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Analysis: France's new government

Socialists face tough questions after three months in power

AFP/Philippe Wojazer
Text by: Tony Cross
6 min

France’s ruling Socialists will have to explain their failure to deliver on election promises to the party rank and file at their annual summer school in the west-coast town of La Rochelle this weekend. President François Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault both saw their poll ratings drop below 50 per cent for the first time since the election on Friday.

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Three months after they completed a clean sweep of both houses of parliament and the presidency, the Socialists are already facing accusations that they have broken promises made during Hollande’s election campaign.

It has been a summer of disappointments for the left:

  • The cabinet, meeting this week for the first time after the summer holidays, replaced a pledge to freeze petrol prices for three months with a “modest and provisional” reduction in the tax on oil.
  • And, instead of “doubling” the limit on the popular livret A savings account, as Hollande promised, it raised it by a meagre 25 per cent.
  • Earlier Interior Minister Manuel Valls ran into trouble with the promise to crack down on racist policing when he was forced to concede that his proposal that police hand out chits after checking identity papers was impracticable.
  • And Valls has been the target of criticism from his left and from rights groups over the continuing raids on travellers’ camps and deportations of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria.
  • Riots in the northern city of Amiens this week showed that the tensions between police and residents of deprived areas have not gone away, bringing the right-wing opposition’s law-and-order hobby horse back into the public eye.
  • Meanwhile, the Socialists’ coalition partners, the Greens of EELV – who finished their summer school in nearby Poitiers on Friday - are split over whether to vote for the eurozone treaty that would mean a standing commitment to strict budget policies.
  • Worst of all for morale has been the wave of redundancies declared by employers like PSA Peugeot-Citroën, helping to push unemployment ever closer to a depressed and depressing 10 per cent of the workforce.

 

No wonder former hard left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has seized the chance to lay into the government, last week describing the first 100 days of Hollande’s presidency as “next to nothing”.

Hoping to capitalise on the disappointment, he has since then appealed to the Socialist Party’s left wing to come over to his Left Front alliance with the Communist Party.

The right-wing opposition has also sought to make political hay from the govenrment’s discomfort.

For the moment claims by the main right-wing party, the UMP, that the Socialists are demoralising “job creators” with tax rises for the rich and outdated labour laws carry little conviction. They were running the country just a few months ago, the Socialists can point out, and, in any case, the economic crisis is worldwide and particularly bad in Europe.

The government’s defence is that the economy is in even worse shape than it thought. It had counted on a growth rate of 1.2 per cent in 2013. The country is struggling to keep out of recession at the moment and economists now predict growth of between 0.5 and 0.8 per cent next year.

But the honeymoon is almost over, if the latest opinion poll for Les Echos newspaper is to be believed.

It shows the number of people who believe Hollande can tackle the country’s problems down five per cent to 49 per cent, while Ayrault drops four per cent to reach the same level.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy was at 55 per cent in the August after his election in 2007. He went on to drop below 50 per cent in January 2008 … and to lose the poll that really counts, the 2012 presidential election.

One Socialist Party bigwig who won't be at the summer school is Ségolène Royal, failed presidential candidate in 2007 and Hollande's former partner.

The venure has bitter memories for her. She failed to win the parliamentary seat in this year's National Assembly election because a discgruntled party member, Olivier Falorni, refused to stand down in her favour and won.

Royal, who had been promised the post of parliamentary Speaker, did manage to put in an appearance at the EELV summer school this week before heading for South Africa where she will represent her party at the almost-moribund Socialist International, of which she is a vice-president.

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