This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book illustrates the way in which the departure of Démocratie Libérale in May of 1998 deprived the Union pour la Démocratie Française (UDF) of one of its more proximate elements to the Rassemblement pour la République (RPR). It then focuses on the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and presents the combination of strategic incentive and ideological disincentive that these parties have encountered in their role as props for the Socialist Party's government. The book focuses on the three elements, parties, electorates and the institutional framework and their effects on each other, in order to better understand the state that the French system finds itself in at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
This chapter presents an overview of the evolution of the French party system in the first forty-five years of the Fifth Republic. During the Third and Fourth Republics, the fragmented structure of the party system, along with the parliamentary basis of political power, had a direct and divisive impact upon governmental stability. Even 'strong' parties, such as the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and Rassemblement pour la République (RPR), relied more on the logistical infrastructure provided by municipal government than on their formal party organisations. The chapter identifies the stresses and strains and maps out the important changes that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. It also identifies three underlying causes of party continuity: institutional incentives, flexible and adaptable party organisations, and the absorptive capacity of the main French political traditions.