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), transitional provisions relating to New Caledonia (1998), establishment of European Economic and Monetary Union, equal access of men and women to elective office and positions, recognition of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (1999), reduction of the Presidential term of office (2000).

Constitutional Council

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.

President of the Republic

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).

Jacques Chirac became the fifth President of the Fifth Republic on 7 May 1995. He was re-elected on 5 May 2002.

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).

Prime Minister and Government

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).


Parliament is formed of two assemblies:

• 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 May and June 1997.

• the Senate, elected for a nine-year term by indirect universal suffrage, with one third renewed every three years. The last election took place in September 2001.

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 321 senators divided into the following groups since the September 2001 election :

• Rassemblement pour la République group: 95

• Socialist group: 83

• Union centriste group: 53

• Républicains et Indépendants group: 41

• Rassemblement démocratique et social européen group: 20

• Communiste, républicain et citoyen group: 23

• Not registered in a group: 6

> The National Assembly comprises 577 deputies divided into the following groups since the general election of 09 and 16 June 2002:

• Union pour la majorité présidentielle group 356 (plus 9 affiliated)

• Socialist group 140 (plus 1 affiliated)

• Union pour la Démocratie française group: 27 (plus 2 affiliated)

• Députés communistes et républicains group: 22

• Not registered in a group: 20

Judicial system

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 (the only court with lay jurors and from which

• there is no appeal against sentences).

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’État on draft legislation and on some draft orders.

National anthem and motto

The national anthem is the Marseillaise, composed in Strasbourg in 1792 and originally known as the Battle Hymn 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".

The French flag

In 1789, La Fayette added the colour white, symbolizing royalty, to the red and blue cockade of the Paris National Guard.

The tricolour flag is the official standard of the French Republic.

National Defence

In 2000, the defence budget stood at 28.66 billion euros (188 billion francs) or 2.05% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 11.29% of the national budget.

In order to build a credible European defence, in February 1996 the President of the Republic, constitutional head of the armed forces, announced far-reaching defence reforms:

• gradual move towards professional armed forces of 350,000 in 2002;

• restructuring of the French defence industry, which in the future should to a very large extent be coordinated within a European framework;

• abolition of national service, replaced by a voluntary service;

• giving a more European dimension to nuclear deterrence, which remains the cornerstone of French defence strategy;

• reaffirmation of France’s commitment to the Eurocorps.

In 2001, the French armed forces include 516,112 military and civilian personnel:

• 219,538 Army

• 70, 802 Air Force

• 59,450 Navy

• 100,358 gendarmerie:

• 65,964 joint services (health, social welfare, etc.)

Online 29/09/2005

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