The French parliament is divided into two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate. As the legislative branch of government, parliament is engaged primarily in the debate and adoption of laws. Legislation relating to government revenues and expenditures is especially important. The other principal duty of parliament is to oversee the government’s exercise of executive authority, although this oversight capacity was restricted somewhat by the 1958 constitution.
The 577 members of the National Assembly are directly elected for five-year terms. Candidates for the National Assembly are elected by majority vote in single-member electoral districts. Runoff elections are required if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote. Candidates who win at least 12.5 percent of the first round vote are eligible to run in second round. The 321 members of the Senate are elected indirectly by an electoral college. A law approved in July 2003 introduced a number of reforms in senatorial elections.
The law specified that senators would henceforth be elected to six-year terms, with one-half of the Senate elected every three years. Previously, senators were elected for nine-year terms with one-third of the Senate elected every three years. In addition, the law increased the number of Senate seats from 321 to 346, to take effect in 2010. In principle, the National Assembly and the Senate share equal legislative power. In practice, however, legislative authority is tilted to the National Assembly, since the Senate may delay, but not prevent, the passage of legislation.
If the two chambers disagree on a bill, final decision rests with the National Assembly, which may either accept the Senate’s version or, after a specified period, readopt its own. The Economic and Social Council acts in an advisory capacity on economic and budgetary matters to the National Assembly and the government. It consists of representatives from groups of workers and employers and from professional and cultural organizations.
The constitution of the Fifth Republic introduced two distinctive measures intended to streamline the legislative process.
The first measure granted the government the authority to demand an up-or-down vote on an entire bill or any portion of a bill, in either chamber. This reduces the opportunity for members of parliament to propose endless amendments to bills they oppose.
The second measure authorizes the government to win adoption of a bill in the National Assembly without an actual vote. To do so, the government announces that it considers rejection of the bill to be tantamount to a vote of no confidence in the government. If opponents of the bill fail to submit and win a majority vote on a motion of no confidence, the bill is adopted.
The parliamentary year was traditionally restricted to two separate sessions that ran from October to December and from April to June. In 1995 the constitution was amended to provide a nine-month parliamentary session to run continuously from October to June. In addition, the constitution permits the National Assembly to censure the government in a motion passed by an absolute majority of assembly members. Sponsors of failed motions of censure are barred from introducing similar motions during the same session.
In 2012, the Left Socialist Party came to power. In the elections of deputies French Socialists won the elections. The economic crisis has strained the party. All elections were lost: municipal, departmental. Socialist deputies began a liberal social policy.
The National Front won cities and deputies entered parliament in 2012. In parallel, a reflection emerges on the usefulness of the Senate of France. Many French are wondering what it is. Many hope the merger of the National Assembly and the Senate. The next elections of the deputies will be held in 2017 together with the election of President of the Republic. © "France" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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