Paris Politics 101
August 14, 2014
Traveling to Paris? You might want to brush up on France’s domestic affairs before you get here. If there’s one thing the French love to do, it’s talk politics. Unlike in the United States, taking up this subject upon first meeting someone is not a faux pas. On the contrary, you’ll get major respect here if you can hold your own in a heated discussion on what the country’s decision-makers have been up to lately.
If you’ve read the newspaper in the last two years, you’re probably aware that the French people elected Socialist Francois Hollande to become their country’s president in 2012. You may also know that each French president appoints a prime minister, who then is responsible for forming the government – a series of ministers in charge of finances, health, education, culture, etc.
Up until March of this year, the person heading up that operation was Jean-Marc Ayrault. But following local elections during that month, a cabinet reshuffle was in order. Ayrault resigned shortly before the new government was announced, which named Manuel Valls as Hollande’s number two.
France also counts a parliament, with two houses – the lower house is called the National Assembly and the upper house is the Senate. The UMP currently has control of the Senate, while the socialists hold the most seats in the national assembly.
Now that you have the basics of politics in France under your belt, it’s time to tackle Paris politics. The French capital saw its fair share of drama in recent months, when it elected a new mayor. Bertrand Delanoë, Paris’s widely popular former mayor and one of the first openly gay politicians to lead a major city in Europe, held the position since 2001.
Around the time of municipal elections at the end of March, Delanoë announced that after two terms he would not run again. In little time, the centre-right UMP party candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet came forward, while Anne Hidalgo stepped up as the left-wing socialists’ pick. While candidates from other parties were in the running, it was looking likely that Paris would soon have its first female mayor.
After the first round of voting on March 23, Kosciusko-Morizet had won. But as opinion polls had already predicted, Hidalgo was set to win the second round on March 30 – which she did, with around 55 percent of the vote.
Along with offering up a new Paris mayor, the municipal elections also decided on new leadership for the city’s twenty neighborhoods, or arrondissements. It also, as mentioned above, led to a reshuffle of the cabinet. France’s far-right National Front party won so many more municipalities than expected that President Hollande felt compelled to change things around to give the country a fresh start.
Well, there you have it – a little French political history to prepare you for any scintillating conversation about current events you might come across during your stay in Paris. And remember that here in France, having an opinion — any opinion – is better than none at all.
Back when royally reigned, the house of the French government was at the Palace of Versailles. Want to visit? Join our Versailles Bike Tour today.