The French political system features vibrant democratic processes and generally strong protections for civil liberties and political rights. However, successive governments have responded to terrorist attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic by curtailing constitutional protections and empowering law enforcement to infringe upon personal freedoms. The government has also imposed states of emergency in recent years, enabling it to infringe on rights to privacy, assembly, and movement.
- In April, President Emmanuel Macron won reelection, defeating far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. The second round of the election saw an abstention rate of 28 percent, a figure not seen since 1969.
- In the June parliamentary elections, the pro-Macron Ensemble! (Together!) coalition won the most seats but fell short of a majority. A left-wing alliance won 131 seats, while the Le Pen–led National Front (FN) won 89.
- A bill enshrining the constitutional right to an abortion passed the parliament’s lower house in November and awaited senatorial approval at year’s end.
- In December, the government revealed legislation that would restrict rejected asylum seekers’ ability to appeal denials of their claims, among other things. Parliament is expected to debate the bill in 2023.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is chief of state, and is elected to five-year terms by direct, universal suffrage in a two-round system. Executive elections are considered free and fair. Incumbent Emmanuel Macron won 27.9 percent of the first-round vote in April 2022, while Marine Le Pen of the far-right FN won 23.2 percent. Macron won 58.6 percent and a second term in the second round in late April. The 28 percent second-round abstention rate was the highest seen for such a contest since 1969.
The prime minister is head of government and is appointed by the president. Labor Minister Élisabeth Borne was named premier in May 2022 and remained in office at year’s end.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
Members of the lower house of Parliament, the 577-seat National Assembly, are elected to five-year terms in a two-round system. The upper house, the 348-seat Senate, is an indirectly elected body whose members serve six-year terms.
In the June 2022 parliamentary elections, Ensemble! won 245 lower-house seats, falling short of an absolute majority. The New Ecological and Social People’s Union (NUPES), a four-party left-wing coalition, won 131. The far-right FN won 89, a major improvement over the 8 seats it won in 2017.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
France’s electoral laws and framework are fair and implemented impartially.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Parties are generally able to organize and operate freely.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
The Republican and Socialist parties dominated French politics in the early 2010s. Other parties and new alliances like Ensemble! and NUPES, which includes the Socialist Party in its coalition, have since gained more visibility.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
People’s political choices are generally free from domination. However, some media outlets have drawn outsized attention to controversial political personalities, potentially skewing public perception for economic gain.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
No laws restrict the political participation of women, LGBT+ people, and other marginalized groups. However, far-right parties and nationalist ideologies have become more mainstream and emboldened racist commentary in public discourse.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
The elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government. However, the government has consistently used Article 49.3 of the constitution to enact legislation that is defeated in Parliament; under Article 49.3, a government can force passage of a bill and must withstand a no-confidence vote within 24 hours of employing that maneuver. The article’s use is restricted for some legislation but not for certain financial proposals; governments during the Macron presidency have used Article 49.3 on a regular basis.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
A 2017 law aims to reduce conflicts of interest. Despite this, corruption cases increased by 28 percent between 2016 and 2021 according to government data. In most cases, officials have resigned or been dismissed from office.
In a March 2022 report, the Senate criticized the presidency and other public agencies for signing lucrative contracts with consulting firms. Senators specifically accused one firm, McKinsey, of paying no corporate taxes within France despite staff members testifying otherwise.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
The government generally operates with openness and transparency, though it has increasingly used Article 49.3 of the constitution to enact policy with limited debate or scrutiny.
In July 2022, a former executive at ride-hailing service Uber leaked exchanges between Uber staff and Macron, then the economy minister, between 2014 and 2016. In those exchanges, Macron offered to reform French law to assist its operations despite the then ruling Socialist government’s opposition to some of Uber’s activity.
|Are there free and independent media?
The media generally operate freely and represent a wide range of political opinions, though journalists have faced violence in the course of their work.
Under the 2021 Global Security Law (LGS), journalists do not enjoy exceptions in circumstances where police officers order the dispersal of protests.
In 2019, Paris prosecutors ordered a raid of Mediapart’s offices after the outlet published remarks made by a former Macron aide. In July 2022, a court ruled that the raid was “neither necessary in a democratic society, nor proportionate to the objective sought” and ordered the government to pay Mediapart one euro along with a separate fine.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
The constitution protects freedom of religion. Antidefamation laws penalize religiously motivated abuse, and Holocaust denial is illegal. The government maintains the policy of laïcité (secularism), whereby religion and state affairs are strictly separated. However, senior officials and politicians have engaged in antisemitic and Islamophobic rhetoric in the public sphere.
The state has placed Muslim organizations under greater scrutiny. The 2021 Law Reinforcing the Republican Principles (LRPR) allows the government to dissolve religious organizations, increases the surveillance of mosques and Muslim associations, and requires the latter to sign a contract of “respect for Republican values” when applying for state subsidies.
Muslim women are subject to several laws preventing them from wearing clothing related to their religious practice or identity. In February 2022, authorities in Paris banned a march of female football players wearing the hijab.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
There are no formal restrictions on academic freedom in France.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Though citizens are free to express their views publicly, the government’s surveillance and tracking of individuals based on their political views has raised concerns in recent years.
The use of facial recognition is largely banned in public spaces with some exceptions. In May 2022, Nice mayor Christian Estrosi called on the National Commission for Information and Freedoms, a government body, to allow greater use of recognition technology, citing public safety concerns.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Freedom of assembly is normally respected, though authorities have used excessive force when dealing with political protests in recent years.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate freely. However, the LGS and LRPR have complicated and obstructed NGO reports around protests and police actions.
The LRPR eased authorities’ ability to disband associations that allegedly disrespect so-called “values of the Republic.” The law has been used to target organizations that seek to combat Islamophobia.
In March 2022, the interior minister ordered the dissolution of the Antifacist Group of Lyon and Surroundings (GALE), saying that it meant to incite violence. In May, however, the Council of State suspended that decision, citing a lack of evidence that GALE intended to disturb public order. In September, the prefect of Vienne cited the LRPR when calling on authorities in the city of Poitiers to withdraw public funding from Alternatiba, an environmental NGO; Alternatiba planned to hold workshops on civil disobedience. The mayor declined, prompting the prefect to sue over the legality of the funding in October.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
Trade unions are generally free to operate without undue restrictions. Social movements like the Yellow Vests of the late 2010s—despite rejecting affiliations with trade unions or political parties—and the formation of NUPES have provided momentum for trade union activism. In October 2022, oil workers, rail workers, and civil servants held strikes over pay, disrupting domestic travel.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
France has an independent judiciary. The rule of law generally prevails in court proceedings.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Due process generally prevails in civil and criminal matters.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
The number of complaints of police violence sent to the police’s internal disciplinary body has sharply increased since 2018, as have suspicions that the body is too lenient. Since the passage of a 2017 law governing police officers’ use of firearms, police have increasingly shot and killed individuals over reported noncompliance with their instructions. Police officers reportedly killed 13 people in traffic stops after such reported noncompliance in 2022.
In late December 2022, three people were killed in a racist attack against a Kurdish community center in Paris. Authorities said there was no immediate indication of a “terrorist motive,” prompting Kurdish community leaders to call on the government to call the attack a terrorist incident.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Both Islamophobia and antisemitism have increased in recent years. The far-right has become increasingly successful in using racist language to shape French public discourse.
Women face a notable pay gap, with European Union data showing that men earn 15.8 percent more than women on average in France. Sexual harassment of and violence against women are prominent issues.
Migrants and refugees continue to face societal discrimination and abuse from authorities, though Ukrainians fleeing the Russian regime’s invasion of their country have received support. Migrants and aid workers in Calais have faced mistreatment by police; while the Office for Immigration and Integration vowed to better address the needs of people living in informal camps, NGOs reported little improvement in Calais in 2022.
In December 2022, the government revealed draft immigration legislation that would, among other things, limit the number of appeals available to rejected asylum seekers and allow authorities to more easily deport foreign-born individuals convicted of crimes. Parliament is expected to debate the bill in 2023.
In September 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the government’s decision not to repatriate French women and children held in Syria violated their rights; the women and children had been affiliated with the Islamic State militant group and were subsequently held in camps in Syria.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
There are normally no restrictions on freedom of travel or choice of residence or employment. COVID-19-related restrictions, criticized for their discriminatory enforcement, came to an end in August 2022.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Private businesses are free to operate.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Individuals generally enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family. A bill enshrining the constitutional right to an abortion passed the lower house in November 2022 and awaited senatorial approval at year’s end. Fertility treatments are available for single women and lesbian couples; however, transgender individuals are not included, and surrogacy remains illegal.
During the 2020 and 2021 COVID-19 lockdowns, reports of domestic violence rose sharply, despite government measures to prevent this. Authorities implemented mechanisms to report violence and create safe zones, but their effectiveness is unclear.
Muslim women’s freedom to control their appearance is affected by several laws. While so-called “burkinis” are largely banned in public pools, the city council of Grenoble allowed their use in a contentious May 2022 vote.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Employment discrimination against women, French Muslims, immigrants of North African descent, and other marginalized groups hinders equality of opportunity. While the government acts against human trafficking, the problem persists in the commercial sex trade; some victims are also forced into domestic labor.
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Global Freedom Score89 100 free
Internet Freedom Score76 100 free