The Constitution of 4 October 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), institute transitional provisions relating to New Caledonia (1998), establish European Economic and Monetary Union, ensure equal access of men and women to elective offices and positions, recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (1999) and shorten the Presidential term of office to five years(2000).
The Constitutional Council, composed of nine members, is responsible in particular for overseeing the proper functioning of elections and for ruling on the constitutionality of organic laws and legislation submitted to it. Former Presidents of the Republic possess the right to sit at the Constitutional council for their lifetime.
The Head of State is elected for a five-year term by direct universal suffrage (establishment of the five-year term following the referendum of 24 September 2000). François Hollande became the seventh President of the Fifth Republic on May 6, 2012.
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).
Under the direction of the Prime Minister, the government sets national policy and carries it out. It is answerable to Parliament (article 20). The Prime Minister directs the operation of the government and ensures the implementation of legislation (article 21). Manuel Valls was appointed Prime Minister on April 2, 2014.
Parliament is comprised of two assemblies:
the Senate, elected since 2003 for a six-year term, as opposed to nine-years before, by indirect universal suffrage, and renewed by half every three years. The last election took place in September 2011.
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 2012.
In addition to providing a check on the Government, the two assemblies draw up and pass legislation. In the case of disagreement on a law the National Assembly makes the final decision.
The Senate has 348 senators divided into the following groups since the September 2011 election:
Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) group: 131
Socialist group: 128
Union des Démocrates et Indépendants: 32
Communiste, républicain et citoyen: 20
Rassemblement Démocratique et Social européen: 18
Not registered in a group: 7
The President of the Senate becomes the interim President of the Republic, if the incumbent resigns or is incapacitated. The current President of the Senate is Jean-Pierre Bel.
The National Assembly comprises 577 deputies divided into the following groups since the general election of 10 and 17 June 2012:
Socialiste, républicain et citoyen: 276 (plus 17 affiliated)
Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) group: 186 (plus 9 affiliated)
Union des démocrates et indépendants: 30
Groupe écologiste: 17
Groupe Radical, républicain, démocrate et progressiste: 16
Groupe de la gauche démocrate et républicaine : 15
Not registered in a group: 7
The "guardian of individual liberty" (article 66 of the Constitution), the French legal system is organized on the basis of a fundamental distinction between ordinary courts, with jurisdiction in 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 specialized (district courts, commercial courts, social security courts and the conseils des prud’hommes for industrial relations disputes between employees and employers).
criminal courts which distinguish three types of offence: contraventions (petty offences), tried by police courts délits (misdemeanours), tried by criminal courts
crimes (serious indictable offences), tried by the Assize Court.
There is also a specific court, the Youth Court, for both civil and criminal cases.
The highest judicial body is the Cour de Cassation which is responsible for examining rights to appeal against the decree of courts of appeal.
The Conseil d’État is the supreme administrative court and court of final appeal on the legality of administrative acts. The government also consults the Conseil d’Etat on draft legislation and on some draft orders.
The national anthem is the Marseillaise, composed in Strasbourg in 1792 and originally known as the Battle anthem of the Army of the Rhine; it became the national anthem on 14 July 1795.
The motto of the French Republic is "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".
In 1789, La Fayette added the colour white, symbolizing royalty, to the red and blue cockade of the Paris National Guard. The tricolour is the official standard of the French Republic.
Updated in August 2014.