Normalcy: True or False? Smart or Foolish?

Since his election, François Hollande’s Presidency has been characterized by a desire to achieve “normality” and to establish a distinct separation from his predecessor. From the effort to avoid turning the inauguration into a private event to his choice of transportation, much has been done to support the idea that how power is practiced has changed. But is the normality displayed by François Hollande and the Ayrault’s government a short-lived communication strategy or the beginning of a new practice of power.

First, it is a play on symbols. After promoting himself as a “normal President” as opposed to a “hyper President” during the presidential campaign, François Hollande began his term and the Legislative campaigns by displaying a “simple” presidency style as opposed to the one of his predecessor which was marked, in 2007, by a profusion of gestures, talks, postures and images intended to stir-up emotion. François Hollande’s communication strategy is focused on emphasizing his proximity to the people by the very process of directly electing the President by universal suffrage. Hollande has tried to show that he is accessible, while Sarokzy’s strategy was centered around emotional rhetoric. Hollande has tried to focus on actions rather than the personality of the President. The exercise of power, according to the Constitution, should not be personal. Hollande intends to reaffirm and clarify the responsibilities of each function within the administration, differently than Sarkozy defined those roles. Under Hollande, the Prime Minister governs and arbitrates. The ministers are allowed to make decisions within their areas of government.

These changes in how the function of State is perceived are marked by symbolic actions such as the 30% reduction in the salaries of the Head of State and Ministers, or the instruction given to members of the Government to utilize air travel only when necessary. The new President has also exemplified this change by going on France 2 for the 8pm news, rather than answering reporters from the Elysée. This has further decreased the distance between the President and his people. The 8pm news is a respected and enduring institution within French politics and culture.

But should this communication strategy be considered as a populist strategy aiming at reconciling people with political status or indeed a real program to modernize political practice? If it is the second case, the President is more like a “great servant,” similar to the traditional Scandinavian structure of government. In this model , the President is a citizen like any other, more powerful maybe, but a citizen first and foremost. The powers given to the President are given through the Constitution so that the President, in effect, is a servant to the duties and responsibilities outlined by the Constitution.

Long term, excessive communication on the theme of “modest power” might be counter-productive. And, if the promises do not withstand the test of reality, or if this policy is seen as a trick of momentary marketing, the effects on public opinion could be devastating.

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