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The French legislative structure may seem very different to how America deals with legislation in their system because of the unparalleled power that the French executive branch has. Even though there are many minor differences in the process by which bills are passed in both respective legislatures, the basic concepts such as Checks and Balances, divisions of power, two houses debating a bill and a veto system are common in both branches. France has a reputation for having somewhat of a dictatorship type government because of all the power that the president has, but when you look closes at the procedures in the functioning government they are very similar to the basic concepts behind American government supposedly the greatest government in the world.
At first glance it looks as the French Parliament has a considerable lack of power considering the amount of power the executive branch has. The French Parliament does not have the amount of power that United States Congress has or even as much as the German Bundestag and the British Parliament. The National Assembly, formally known as the Chamber of Deputies, and the Senate makes up the two branches of the legislative branch. Very similar to the U.S. version consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, this setup fits into the mold of the parliament of most other countries. The 1958 Constitution gave the legislative body two important duties that make them a legitament institution within a government structure and not just something tomake a government look legitament when all it is just a cover for the dictatorship that really exists.
Article 34 of the French constitution defines what legislative role that they have in government. Article 34 has four specific points to illustrate Parliamentary powers. First it states that all laws should be voted on by Parliament. The second point it makes is that they are responsible for determine rules concerning things like: civil rights, status of the legal capacity of a person, marriage contracts, determine crimes and misdemeanors and their penalties, and the basis, the rate and the methods of collecting taxes. The next authority that the parliament has is deciding the regulations concerning: the electoral system, the establishment of categories of public institutions, the guarantees of people employed by the state, and issues concerning the ownership of property. Lastly the parliament will pass laws that shall determine the fundamental principals of: national defense, property rights, civil and commercial obligations, and legislation pertaining to employment, unions and social security.
(Stevens 198) One of the major responsibilities that the French Parliament has under Article 34 is finance laws which is deciding the budget for their country. This leads to “program laws” which is the term they use for setting goals for the countrys economic and social actions. Before the program laws are brought up for debate in the Senate and the National Assembly the legislation consults the Economic and Social Council. This council is composed of people representing a variety of social and professional categories. The government turns to these Economic and social councils for expert advise, studies, and information about a particular issue which is being debated in Parliament. Before a law can be passed through Parliament, bills must be introduced into the legislation. Bills introduced by the government, called “project de loi”, must first be submitted to the Council of State for discussion.
It is then sent to the cabinet for discussion before it is sent to one of the houses of parliament for the next step in the law passing process. In order for a bill to be adopted into law, both government sponsored bills and those introduced be parliament, also known as “propositions de loi” the need to be voted on and passed in both houses. The bill goes back and forth between the two houses as wording changes because the houses have to vote on the exact same bill and wording is important. If the both houses cant agree on the wording of a bill the national assembly has the final word as defined in Article 45.
The National Assembly is made up of 577 deputies elected by “direct universal suffrage” with majority accomplished in two rounds of voting. Each National Assembly has a term of 5 years which may come to an abrupt end if the President chooses to dissolve the assembly at his discretion. The National Assembly is composed collectively of deputies as they are members of one of the Assemblys six standing committees. These six standing committees consist of: cultural, social and family affairs; foreign affairs; national defense and the armed forces; finance; general economy and planning; legal matters; production and trade. Unlike the Senate, The National Assembly has the power to force government out of office.
This procedure is known as a “motion of censure” which is basically a vote of impeachment. Another difference between is that a finance bill must be submitted to the National Assembly first. The second house, the Senate, has 321 members who are elected for a nine year term. Every three years 1/3 of the senators are elected.
Duties for the senators, like the deputies, is to be legislators first. Bills are debated in the senate just as they are in the National Assembly. Discussed first in one of the standing committees (cultural affairs; economic affairs; foreign affairs; defense and the armed forces; social affairs; finance and legal matters) and then in public session. With one exception, being the vote of a motion of censure, have identical powers in providing a check on the government. Along with their major responsibilities, being keeping the government in check and voting on law, as of 1958 the constitution calls for the senate to represent the territorial units of France. These include municipalities, departments, regions and overseas territories.
The Senate also includes representatives form French citizens living overseas. Being that the Senates terms are nine years, the Senate gives a feeling of political stability that is good for any countrys government. Also, the fact that the president has no power to dissolve the Senate so this gives them some political credibility. The Senate is a stabilizing factor in the French government also taking over the presidents duties if need be .
In the United States legislative branch bills must also be introduced into one of the houses before it can become law. Only members of congress can introduce bills in to congress allowing no interest groups or even the president to introduce bills. This is one minor aspect where the French legislation differs in that outsiders are allowed to introduce bills into the Senate or the National assembly. Then a bill is debated just as in the French government there is a need to debate the bill to bring out all the pros and cons. After a bills introduction it is then given to a standing committee by the Speaker of the House or the presiding officer of the Senate.
Bills that pass through committee generally become law but, most bills die in committee. The main job of committees is to screen bills. After passing trough these committees it is sent to the house where rules are established for the bate before any discussion can be made on the matter. In the House the debate takes place and the bill is controlled by the bill managers. Then the bill is then sent to the Senate where there a fewer rules on debate because of the smaller size of the Senate compared to the House. The bill must be passed in both houses with the exact wording in the bill to avoid any confusion, again very similar to the French.
I f there still is some differences between the bills passed in each house the issue is brought up in a Conference Committee. For the bill to pass members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate must agree on the Conference Committee version of the bill and if not the bill will not be passed.