France is a country located in the region of Western Europe. The young former banker and finance minister Emmanuel Macron surprisingly won the 2017 presidential election. He was initially seen as a new fresh fan of French politics and expectations were high that he would be able to push through reforms that would give more jobs and boost the economy. However, Macron’s popularity among many Frenchmen has declined and his policies have been criticized for widening the gaps in the country.
Ahead of the spring 2017 presidential election, support for the then Socialist President François Hollande was low. His unpopularity was due, among other things, to the difficulties in fixing the country’s economic problems, the persistently high unemployment and internal contradictions within the Socialist Party. But Hollande also received criticism from some quarters for failing to protect the French from the severe terrorist attacks 2015-2016 (see Modern History). Hollande had decided not to stand for re-election at the end of 2016 and the candidate for the Socialist Party was Benoît Hamon, who had defeated former Prime Minister Manuel Valls in a party vote. Another presidential candidate on the left was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the La France Insoumise movement (about the unbelievable France) he formed in the spring of 2016.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of France, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
For the right-wing Republicans (les Républicains, previously renamed the UMP in May 2015), former Prime Minister François Fillon was running for office. He had won the primary election in November 2016 against former President Nicolas Sarkozy and the more moderate 71-year-old former prime minister, Alain Juppé.
The refugee crisis in Europe in 2015 and the terrorist act in France helped give Marine Le Pen, leader of the right-wing party the National Front (the party changed its name to the National Assembly in 2018, see Political system), wind in the sails before the election; 25-30 percent of French voters wanted to see Marine Le Pen as the country’s president, according to opinion polls.
As a counterbalance to the established right and left politicians, there was also 38-year-old former Minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron, one of the architects behind the government’s right-wing economic policy. In 2016, Macron had started En Marche (On the Road), a center movement that was for globalization and immigration. In the summer of 2016 he left the government and in November he announced his intention to stand for election as an independent candidate.
The EU-friendly Macron promised, among other things, lower taxes for companies, reduced unemployment to 7 percent, further investments in renewable energy sources and expanded infrastructure. Marine Le Pen, in turn, said that she wanted a referendum on EU membership and that she wanted to impose an immediate immigration halt, which should be followed by limiting immigration to 10,000 a year.
When the election results were clear after the first round of the presidential election in April, it was clear that Emmanuel Macron won by 24 percent of the vote against Len Pen’s just over 21 percent. After the election, François Fillon and the Socialist Party’s Benôit Hamon gave their support to Macron and invited his voters to vote for him in the second round of elections on May 7.
Macron won in the second round with 66 percent of the vote against just over 33 percent for Le Pen. He took office as new president in mid-May 2017. For the first time since the 1950s, France’s president did not come from any of the established left and right parties and Macron also distinguished himself as the youngest elected president ever.
He expressed as his primary goal “to give back to the French their confidence” and to convince them that “France’s power is not on the decline”. At the domestic political level, he wants to change and open up the heavily regulated French labor market and implement improvements to the social security system.
Macron appointed Edouard Philippe, Republican MP and mayor of Le Havre, as new prime minister. Macron’s goal was to win over voters from both the Republicans and the Socialist Party to their own middle party Republican on the road (La République en Marche, LREM, which his name was renamed) in the parliamentary elections in June, so that he could control a majority of the seats in national Assembly.
The strategy was successful and LREM together with its alliance partner, the middle party Democratic Movement (Modem), obtained a satisfactory majority in the National Assembly. The Republicans backed down but remained the second largest party while the Socialist Party collapsed to a tenth of the result in the 2012 parliamentary election.
The Macron government also had problems shortly after the parliamentary elections, when four ministers resigned in just a few days. One of them, LREM’s Secretary-General Richard Ferrand, was accused of exploiting insider information during a previous assignment as company director. The other three belonged to the Modem alliance party, which was under investigation for misusing EU funds. Among them were Modem’s leader, Justice Minister François Bayrou.
After the government, during the summer of 2017, had deep discussions with business leaders and negotiations with trade unions, Macron presented its promised labor market reform. The changes will give companies more flexibility to negotiate working conditions directly with employees outside trade union agreements while reducing the cost of dismissing employees. Macron’s plans were backed by both right-wing and center-left supporters and Parliament gave its approval to the reform being clubbed by presidential decisions – instead of voting in the National Assembly. In September of that year, Macron was able to sign five such presidential resolutions with the changes, despite some opposition from some unions, including CGT, and street demonstrations.
Neither the left nor the right opposition succeeded in mobilizing any greater resistance to Macron. The fact that the economy was beginning to become marked with increasing growth and reduced unemployment gave the president further headwinds during his first year in power.
At the same time, Macron had ambitious plans to move forward in tightening the conditions for unemployment benefits and the pension system – changes that risked making him less popular with the common man. The government also wants to change the tax system with, among other things, reduced corporate tax and revised immigration legislation. A tougher line is proposed when it comes to deporting asylum seekers who have been rejected, while at the same time more migrants with demand education are to be received.
Disadvantages in 2018
But during Macron’s second year, the happiness of the president turned. Several factors co-operated with the changed situation. Macron was criticized for dealing with a scandal surrounding one of his bodyguards in June 2018 (see Calendar) and for statements where he was perceived as clumsy and arrogant, for example when he explained to an unemployed gardener that it was no problem to get a job if they were just sufficiently motivated. Another heavy blow was the ministerial resignations that hit the government during late summer and early autumn. Macron’s poll numbers dropped as problems rose, and in November surveys showed that the president had only the support of just under a quarter of voters.
At that time, the country was also shaken by vigorous popular protests against increased gas and diesel prices, which were part of the government’s transition to a more climate-friendly policy. The increased cost of fuel was reported to be particularly hard on low-income people and rural people. But the “Yellow West” movement, which organized the protests in the form of, among other things, roadblocks and demonstrations in several parts of the country, had no connection with political parties or trade unions. The dissatisfaction among the protesters was about increased living costs but also an underlying distrust of Macron and his policies that were criticized for favoring the already rich.
After violent riots in Paris in early December with hundreds of casualties, vandalization of buildings and tourist destinations and negative impact on trade and tourism, the government set the planned fuel price increases in 2019. Macron was thus forced to renounce its proud election promise not to change political decisions because of popular protests. But the protesters did not let themselves be humbled, but continued to organize protests on Saturdays. The government came up with new cap jobs that raised the minimum wage and lowered taxes for pensioners and a two-month long national citizen consultation began in mid-January 2019 in an effort to give the French increased influence.
At the end of April, Macron then presented the government’s action plan following the major debates held with French citizens in different parts of the country. Macron held his performance on April 25 instead of the 15th, as planned, due to the severe fire that destroyed parts of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Among the measures planned to solve the problems discussed during the debates were to reduce income tax, raise the very lowest pensions, make the country’s management more decentralized and the electoral system more fair through an increased proportional distribution of mandates. The measures included about EUR 17 billion.
The protests of the Yellow West led to the injury of thousands of protesters and police. Dozens of people lost their lives in accidents related to roadblocks and blockades. The demonstrations improved during the summer months, but revived in the early autumn. At the same time, discussions began on a controversial reform of the pension system.
Strikes towards pension reform
At the beginning of December 2019, large demonstrations were launched against the government’s plans to radically overhaul the pension system so that the many different generous existing pension schemes are replaced by a single, uniform point system, so that pension spending should become a smaller burden on the Treasury. The left-wing trade union CGT demanded that the proposal be withdrawn, announcing a nationwide general strike that affected several million transport workers, teachers, police and several other occupational groups. The country was paralyzed for several weeks. Even more reform-oriented unions, including the CFDT, joined the strikes as they believed that many in the private sector would have to work significantly longer than the statutory retirement age of 62 to receive a sufficient pension.
At the end of February 2020, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that the government intended to push the pension reform through decree without holding a vote in Parliament. Then the opposition had tried to stop a vote by tabling 40,000 amendments to the bill in the National Assembly. At the same time, however, the unions were planning new strikes.
But in March 2020, the situation changed suddenly when the new corona virus, which began spreading in China in December, also gained a foothold in France. To try to curb the escalating spread of infection, the government announced that the country would close its borders, urging people to stay at home and restaurants, shops, museums and more could no longer stay open. At the same time, Macron and his government decided to put all ongoing reforms on ice, including the controversial pension reform.
President Macron promised to open a “war” against the corona virus, but despite it and the extensive shutdown of society that was done to reduce the spread of infection, France came to suffer hard compared to many other countries. By early May, over 28,000 people had died of the covid-19 disease, which is caused by the coronavirus but the number of infected patients has steadily declined. This led to the restrictions gradually being lifted from the middle of the month. But the situation differed greatly in different regions due to the spread of infection and the burden of health care. In red zones, several restrictions still existed, while elementary and preschools and shops reopened in the green. In green zones, restaurants and bars opened again in early June, but gatherings with more than ten people at one time were banned throughout the country.
MPs leave LREM
During the past two-year period, several members of the National Assembly have left President Macron’s party LREM and continued as independent. Some of those who have left LREM have done so because they have considered that the party and Macron have over-prioritized traditional right issues rather than being a middle option. At the end of May 2020, another handful of LREM members left to join a newly formed group EDS (Ecology, Democracy and Solidarity). EDS had 17 members and particularly wanted to pursue climate issues and equality, but the movement did not consider it to belong to the opposition.
A few weeks later, another seven LREM MPs left the party in the National Assembly to join another newly formed group called Agir Ensemble (Agera together). The new group promised to support LREM but wanted to be a more viable alternative.
As of the latest drop-offs, LREM only registered 281 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, which meant that it no longer had its own majority. However, Macron could still count on the support of Modem.
Follow the ongoing development of the calendar.
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of France / Republic of France
republic, unitary state
Head of State
President Emmanuel Macron (2017–)
Head of government
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (2017–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Republic on Road (LREM) 308, Republicans 112, Democratic Movement (MoDem) 42, Socialist Party (PS) 30, Union Democrats and Independence (UDI) 18, Okuvade France 17, French Communist Party (PCF) 10, National Front (UN) 8, other 32 (2017)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Socialist Party (PS) 280, Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) 194, Independent Left Candidates (DVG) 22, European Ecology-Greens (EELV) 17, Independent Right Candidates (DVD) 15, New Center (NC) 12, Radical Left Party (PRG) 12), Left Front (FG) 10, Radical Party (PR) 6, others 9 (2012)
77/75% in the 1st / 2nd round of the 2017 presidential election,
49/43% in the 1st / 2nd round of the 2017 parliamentary elections
presidential and parliamentary elections 2022
Nationalism in regions
Political unrest has occurred in Corsica since 1975 (see also Political system), including in the form of blast attacks. Basque nationalists have not been as active in France as in Spain.
After negotiations with political parties in Corsica, the government offered limited self-government for the island in 2000. In a 2003 referendum, a barely-majority voted no to the government proposal, which was considered to threaten traditional local government with “clan chieftains” in villages and towns. Militant nationalists were dissatisfied and, after the vote, carried out a series of bombings against symbols of French rule. The attacks continued, although they rarely caused any major damage. By the middle of the 2010s, they were declining and then two separatist groups had also announced that they would end their armed struggle. The nationalists then strengthened instead to solicit votes among the Corsicans to achieve their political goals. Ahead of the 2015 regional elections, the Alliance For Corsica (Pè a Corsica) was formed consisting of Let’s make Corsica(Femu a Corsica), which advocates self-government, and the independence- oriented Free Corsica (Corsica Libera). The alliance won a historic victory in the regional parliament and took over the reign of Corsica. For Corsica, its position in the regional elections strengthened in December 2017. The alliance is striving for Corsica to gain expanded self-government.
The Basque nationalists, who are most active in Spain, count three French departments in the Southwest as part of the Basque historical homeland. In France, however, Basque identity is not as strong as in Spain. The French sections have mainly served as a refuge for Spanish base leaders, but cooperation between Spanish and French police has in recent years led to a number of arrests of leaders and members of the separatist movement ETA. Read more about ETA and the conflict in Spain in the text Conflicts-Basque. The Basque separatist party Batasuna was dissolved in France in 2013. Previously, Batasuna was banned in Spain for its suspected ties to the terrorist-stamped separatist movement ETA.
Foreign policy and defense
France is a nuclear power and one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The country has a clear ambition to be a military and economic superpower. During the post-war period France sought to pursue an independent stance between the eastern and western blocs. The country has often marked independence in relation to the US superpower and seeks European leadership together with Germany.
Foreign policy was oriented during Charles de Gaulle’s presidency in the 1960s toward international independence and self-determination, not least in relation to the United States. Later presidents have sought more for international cooperation, but at the same time maintained a high level of independent action.
In Europe, cooperation with Germany has long been important. European integration has been pushed forward by the so-called Franco-German axis. In 1987, the countries formed a joint military force, the Franco-German Brigade, which then developed into the multinational Eurocorps force, stationed in Strasbourg, France. Within the EU, France and Germany have long been the driving force for continued integration between the member states and by the middle of the 2010s, the two countries wanted to work together to deepen defense cooperation within the EU.
On French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal, ten European countries agreed in June 2018 – in addition to France, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal – to form a joint military force, the European Intervention Initiative. In this way, army forces in several European countries should be able to coordinate and jointly deploy in emergency crises. The initiative will allow countries to act outside NATO, and not have to depend on the United States, which has been updated in light of President Donald Trump’s signaled diminished interest in defending European countries. Since the defense initiative is also outside the EU, it allows the UK to participate after the Brexit. A new friendship treaty between the countries, a continuation of the 1963 Elysee Treaty, was signed in 2019 in the German city of Aachen. The agreement would lead to deeper cooperation in a number of areas including foreign, defense and security policy and also highlighted the important role that France and Germany play in European cooperation.
Relations with Italy have deteriorated since the right-wing populist government took office in the neighboring country. The migration issue in particular has led to tensions. France has criticized Italy for not receiving distressed migrants on rescue vessels. The Italian government has responded by criticizing the French for sending back migrants who want to stay in France to Italy. The tone has gradually become more hostile and in February 2019 France even called its ambassador to Rome since Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio met members of the protest movement Yellow West (see Current policy) to discuss possible political cooperation. The meeting was seen by the French government as an intervention in France’s “internal affairs”. After Italian President Sergio Mattarella had a telephone conversation with President Emmanuel Macron, France sent his ambassador back to Rome and relations between the countries thawed somewhat.
Relations with Russia deteriorated after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine. France voted for the EU to impose sanctions on Russia and also suspended the sale of two military vessels to Russia.
Relationship with the United States
The relationship with the United States has often been characterized by some mistrust, despite the fact that many Frenchmen feel a debt of gratitude to the Americans for the United States’ leading role in the liberation of France during World War II. In France, a historical superpower, there is a suspicious and pending attitude to the fact that, during the postwar period, the United States gained an increasingly dominant position politically, culturally and linguistically. France resisted the US attack on Iraq in 2003, which led to strong tensions between the countries. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, France approached the United States again. This was achieved, for example, by re-entry in 2009 in the Western defense alliance NATO’s military cooperation. France had withdrawn from the committee that coordinates the military forces in 1966, in protest of US domination. France constantly participated in NATO’s political work.
During the 2010 century, France has been an important partner for the United States in the fight against terrorism. French soldiers joined the ISA forces in Afghanistan, where the last French military left the country in 2014, and French fighter planes assisted in August 2015 the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) extremist movement in Iraq. From autumn 2015, France also took part in bomb attacks against IS targets in Syria and after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November the same year, the French air strikes against IS intensified. The French military operation in the Sahel region, where 3,000 French forces have been fighting terrorist groups in Mali and its neighboring countries since 2014, has also been welcomed in the United States.
Arab world and Turkey
When the uprising in the Arab world began in early 2011, several French politicians ended up in windy weather due to close contacts with the regime that overthrew. As the uprising spread to Libya, Sarkozy maintained a high profile, in an attempt to reclaim a prominent role. France became the first to recognize the transition regime in Libya, and the French military participated in the NATO-led effort that helped bring Muammar Gaddafi’s regime to a fall. Even in connection with the popular protests against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad that year, France stood early on the side of the rebels, demanding that Assad resign. French President Hollande wanted to launch a fighter jet against the Assad regime in 2013 after it was discovered that it used chemical weapons, but he did not receive support from Britain and the United States, and France did not want to act alone.
France’s relations with Turkey have at times been strained. Nicolas Sarkozy (President 2007-2012) was an outspoken opponent of Turkish membership in the EU. He also advocated a law that would make it criminal to deny the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) in 1915. When the National Assembly passed the law in December 2011, the Turkish government called home its ambassador and canceled all meetings with French representatives. Turkey firmly denies that any genocide has been committed. However, the law, which was finalized for Sarkozy’s signature in January 2012, was revoked in court on the grounds that it violated the freedom of expression. Relations improved when François Holland became French President in 2012 and 2014 he visited Turkey. About half a million people of Armenian origin live in France,
France has long had economic, political and military interests in the former colonies of Africa. However, many French citizens have left the former colonies, and at the same time other African countries have become important, including major trading partners such as Nigeria, Angola and South Africa.
France’s involvement in Africa diminished for some time, especially after the Rwanda genocide in 1994. France’s role in the Rwanda conflict has been shaken and wet. When a French court in 2006 accused Rwanda President Paul Kagame of triggering the genocide, Rwanda broke diplomatic ties. France later admitted that mistakes were made, and in 2010 relations resumed (see Rwanda: Foreign Policy and Defense). In 2013, France sent over 3,000 soldiers to the former colony of Mali to help the government fight Islamist rebels. President Hollande visited the country and was accepted as a hero. From the summer of 2014, the operation in Mali was transformed into a larger force with the task of fighting Islamist terrorism together with several countries in the Sahel region, in addition to Mali, including Chad, Mauritania and Niger.
Under President Hollande, France was also militarily involved in the conflict in the Central African Republic (see Central African Republic: Foreign Policy and Defense).
Relations with China have been widened to prevent French companies from falling alongside the rapid economic development there. At the same time, by the end of the 2010s, France has increased its presence in China’s vicinity. For example, French warships have sailed through the South China Sea several times a year, as a marker for freedom of navigation and against China claiming disputed archipelago there (see China: Foreign Policy and Defense). The French government has also stressed the importance of defending French citizens in French territories such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Pacific.
The terrorist attacks in France in 2015 led to about 10,000 soldiers being deployed in different parts of the country. At the same time, the French military engagement continued abroad. All of this meant that the resources of the defense were severely strained. Reductions decided by the defense were significantly less than expected and an additional € 3.9 billion would be transferred to the defense during the period 2016-2019.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, the French government asked the other EU countries for assistance in the fight against IS and referred to a solidarity clause in the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. This was the first time that this military aid clause had been used in the event of a member state being subjected to an armed attack. All EU countries answered yes to France’s request.
France’s former military service was replaced in 2002 with a professional army.
France is a nuclear power and carried out its first test blast in 1960. A strong nuclear force would help to guarantee its independence. When, after a break, the country resumed its nuclear explosions in 1995, protests became loud in many parts of the world. Thereafter, a trial stop agreement came to an end, and France ceased the trials. The country’s long-range robots have now been scrapped and in 2008 it was decided that another third of the country’s warheads would be destroyed.
READING TIP – read more about France’s foreign policy in the UI web magazine Foreign
magazine : Macron wants to get Russia into the European heat (2019-09-18) The
Aachen Treaty – New force in German-French cooperation? (2019-01-24)
FACTS – DEFENSE
112 500 Men (2017)
The air Force
41 150 men (2017)
35 550 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP
2.3 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget
4.0 percent (2017)