Modern French politics remain characterized by a Left/Right division of the country even though the border between the two has been recently blurred. In the current Fifth Republic, begun by Charles de Gaulle, enormous executive power is given to the President, who is elected for seven years. His government is composed of a Council of Ministers, led by a Prime Minister. The legislative power, known as the Parliament consists of the National Assembly (491members known as DeputÃ©s) and the SÃ©nat (317 members known as SÃ©nateurs).
Most of the political and business power is held by the upper bourgeoisie. Those in poltical positions appoint many of their own members to key positions in powerful government-owned companies. Fourteen years of recent rule by socialist president Francois Mitterrand did not seem to have changed this proctice very much.
France faces today a serious economic slow-down characterized by a high unemployment rate, mainly fueled by extremely generous and expensive social benefits. Mitterrand’s successor, Jacques Chirac (from the RPR party), elected in May 1995, has had the unpleasant task of attemting to reduce some of these craddle-to-grave benefits which threaten to rapidly ruin the country. One of his attempts lead to a serious general strike which paralysed Paris for nearly three weeks!
The Communist party, once a relatively powerful organization, almost disapeared concurently with the fall of the cold war. Simultenaously, the far Right National Front‘s popularity has been fueled by high unemployment and rising nationalism, mostly against “les arabes”, North Africans mainly from Algeria.
Most of these political and economic problems are not obvious to tourists. Paris looks more beautiful than ever, the food is always superb and the French are getting more and more welcoming!