COMPARATIVE POLITICS SEMINAR II – A DESCRIPTION OF TWO WESTERN EUROPEAN POLITICAL SYSTEMS FRANCE AND GREAT BRITAIN INTRODUCTION I chose these two systems, which interest me for different reasons. The British system is one that has evolved over many centuries, with both small and large adjustments along the way to keep in on course. In contrast to this, the French model has changed dramatically on several occasions, and can rarely have been described as stable. However, in 1958 Charles de Gaulle made some brave changes to the constitution, which after being approved by the French public, set the scene for the classic semi-presidential system that we see today. Despite these opposing histories, there are many similarities between the two systems, which I intend to discuss. BRITAIN The United Kingdom is a democratic constitutional monarchy, with a system of government often known as the Westminster Model.
It has been used as a model of governance in many countries, and undoubtedly indirectly inspired many more. Somewhat unusually, the constitution is unwritten, consisting of conventions along with statutory law and common law, which are collectively referred to as British constitutional law. The head of state and theoretical source of executive and legislative power in the UK is the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. In theory, the British sovereign can dissolve Parliament whenever they desire. They can in theory choose any British citizen to be Prime Minister, even if they are not a member of the House of Commons or House of Lords. Theoretically, the Sovereign possesses the ability to refrain from granting Royal Assent to a Bill from Parliament, in addition to being able to declare war and appoint ministers.
Carl Hempel’s “covering law” model of explanation states essentially that an explanation for an event can be drawn from a set of general laws or, in the case of the social sciences, universal hypotheses. Hempel claims the study of history is not generally associated with the search for general laws governing historical events. However, history is a discipline within which the theory of “covering ...
In practice, the head of state is a largely ceremonial role, with powers restricted by convention. However, the monarch holds three essential rights, the right to be consulted, the right to advise and the right to warn. Also, as the position of head of state tends to be held for a longer period of time than that of Prime Minister, the monarch builds up lots of experience and wisdom which is at the disposal of the government. Thus the political head of the UK is the prime minister (PM), who must be supported by the House of Commons. The executive branch of the UK system is the Government (or more formally, Her Majesty’s Government).
The monarch appoints (or in reality, approves) a Prime Minister, who in turn appoints other Members of Parliaments (MPs) to act as Ministers, who are collectively known as the Government, and head the various government departments.
The cabinet is the most senior group of government ministers, and usually numbers around 20. The Government is answerable to parliament, from which its members are taken. A vote of no confidence can be called if any government-sponsored bill is defeated in the Commons. If the vote of no confidence is passed, the PM must either resign, or ask the monarch to dissolve parliament, and call a general election.
In practice, since a government usually holds a majority in the Commons, and party ‘whips’ try to ensure that party members support the government, governments are likely to win all but the most controversial votes. If however, a government doesn’t have a large majority, then it will do it can to bring ‘backbench’ MPs into line, and call three-line whips – i. e. votes that are compulsory for MPs to attend, sometimes even being brought in from hospital beds to vote. PARLIAMENT The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative institution in the United Kingdom and British overseas territories (it alone has parliamentary sovereignty).
For many years, Parliament has had the power to keep England's rulers under control by checking their power. Sometimes Parliament would go so far as to deny the monarch his finances. James I and his son, Charles I, were two monarchs with which Parliament caused problems. James I and Charles I disputed with Parliament over finances, religion, divine right, and foreign policy, eventually leading to ...
It consists of a head of state (currently Queen Elizabeth II), a bicameral system with an upper house – House of Lords, and a lower house – House of Commons At its head is the Sovereign; it also includes an Upper House, called the House of Lords, and a Lower House, called the House of Commons.
The House of Lords is an almost wholly appointed body. The House of Commons, on the other hand, is a democratically elected chamber. The House of Lords and the House of Commons meet in separate chambers in the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament), in central London. The British Parliament is often called the ‘Mother of Parliaments,’ as the legislative bodies of many nations-most notably, those of the members of the Commonwealth-are modelled on it. However, it is a misquotation of John Bright, who had actually remarked on 18 January 1865 that ‘England is the Mother of Parliaments’, in the context of supporting demands for expanded voting rights in a country which had pioneered Parliamentary government. The differences between the constituent members of the UK are interesting, England, despite being the most developed, populous and richest member, is the only one without its own devolved government.
House of Commons The UK is divided into parliamentary constituencies of broadly equal population (decided by the Boundaries Commission), each of which elects a Member of Parliament to the House of Commons. The leader of the party with the largest number of MPs is invited by the monarch to form a government, and becomes the Prime Minister. The leader of the second largest party becomes the Leader of the Opposition. There is usually a majority in Parliament, thanks to the First Past the Post electoral system so coalitions are rare. The monarch normally asks a person commissioned to form a government simply whether it can survive in the House of Commons, something which minority governments can do, albeit with more problems than a majority government.
The House of Lords The Lords has traditionally been the upper chamber, with a hereditary, aristocratic character. However, largely under Labour initiatives it has undergone dramatic reform, which is still in progress. There still remain some hereditary peers, but most are nowadays appointed peers. It holds powers to suggest amendments, and delay legislation, which mean that the Commons often seeks a compromise position to get a bill passed through the Lords. Civil service The civil service is a part of the executive, the difference being that it is politically neutral, and so must be prepared to work with any government. The central core of the civil service is organised into a number of Departments of State.
Charles De Montesquieu (1689-1755) Montesquieu was baptized Charles Louis de la Brede, taking his name from the estate given as his mothers dowry when she married Jacques de Secondat. He was born in La Brede, about ten miles from Bordeaux. When he was an infant he was placed under the care of a poor man's wife so he could see that the poor were his brothers. In 1700 he was sent to the college of ...
Each Department is led politically by a senior Minister, supported by a small team of junior Ministers. In most cases the senior Minister is known as a Secretary of State and is a member of the Cabinet. Administrative management of the Department is led by a head civil servant known in most Departments as a Permanent Secretary. The majority of the civil service staff in fact work in executive agencies, which are separate operational organisations reporting to Departments of State.
Devolution Devolution is a fairly recent trend that has changed the face of British politics. Scotland now has its own parliament, and Wales and Northern Ireland both have national assemblies. Most members of these new bodies are elected using Proportional Representation, unlike the Commons. The powers of these bodies is restricted, and are always dependent on the Commons for their existence, which can be altered at any time. So the UK can still be said to be a unitary system, albeit one with a devolve system of government. The present policy of the UK Government is to increase national and regional devolution.
The opportunity to elect a regional tier of elected government was to be offered to some of the regions of England, was accepted by referendum in London, but was rejected in a referendum in North East England and is now less likely to be offered elsewhere. local government Local Authorities make up the local government map of the UK, which can be further subdivided in some areas. Local elections determine the councillors who make up the Councils which control the Local Authorities. These bodies are responsible for local issues such as administering education, public transport, and looking after public spaces.
Athens of ancient Greece had perhaps the most advanced system of government of the ancient world. The system of Athens was called a Democracy. That is, every citizen voted on everything. People have claimed that the United States is also a Democracy. This is not true. The government of the United States is a Constitutional Republic (Every). United States citizens vote for representatives, who then ...
Parishes have councils too and some are known as city or town councils. These councils are either made up of elected parish councillors, or in very small parishes, they use direct democracy. Elections Various electoral systems are used in the UK: The First Past the Post system is used for general elections, and also local government elections in England, Scotland and Wales. The Additional Member System was introduced after devolution in 1999 for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and London Assembly. The Single Transferable Vote system is used to elect the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland’s local councils. The party list is used for European Parliament elections.
The Supplementary Vote is used to elect directly-elected mayors, such as the Mayor of London. In the last few elections, voter mandates for Westminster in the 40% ranges have been swung into 60% parliamentary majorities. No government has won a majority of the popular vote since the national government of Stanley Baldwin in 1935. Twice since World War II the party with fewer popular votes actually came out with the larger number of seats (in 1951 and February 1974).
One reason for all the quirks is that Britain has many political parties, making it possible to win individual constituencies on less than 50% of the vote due to the opposition votes being divided. FRANCE One of the first things we notice that is different about the French system, is that has a written constitution.
It is worth examining this in order to evaluate the aims of the French public bodies. In this Constitution, France declares herself to be an indivisible, la”i que (roughly, ‘secular’) democratic and social republic. There is a clear separation of powers, into the well-known executive, legislative, and judiciary. There is also mention of a number of human rights. Whilst the President does hold some direct executive power, the Prime Minister retains most of it. The French lower house, the National Assembly approves his appointment.
The Parliament passes statutes, and votes the budget, as well as maintaining checks on the executive, by holding commissions and questioning. The Constitutional Council acts as a check on the Parliament, by assessing the constitutionality of the statutes. Finally, the independent judiciary is divided into the judicial branch (dealing with civil and criminal law) and the administrative branch (dealing with recourses against executive decisions), each with their own independent supreme court. As the UK, France is a unitary state, but as the UK it has various regional divisions. Traditionally, France has been much more centralised than the UK, despite the r’eg ions, d’ and communes, having the legal right to carry out various functions. The Constitution In 1958, a new constitution was approved, which greatly strengthened the powers of the president and the executive, whilst at the same time weakening those of the parliament.
During the pre-Enlightenment period, France and England went through very dramatic and very different government change. At the beginning of this time period, England had achieved relative stability, due largely in part to Elizabeth I long and successful reign. On the other hand, France had been subjected to numerous civil and religious wars, therefore leading to instability. French absolutism was ...
This brought into being the famous semi-presidential system of de Gaulle, so called because whilst the President does hold certain powers, and remains a strong influence, the actual power lies with the National Assembly. This is in contrast to the UK system, where the equivalent head of state holds only ceremonial powers. The constitution does not contain a bill of rights in itself, but its preamble mentions that France should follow the principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, as well as those of the preamble to the constitution of the Fourth Republic. This has been judged to imply that the principles laid in those texts had constitutional value, and that legislation infringing on those principles should be found unconstitutional. Among these foundational principles, one may cite: the equality of all citizens before law, and the rejection of special class privileges such as those that existed prior to the French Revolution; presumption of innocence; freedom of speech; freedom of opinion including freedom of religion; the guarantee of property against seizures; the accountability of government agents before citizens. The executive branch France has an original system with an executive headed by two officials: the President and the Prime Minister.
The President of the Republic The president is elected for a period of five years, with various responsibilities, including naming the prime minister, ruling over the cabinet, commanding the armed forces, and concluding treaties. He may also call national referenda and dissolve the National Assembly. He also holds certain emergency powers. The President’s power in choosing the Prime Minister and cabinet, should not be underestimated, as his own political agenda can often be pushed through.
To what extent did the reforms of the Constituent Assembly create discontent? The National Constituent Assembly solved some of Frances short term problems, but caused significant discontent due to its inability to resolve long term problems, that had been destroying France economically, politically and socially. There were some groups of society that were quite content with the reforms of the ...
However, as the President is constrained to choose a Prime Minster and cabinet reflecting parliament’s majority, this limits these powers somewhat. When parties from opposite ends of the political spectrum control parliament and the presidency, the power-sharing arrangement is known as cohabitation. As of 2005, the President is Jacques Chirac (since 17 May 1995).
He was re-elected in 2002 for 5 more years.
The Gouvernement This is the French equivalent of the British cabinet. It is headed by the Prime Minister, as with the British system. It answers to Parliament, who may pass a motion of censure, which forces its resignation. It in turn is answerable to by the civil service, various government agencies, and the armed forces. Ministers have to answer questions from members of Parliament, both written and oral; this is known as the questions au gouvernement, which acts as a check.
In addition, ministers attend meetings of the houses of Parliament when laws pertaining to their areas of responsibility are being discussed. As of 2005, the prime minister is Jean-Pierre Raff arin (since 6 May 2002).
Independent Agencies There are several independent agencies (auto rit ” es administrative’s ind’) that although they nominally belong to the executive office, they are excluded from its authority. These agencies holds an interesting mixture of powers, in regulatory powers, executive power, and some quasi-judicial power. They can impose sanctions that are known as ‘administrative sanctions’ (sanctions administrative’s) Some examples of independent agencies: o The Banque de France, the central bank, is independent. This was a prerequisite for integrating the European System of Central Banks.
o The Telecommunication regulation authority is an in dependant administrative authority. o The Financial markets regulatory authority regulates securities markets. o The Higher council of the audiovisual (Conseil sup’e rieur de l’audiovisual) supervises the granting and withdrawing of emission frequencies for radio and TV, as well as public broadcasting. The Legislative Branch As with the British model, The Parliament of France is bicameral: the National Assembly and the Senate; the Assembly being the upper body.
Although the 1958 constitution weakened the Parliament, the National Assembly still retains a good deal of power, and indeed can call the motion to censure, which as described above can force the resignation of the cabinet. The cabinet strongly influences the Parliamentary agenda The government can link its term to a legislative text which it proposes, and unless a motion of censure is introduced (within 24 hours after the proposal) and passed (within 48 hours of introduction – thus full procedures last at most 72 hours), the text is considered adopted without a vote. The National Assembly This is the principle legislative body, consisting of 577 deputies, who are all directly elected for five year terms. It can be considered analogous to the British House of Commons. Due to the possibility of a motion of censure, the prime minister and his cabinet are necessarily from the dominant party or coalition in the assembly. In the case of a president and assembly from opposing parties, this leads to the situation known as cohabitation.
While motions of censure are periodically proposed by the opposition following government actions that it deems highly inappropriate, they are purely rhetorical; party discipline ensures that, throughout a parliamentary term, the government is never overthrown by the Assembly. The Senate Senators are chosen by an electoral college of about 145, 000 local elected officials for 6-year terms, and one half of the Senate is renewed every 3 years. Before the law of 30 July 2004, senators were elected for 9 years, renewed by thirds every 3 years. There are currently 321 senators, but there will be 346 in 2010; 304 represent the metropolitan and overseas d’, five the other dependencies and 12 the French established abroad. The Senate is comparable to the British second house, i. e.
the House of Lords. Its powers are strictly limited. Many French commentators feel it sits awkwardly in the French system, being typically more right-wing than the National Assembly, as well as not being directly elected, or even representative. It bears an interesting comparison with the House of Lords, which has the same accusations thrown at it, but which has now undergone tremendous reforms, if not to improve the direct elected ness of its members, but to make it more representative.
The Judiciary France has a system of civil law, but jurisprudence plays an important role similar to that of case law. The most distinctive feature of the French judicial system is that it is divided into the judicial and the administrative orders of courts. The judicial order of courts judges civil and penal cases. It consists of first instance courts, courts of appeal, and the Cour de cassation. Judges are civil servants, but enjoy special statutory protection from the executive. They may not be moved or promoted without their consent.
Their careers are overseen by the High Council of the Magistracy The prosecution service, on the other hand, responds to the Minister of Justice. This has led to accusations of corruption in the past, when litigation’s against MPs has been dropped. Local Government This is another area that comparison to the UK bears fruit. Both countries are highly, with distinct languages and cultures differing from the main national identity.
However, Britain has made great strides to offer representation to its regions, whereas France has traditionally been very highly centralised, with each of France’s departments headed by a prefect appointed by the central government. The process of decentralization in France is making progress, although very slowly. In 1982, the national government granted a wide range of administrative and fiscal powers to local elected officials. In March 1986, regional councils were directly elected for the first time. In March 2003, a constitutional revision has changed very significantly the legal framework and could lead to more decentralization in the coming years. Bibliography Contemporary France: An Introduction to French Politics and Society ~Catherine Fieschi, et al France Since 1945 ~Robert GildeaThe Globalization of World Politics ~John Baylis (Editor), Steve Smith (Editor) How Parliament Works ~Paul Silk, et al Longman Political Institutions in Europe ~ M’end, Y et al.