France

French government survives confidence vote despite minister's resignation

Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government survived a no-confidence vote in the French parliament on Tuesday. No surprises there, since it has a healthy majority, but not much relief either for the Socialists who were reeling from the resignation of Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac earlier in the day.

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Despite Ayrault and President François Hollande’s continuing decline in successive opinion polls, no-one expected the motion, tabled by the mainstream right-wing UMP, to win. 

The right’s parliamentary assault – and Ayrault’s response - were overshadowed by Cahuzac’s resignation because of an inquiry into alleged tax dodging earlier in the day.

Moved to tears, the outgoing minister said goodbye to his staff, who applauded him, and handed the portfolio over to his “dear friend” Europe Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, whose economic skills are less widely admired than Cahuzac’s.

But the government’s opponents still turned out in force, managing to muster 228 votes, well short of the 287 they needed to win but rallying the UMP, small centrist parties, apart from three MPs from Polynesia, and the two MPs of the far-right Front National (FN).

There was one notable gap in the ranks, Sarkozy-era prime minister François Fillon, UMP chief Jean-François Copé’s rival in a damaging public battle for the UMP leadership, was on a visit to Russia.

The real point of the exercise was the speeches and Copé laid into the government for marching “with determination towards the abyss”.

Hollande has broken the four main promises of his election campaign – on employment, growth, the deficit and Europe – he said, “Four abandonments, four failures!”

The French people are being “strangled” by “billions” of euros of extra tax, Copé claimed and he called on Ayrault to follow the examples of Germany’s former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, British former prime minister Tony Blair and French former prime ministers Pierre Mendès France and Georges Clémenceau.

“The moment of truth has come,” Copé declared. “Either we recast our model to make it competitive in the current worldwide economic war or we will leave the scene of history.”

To the apparent surprise of some of his supporters, Ayrault gave a confident performance in replying to the motion. 

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“I know where I’m going, I know how I’m going to get there and I know how to do it,” he said in what some Socialists judged to be the best speech he has given since becoming prime minister.

The prime minister called for a “historic compromise” to resolve the economic crisis and promised that he would not replace “right-wing austerity” for “left-wing austerity”.

Despite splits on some policies in the governing coalition, the Socialists’ allies in the Green and Left Radical parties voted against the motion. But the hard-left Front de Gauche, whose largest component in the Communist Party, abstained, calling for the rich to bear more of the burden of taxation.

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