The French government has a number of different administrative levels with a wide array of political parties in a two-part parliamentary system.
The current French political system of the Fifth Republic is a hybrid presidential/parliamentary system. It has a President (Emmanuel Macron), who is head of state, as well as a Prime Minister (Edouard Philippe), who is the head of government. France is also part of the European Union, meaning that French voters participate in elections at the European level.
Parliament is made up of the National Assembly (the lower house). The National Assembly sits in the Palais Bourbon with 577 députés elected from single-member constituency in a two-rounds system.
The Senate (the upper house) is inside the Luxembourg Palace. It has more than 300 senators elected by around 150,000 officials from around the country and is politically conservative. Under the constitution, the two houses have similar powers.
There is a multi-party system with many different political parties. Politicians from parties on the right may hold views more in line with parties of the left in other countries.
In French politics, the term ‘libéral’ tends to mean free-market liberalism – the opposite of ‘socialisme’. In fact, the left uses it as a derogatory term to describe the perceived anti-social policies of the right. All very confusing for étrangers (foreigners)!
Parties generally fit into the left-right political spectrum. Here are the main ones:
On the right
The conservative Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Popular Union Movement) or UMP is one of the largest parties. Jacques Chirac created the party after his re-election as President in 2002. It united the right under a single party.
The UMP covers a broad range of opinions ranging from traditional conservatives and social liberals as well as more right-leaning neo-conservatives. It describes itself as a Gaullist party, upholding social conservatism which is patriarchal and nationalistic.
The UMP is allies in parliament with the center-right party, Nouveau Centre (New Center). In September 2012, a new centrist federation Union des Démocrates et Indépendants (UDI) also came onto the scene.
Finally, there is the Parti Radical, the oldest political party in France. Once a progressive and humanist party, it is now a corporate member of the UMP.
In the middle
Former presidential candidate François Bayrou set up the Mouvement Démocratique (Democratic Movement) or MoDem as a middle way party. It was an attempt to set themselves apart from the liberal policies of the then President Sarkozy.
The Alliance Centriste is another center-right party.
Current French President Emmanuel Macron founded and heads up the La Republique en Marche! party – a centrist liberal party. Macron founded the party in 2016.
The Mouvement Pour la France (Movement for France), a small sovereignist party is between the right and the far-right. Jean Marie Le Pen founded Front National (National Front) in 1972. It’s now led by his daughter Marine Le Pen.
The Front National is an extreme-right party that campaigns on national preference, law and order, and anti-immigration (particularly from Islamic countries) issues. Both parties are calling for France to leave the European Union.
On the left
The Parti Socialiste or Socialist Party (PS) is the main party on the left. It was formed around 40 years ago from an alliance of parties of the non-Communist left. Nationalization, the welfare state, and participative democracy were cornerstone policies.
Over time, it moved away from some of these (privatizing parts of the economy, for example). Generally, it did not move with the times in the way that similar European socialist parties have done. This has caused problems both within the party and with the electorate.
Up until the 1970s, the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), the French Communist Party, was a major political force. However, it is less popular now.
After the fall of Soviet communism in the 1990s, the PCF split into many small factions. They now regularly win less than 5% of the vote.
Europe Ecologie Les Verts is the Green Party, formed in 2010 after The Greens and Europe Ecology parties merged. They are more oriented towards local government, with positions on city councils and in the European Parliament.
How long they remain a political force at all is the question, now that environmental issues are coming to the forefront in all the main political parties.
Lutte Ouvrière (LO) (Workers’ Struggle) and Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) (Revolutionary Communist League) are the Trotskyist main parties on the Far Left (Extreme Gauche), with plenty of active support.
New far-left parties are the Parti de Gauche (PG), which was founded in 2008, and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA), founded in 2009, which has developed a manifesto setting out an entirely different economic way of life from the rest of the Western world.