 2012 election, they forged an agreement with the Socialist Party and participated in their government until April 2014, when the nomination of the very right-wing Manuel Valls as prime minister was a hard pill to swallow for them. Nowadays, their activist base is more or less split in half between a liberal line close the PS led by Yannick Jadot and a more left-leaning line led by Sandrine Rousseau. The former won the party’s primary for the 2022 election by a small margin. Electorally, the party has the opposite problem from LFI: they tend to perform decently in local and European elections but very poorly in presidential onesnote .
    • Their candidate for 2022 was Yannick Jadot. He scored 4.6% of the votes. The "Pôle Ecologiste" alliance they headed within the "NUPES" alliance won 23 seats at the National Assembly in 2022.
  • Parti Socialiste (PS, Socialist Party): The party in power between 2012 and 2017. Remember the SFIO and the Communist split in 1920? What remained of it soldiered on and its leader Léon Blum was even Predient of the Council (Prime Minister) in 1936-37 with the Front Populaire coalitionnote . But the party slowly declined after WWII, before François Mitterrand salvaged it, made it take a more radical stance and turned it into the Socialist Party in 1971. During the seventies, the new party rapidly grew in influence until it started to eat into the PCF's electorate, and Mitterrand taking communist ministers in his government in 1981 actually ended up weakening said PCF (and many analysts think that was exactly the intention). Although the PS implemented a few acclaimed social reforms while in power (like the death penalty abolition, 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. So it's now "socialist" in name only. While it always was quite the Big, Screwed-Up Family, the party's popularity nosedived during François Hollande presidency, and what remained of its left wing left the party with Benoît Hamon after his humiliating defeat in 2017 (an all-time low 6%). After François Hollande's presidency, the Socialist Party is seen as a grim shadow of its former self despite clinging to several régions. note  After their disastrous score in the 2022 elections, however, what remained of the party eventually resigned itself to join the NUPES left wing alliance led by Mélenchon for the parliament elections, leading to a leftward shift in the party’s line for the first time in decades (much to the ire of the party's remaining most liberal figures).
    • Their candidate for 2022 was Anne Hidalgo (mayor of Paris since 2014). She ended up with 1.7% of the votes (an all-time low for the PS, or any major historical moderate Left wing party for that matter). They obtained an all-time low 24 seats at the National Assembly in 2022, as part of the "NUPES" alliance (151 seats in total).
  • Renaissance (Rebirth): Intially called "En Marche!" (Forward!) then "La République en Marche" (LREM, Republic Forward). A movement founded in April 2016 by former Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron (the fact that the party's initials were the same as their founder's is not a coincidence), in a way similar to Unyielding France mentioned above. A centrist and liberal party, claiming to be "above left and right" and taking cues from the US' Third Way Democrats and the British Liberal Democrats. They support free-market economics and deficit reduction note , but also support the European Union, climate change legislation, immigration and acceptance of refugeesnote . The party’s creation lead to a reshuffling of sorts of the French political landscape, with Macron drawing in a large part of the Socialist Party’s more liberal voters and doing the same thing to Les Républicains five years later. Since 2017, they haven't managed to gain much ground at each election due to a combination of the Macron presidency's unpopular policies, the older parties (mainly Les Républicains) still having strong local footholds, and abstention beating new records in France (even before the COVID-19 Pandemic).
    • Their candidate in 2022 was Emmanuel Macron. He won the second round of the election against Marine Le Pen in a rematch of 2017 with 58% of the votes. They obtained 170 seats at the National Assembly in 2022 as the leading component of the "Ensemble" centrist alliance (245 seats in total, which is not enough for an absolute majority and forces them to seek compromises with Les Républicains). These numbers are down from 314 seats for LREM alone in 2017 (267 in early 2022 right before the election, many party members had left LREM during the first Macron presidency, including deputies), although abstention was already at record levels that year.
  • Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem, Democratic Movement): the main centrist party before En Marche was created, founded by the former lead of the Union for French Democracy (UDF), François Bayrou (deputy of Pyrénées-Atlantique at the time and now mayor of Pau). 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 démocrate, but learned that some dinky party nobody had ever heard of already had the name, which apparently pissed Bayrou off to no end. The orange color of the party's logo meanwhile was inspired by the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. In 2017 the MoDem forged an alliance with the aforementionned En Marche!, which ended up winning both the presidency and an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly. Basically half the UDF already split to join Alain Juppé/ Jacques Chirac to found the UMP in 2002. Bayrou was not one of them. Then, in 2007, virtually all of what was left of the UDF dumped him to found the Nouveau Centre under Hervé Morin, which then promptly joined a coalition with the UMP and was mostly absorbed by them, until the 2012 election, where Nicolas Sarkozy is perceived to have ditched the centrists to try to please the far-right (basically, not doing what got him elected in 2007, which worked just as well as you can imagine). What was left of centrists still loyal to the UMP at this point left to form the UDI.
    • For 2022, the MoDem didn't field a candidate and supported Emmanuel Macron instead. They obtained 46 seats at the National Assembly in 2022 out of the "Ensemble" alliance's 245 seats.
  • Union des Démocrates et Indépendants (UDI, Union of Democrats and Independants): A new party created after the 2012 elections by Jean-Louis Borloo (a former minister of Nicolas Sarkozy) and member of the Radical Party, to try and unite the "centrist wing" after Bayrou seemingly failed to do so. Notable members/supporters include former President Valéry Giscard-d'Estaing and the late Simone Veil, Auschwitz survivor and minister of health under Giscard who legalised abortion back in The '70s. In 2017, they more or less broke ties with Les Républicains and were one of the groups closest to En Marche! in the parliament, making them roughly what the UDF had been pre-2002. In 2022 however, they allied with LR instead of Macron’s party for the parliament elections.
    • They didn't field a candidate for 2022 and supported Valérie Pécresse (Les Républicains). They obtained 3 seats at the National Assembly in 2022.
  • Les Républicains (LR, The Republicans): Formerly called the UMP (Union for a Popular Mouvement), founded in 2002 by Jacques Chirac and Alain Juppé, it was actually a gathering of several right-wing parties but was basically the successor of the former Rally For Republic (RPR). Known for its neoliberal economic views and its harsh positions on immigration and insecurity (even more so after Nicolas Sarkozy took the lead and wanted to attract far-right voters). It is basically the Republican Party to the PS's Democratic Party. Sarkozy announced that he retired from poltitics after his defeat in 2012, but in November 2014, after much turmoil caused by the rivalry between the party's (very unpopular) leaders, a new internal election was held, and the same Sarkozy was comfortably elected president of the party. Then in April 2015, Sarkozy decided to change their name into "The Republicans". In 2021-2022, the party has seen its electorate drawn by Macron's liberal orientation on one side and Reconquête's nationalist line on the other, trying to find a compromise between the two. It didn’t quite work, as the party experienced a similar collapse in 2022 as the PS did in 2017.
    • Their candidate for 2022 was Valérie Pécresse. She scored 4.8% of the votes, an all-time low for a major moderate right wing party in France. They obtained 61 seats at the National Assembly in 2022.
  • Debout la France (DLF, "Rise Up, France!"): Formerly a current within the UMP, led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, it seceded and became an independent party (initially called "Rise Up, Republic") in 2007, to represent the nominally Gaullist right-wing. They promote a Keynesian flavour of capitalism rather than what they perceive as the deregulated, neo-liberal capitalism of the EU, as well as a confederal model for The European Union. Critical of the European Commission for being unelected. They also promote the Euro as a common reference currency (with national currencies in parallel) rather than a single currency. At first critical of the National Rally, Dupont-Aignan was the only candidate who gave his support to Marine Le Pen in the 2017 election’s second round, and the party got somewhat ideologically closer to the RN afterwards.
    • Their candidate for 2022 was Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, in his third attempt. He scored 2.1% of the votes. They obtained one seat at the National Assembly in 2022 (Dupont-Aignan himself).
  • Rassemblement National (RN, National Rally): Known as the "National Front" until June 2018. The main nationalist party and, as of February 2020, second major party in number of voters. It was founded in The '70s by a bunch of people nostalgic of Vichy or French Algerianote , and was originally little more than a groupuscule before its sudden rise in the mid-eighties. Its most famous figure Jean-Marie Le Pen was consistently seen as a Politically Incorrect Villain because of his often sulfurous statements. In 2011, his daughter Marine won an internal election to become the president of the party. One could argue that the party's line has shifted from blatant antisemitism and racism, to the populist islamophobia popular in much of Europe. Marine Le Pen is by all accounts, if nothing else, not nearly as antisemitic as her father was note . Her main battlehorses are defending secular values against the "Islamization" of France (something her younger voters disagree with, being more inclined towards rigid Catholicism), curbing immigration and fighting insecurity (which the RN considers to stem from massive uncontrolled immigration) and promoting the return of the death penalty in France. A notable difference in the RN's newer style of politics is a strikingly Left Front-esque focus on Finance and neoliberalism in The New '10s (think a socially-conservative version of Geert Wilders), a much less Euroskeptical approach than her father (instead promoting close relations and work with other European far-right parties), distancing the European Union from the United States and turning to Russia as a new key ally, and a communication strategy commonly refered to as "dédiabolisation" ("de-demonization"), that seeks to polish the image of the party in the media. Much of it was led by the party's no. 2 figure Florian Philippot, a self-proclaimed Gaullist who left the party in 2017 because of growing political disagreements. The party's 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. It was that big a shock. Then the party reached the second round once again on 23 April 2017 and some seats in Parliament and mayor offices. The consensus so far of RN-ruled towns and cities range between "less bad than expected" and "just like before with added patriotism". Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (niece of Marine) was the youngest MP in the 2012 legislature at the tender age of 23, a distinction she shares with her grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Despite Marine's de-demonization attempts, her views on Europe, ecology, internal and external affairs (such as suggesting a partnership with Vladimir Putin in the middle of a war between Russia and Ukraine, instilling a principle of "Préférence nationale"note ) remain as far-right as they ever could be. The result is that every election round where the party reached the second round (2002, 2017, 2022) leads to a situation where its opponents call for a "Front républicain"note  to form and vote against it to keep it from allegedly threatening France's democracy as it stands.
    • Their candidate for 2022 was Marine Le Pen, in her third attempt. She lost at the second round against Emmanuel Macron with 42% of the votes, in a rematch of 2017. They obtained 89 seats at the National Assembly in 2022, which is an all-time high for them (or for any party labelled "far-right" since 1958 for that matter).
  • Reconquête (Reconquest): A nationalist/sovereigntist party created in late 2021 by political journalist, writer and polemicist Éric Zemmour. Politics-wise, it's like the Rassemblement National but tougher and also includes national economic preference and major tax cuts. Zemmour himself sees this movement as an attempt at unifying the French Right Wing to "resurrect the RPR" (a predecessor of Les Républicains before it became more centrist). He is notably known for his controversial opinions about the Vichy Regime during World War II (mainly that many Jews were saved from The Holocaust through actions of said regime, which is hotly debated among historians), and was condemned by courts several times for racist public declarations. He is also well known for his media impact, his words being very intensively relayed by the news channels (especially Cnews — France's equivalent of Fox News — where he has been working for years).note  A nostalgic of pre-1968 France (particularly under Charles de Gaulle), he sells his ideological books to hundreds of thousands of copies every time he publishes a new one. Ironically, some analysts suggest that his very far-right presidential campaign helped Marine Le Pen expand her voter base at the 2022 election's first round by making her look almost moderate by comparison.
    • Their candidate for 2022 was Éric Zemmour. He ended up fourth with 7.1% of the votes. The party didn't obtain any seat at the National Assembly in 2022.

Depictions in fiction

Comic Book:

  • The French comic book Quai d'Orsay by Christophe Blain and Abel Lanzac: an Affectionate Parody of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under "Taillard de Vorms", a transparent Dominique de Villepin Expy. note  Abel Lanzac is actually the pen name of a former diplomat, so a decent case of Shown Their Work. It was adapted into a 2012 film by Bertrand Tavernier starring Thierry Lhermitte, Raphaël Personnaz and Niels Arestrup, and released internationally under the title The French Minister.


  • Les Misérables was mentioned above as being set during the July Monarchy. This is true: the majority of the book's action, and its most famous scenes, concern the student revolts of 1832. 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.


  • The film Les enfants du paradis is set during the July Monarchy and is in itself an interesting document of French history as its production was begun under German occupation (some of the people involved, e. g. composer Joseph Kosma, hiding out from the Nazis) and finished after the liberation of Paris.

Stand-up Comedy:

  • Coluche mercilessly satirized French politics and establishment of the late '70s and early '80s. He started a joke about running for presidency in 1981, and even considered doing it for real, then opted out under heavy political pressure.