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French Political Parties: What Makes Them Different?

The French political landscape is known for a great number of political parties that change and reform regularly. Historically, the factions were divided along the left-right axis, with the majority of parties being either socialist, such as The Socialist Party, or conservative, such as The National Front or The Republicans. In 2016, however, the first centrist party was formed by Emmanuel Macron, indicating a shift in the political climate. This essay will discuss the main characteristics of French political factions, the effect of the Fifth Republic Constitution on party influence, and differences between the French political parties and those in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

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Unlike political parties in other countries, the majority of modern French factions have a short history, which demonstrates instability in party politics. The organization of political parties in France is commonly weak: the factions are highly centralized, and their local branches have little autonomy. Serving as a vehicle for influencing the presidential election, French political parties exhibit a great degree of personalization, with the party’s business being significantly affected by the opinions and needs of its leaders. For instance, The National Front has been used to support Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the Union for French Democracy was established to advance the interests of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. In turn, such personalization can serve as a reason for factional competition within political parties; French politics often compete with each other even when they belong to the same political group. Taken together, these four characteristics of French parties, namely recent formation, weak organization, personalization, and factional competition, contribute to the French party’s instability.

In contrast, the long-term orientation of French political factions ensures the durability of party politics and makes them an effective instrument for changing the political landscape. To reduce the influence of opposing parties, the Fifth Republic Constitution sought to give a president almost full control over the power. The proposed legislative system served its purpose for the first three presidencies; however, the fourth president, François Mitterrand, found himself in the situation when the National Assembly was controlled by another party, which meant that he could no longer rule the country single-handedly. The cohabitation reoccurred through the periods from 1993 to 1995 and from 1997 to 2002, demonstrating that the framers of the Fifth Republic Constitution made serious miscalculations when devising their policies.

Compared to the United States of America that practices the two-party system, France has more than forty political parties, which implies that it is difficult for any given faction to succeed on its own. Consequently, coalitions between various parties are frequently formed to gain access to power, which stimulates the dynamic changes seen in the French political landscape. In the case of Germany and the United Kingdom, the strong domination of a few parties over the others helps to stabilize political situation and reduce frictions. Importantly, the French diversity in political factions is encouraged by the county’s constitution that guarantees the pluralistic participation of parties in the life of the French nation.

The distinguishable characteristics of French political parties have formed throughout the history of various legislative initiatives. Today, France serves as an example of a multi-party country with highly active political factions. Though a great variety of constantly changing political parties can destabilize the political landscape, it ensures that all the views are represented and heard.

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