French Want Change “Right Now”

François Hollande surrounded by journalists.
Photo: Dominique Faget/AFP

François Hollande gave his first speech on August 31 during the opening of the Châlons-en-Champagne fair. After a serious drop in approval ratings, the French President decided to turn his campaign promises into a real agenda.

For Americans, Hollande’s motto during the presidential campaign rings a bell: “Le changement, c’est maintenant”, or “change is now”. Politicians know how strong words can be. A simple phrase can bring them victory in an uphill battle, but it is also a constant reminder of their promises, and sometimes, it becomes a reminder of their failures.

To those who voted for Hollande because they hated Nicolas Sarkozy, change just meant a new president, and they got what they wanted: François Hollande is no Sarkozy.

However, in order to resonate with the wider French public, and not only to Sarkozy’s haters, “le changement, c’est maintenant” needed to encompass a broader meaning: that things were about to change “now.” This meant, “right now”, and not after a long period of consulting and debates. The French are facing a lasting crisis ,and they already feel like they’ve been waiting for too long.

Some will say that Sarkozy’s presidency intoxicated the French, even the left-leaning ones, with a perpetual storm of instantaneous measures and statements. Acting quickly on impulse without consultation and using the media to satisfy the current reproaches of opinion cannot be a good method.

The “normal presidency” brought a change in rhythm that may be what the French need to understand change and accept it. Nevertheless, the French are not willing to set sail without a definite course. The President was severely punished by a drop in popularity.

Hollande chose to answer to that call the best he could during his first speech after the political break of the summer in Châlons-en-Champagne. His staff had announced “a speech on the truth about the crisis and the ways to solve it”.

Hollande himself asserted during his speech that he had one and only one mission: “Act on every front, and quickly”. However, Hollande reminded listeners that his method would never be like Sarkozy’s: “A country like ours cannot change through violent tremors, which provoke tensions, block reforms and end up finally with regression”. Hollande is determined not to give away dialogue and consultation.

According to Hollande, real change needs a course: “it is a force which knows where it’s going and gives a direction which can gather the country”. Accordingly, the President must act “in the right order, with the right rhythm and in the right direction”.

Hollande focused on unemployment in his speech. His 150,000 “jobs for the future” will be introduced to the parliament in September. The “generation contract”, encouraging a company to hire young employees while keeping another one close to retirement will be proposed to the social partners next Tuesday and should be voted “by the beginning of 2013.”

The President did not forget the debt threat in his speech, reminding listeners that the Government would not depart from his goal to reduce the public debt to 3% of the GDP.

Growth and investment were the other main topics of the statement. The public bank of investment, intended to support local investment in the French regions, will be settled “in the following days.” Since local authorities realize “three quarters of the public investments in France”, Hollande wants to provide every resource they might need.

Hollande also showed again that he understood the necessity of a competitive economy, as his Prime Minister did in the summer rally of Mouvement des Entreprises de France, or Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF).

Even though the Socialist President acknowledges that solutions must be found in cooperation with both entrepreneurs and workers, he refuses the parallel between the French and the German economies. Indeed, French companies often pointed to their German counterparts as an example, accusing the French government of burdening them with too many taxes, increasing the cost of work.

Hollande responded to those criticisms that “the work doesn’t cost more in France than in Germany”. Indeed a simple parallel is a mistake; the issue is complex, and even if many sectors of the German economy are actually better than in France, one cannot blame only the cost of work.

Jean-François Copé, current president of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, (UMP), and candidate to his own succession commented on Hollande’s and the Prime Minister’s recent speeches saying that “France is going through an extraordinary severe crisis” while they were making “all the wrong decisions”. According to Copé, France “needs courage and is governed by the most absolute conservatism … none of the great decisions we need to make is made”.

François Bayrou, former center candidate in the presidential elections and president of the Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem), said that “the question, for Hollande, is to become President of the Republic”. During the second round of the elections, he gave his support to Hollande, saying that “France needed a change of power and the Left to discover reality”. Now he is sure that “the economic reality of the country will fall on their heads like rains fall from a storm”.

The Right and the center don’t see in Hollande’s speech the definite course it wants for the country. The extreme Left, on its side, becomes more of an opposition every day.

Let’s hope for Hollande that the French will willingly follow his steps.

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