The Government of the French Republic (French: Gouvernement de la République française) exercises executive power in France. It is composed of a prime minister, who is the head of government, and both junior and senior ministers. Senior ministers are titled as Ministers (French: Ministres), whereas junior ministers are titled as Secretaries of State (French: Secrétaires d'État). A smaller and more powerful executive body, called the Council of Ministers (French: Conseil des ministres), is composed only of the senior ministers, though some Secretaries of State may attend Council meetings. The Council of Ministers is chaired by the President of the Republic, unlike the government, but is still led by the Prime Minister, who was officially titled as the President of the Council of Ministers (French: Président du Conseil des ministres) during the Third and Fourth Republics.
All members of the French government are appointed by the President of the Republic on the advice of the Prime Minister. Members of the government are ranked in a precise order, which is established at the time of government formation. In this hierarchy, the Prime Minister is the head of government. He is appointed by the President of the Republic. Whilst the President is constitutionally free to appoint whomever he likes, in practice he must nominate a candidate that reflects the will of the majority of the National Assembly, as the government is responsible to parliament. After being nominated to lead a government, the Prime Minister nominee must propose a list of ministers to the President. The President can either accept or reject these proposed ministers. Ministers are ranked by importance:
According to the Constitution of the French Fifth Republic, the government directs and decides the policy of the nation. In practice, the government writes bills to be introduced to parliament, and also writes and issues decrees. All political decisions made by the government must be registered in the government gazette. All bills and some decrees must be approved by the Council of Ministers. Furthermore, it is the Council of Ministers that defines the collective political and policy direction of the government, and takes practical steps to implement that direction. In addition to writing and implementing policy, the government is responsible for national defence, and directs the actions of the French Armed Forces. The workings of the government of France are based on the principle of collegiality.
Meetings of the Council of Ministers take place every Wednesday morning at the Élysée Palace. They are presided over by the President of the Republic, who promotes solidarity and collegiality amongst government ministers. These meetings follow a set format. In the first part of a meeting, the Council deliberates over general interest bills, ordinances, and decrees. In the second part, the Council discusses individual decisions by each Minister regarding the appointment of senior civil servants. In the third part, usually either one Minister will give a presentation about some reform or project that he or she is directing, or the President will ask for advice on some subject from the Ministers. In addition, the Minister of Foreign Affairs provides the Council with weekly updates on important international issues.
Most government work, however, is done elsewhere. Much of it is done by each individual ministry, under the direction of the Minister responsible for that ministry. Ministers each have their own staff, called a "ministerial cabinet" (French: Cabinet ministériel). Each ministerial cabinet consists of around ten to twenty members, who are political appointees. Cabinet members assist the Minister in running a ministry. Members of ministerial cabinets are powerful figures within the government, and work in both the political and administrative spheres. The hierarchy in each ministerial cabinet is determined by the Minister. Working groups consisting of representatives from several ministries are commonplace. It is the duty of the Prime Minister to oversee these inter-ministry meetings, and to ensure that governmental work is done effectively and efficiently.
The government is responsible for the economic and financial policy of the French Republic, must authorise all expenditures made by each ministry, and also manage all revenue. Expenditures are made through what is called a "finance law" (French: Loi des Finances), which is equivalent to an appropriation bill. Each minister must prepare a list of requests for funds annually, and submit it to the Budget Ministry. This ministry decides whether to grant or deny requests for funding by ministers. The ministry also calculates the state budget for the coming year. The parliament must vote on all applications of finance law.
Members of the French Government cannot occupy any position of occupational or trade leadership at the national level, any public employment, or any professional activity. These restrictions are in place to alleviate external pressure and influence on ministers, and to enable them to focus on their governmental work. Despite these restrictions, members of government are allowed to keep local elected positions, such as those of city mayor or regional councillor. Whilst the Constitution of the French Republic does not prohibit ministers from being the leader of a political party, it is customary that ministers should not occupy such a post.