France is a republic; the institutions of governance of France are defined by theConstitution, more specifically by the current constitution, being that of the Fifth Republic. The Constitution has been modified several times since the start of the Fifth Republic, most recently in July 2008, when the French "Congress" (A joint convention of the two chambers of Parliament) approved - by 1 vote over the 60% majority required - constitutional changes proposed by President Sarkozy.
The Fifth Republic: The fifth republic was established in 1958, and was largely the work of General de Gaulle - its first president, and Michel Debré his prime minister. It has been amended 17 times. Though the French constitution is parliamentary, it gave relatively extensive powers to the executive (President and Ministers) compared to other western democracies.
The executive branch:
The head of state and head of the executive is the President, elected by universal suffrage. Since May 2012, France's president is François Hollande. Originally, a president of the Fifth Republic was elected for a 7-year term (le septennat), renewable any number of times. Since 2002 the President has been elected for a 5-year term (le quinquennat). Since the passing of the 2008 Constitutional reform, the maximum number of terms a president can serve has been limited to two. The President, who is also supreme commander of the military, determines policy with the aid of his Council of Ministers (Conseil des ministres). The residence of the President of the French Republic is the Elysée Palace (le palais de l'Elysée) in Paris.
The President appoints a prime minister (currently - 2012 - Jean-Marc Ayrault) , who forms a government. The residence of the French Prime Minister is at Matignon House (l'Hôtel Matignon) in Paris.
In theory ministers are chosen by the PM; in practice unless the President and the PM are from different sides of the political spectrum (a system...