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The Power, Appointment & Structure of the Executive Branch of the French Republic

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  • 0:42 President
  • 2:17 Prime Minister & Cabinet
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the executive branch of the French Republic, the most powerful portion of the French government made up of the president, the prime minister, and the cabinet.

French Executive Branch

Everybody, now and again, likes to feel like the proverbial 'big man on campus.' Whether it's being the leader of your group of friends or the most important person in an entire city, it's nice to feel in charge. For the entire United States, that person is inarguably the president. Well, in France the most important political leader is also the president. In fact, the French president's powers in his own country may be even greater than the U.S. president's! In this lesson, we'll explore the French president's role and powers as well as the roles and powers of the rest of the French executive branch.

Overview and President

The French executive branch is made up of three different parts: the president, the prime minister, and the cabinet. Of these parts, the French president is by far the most powerful. Indeed, the most recent French Constitution, written largely by President Charles de Gaulle in 1958, proclaims the French president as the guarantor and defender of French sovereignty and the French Republic itself. The president is also considered the commander-in-chief of the French armed forces and solely has the ability to make and dissolve treaties and declare war.

The French president is also largely in charge of the other portions of the executive branch as well. For example, the French president names the prime minister. The French president is not constrained by the composition of the French government in his choice, and the president often appoints a member of his own party as prime minister. Though it's customary to appoint a member of the legislative body, the National Assembly, the president may choose whomever he/she pleases - a politician, judge, his mother-in-law - whomever!

The president possesses an enormous amount of power over the rest of the French government as well. The president may dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections whenever it satisfies him, though in the interest of sound government this is not often done. In times of emergency, it's possible for the French president to become a virtual dictator, assuming comprehensive control over the French government and armed forces. In this time, he/she is even allowed to intervene in National Assembly legislation and introduce his/her own; something the president is prohibited from doing in normal time.

Prime Minister and Cabinet

While the president's powers can be truly awe-inspiring, there are other portions of the executive branch as well, the first of these being the president's direct subordinate, the prime minister. The prime minister, as mentioned, is appointed by the president and serves at his leisure. He/she is charged with running the day-to-day business of the French government for the president. The prime minister directs the French legislative branch and introduces legislation on behalf of the executive branch. Furthermore, on certain categories of legislation the prime minister must sign the bill into law along with the president before the law can be enacted.

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