The government of France evolved from a conglomerate of regional communities to a monarchical type after the drawing up of the treaty of Verdun by Charlemagne. The monarchy remained in power for nearly half a millennia and was overtaken by the creation of the republics starting in 1789 with the French Revolution.
France began its early history with the migration of the Celts (known as Gauls by the Romans), from the Rhine Valley into a country now known as France. About 600 BC, the Greeks and Phoenicians settled along the Mediterranean in an area where the city of Marseille now stands. The Gauls were conquered by the Romans who in turn fell before the Franks in the 5th century AD.
- The treaty of Verdun: In 843, a compact known as the Treaty of Verdun was drawn up, resulting in the division of territories and Francia Occidentalis went to Charles the Bald, one of Charlemagne’s three sons. The crown passed to Hugh Capet paving the way for the 350-year rule of the Capetian line until Philip VI ascended the throne.
- The Hundred Year’s War: The Plantagenet kings of England who claimed the crown of France owned territory belonging to the French realm and Philip waged the Hundred Year’s War with England to win back Burgundy and Brittany. France won the final battle at Castillon in 1453 but Calais remained British. The return of Burgundy and Brittany to France formed an area resembling what is now France. The reign of Louis XIV ushered in a new era of cultural transformation both within and without the French court.
- In 1789, the French Revolution plunged France into a bloodbath during which the First Republic was born, ending with Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor in 1804. An attempt to restore the monarchy was thwarted by industrialization and a burgeoning middle class who called for change and the monarchy was once again abolished and the Second Republic came into being in 1848. A Second Empire was declared by Bonaparte I who ascended the throne as Napoleon III, but later abdicated after his defeat in the Fanco-Prussian War making way for the Third Republic of 1870 – 1940.
Stages of constitutional development
The constitutional development of France evolved around the creation of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Republics, with the related constitutional amendments.
- The First Republic was established during the French Revolution in 1789 which abolished the monarchy and set up a government which received its mandate from the people
- After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, an attempt was made to reinstate the monarchy in the person of King Louis Philippe but poor economic conditions, widespread discontent and dissatisfaction forced him to abdicate opening the way for the setting up of the Second Republic in 1848.
- After Philippe’s abdication, the Bonaparte I, nephew of the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte ascended the throne and became Bonaparte III but like his uncle before him, he was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War allowing for the setting up of the Third Republic of 1970 – 1940.
- The Fourth Republic was the government of France that wielded power between 1946 and 1958 but it too was confronted with numerous problems. The main success of this government was in the introduction of a comprehensive social security program and the development of the economy. It promoted unemployment insurance, pensions and health care to all citizens. Despite its successes, the government collapsed and the Fifth Republic came into being in 1959 and despite numerous amendments to the constitution, it has proven to be a much better governments than its predecessors.
Composition and functions of the French government
- Francois Hollande was elected president in the presidential elections of April and May 2012
- The parliament of France is a two-party legislature made up of a National Assembly and a Senate.
- The deputies in the assembly represent their constituencies and are elected for 5-year terms with half of the seats being offered for election every 3 years.
- The power of the Senate is restricted by the National Assembly which has the final say on contested issues.
- The parliamentary agenda is usually under the control of the government of the day.
- The two main parties are the French Socialist Party and the Union for a Popular Movement and Members of the FSP dominate the executive branch of government.
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Source by James E Harrison