On a day that François Hollande was inaugurated and held his first meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, his appointment of a new prime minister in Jean-Marc Ayrault may be the third-most important news of day in French politics.
Nonetheless, Ayrault’s appointment to lead Hollande’s government is the first clear sign we have of how Hollande might govern over the next five years, long after the bloom of his (short) inaugural honeymoon is over and with many, many more meetings between the two leaders of the Franco-German axis that has traditionally moulded the European Union’s direction. It’s not quite a surprise, given that Hollande seemed to hint at the appointment last week when he said his prime minister “must know the Socialist Party well, its left-wing members of parliament and be on the best of terms with me.”
Ayrault, also the mayor of Nantes, has served as the president of the Parti socialiste parliamentary group in the Assemblée national since 1997, when Hollande was chairman of the Parti socialiste. The two worked hand-in-hand during the ‘cohabitation‘ government of prime minister Lionel Jospin, who served simultaneously with President Jacques Chirac from 1997 until the 2002 election when Jospin, in a shock result, was edged into third place by the Front national‘s Jean-Marie Le Pen.
As Le Monde put it:
Ce sont deux sociaux démocrates, deux adeptes du compromis, deux européens convaincus qui se sont donnés pour mission d’apaiser la France et de la redresser. (“The pair are both Social Democrats, both supporters of compromise, both Europeans who believe their task will be to soothe France and also to reform it.”)
Known as a quiet pragmatist, a “normal” prime minister for a “normal” president (in a presidency that may come to be more reminiscent of Pompidou rather than Mitterand), Ayrault is notably moderate, notably uncharismatic and notably Germanophile — he is a former German teacher.
So what does Ayrault’s appointment indicate about Hollande’s thinking? Continue reading Who is Jean-Marc Ayrault?
The concept of a ‘democratic deficit’ has long plagued the European Union — the EU’s history is littered with grand, transformative schemes planned by EU leaders that voters have ultimately rejected as too sweeping. As recently as 2005, French and Dutch voters rejected the proposed EU constitution, smacking the EU elite for getting out too far in front of an electorate that clearly did not approve.
Sure enough, the story of the last three days — in the UK, in France and in Greece — will go down in EU history as a similar pivot point against German chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to impose strict fiscal discipline across the continent, even as additional electoral hiccups await in the North-Rhine Westphalia state elections later this week, the Irish referendum on the fiscal compact later this month and French and Dutch parliamentary elections due later this summer.
French president-elect François Hollande will now immediately become the face of the EU-wide opposition to austerity and is expected to challenge Merkel with a view that advocates more aggressive spending in a bid to balance fiscal responsibility with the promotion of economic growth — a distinct change in Franco-German relations after the ‘Merkozy’ years. In his victory speech, Hollande called for a ‘fresh start for Europe’ and laid down his gauntlet: ‘austerity need not be Europe’s fate.’
It is an incredible turnaround from December, when Merkel and deposed French president Nicolas Sarkozy single-handedly pushed through the fiscal compact adopted by each of the EU member states (minus the UK and the Czech Republic), which would bind each member state to a budget deficit of no more than just 0.5% of GDP. The treaty followed in the wake of the latest eurozone financial crisis last November, during which both the governments of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy and Georgios Papandreou in Greece fell, to be replaced by Berlin-approved technocratic governments, each tasked with the express purpose of making reforms to cut their governments’ respective budgets.
Continue reading Three elections — and three defeats — for EU-wide austerity
Not to be outdone by Russia’s electoral shenanigans, Der Spiegel reports that German chancellor Angela Merkel has formed a broad coalition to oppose frontrunning French presidential candidate François Hollande. The coalition includes not only British prime minister David Cameron, who most recently snubbed Hollande on a visit to London, but also Italian prime minister Mario Monti and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy.
Although each of the four European leaders is more or less of the center-right, the greater sin is Hollande’s opposition to the austerity measures underlying last December’s EU-wide fiscal compact, not his innate leftism.
With polls showing Hollande still the overwhelming favorite to defeat French president Nicolas Sarkozy in the second-round runoff in May, I wonder whether Monti and Rajoy, who are presiding over two countries with high employment — even before the bite of austerity has yet to show its full force — will still be singing from the Merkel hymnbook later this year. Continue reading Merkel’s new Grand Coalition