President Mitterrand

Since French President Mitterrand stepped down in 1995 (and subsequently died in 1996) it appears that not much has changed regarding layers of bureaucracy. According to the concept of laicité, politics and society should be separate. While a noble idea, it is near impossible in such a complex system. There are a few positions that hold quite a bit of conflicting power: the President, the Premier, and the National Assembly. The Council of Ministers is now chaired by persons of nonpolitical careers, but they lack much power beyond an advisory capability due to the President and the Premier. Even more fluid is their size and usefulness. There are six major political parties who reside on different places on a political spectrum of the sliding scale from conservative to liberal. The reasons are all very complicated, but basically French politics are incredibly unstable. Parties come and go like the tide. There have been few ways in which a citizen could truly be part of the governmental process beyond voting for the National Assembly (despite five-year terms being nothing to laugh at).

What makes France so unusual is its highly centralized government. When Mitterrand was voted in, (via the Socialist Party) the system had been overhauled once before by Napoleon in 1801. He simply introduced more radical measures. During the 1980s the position to do this overhaul was not limited to just the Socialists – many parties shared this view. A more streamlined government was seen as a more efficient one. The concept was deceptively simple: give local governments more managing power over local issues. In some of the smallest communes, prefects have the responsibility, as they used to prior to the heavy centralization.

Currently there has been slow movement towards decentralization. Technically, I think it has not realized the true goal that Mitterrand intended. First, local governments need to be willing to take control and the government needs to be willing to give it. Overall, the system is better than in was before in Mitterrand’s vision. It can be seen in the Defferre Law which was “intended as an instrument of administrative-political decentralization” – there is some conflicting text (Safran 42). Regional governments were not to replace the central government but to simply support it. The regions had the power to “assure to the region the preservation of identity” while at the same time “respecting ‘the unity of the nation’” (Safran 43). Tricky, sticky stuff. This is an interesting concept – the decentralization is heavily regulated and controlled, to the extent that regional issues are secondary to the unity of the nation.

I do not think a decentralized government is truly possible in the way that Mitterrand wanted. It was promoted to recognize the “middle class aspiration to lessen the role of the state” (Tiersky 129). It was the next great Mitterrand plan, buoyed by the concept of local self representation. After all, the Senate has an electoral election to decide its members. The concept cannot be considered complete when it has barely been enacted so far. Change may be slow but “ Nothing is truly destroyed,’ said the nineteenth-century French sociologist Auquste Comte, ‘until it is replaced’” (Tiersky 129).


Safran, William. “The Mitterrand Regime and Its Policies of Ethnocultural Accommodation.” Comparative Politics 18.1 (1985): 41-63. JSTOR. Web. 19 May 2014. <;.

Terrill, Richard J. World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey. 8th ed. Waltham, MA: Anderson Pub., 2013. Print.

Tiersky, Ronald. François Mitterrand: A Very French President. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Print.

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