- Why did it take so long for a stable democratic regime to take hold in France?
- How did de Gaulle’s changes to the country’s institution and social, political, and economic processes contribute to the creation of an effective industrial state?
- What is the impact of the French influential elite whose roots lie in the bureaucracy?
- Discuss what France’s recent foreign policy says about its character as a nation.
- At Least 2 pages
Module 02 – World Power Policies
Vichy France – or the Vichy regime – represented the French government during the Nazi occupation of the country in World War II (1940-44). Charles de Gaulle was the French leader who led the resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II and then headed the Liberation government from 1944-1946. De Gaulle retired but became President again for 11 years after 1958 when he created the Fifth Republic, France’s first stable democracy.
France uses proportional representation, which means that individuals are not elected as they are in the USA. Instead, parties receive a number of seats in parliament that is proportionate to their share of the vote. As a result, it is possible for small parties to win seats, which has led to fragmentation and division, causing instability in the republic. A grasp of such political reality is important to understanding France’s volatile political history.
Another reality of French politics is constitutional engineering. Is it possible to change the behavior of citizens, politicians, interest groups, and parties by restructuring the political system? Superficially, the answer would seem to be obvious. The structure of the regime and its processes will determine the ways in which the participants act. The question remains whether the changes in behavior will be substantive or just superficial. The question for France after 1958 was whether a political system had been engineered to reduce partisanship and create stability. The new system was to encourage compromise by sidelining ideological disputes and enhancing executive powers.
You might want to make note, not only of the importance of the leadership of the socialist and communist parties in France, but of the roles they played in the World War II Resistance. Not only did the active leadership of the Left create legitimacy for them after the war, but their cooperation with Catholic resisters helped bridge the clerical/anti-clerical divide in the center of French politics. Mitterand’s steering of the French Socialist Party (PS) in the direction of becoming a “catch-all” party must also be mentioned.
The Elite, the Bureaucracy, and the Economy
People have long been intrigued by the concept of the ENA (initials for Ecole nationale d’administration or National School of Administration) and its graduates. The Economist magazine, both British and conservative, regularly seems to enjoy bashing the ENArques with narratives of their privileges, their short work weeks, and their marvelous retirement options (pantouflage or putting on silk slippers).
For Further Study
As always, be sure to catch up on today’s news of this module’s countries – France. Try reviewing the international coverage of The Economist Magazine (http://www.economist.com).
For further insights on France’s political structure, read the following article available at your college’s online library:
Annie Bouder, “Qualifications in France: Towards a National Framework.” Journal of Education & Work, Sep 2003. Issue 3
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