The State and Civil Society: Pressure and Interest Groups
The French constitution proclaims the sovereignty of the people. It is from this sovereignty that the legitimacy and authority of the government derives. The tradition of direct suffrage, dating back to the French Revolution firmly locates the exercise of this sovereignty in the casting of a vote. Political parties have developed as the means by which voting choice can be organized, channelled and expressed. Political parties, however, are by no means the only channels through which citizens may choose to voice their opinions or seek to express their interests, needs and demands. A very large number of groups, societies and associations exist within France and they too have important roles to play in shaping both policy-making and policy implementation. Many clubs and societies exist for purely social, sporting, recreational or cultural reasons, but even they may occasionally be stirred to more political action, as when representatives of the local anglers’ societies began, in Brittany during the 1980s, to take legal action against farmers whose agricultural activities polluted the water. Moreover, there is a long and strong tradition of street protest and direct action, which also influences governmental activity and politicians’ priorities.
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