Tag Archives: royal

After presidency, Macron would face uphill battle for National Assembly

Emmanuel Macron might win the presidency, but he’ll face a steeper battle winning a parliamentary majority. (Charles Platiau / Reuters)

Step back from the obsession over Marine Le Pen’s economic nationalism or from the day-to-day headlines over François Fillon’s scandals and imploding campaign. 

With about six weeks to go in the French election, we know that the two established parties of the French political elite — Fillon’s center-right Les Républicains and the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) of president François Hollande and its presidential nominee Benoît Hamon– are doing historically poorly.

It’s entirely possible that the Republican and Socialist candidates place third and fourth, if current polls are predictive, giving the French public for the first time a runoff without either major party. In aggregate, the two candidates poll around 33%, a massive drop from the combined first-round percentage of Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 (55.81%), and even lower than in 2002, when incumbent Jacques Chirac and Socialist Lionel Jospin still managed a combined total of 36.06%. (You’ll remember 2002 as the year Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the runoff by edging out Jospin to second place).

If the election were held today, both of the runoff candidates would be ‘outsiders’ — the Front national leader, Marine Le Pen, and the independent Emmanuel Macron, the head of the En marche movement and a former Hollande aide and economy minister running as a centrist. Polls show that Macron holds a roughly 60%-40% edge over Le Pen in the May 7 runoff.

But that also creates a far higher level of uncertainty about the outcome of the elections that follow on June 11 and 18, when voters — fresh after selecting a new president — will also select the 577 members of the lower house of the French parliament, the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly). There’s surprisingly little coverage of those elections, though they will be just as important (maybe more) than the presidential race.

A return to cohabitation or a shift to coalition-style politics?

Prime minister Ségolène Royal? It fits Macron’s bill for an experienced leader. (Facebook)

Neither Le Pen’s Front national nor Macron’s En marche today seems to have the kind of national party infrastructure to follow a presidential victory with a parliamentary victory, though the president-elect has for the last three election cycles roared into June parliamentary elections with massive momentum. Macron has vowed that En marche will field 577 candidates for the parliamentary elections, and while he has indicated he wants to accept political refugees from mainstream parties, he also wants at least half of the movement’s candidates to have no previous political experience or affiliation.

Since 2002, each French presidential term (now five years, reduced from seven years) has lined up with the term of the National Assembly, such that the parliamentary elections follow a month after the presidential runoff. Generally speaking, since 2002, the prime minister has served as the chief parliamentary official carrying out the president’s legislative program.  Even in 2012, when Hollande narrowly edged Sarkozy in the May presidential runoff, the Socialists and their allies still wound up with nearly 58% of the seats in the National Assembly after elections a month later.

When presidential terms and parliamentary terms weren’t harmonized, it was far likelier that the presidency and the National Assembly could be controlled by different parties. In cases of divided government — cohabitation — the president’s power crumbles and the opposing prime minister sets the domestic agenda and much of the foreign policy agenda. In the Fifth Republic, France has seen only three periods of cohabitation: the Chirac premiership under the Mitterand presidency (1986-88), the Balladur premiership under the Mitterand presidency (1993-95) and the Jospin premiership under the Chirac presidency (1997-2002).

But with the Front national as strong as it’s ever been (Le Pen still leads Macron, narrowly, in the first-round polls) and with a Macron victory becoming more likely, the Republicans and Socialists will not simply give up.  To make things trickier, the Front de gauche (Left Front) will also be running candidates in the parliamentary race — presumably including its presidential contender, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as he did in 2012.

That makes it more likely that no single party or movement will win the June parliamentary elections. Even if Macron wins the presidency in a massive landslide, he might still have to face  cohabitation or, for the first time in French political history, cobble together the kind of multi-party coalition government so much more common in the Nordics and Germany.

In the past, voters have had a good idea about who will form the government because, presumably, the prime minister and other key officials will come from the same party as the president. But Macron doesn’t have a party. So if, indeed, ‘personnel is policy,’ French voters are somewhat in the dark about what to expect under Macron. Rather unhelpfully, Macron hasn’t specified exactly who would be prime minister, or what he’s looking for in a prime minister, other than someone with experience who can command a parliamentary majority. (Well, of course…).

It may be that Macron doesn’t want to tip his hand, or it may be that Macron knows just how unsettled the June parliamentary elections will be. Per Macron, the next prime minister will not be François Bayrou, a center-right moderate and three-time presidential contender who announced he would not run this year and, instead, endorsed Macron. Earlier today, Macron mused that it would be great to appoint a female prime minister and, indeed, former Socialist presidential nominee, ecology minister Ségolène Royal, has praised Macron throughout the election (though not quite formally endorsed him). She would fit the bill.

Traditionally, France’s unique two-round system has helped the two major parties maintain their lock on power. Smaller parties and contenders are often weeded out after the first round, often setting up a direct second-round contest between the center-right and the center-left. Unlike for presidential runoffs, however, it is possible to have a three-way runoff (triangulaire) or even a four-way runoff (quadrangulaire) if the additional candidate(s) wins at least 12.5% of the vote in a given constituency.

So far, they have been surprisingly rare. Among 577 constituencies, only 44 resulted in triangulaires in 2012 (despite Marine Le Pen’s robust third-place showing in the 2012 race) and the high-water mark is 1997 with 79 triangulaires. France hasn’t seen a parliamentary quadrangulaire since 1978.

This system, in the past, has massively disadvantaged third parties. Despite Marine Le Pen’s third-place showing in the April 2012 presidential election and despite the Front national‘s 13.6% support nationwide in the first round of the June 2012 parliamentary election, the party ended up with just two seats in the National Assembly (0.35% of all seats).

In a world where the Socialists and the Republicans are struggling to win 15% or 20% of the national vote, however, you can expect a rise in the number of triangulaires or even the return of a handful of quadrangulaires. 

Buckle up for a bumpy five-way contest for the National Assembly

With the traditional French parties faltering, there’s no clarity about who will win June’s elections for 577 deputies to the National Assembly.

But that calculus changes when the Front national is winning more supporters than the Republicans, and when Macron’s En marche movement appears stronger than the Socialists and the Front de gauche. Moreover, the unprecedented nature of the election and the shifting political sands leave much of the parliamentary election in doubt (with surprisingly few polls available to guide analysis).

No one ever gave Hollande or anyone else in the Socialist camp much chance at winning in May. Barring a major upset over the next six weeks, the Socialists will also lose seats in June, in light of Hollande’s unpopularity and Hamon’s weakness. Hamon is running harder to the left than either Hollande or one-time presidential frontrunner Manuel Valls, the former prime minister. In a sense, the real winner of the Socialist primary contest was Macron, who is closer to the center-left than the center-right. To that end, leading Socialist officials are already breaking ranks by abandoning Hamon for Macron — most recently, the former Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, though Royal and finance minister Michel Sapin are very sympathetic to Macron’s candidacy. Hollande (who remains close to Macron, his former deputy chief of staff) and Valls have yet to campaign for Hamon.

As it becomes more likely that Macron will win the presidency, it’s possible that the Socialist Party will split into factions, with a core leftist wing supporting Hamon and a more centrist wing migrating to En marche. While that could benefit Macron in June by adding some experience hands to the En marche movement, it also tarnishes Macron’s avatar as an independent agent of change.

Before his campaign cratered due to the ‘fake jobs’ scandal and impending indictment for corruption and abuse of public funds, former prime minister and Republican nominee François Fillon was favored to edge out Macron and then win the runoff against Le Pen. (In hypothetical scenarios, Fillon still leads Le Pen by a margin only slightly smaller than Macron does). But as Fillon falls further into third place behind Macron (police indicate that Fillon will be notified of a formal investigation — essentially indicted — on March 15), and as leading Republicans, including his former rival Alain Juppé, abandon his campaign, the Republicans risk depressing their own turnout in June as well as in April. 

There’s still time for the Republicans to replace Fillon if the embattled prime minister drops out of the race. But Juppé on Monday, even as he slammed Fillon’s campaign as ‘at a dead end,’ ruled himself out as a Plan B. Other top Fillon surrogates, including Bruno Le Maire and many of Fillon’s campaign staff, have already abandoned him. On Monday, senior Republicans met and reaffirmed their support for Fillon, though it’s still possible for Fillon to drop out — François Baroin, a 51-year-old rising star, Troyes mayor and former finance and budget minister, who is close to Sarkozy and Fillon, now seems the most likely ‘plan B’ candidate, if it comes to that. If Fillon’s numbers drop further, however, it could lead to catastrophic losses in the parliamentary elections that, only two months ago, would have been an easy follow-up after a resounding Fillon victory. 

A new re-branding of the French left and the French right — or a new re-ordering of French politics into liberal and illiberal camps

As Fillon falters, Marine Le Pen is becoming the dominant figure of the French right — or of a new French illiberalism that mixes nationalism with economic protectionism and social conservatism. (Facebook)

It’s true that parties have been historically weak in France compared to the United Kingdom or the United States. The ‘Republican’ veneer is a 2015 rebranding of what was, during the Chirac and Sarkozy eras, the ‘Union for a Popular Movement,’ which was a successor the old Gaullist ‘Rally for the Republic,’ itself three makeovers removed from Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Rally of the French People’ that dates to the WWII Free French resistance.

The Socialist Party has had more etymological consistency, if not policy consistency. It existed as the French Section of the Workers’ International from its foundation in 1905 in the middle of France’s Third Republic through 1969, when it was just one of a handful of leftist French parties and movements that ultimately (but not completely) consolidated behind François Mitterand in the 1970s and 1980s. France’s communists remained separate, and form the nucleus of the Front de gauche today.

It’s also true that, in a narrow sense, a Macron-Le Pen runoff looks a lot like ‘left-right’ runoffs of the past — this is just another realignment of a new left and a new right as in the past. But Macron’s call for reform is closer to Sarkozy’s economic vision than that of many French Socialists today, and Le Pen’s economic protection is far out-of-sync with the business-friendly conservatism of Fillon and the Republicans.

Instead, the Macron-Le Pen runoff looks more like a contest between liberalism and illiberalism, which increasingly, more than traditional left-right differences, the central fight in developed democracies.

For now, the French political scene looks like a free-for-all — especially if Macron and Le Pen emerge as the runoff contenders. How that translates into a two-round parliamentary election in just three months’ time, however, is anyone’s guess.

Sapin, Royal, Montebourg headline new French cabinet

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Though French president François Hollande on Monday promised a gouvernement de combat in his cabinet reshuffle, it looks like the government he’s chosen might wind up spending more time combatting one another that the myriad economic challenges that France faces.
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Just 48 hours after naming interior minister Manuel Valls, the hard-charging, Roma-busting strongman of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) as France’s new prime minister, Hollande announced the rest of his cabinet reshuffle today.

Though the return of Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s partner of three decades and the 2007 Socialist Party’s presidential candidate, is sure to top most headlines, the heart of the cabinet reshuffle are Hollande’s schizophrenic choices for finance minister, Michel Sapin (pictured above), and economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg.

At first glance, Hollande’s new slimmed-down cabinet (16 ministers instead of 20) seems like a kind of ‘team of rivals,’ given that Valls, Montebourg and Royal all campaigned for the Socialist Party’s 2012 presidential nomination — the only major rival not to hold a post in the new government is Martine Aubry, a longtime champion of the party’s left wing and the former minister who introduced France’s 35-hour workweek (a policy that Valls stridently opposes).

But it’s hardly Lincolnesque.

Sapin and Royal are assuming roles they first held 22 years ago, while Montebourg is a leftist whose views are at extreme odds with the economic policy that Hollande and Valls are expected to pursue over the next three years.  Continue reading Sapin, Royal, Montebourg headline new French cabinet

Hollande’s economic restart falls flat amid domestic drama

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Nothing screams ‘sexy’ more than… a payroll tax cut.France Flag Icon

With the French press salivating over French president François Hollande’s surprisingly sordid love life, Hollande tried to refocus his administration’s agenda last week at a press conference to announce a planned cut in France’s payroll taxes and other measures to boost France’s competitiveness.  It’s a bid to win back some control over his unravelling public image.  Hollande suffers from massively low approval ratings —  just 22% of French voters support Hollande (somewhat of an improvement over polls in November that gave him just 15% approval).  There’s even talk that his administration could augur the collapse of France’s Fifth Republic.

But Hollande’s policy revamp has been lost in the furor over Hollande’s alleged dalliance with actress Julie Gayet.  Tabloids showed photos of the French president sneaking off to meet Gayet on his scooter (pictured above), and the news seems to have sent his current partner, Valérie Trierweiler, to a Paris hospital for over a week.  Elected on the premise that he would bring decorum and normalité to the Élysée after the ‘bling-bling’ presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande’s love life began overshadowing his presidency within days of his inauguration.

Trierweiler tweeted in support of Olivier Falroni, a dissident parliamentary candidate in June 2012, who was running against Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s former partner and the 2007 presidential candidate of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party).  Royal lost that race, despite Hollande’s support.  A reporter for Paris Match, Trierweiler fulfills the role of France’s first lady, complete with budget and staff, notwithstanding that she and Hollande never married.  Hollande and Royal also never officially married during their nearly 30-year relationship, which produced four children.

Trierweiler left the hospital after more than a week on Saturday afternoon, but the discord between France’s first couple continues to dominate headlines, with Le Journal de Dimanche reporting that presidential advisers are calling the relationship ‘finished.’  So much for Mr. Normality.  Though Sarkozy and his two predecessors, Jacques Chirac and François Mitterand, were both known for active love lives, the nature of media has changed since the French press kept Mitterand’s longtime mistress a secret from the public in the 1980s.

At a policy level, none of Hollande’s domestic troubles should matter.  But they come at exactly the wrong time, overshadowing Hollande’s push to make France’s economy more competitive.  At the center of Hollande’s proposal is a €30 billion payroll tax cut for French businesses, continue pushing forward with plans for €15 billion in budget cuts this year, with €50 billion more to follow over the next three years.  Though Hollande hopes that will make France’s businesses more willing to hire French workers, it seems unlikely to erase the mistrust Hollande has engendered by pushing a top income tax rate of 75% on incomes over €1 million, a troubled policy that seems set to take effect after facing legal problems in France’s top constitutional court.  Hollande and his leftist parliamentary majority pushed through a labor market reform in January 2013, but it was a relatively minor first step that merely streamlined the process for conducting layoffs.

Hollande would have engendered much more goodwill if he’d announced a retreat from the iconic 75% rate or announced a much bolder labor market legislation.  But that carries with it the risk of a full-scale revolt on the French left.  Continue reading Hollande’s economic restart falls flat amid domestic drama

Latest Bettencourt turn removes obstacle for Sarkozy presidential bid in 2017

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You thought you were tired of all of the talk in the United States about the inevitability of a presidential run by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in November 2016.France Flag Icon

But imagine if your next presidential election isn’t until May 2017 and everyone is already speculating.

That’s the case in France, where former president Nicolas Sarkozy is now even more likely to become the frontrunner for the 2017 race for the Élysée Palace after French officials dropped a criminal case against Sarkozy in the so-called Bettencourt affair.

Sarkozy was accused of soliciting L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for secret campaign funds.  The fundamentals of the scandal are similar to those for which former US senator and presidential candidate John Edwards stood criminal trial for soliciting secret campaign cash from banking heiress Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon, who was 96 years old at the time.

French judges are still pursuing an investigation over whether party officials in Sarkozy’s Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP, Union for a Popular Movement) took advantage of Bettencourt’s mental frailty and advanced age in taking campaign donations for Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign — in particular, former UMP treasurer Eric Woerth still faces criminal liability.  But after Monday’s decision not to include Sarkozy’s name in the list of those who face liability, the former president has escaped the worst of his potential legal and political troubles for the foreseeable future.

That means that the single-most difficult obstacle between Sarkozy and a 2017 presidential bid is gone.  Though he’s no longer mis en examen (placed under investigation) Sarkozy’s legal troubles haven’t totally evaporated, and he remains under a cloud of suspicion for a handful of other shenanigans, including allegations that Libya’s regime paid €50 million to Sarkozy’s 2007 campaign.  But the Bettencourt affair was always the most serious case against Sarkozy.

As with the Clinton 2016 speculation in the United States, it’s folly to think that we can forecast with accuracy the dynamics of an election that’s years away.  But it’s stunning in some ways that Sarkozy, who lost the May 2012 presidential runoff to François Hollande, the candidate of the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party), remains such a strong challenger for 2017 just 17 months after leaving office.

Moreover, the specter of a Sarkozy return is affect French politics today (and not just 2017) by shaping the way that other top UMP officials posture and by placing pressure on the current, vastly unpopular Hollande regime — the possibility of a Sarkozy comeback also exerts a gravitational pull on the far right of French politics, too.

Only 23% of the French electorate has confidence in Hollande, according to an October TRS-SOFRES poll — Hollande has watched his popularity erode in record time to become the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic:

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France’s GDP growth dropped from 2% in 2011 to exactly 0% in 2012, unemployment has risen to 10.9%, and the economy’s doing not much better in 2013.  Hollande was damaged almost from the beginning of his presidency over a nasty spat between his former partner, 2007 presidential candidate Ségolène Royal and his current partner Valérie Trierweiler.  His bold effort to introduce a top income tax rate of 75% (of incomes over €1 million) invited capital flight and global ridicule — and a rejection by France’s top constitutional court.

His woes are so great that I wondered back in May whether the French left (and France, generally) might have been better off if Dominique Strauss-Kahn had survived his sex scandal to run for president.

Most immediately, of course, all of the ‘Sarko 2017’ talk serves to prevent the emergence of a truly post-Sarkozy center-right standard-bearer.  Recall last November’s internal UMP primary to determine a new general secretary — right-wing candidate Jean-François Copé’s 50.03% was so narrow (and so challenged) by his opponent, the more moderate former prime minister François Fillon that the result threatened a UMP civil war.

Though the tensions subsided into more of a cold war than a civil war, there was always a sense that Copé was a stalking horse for a potential Sarkozy comeback — by defeating Fillon, Copé’s narrow win prevented Fillon from becoming the undisputed leader of the French right.

What was a Copé-Fillon showdown in 2012 has now transformed into a more open Sarkozy-Fillon showdown, with Fillon billing himself as the clean-break candidate for 2017, though Sarkozy himself has yet to decide whether to make a comeback bid for the presidency and is unlikely to join the political fray against either Fillon or Hollande anytime soon.  An IFOP poll earlier this year showed that six out of 10 French voters preferred that neither Sarkozy nor Fillon run in 2017, though Fillon generally held higher approval ratings as prime minister than Sarkozy did as president, and there’s reason to believe he would have made a better candidate for the UMP in 2012 than Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, no consideration of the UMP’s machinations would be complete without considering the far-right Front national (FN, National Front) that, if anything, is gaining more strength than either the UMP or the Socialists.  The far right notched a huge victory in a by-election in the southern canton of Brignoles on October 7, when the Front national candidate Laurent Lopez won 40.4% of the vote and will face a runoff against the UMP’s candidate Catherine Delzers, who won 20.8% (another far-right party, the Parti de France, won just over 9%.)

Despite Sarkozy’s lurch to the right on immigration and crime throughout his career, it didn’t stop Front national leader Marine Le Pen from winning 17.9% of the vote in the first round of the April 2012 presidential election.  Among the factors that could push the UMP away from Fillon and toward a leader like Sarkozy or Copé in 2017 is the fear that a relatively moderate standard-bearer like Fillon would allow Le Pen to siphon even more support from the center-right.

Why isn’t separatism or regionalism more dominant in the politics of Bretagne?

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I’ve spent much of the past week traveling through Bretagne (or ‘Breizh’ in the local Breton language) — the peninsula that juts out from northwestern France into the Atlantic Ocean, and I’ve spent some time thinking about regionalism in France and why Bretagne, with its  Celtic roots, geographic isolation, historical independence and distinct language, isn’t more like Scotland or Catalonia politically. brittany_breton_region_flag-1France Flag Icon

With just over 3 million residents, the region of Bretagne is home to about 5% of France’s population, though the administrative region of Bretagne doesn’t include all of what was considered Bretagne historically — another 1 million people live in Loire-Atlantique, which is technically part of the Loire region despite its historical inclusion within wider Bretagne.  Regardless of the current regional borders, Bretagne is a unique part of France, and its cultural heritage sets it apart as at least as unique as any other region of France, given that it was settled by Celtic migrants from the north who successfully rebuffed Vikings, Normans, Gauls and Franks for centuries in what, during the Middle Ages, was known as Armorica.  Despite its independence, Bretagne increasingly became the subject of both English and French designs in the early half of the millennium, and the region was one of the chief prizes of the Hundred Years War between England and France in the 14th and 15th centuries, which finally settled France’s hold on Bretagne.

Moreover, Breton — and not French — was the dominant language spoken in the region through much of the 19th century.  Despite the universal use of French today and a declining number of Breton speakers, around 200,000 native speakers remain, and Breton features prominently on many public signs in the region, especially as you go further west in Bretagne.  (Another second language, Gallo, is used by around another 30,000 Breton residents).

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Bretons, such as Jacques Cartier, dominated the earliest French efforts to explore and colonize the New World and, even in the 19th century, the region’s role in transatlantic shipping and trade meant that its ties with far-flung places like Newfoundland and Labrador were just as influential as the region’s ties to Paris.  Cultural ties with other Celtic regions such as Wales, Scotland and Ireland have long overshadowed French cultural influences as well — Breton music has a distinct character and often features bagpipes not dissimilar to those found in other Celtic folk music traditions.

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Furthermore, there’s been a resurgence in interest in Breton heritage and cultivation of Breton language in the past 30 years, even as the number of Breton speakers is set to decline over the next decade to just over 50,000.  Its distinctive black-and-white flag, the Gwenn-ha-du, developed in the 1920s during a prior wave of Breton nationalism, flies throughout Bretagne much more prolifically than do other regional flags elsewhere in France.

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But Bretagne is not a hotbed of separatist agitation like Catalonia or Basque Euskadi in Spain or like Québec in Canada.  Nor does it especially have a history of autonomist politics similar to those throughout western Europe — Flanders in Belgium, Galicia in Spain, or northeastern Italy.

Celtic nations, in particular, have long agitated for greater political autonomy throughout western Europe.  Scotland will hold a referendum on independence in September 2014, and both Scotland and Wales have routinely supported devolution of power within the United Kingdom.  The move for  independence in Ireland, another of Bretagne’s Celtic cousins, was perhaps the most successful European nationalist movement in the first half of the 20th century.

The region does have a regionalist party, the Union Démocratique Bretonne (the Breton Democratic Union, or the Unvaniezh Demokratel Breizh in Breton), but the party holds no seats in the Breton regional assembly, and in the most recent 2010 regional elections, it won just 4.29% of the vote.  In the June 2012 parliamentary elections to the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly), the UDB’s Paul Molac won election, though technically as a member of France’s Green Party, which contested the elections in alliance with the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) of French president François Hollande.

If there’s any trend worth marking in Bretagne, it’s that the left has done increasingly well in Bretagne in recent years, to the point that Bretagne could even be considered a Socialist stronghold within France.  Hollande defeated former president Nicolas Sarkozy in the region by a margin of 56% to 44% in the second round of the May 2012 presidential election and in 2007, though Ségolène Royal lost the presidency to Sarkozy nationwide, she won Bretagne in the second round by a margin of 53% to 47%.  Traditionally, the nationalist, far-right Front national of Jean-Marie and Marine Le Pen have not succeeded to same degree in Bretagne as they have in other parts of France.

But Bretagne simply hasn’t boasted an incredibly strong politics of regionalism, despite several waves of Breton nationalism throughout the 20th century and the current revival of Breton linguistic and cultural heritage.

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Why exactly is that the case?

As you might expect, there’s not a single magic answer, but four factors in particular go a long way in explaining why Bretagne hasn’t developed the same level of regionalist politics as, say, Scotland or Catalonia: the five-century duration of French control over Bretagne, the highly centralized nature of the French government, historical reasons rooted in the 20th century and, above all, the lack of an economic basis for asserting Breton independence.

Continue reading Why isn’t separatism or regionalism more dominant in the politics of Bretagne?

Final thoughts on French parliamentary runoff results

As noted in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s parliament elections, the French left looked likely to take a narrow absolute majority of seats in the Assemblée nationale.

As it turns out, the Parti socialistof François Hollande did even better — it and its allies took 314 seats, not including the 17 seats that its electoral partner, France’s Green Party (Europe Écologie – Les Verts) won: significantly higher than the projection of between 270 and 300 and nearly equivalent to the parliamentary wave after Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 election.  In this sense, Hollande’s party actually outperformed Hollande in the presidential race.

But the left’s victory was expected — the pattern of French voters handing a solid presidential majority in June parliamentary elections (following the May presidential runoff) therefore continues.

It will mark the first time that the French left have won control of the government since the 1997 legislative elections; the left lost power in 2002, following Jospin’s surprise third-place finish in the presidential election of that year.

With the final results now counted, here’s a look at each party and its road ahead:

Continue reading Final thoughts on French parliamentary runoff results

Tweet sets off ‘battle Royal’ between first lady and Hollande’s former partner

At first, everyone thought her Twitter account must have been hacked.

But no: here was the new first lady of France, Valérie Trierweiler, the companion of President François Hollande, tweeting her apparent opposition to Hollande’s previous partner and mother of Hollande’s four children, Ségolène Royal, who was also the Parti socialiste‘s 2007 presidential candidate.  Royal is fighting for her political life in a tough second-round runoff where she faces an unexpectedly tough fight from renegade leftist Olivier Falorni.

While the entire Parti socialiste high guard from Hollande himself to party president Martine Aubry to prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault have all called for Falorni to step down in favor of Royal, Trierweiler tweeted this yesterday:

Courage à Olivier Falorni qui n’a pas démérité, qui se bat aux côtés des rochelais depuis tant d’ années dans un engagement désintéressé. [Good luck to Olivier Falorni who is a worthy candidate. For years he has been fighting with selfless commitment for the people of La Rochelle.]

Needless to say, when there’s just a week between the two rounds of a parliamentary election, this has been an unwelcome headline for Hollande, crowding out other political news both yesterday and today.

In the first round in Charente-Maritime 17, Royal won just 32.03% to Falorni’s 28.91% — Sally Chadjaa, the UMP candidate, won just 19.47%, but did not qualify for this Sunday’s runoff.  The result caught the national media off guard and was one of the biggest surprises in Sunday’s mostly unsurprising first round.  Royal, who was running in the constituency for the first time, had been promised the presidency of the Assemblée nationale by Hollande, after graciously campaigning for Hollande at a large rally in Rennes earlier in the spring (shown together above).

Although a poll today, conducted before and during The Tweet, showed that Falorni leads Royal 58% to 42%, mostly on the strength of UMP votes, Ayrault has again called on Falorni to step aside.  It is customary, when two or more leftist candidates advance to the second round, for the second-place candidate to step aside for the first-round winner.  Falorni, who has been a longtime ally to Hollande and who actually lives in the constituency, has refused.

The tweet highlights at least four immediate problems for Hollande and the Parti socialiste, who hope to emerge from Sunday’s elections with an outright majority of at least 289 seats in the Assemblée nationale: Continue reading Tweet sets off ‘battle Royal’ between first lady and Hollande’s former partner

Final French parliamentary election results for first round

France has now had a full day since learning the results of Sunday’s first round of the French parliamentary elections (France votes again in the second round this coming Sunday), and there’s really not much surprise in the aggregate result.

Much as predicted: the Parti socialiste of newly inaugurated François Hollande narrowly led the first round with 29% to just 27% for the somewhat demoralized and rudderless Union pour un mouvement populaire.

It seems likely that Hollande and his allies will control a parliamentary majority following Sunday’s second round (although it’s not certain) — the Parti socialiste is projected to win 270 to 300 seats to just 210 to 240 seats for the UMP.  In the best case scenario, the Parti socialiste and its allies would like to win 289 seats outright this Sunday.  If they wins less than 289 seats, however, they will be able to rely first on France’s Green Party, Europe Écologie – Les Verts, with which the Parti socialiste has an electoral alliance (projected to win 8 to 14 seats, largely because of the alliance) and then, if necessary, with the support of the Front de gauche (projected to win 14 to 20 seats), a group of communists and other radical leftists under the leadership of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  Hollande would prefer to avoid the latter, as many potential Front de guache deputies are members of France’s communist party who would attempt to pull Hollande’s agenda further leftward. Continue reading Final French parliamentary election results for first round

Hollande fills out his cabinet: Moscovici, Fabius, Valls and Taubira take top jobs

 

After announcing Jean-Marc Ayrault as his prime minister yesterday, newly inaugurated president François Hollande announced the rest of his cabinet today.

Laurent Fabius’s appointment as foreign minister was expected, even though he campaigned against the European Union constitution in 2005.  Fabius (above, center) is a grandee of the Parti socialiste, having served as prime minister from 1984 to 1986 during the Mitterand administration, and later as finance minister from 2000 to 2002 under former prime minister Lionel Jospin.

Martine Aubry, a leftist firebrand who had been seen as a contender for prime minister and the runner-up to Hollande in the presidential nomination race, will not take part at all in the cabinet, which is mildly surprising.  She had been allegedly offered and rejected a “super ministry” role from Hollande.

Nor will Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s one-time partner of four decades and former presidential candidate, which is not surprising, as it is rumored that she will be appointed president of the Assemblée nationale if the Parti socialiste wins June parliamentary elections.

The biggest surprise, perhaps, is the appointment of Pierre Moscovici as finance minister.  Hollande’s campaign manager and former minister for European Affairs from 1997 to 2002, Moscovici (above, top) was close to former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  His European experience will guide him well, as the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis stands to be the French economy’s largest immediate challenge for Hollande’s government.

Michel Sapin, another chief economic adviser to Hollande, had been tipped for finance minister, but will instead serve as labor minister.  The fiscally conservative Sapin served as finance minister from 1992 to 1993 during the Mitterand administration and as the minister of Civil Servants and Sate Reforms from 2000 to 2002.

As expected, Manuel Valls, an up-and-coming MP, who served as the Hollande campaign’s communications chief and who comes from the more pro-market wing of the PS, was named interior minister.  Nicolas Sarkozy used the interior ministry as a stepping stone in the mid 2000s to launch his successful 2007 campaign.

Former 2002 presidential candidate and the South America-born Christiane Taubira (above, bottom), who is currently an MP for French Guiana, will serve as minister of justice as the highest-ranking woman in a cabinet that will achieve gender parity.  Taubira is not a member of the PS, but rather the founder of the French Guiana-based Walwari party and a bit of a “free electron” in French politics.

Nicole Bricq, a member of France’s Senate and another ally of Strauss-Kahn, will serve as minister of the environment.

Le Monde has a full infographic of the new cabinet here and full bios here.

Shadows of 2007

I noted last week that Marine Le Pen could well shut out French President Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round.

Sure enough, I read this as an attempt, however clumsily, to win some of those culturally right-wing Front National voters back.  Sarkozy, as Minister of the Interior, co-opted Marine’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the 2007 elections in an incredibly skillful way.

With Marine polling substantially higher than her father’s 10.4% in 2007, it’s clear that Sarkozy will sending some quiet, but sure, signals to FN voters to attract the support he’ll need in the first round to advance to the runoff.

**** Continue reading Shadows of 2007