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German and French Political and Economic Systems Essay

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Updated: Jun 21st, 2020

Introduction

According to Labrouse (2001), the integration of European countries represents a unique form of governance that has been sustained for the longest time. This integration led to the formation of the largest economy in the world for many years. Moreover, peace characterizing the nations has been a guarantor of democracy in the region. Most European countries have, in the past, enjoyed economic prosperity and democracy. However, they are characterized by distinctions in the political parties and electoral systems. In addition, the countries exhibit differences with regard to the level of growth in the economic sector. Krieger, Kesselman, and Joseph (2013) state that France is highly influential in Europe, and it is known as the most modernized nation in the world. The country is classified as the sixth-largest economy, and it comprises of a presidential and parliamentary system of government. In reference to Krieger, Kesselman, and Joseph (2013), Germany’s population is the second-largest in the world, and its economy is the largest in the Euro Zone. Additionally, it is the third-largest economy in the world based on market exchange rates. The cooperation between the two countries has greatly improved in the past, and this has promoted their integration of the European Union (Labrouse, 2001). The aim of the current research is to compare France and Germany in terms of their political parties, electoral systems, and economies. The research also looks at the accountability, stability, and democracy of the electoral systems.

Political Parties in France and Germany

It is important to assess how the political systems in the two countries function in a bid to gain an understanding of the political parties and the electoral systems. The political systems in Germany and France are distinct and are characterized by different levels of democracy. In reference to Krieger, Kesselman, and Joseph (2013), the French Republic comprises of a federal and parliamentary system of governance. The French Prime Minister and the President share governance responsibilities. The current political system is biased based on the amendment of the constitution in 1958. Schmitt (2005) indicates that the French president is elected for a duration of five years and acts as the head of the nation. Moreover, the president has the power to appoint the prime minister after consultation and approval from the parliament. While the president is in charge of defense and foreign policy ministries, the Prime Ministers are in charge of the domestic issues. The parliament is the legislative arm of the government and constitutes the senate and the national assembly. Knapp and Wright (2006) note that the stability of France is determined by the President and the Prime Minister. Over the years, the relation has been characterized by conflicts and instability due to its competitive nature. This political situation has affected the effectiveness of governance and policy-making. Evans (2003) notes that the citizens of France have, in the past, been dissatisfied with the political system and the political parties involved. The high levels of dissatisfaction indicate that the country’s democracy is questionable ( Knapp & Wright, 2006).

Similar to the French political system, the Germans also have a dual executive system. The political system in Germany comprises of a president and a chancellor who serves as the prime minister. The chancellor is usually in charge of the government and the political party that holds a majority of the seats in parliament. Mohr (2010) states that the president is the head of state and plays a major role in foreign policy. Despite being elected from the lower house in parliament, the chancellor has more executive power than the president. The presidents in both Germany and France serve a five-year term (Schmitt, 2005). The parliament consists of the Bundestrat (upper house) and the Bundestag (lower house). The lower house is the main legislative body, and it is involved in the election of the chancellor. According to Mohr (2010), the decision-making process is strong as the upper house serves as a control mechanism for the lower house. The election of the members of the Bundestag ensures proportional representation of the 16 states in Germany. The members are elected on a four-year term through the mixed-member proportional representation (MMPR) method that ensures that the population is fully represented in parliament. However, the members of the Bundestrat are not elected as they are members of the state cabinet. Schmitt (2005) explains that the French constitution gives the president a lot of power and this causes instability in the political system. However, the system in Germany is characterized by concentration, stability, and democratic election of members.

There are two major parties that have been present in the French politics over the past 25 years and they include the left-divide and the center-right divide. The left-divide comprises of the Greens, the French Communist Party, the French Socialist Party, and the Left radical Party. The center-right divide consists of the Union for a Popular Majority (UPM). According to Evans (2003), the UMP was formed in 2002 as a coalition between different parties in a bid to strengthen the central-right politics during that period. Prior to this period, the main center-right divide party was the Rally for the Republic. In this view, the party merger occurred between the Rally for the Republic, Union for Democracy, and the Small Liberal Party. In addition, Knapp and Wright (2006) note that there are other smaller political parties that have contested for the elections in previous years. The two most common minor parties include the Rally for France, the Citizen and Republican Movement, and the Independence of Europe. Evans (2003) notes that it is difficult for smaller political party to have any significant success in the elections. However, a minor party such as the National Front that was established prior to the elections in 1983 achieved significant triumph after elections. Party coalitions in the French political systems are based on similar political ideologies and the presence of influential members in such alliances act a catalyst towards their victory after the elections.

Similar to France’s political groupings, Germany also has two major political divides. According to Krieger, Kesselman, & Joseph, (2013), the political parties are divided into the center-right and the center-left. The center-right divide constitutes the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) (Schmitt, 2005). As a result of the Mixed Member Proportional Representation Method, the political parties have to be distributed to many regions in Germany to ensure that all the citizens are able to elect their preferred candidates to the Bundestag. The center-right divide parties are famous in different states and this eliminates direct competition during elections. In comparison, the center-left divide comprises of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Mohr (2010) notes that the political divide in Germany is almost similar to the situation in the United States where the republicans and the democrats are popular in different regions. Additionally, there are minor parties such as the German Green and the Left Party that have in the past been represented during elections. Coalitions in the German political system are common due to the mixed members proportional representation electoral system. Schmitt (2005) explains that the German’s basic law recognizes the existence of coalitions and the government plays an important part in supporting the parties during the campaigns. In the event of such coalitions, the parties have to come into a consensus on the various sectors that they will support in case they win the elections. Winning an election requires the political party or coalition to gain five percent of the total votes. The threshold was set to prevent any powerful extremist party from influencing the electoral decisions. Although the five percent rule has been powerful in containing the extreme parties, it has in the past prevented smaller parties from being represented in parliament. In summary, the conduct of any political party in Germany is guided by the basic law that requires conforming to the set democratic principles.

In reference to Schmitt (2005), the French political parties are highly marginalized compared to the parties in Germany. In France, influential members of the political parties have control over their survival and triumph during elections. These are members that have potential to be elected in the future as presidents. In the past, these influential members have been able to split, reunite, and change the names of the parties based on their own interests. As a result, party members become marginalized and the parties become volatile. On the contrary, the ideologies governing the political parties or coalitions tend to remain stable. Citizens in France tend to relate more to the political ideologies rather than the parties. While voters in France support ideologies, German voters seem to support political parties (Schmitt, 2005). Moreover, there is less marginalization and influence in the political parties. As a result of party identification, German citizens tend to vote for the same political parties for a long time without considering the ideologies that they present. Consequently, regions get to have long-standing party and candidate preferences.

Effect of the electoral systems on accountability, stability, and democracy

Electoral systems provide an essential link between the voter’s political preferences and democracy (O’Neil, 2013). Germany and France have different types of electoral systems that have varying impacts on democracy and the voting patterns. According to Blais and Loewen (2009), France utilizes the two-round electoral system for the presidential and parliamentary elections. The presidential vote only permits the top two contenders to compete against each other while election to the national assembly requires at the support of at least 11.5 percent of the legislators in the first ballot. Based on the French basic electoral law, a total majority has to be voted for in the first ballot. The second poll is only used when the absolute majority is not achieved during the first round. Evans (2003) states that a presidential run-off in France is inevitable in the case where none of the candidates achieve the 50 percent vote. Unlike the system in France, Germany has a Mixed Members Proportional Representation (MMPR) voting system (Schmitt, 2005).

Mohr (2010) explains that the Mixed Member Proportional Representation is based on the concept that the number of legislative seats is proportional to the citizen’s support. In this view, members of parliament are elected in multi-member districts. While the president is elected directly by the people through the MMPR system, the chancellor is elected indirectly by the members of the lower house. Schmitt (2005) notes that the voting system in France is characterized by instability due the fact that the system favors individual candidates rather than their parties. Furthermore, the aforementioned party volatility promotes instability within the electoral system in France. According to Knapp and Wright (2006), the French electoral system is partly to blame for the unstable governments in the recent past. Legislators become divided because the electoral system allows the survival of competing forces with the political system.

Evans (2003) argues that the two-ballot electoral system in France pays little regard to democracy and is characterized by discrimination. Smaller parties have less probability of wining elections as the system tends to favor larger parties and candidates that are more influential. In a bid to avoid losing elections, parties are left with the option of either joining the Right or Left divide. Despite such discrimination, new parties are still formed in the region. Another limitation of France’s electoral system is its inability to give proportional results. In contrast, Mohr (2010) acknowledges the high level of transparency in the German electoral system and process. However, the system can limit accountability in the event that an ousted candidate is allowed to change a party to join a new coalition after elections.

The MMPR system in Germany exhibits high level of accuracy and accountability with regard to election results and it ensures that parties and candidates are well represented throughout the states. The ability of the system to ensure that each district has a representative hinders gender and racial discrimination. Moreover, the system promotes the level of accountability of the German government and reduces wastage of resources, and funds (Mohr, 2010). Such wastage is reduced because the system encourages high voter turnout. Voters in Germany also experience greater satisfaction with regard to the democratic accountability of the government. In summary, Schmitt (2005) argues that the French electoral system has a long way to go in enhancing democracy. Structural changes that could promote democracy and accountability in this system include; elimination of the extremist parties, changes to accommodate proportional representative voting, and policies to limit the level of interference from influential political candidates.

France and Germany economies

In reference to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2013), the economy of France has been experiencing slow growth per capita in comparison to other countries in the Euro Zone. The weak growth has been due to a decrease in the average number of hours worked and rise in employment rates. The government of France introduced policies that cut the number of hours worked and hence a reduction in productivity. The leadership has focused on capitalism over the years in an effort to maintain social equity (Labrouse, 2001). Specifically, such equity is maintained through laws and social spending efforts that prevent discrimination. OECD (2013) explains that the country’s GDP has been stagnant since 2012 and the rate of unemployment has been increasing. In 2008 for example, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent and it rose to 10.2 percent in 2012.

Majority of the companies in the regions have been fully or partially privatized by the government. However, the French labor productivity has shown tremendous improvement in the recent years and it has been modest in comparison to other countries in the Euro zone. Currently, the public finances in the country are in a turmoil and the budget deficit is high (OECD, 2013). The trend in public finances has been due to the uneven balance between economic growth and spending. The mount of public debt in the country is also high. In the period between 2008 and 2013, the amount of public debt rose from 68 percent to 94 percent. In response to the negative trends in the economy of France, the government recently embarked on various measures to salvage the deteriorating economy. Such measures include greater support for employment, increasing the tax rate for the higher earning companies, and increase in tax on high wages (OECD, 2013). Additionally, the government has been hiring more professionals to reduce the level of unemployment and increase the hourly productivity.

On the contrary, Germany’s economy has been experiencing impressive growth despite the crisis facing the Euro Zone (Krieger, Kesselman, & Joseph, 2013). This economy is 38 percent larger than that of France. While Germany has been recording remarkable economic growth in the last five years, France has been recording a decline in economic growth (OECD, 2014). In the beginning of the 21st Century, Germany embarked on several structural reforms that were directed toward repairing the falling economy at that time. The reforms were directed at lowering the high unemployment levels and increasing the rate of growth. Currently, the levels of unemployment in Germany are low and the amount of public debt has been reducing. During the period between 2008 and 2009, recession hit many countries in the Euro zone. Regardless of this crisis, Germany was able to survive the crisis and recorded an increase in the rate of employment and GDP (OECD, 2014). The leadership in Germany has also been able to ensure the sustainability of public finances in the recent years. In comparison to the French economy, the budget deficit in Germany has been reduced and the economy remains the fifth largest in the world (OECD, 2014). The deficit reduced to 0.8 percent in 2012 from 4.1 percent in 2010 (OECD, 2014). Moreover, constitutional amendments in Germany ensure that the GDP is limited to more than 0.35 percent annually. While the German economy relies mostly on the export of Machinery, the French economy is dependent on tourism.

Conclusion

Germany is characterized by high economic growth and the economy is classified as the fifth largest in the world. The annual budget deficit and the level of unemployment have been low in comparison to the situation in France. Specifically, the French economy is characterized by high unemployment rates and reduced productivity, and economic growth (OECD, 2013). While France remains the most modernized country in the Eurozone, Germany is the richest and economically stable. The major political parties in both countries are classified into the left and right divide parties. Moreover, the countries have dual executive political systems with a chancellor in the case of Germany and a prime minister in France. In addition, the electoral systems in the two countries are also different. France has a two-round ballot electoral system while Germany has a mixed member proportional representation system (Schmitt, 2005). The system in Germany performs better at maintaining democracy and stability of the political parties. Furthermore, the level of government and party accountability is higher in Germany than France.

References

Knapp, A., & Wright, V. (2006). The Government and Politics of France. New York: Routledge.

Blais, A., & Loewen, P. J. (2009). The French Electoral System and its effects. West European Politics, 32(2), 345–359.

Evans, J. A. (2003). The French party system. New York: Manchester University Press.

Krieger, J., Kesselman, M., & Joseph, W. A. (2013). Introduction to comparative politics: Political challenges and changing agendas. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

Labrouse, A. (2001). Institutional economics in France and Germany: Germany ordoliberalism versus French regulation school. Berlin: Springer.

Mohr, A. (2010). The German political foundations as actors in democracy assistance. Boca Raton: The Academic Research Group.

OECD. (2013). France: Restoring competitiveness. Web.

OECD. (2014). Germany keeping the edge: Competitiveness for inclusive growth. Web.

O’Neil, P. H. (2013). Essentials of comparative politics. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Schmitt, H. (2005). Political Parties, Left-Right-Orientations, and the Vote in Germany and France. Mannheim: Mannheim Centre for European Social Research.

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