France : Introduction and Economy

I. Introduction
When we examine France, we are looking at a country with a rich, if varied history. The French comprise one of the oldest nation-states in Europe and one that has played a dominant role on the continent for the last millennium.
- similar to the us in the sense that there is a written constitution, yet there have been sixteen different constitutions in France since 1789, and eleven different government. Since the collapse of the Second Empire in 1870, with the exception of the interruption of the Second World War, all of these governments have been democratic, yet they have varied in form. Within French history we have seen the contradictory impulses of egalitarianism and the desire for a strong ruler. For examples of the first we can look at the first, second, third, and fourth republics, for the latter see the first (Napoleon Bonaparte) and second (Louis Napoleon) empires and the present fifth republic (formed by de Gaulle).
- de Gaulle and the difficulty of governing a country that produces hundreds of different kinds of cheese.
- French political system is a mix of the parliamentary and Presidential models, yet the French President is much more than his/her American counterpart. Legislature less powerful than in Britain. Legislature can be dissolved by the President, he/she has the right to introduce legislation and to even go beyond the parliament to call for referenda.
- idea of the constitution as being changeable according to circumstance and changing societal needs.

- Present cohabitation between the left and right after the May/June elections.
- Also like the United States, the French exhibit a great deal of national pride and tend to pursue international action unilaterally and cause tension as a result of these actions. Realists
Ex. Total, NATO, Nuclear Tests, Poaching in Quebec
- One other facet of France that is worth noting is the increasing number of foreigners and foreign born within the country. About 8% of the population is either foreign born or are foreigners residing in the country (non-citizens). About equal to the official numbers for the US. However, France lacks the immigrant tradition of the US and this development causes significant tension, particularly with regard to the North Africans that have migrated to France, esp from Algeria. Mention the rise of the National Front and the stance of Le Pen, et al toward immigrants.
- Jingoism of the French and how this has been expressed.
- Desire to protect and preserve the French language - eliminate English slang (Jambon Bourgeoisie). Unwilling to accept that history has made them less relevant.
- Unlike the United States, the French have always believed that the state should take a proactive role in the economy, goes back to Colbert (Minister for Louis XIV).. Present problems and the failure to tackle the unemployment rate.
- For the next couple of classes, we are going to be discussing France’s: physical setting, its constitutional history, its economy and society, and its political culture.

A The Physical Setting

France, with a land area of 547,026 sq km is about 1/15 the size of the United States, or about 80% of the size of Texas. This makes it the third largest country in Europe (behind Russia and Ukraine). It contains a number of disparate regions, from the Mediterranean coast to the south, the alps to the South-West, the Pyrenees to the South-East and the flat plains of the north. France is noted for its agricultural areas and the wheat production of the north central region, as well as the grapes and vineyards of the South central region.
France has a population of just over 58 million ( just under 1/5 the size of the United States), with Paris as its capital and primate city. The French population is roughly 26% rural and 74% urban. This is a much higher rural ratio than either of the other European countries that we will be examining this semester, and provides some foreshadowing of a phenomenon we will be discussing a little later in this section - the importance afforded agriculture within the French political and economic system, a state of affairs that has been reinforced by the EU and French protests at the liberalization of agricultural trade.
Urbanization came later to the French than either Britain or Germany. Before WWII, 48% of the population lived in rural entities with less than 2,000 residents. France also has fewer large cities than either Britain or Germany, only one (Paris) has a population in excess of 1 million, and only five cities (Marseilles, Lyons, Tolouse, Nice) have populations in excess of 300,000.
- Yet, while France has a large rural population, Paris is the dominant city within the nation. It serves as the capital and an economic, cultural and administrative centre. With a metropolitan area of almost 11 million, Paris contains almost 1/5 of the population of France. It also has almost 40% of the large industry within the country and has a per capita income 45% higher than the national average.

B. The Historical Development of the French State

France has existed as a nation-state for about the past 1200 years. Prior to this time, the area had been settled by the Gauls, a tribe related to the Celts, in about 1200 BC. The area was assimilated into the Roman Empire in the first century B.C. through the efforts of Julius Caesar, who wrote of his efforts to pacify the region in de bello Gallico. Following the dissolution of the Roman Empire, France was ruled be a succession of Kings, including not only Charlemagne and Louis XIV, but such luminaries as Charles I (the bald), Louis II (the stammerer), Charles II (the fat), Charles III (the simple), and Louis V (the sluggard).
Louis XIV is particularly important as his rule represents two traditions of French politics: the role of the state in guiding and controlling the economy - Colbertism - which survives to the present and makes the French variant of capitalism different from its British counterpart. Also, his comment l’etat c’est moi reveals the French penchant for centralized rule. While the Bourbon line was interrupted by the French Revolution of 1789, both Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew Louis Napoleon attempted to rule France as Monarchs, with their terms being cut short through loss in wars. Never the less, we can see this trend represented at the present time through the massive powers delegated to the French President.
Yet, it should not be assumed that France is, or has universally been an authoritarian state. The French President may be very powerful by our standards, but he/she is popularly elected and this trend toward a concentration of political power has been offset by an opposing trend toward egalitarianism and the spread of political power. After all, this was the underlying cause of the French revolution (rebellion against Bourbon absolutism) and characterized two of the five republics that have been established in France since 1789.
In fact, France has had eleven political systems since 1789, five of them have been republics, three were monarchies, two were empires and one was a puppet state of the Germans. Each has influenced its successors.

The First Republic followed the 1789 revolution and lasted until Napoleon assumed the title of Emperor in 1804. During the First republic, such notions as popular sovereignty, the declaration of the rights of man and citizens, a reduction in the power of the church and the introduction of secularism into French politics, were introduced. Yet, the First republic collapsed into a reign of terror and was eventually replaced by the introduction of a new monarch - Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon became the personal ruler of the First Empire, beyond terrorizing Europe and being the last French ruler to enjoy military success, Napoleon established a civil service based on merit, a conscript army, a codified system of laws (Napoleonic Code - more on this later), and the abolition of Feudal tax obligations. When Napoleon was finally vanquished by those veterans of the playing fields of Eton (with the help of the Germans), the victorious allies sought to replace the Corsican upstart with the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814. However, this time the allies sought to impost a constitutional monarchy on the French, and the Charter of 1814 promised religious freedom, sanctity of private property, legal reforms (freedom from arbitrary arrest), and the creation of a bicameral parliament. Other developments during this time: equality of all before the law, the adoption of the tricolor, trial by jury, etc. However, these freedoms did not really take, the first empire saw parliament being frequently ignored and the imprisonment of political opposition.

Following yet another rebellion, the Bourbon rule over France was terminated and a new constitution was established in 1848, and the Second Republic was created. However, within the constitution of the second republic, the public was allowed to directly vote for a President and they elected Louis Napoleon, nephew of the original. Three years later, Louis Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor (this was validated by a plebiscite) and established the Second Empire. The Second Empire also saw the introduction of universal male suffrage (women did not get the vote until 1944) and the theoretical joint responsibility for policy resting in three bodies - the emperor, the senate (which he appointed), and a popularly elected chamber of deputies. Yet, this system was dominated by the Emperor, who had ministers responsible to him and had the initiative in terms of policy.
The Second Empire, and the idea of monarchial rule ended in 1870, following France’s loss in the Franco-Prussian war demonstrations in Paris made the government untenable. The Third Republic was then installed. This proved to be the most durable of the French government in the post-revolutionary period, lasting 70 years. The third republic saw a de-centralized France, where power was vested in the legislature rather than the executive. However, this period was also marked by inaction due to the divisions in parliament between the left and the right, the clericals and the anti-clericals. It has been given the nickname of the stalemate society. The Third Republic ended the same way as it began, with a German military victory in 1940.
Between 1940 and 1944, France was divided into two regions, one directly administered and occupied by the Germans and a puppet state set up in the South, etat francaise, better known by the location of its capital at Vichy. The ease with which the Germans took France, a little more than a month following the invasion from the North, and the subsequent occupation have been a source of national debate and unease. In defense of the French, it should be noted that the French suffered horribly during World War I losing almost 1.5 million men, and their will to fight had been sapped.

Indeed the Second World War still causes controversy in France, the question of those who collaborated with the Germans, what was actually entailed in collaboration has not yet been definitively answered. (Mention the role of Mitterand and the “resistance”).
Anyway, following the expulsion of the Germans from France in 1944, a provisional government was formed under Charles de Gaulle that lasted for two years and attempted to decide the future course of the French government. During this time the old debate concerning the centralization or decentralization of power re-emerged. The result, and this was contrary to de Gaulle’s tastes, was a Fourth Republic that was very similar to the Third Republic in the sense that power was concentrated in a fragmented legislature that was deeply divided along partisan lines. de Gaulle resigned in disgust. The result was a government that was perceived as ineffectual and incapable of dealing with the two colonial crises that would grip France through the 1950s. The first was their effort to restore their rule in Indochina following the Second World War (1946-1954), this conflict demonstrated why the Vietnamese have been nicknamed the Prussians of South East Asia and resulted in a humiliating French loss. The second involved their efforts to preserve their rule over Algeria. Algeria was a little different from Vietnam in the sense that there were hundreds of thousands of French settlers (colons) living in Algeria and they were less than willing to see their interests abandoned after it became clear that the French government was willing to negotiate the independence of Algeria. The colons established their own army (OAS) and their cause attracted the support of many of the upper echelon of the regular French army. In fact, by 1958 there were threats of a military coup.

The end result of this turmoil was the return to power by Charles de Gaulle. Yet, de Gaulle’s comeback had a political price. He stated that he was able and willing to solve the crisis, yet he would need a stronger position of leadership. The result was the creation of the Fifth Republic, which would place strong powers at the disposal of the president and come down on the side of the centralization of power within the French executive. The constitution, which swept away the idea of legislative supremacy, was adopted following a referendum in 1958 and de Gaulle was elected as its first president in December of that year. Quickly got out of Algeria (1962) and his prestige was enough to face down the colons and the rebels within the French army.

C. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic

As mentioned above, de Gaulle demanded a strong Presidency as a condition for his return to political life. The previous two republics (3 and 4) were known more for their instability than for achievement. Under these two systems, the President was little more than a figurehead and the legislature held most of the political power (designed due to the dissatisfaction with the rule of the two Napoleons). Basic principle underlying this arrangement was that Parliament could remove a government that no longer had the support of its members or the public. However, for this notion to work, disciplined parties or coalitions are necessary (see Britain or Germany). For reasons that I will address later, France has never had the disciplined political parties that are essential to this system of governance.

The important point, for the moment, is that the Fifth Republic created a strong presidency to deal with these perceived flaws. The French President is now expected to be a visible head of state, sitting “above the parties” and above the fray. He/she is elected directly for a renewable terms of 7 years. In this election, if there is no one candidate that emerges with a majority after the first ballot, then a second round of elections is held, with the lesser lights being eliminated.
This president has a number of extraordinary powers that might well make an American President or a British Prime Minister salivate from envy. First of all, with the agreement of the government he/she can submit important pieces of legislation to the public in the form of a referendum (ex. This is how the Presidency came to be directly elected and it was the rejection of an attempt to reform the Senate that caused de Gaulle to resign). Secondly, the President can also dissolve parliament and call for new elections. This is especially relevant if the President and the governing coalition in Parliament are of differing opinions. Both de Gaulle and Mitterand used this tactic twice each. Mention the recent efforts of Chirac. Thirdly, the President can also invoke emergency powers in the event of grave threat to the Republic. This has been used on only one occasion (1961), when it appeared that the Generals in Algeria would mutiny rather than accept any sort of peace with the rebels. In this case, the rebellion lasted only a few days and was ended due to de Gaulle’s personal popularity and the isolation of the rebels, rather than any extra exercise of power on his behalf.
Overall, these extraordinary powers have been used sparingly, but their presence reveals the strength of the Presidency under the Fifth Republic.

The President also has the power to appoint the Prime Minister (drawn from the National Assembly), but this power is circumscribed by the composition of this body. Meaning that if the President is of the right and there is a left majority in Parliament, then appointing one of his own would be untenable. President also appoints the Cabinet.
There are two houses to the French parliament, the national assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly is elected for a five year term, though it is worth remembering that it can be dissolved at any time by the President. Elections have vacillated between pr and first past the post, presently there are 577 single member districts, with the need for majority votes to capture the district (explain). Shares legislative functions with the Senate (321 members elected for 9 year terms by an electoral college over-represented by the rural areas), but enjoys a greater degree of power.


We will be discussing the details of the constitution of the Fifth Republic in the next section, specifically with respect the President, the Legislature and the Courts. However, for the moment, the most important feature is the power of the Presidency. France is the heir to two traditions, one which encompasses a suspicion of government and encourages the placement of power in a fragmented legislature and the other that desires to see political power centered in one office. The First, Third, and Fourth republics represent the former and emerged as a result of discontent with a single strong leader (Bourbons, Louis Napoleon, Petain). The latter trend is represented by the first and second empires (the second republic was too short to comfortably classify) and the Napoleons. It is worth noting that both were received popular mandates for their assumption of power.

The Fifth Republic represents a compromise between the two trends. All of the institutions of the Third and Fourth Republics are represented, yet the weight is clearly in the hands of the President. Representative institutions with a strong central leader.
Another feature of the French Constitutional system that is worthy of note is the degree to which it differs from either the American or the British experience. Unlike the American constitution, which while it has been amended and reinterpreted, has stood since 1789, the French have had numerous documents, and varying systems of government since that time. Perhaps this is indicative of a general belief that constitutions are living documents that need to be changed once they outlive their utility.
Unlike the British experience of a gradual transition from monarchical rule (Queen and House of Lords) and an evolutionary approach to change. The French have gone through dramatic periods of unrest and instability and have accordingly seen their governmental systems dramatically altered. It should be noted that three of these changes came about either after or during military defeats (Franco-Prussian War, WWII, Algeria), in the case of the first two, French territory was lost as a result, an experience that neither the United States nor Great Britain has undergone. So, one may argue that the historical setting and pressures on the government have differed in these cases.
French differ in terms of history and in terms of the evolution of their constitution.

II. The Economy

A. Introduction
The French economy has undergone a great deal of strain throughout the decade of the 1990s (1.5% annual growth in the 1990s). Sluggish growth and a persisting high unemployment have dogged the last two Presidents - Chirac and Mitterand - which has led to a great deal of popular disatisfaction and the removal of the last two Prime Ministers. Now, in terms of economic growth, this trend seems to have reversed itself in the very recent past, with signs of recovery being evident (4% GDP growth over the past 3 months, 3% over the past year), but the unemployment rate remains stubbornly perched at around 11% of the labour force. Throughout the post-war period the French economy has largely been a success story, in the 1980s it grew at about the same average as the rest of Western Europe, and is still one of the world’s leaders. Yet, the unemployment rate is especially troubling as roughly 40% of the jobless are considered to be long term unemployed, and this is concentrated among the young, about 25% of those between the ages of 18-27 are likely to be without jobs. While the overall rate is more than double that of either Britain or the United States, it is about par for the continent of Europe. Critics of the French model of state intervention in the economy will blame this on the heavily regulated (and heavily unionized) industry which make it difficult to absorb labour in times of economic slowdowns.

The French stand somewhere in the middle of the three countries that we will be examining. With a per-capita GNP of roughly $26,000 (US) France is about half-way between Britain (19K) and Germany (26K). In terms of purchasing power parity, the average Frenchperson has about 77% of that of the average American (71 for UK, 78 for Ger). Clearly an industrial economy and one of the world’s wealthiest nations, yet this is an economy which is rather different from the Anglo-American model.
Historically, there have been two basic principles that have defined the French economy: Paysantisme and dirigisme.

B. Agriculture

The idea of paysantisme refers to the emotional attachment between the French and their soil. In a 1977 speech Giscard d’Estaing refered to agriculture and petrole vert, “green oil”, emphasizing the status of agriculture as a state resource of enormous value. This seeming special relationship between the French and their land has persisted throughout France’s industrialization and as we shall see has influenced its economic and political development. Recent urbanization of the French and their residual attachment to the soil.
The existence and stability of the Third Republic depended on a large and stable peasantry. Over-representation of rural districts and a fear that displaced peasants might flood the cities. As a result the French farms were cosseted by protective tariffs that helped them cling to the traditional lifestyle.
As I mentioned earlier in the semester, until the Second World War, the percentage of the population working in agriculture exceeded that working in industry. It has largely been in the two decades following the war that this began to change. An exodus from the farms to the cities occurred between the 1940s and the 1970s as the farms began to mechanize (number of tractors increased twenty-fold between 1945 and 1970) and consolidate. Presently France has among the largest farms (most consolidated) in Europe and is the largest food producer and food exporter in Western Europe.

French agriculture has become much more productive (if less labour intensive) in the time since WWII. As an overall group, the French farmers tend to do rather well, the average income is about equal to that of a mid-level executive. Yet, this hides a basic inequity within the system. The large land owners are those who profit the most from the French agricultural system - the disparity in income between the large and the small farms is the highest in Europe.
Earlier I mentioned that the French farmers were protected by tariffs throughout the Third Republic, while efforts have been made since the war to make the French farms more efficient, through mechanization and modernization, these efforts have largely been subsidized by the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP was instituted, at the insistence of the French between 1962 and 1968 and sets heavy tariff barriers against agriculture from outside of the Union and offers subsidies to farmers within that body. Of which, the French farmers have been the primary beneficiaries. Possible to interpret the degree to which France pursued this objective to be indicative of their strong feelings toward agriculture. Of course, these subsidies and tariffs are paid for by the consumers and have also led to significant over-production by the farmers ( butter mountains of the EU).
Not all members of the European Union have been thrilled with the CAP (not to mention countries outside the EU). Britain has been particularly overt in its criticisms of the expense and waste involved in the process. Over the past several years, efforts have been made to trim the amount of money offered in terms of farm subsidies and efforts made to move away from price supports (which encourage over-production) and toward direct support for the farmers - sort of like rural welfare.

In short French agriculture has been historically cosseted by the state, from the tariffs of the Third Republic to the Common Agricultural Policy of the present day. Occupies a special place in French society. Yet it has become much more modern and efficient in the period since the second world war and there are now strong external pressures to change this state (and supra-national) protection.

C. Industry

The concept of dirigisme (Colbertism, Etatisme) refers to the historic French belief that the State must play a guiding role in the economy. Originated with Colbert, an advisor to Louis XIV, who believed that the state must shape economic growth. Result was a system of regulation and bureaucratic control of the French economy.
Precedent that has been followed, to varying degrees by his successors. Even those of the political right. A belief that state ownership and state guidance is essential in the management of an economy. Less likely to accept the notions of laissez-faire capitalism (remarkable in the sense that this term was coined in France). Long tradition of administrative, economic and cultural centralization. French tariffs have historically been among the highest in Europe.
Some of France’s most successful companies are state owned: Thomson, Rhone Poulenc. Even members of the political right, such a de Gaulle and his successors considered National French companies to be a sign of strength, residual mercantilism within the country. Country is awash in regulation. Also has one of the highest tax burdens (46% of GDP) of any industrialized country.

French industry is both highly centralized and highly dispersed. Well over half of France’s industrial and commercial entities are owned by individuals, as opposed to corporations or the state. Yet these are primarily small companies, most of the most advanced industries are owned either by corporations or by the state, and most of the business is concentrated among a few large firms.
- Ties between the key government officials and heads of industry through education - ENA and Ecole Polytechnique. More on this in a few moments.
- French reliance on nuclear power, supplies 70% of its energy.


French economy has been a strong point, but one that has had its recent troubles. It is rather interesting, and entirely in keeping with French history that the efforts to reduce unemployment are concentrated on the state sector. The new Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, came into office largely as a result of his pledge to create 700,000 new jobs, half of them in the state sector, and with the government meeting 80% of the costs of private sector opportunities, through tax rebates and other inducements. Interesting in that most industrialized countries are attempting to reduce the government payroll, while France with a larger % in this area than most (25% vs. 14% in Britain, 15% in US and 16% in Germany) is seeking to increase it. Have to see how business reacts to this.