In a political sense the term 'cohabitation' was first employed in France in the mid-1970s (Cohendet, 1993 : 11-13; Massot, 1997 : 14-16). However, it only entered popular usage in the early 1980s (see, for example, Balladur, in Le Monde, 16 Sept. 1983). Since its first appearance the concept has been defined in various different ways (Duverger, 1986 ; Massot, 1997 : 16; Parodi, 1997 : 300). Whatever the precise wording of the definition, though, in France 'cohabitation', or split-executive government, occurs in the context of a system in which both the president and the prime minister are significant political actors and is brought about when the president is faced with an opposition majority in the National Assembly and thus is obliged to appoint a prime minister who has the support of that majority. It describes the situation where one part of the executive is pitted against at least one house of the legislature and, as a result, where one part of the executive is opposed to the other. In this context, some writers have argued that the particularities of 'cohabitation' mean that it is almost unique to France (Parodi, 1997 : 300; Pierce, 1991 : 270-1). Other writers have argued that there are similarities between 'cohabitation' in France and the politics of both minority government in parliamentary regimes (Greilsammer, 1989) and divided government in presidential regimes (Shugart, 1995). In fact, 'cohabitation' is best understood in this latter sense as a country-specific manifestation of a more general political phenomenon.
This chapter examines the politics of 'cohabitation', or divided government French-style. It begins by setting out the basic powers of the protagonists in the Fifth Republic's dual executive. It then looks at the frequency, causes, and management of 'cohabitation' in France. Overall, it is argued that 'cohabitation' has been characterized by constant competition between the president and prime minister. However, there are well-established procedures which have minimized the overall extent of the conflict within the executive and which have ensured the continuity of the system.