A Weakened Left Majority Faces the Vote of the Budgetary Pact

Jean-Marc Ayrault in April, 2012, during a meeting at Bressuire . Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jmayrault

On October 2nd, the debate over the vote on the European Budgetary Pact began in the French National Assembly. The debate started with a series of speeches including one 30-minute speech from the Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, trying to convince his own majority to support the Pact. Beyond the results of the vote, which will likely be positive, the Pact raises the question of the unity of the Left and inside the Socialist majority itself.

Before a lukewarm Assembly, even amidst the seats of the majority, Ayrault gave a tragic tone, “This step is essential. The responsibility each of us faces is crucial”. According to him, this responsibility is to “maintain France in a solidary Eurozone, because the consequences of a negative vote from our country would be, you know that well, a political crisis and the collapsing of the monetary union.”

Ayrault, his government, and François Hollande are fully aware that the bill will most likely pass. They even know too that they can probably trust a large part of the right-wing opposition to vote for it along with the socialist representatives, which is all but a comfortable situation. Indeed, Hollande was accused of betraying one of his main promises: to renegotiate the Pact by adding a growth clause to it.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, during the negotiations also acknowledged the necessity of measures that favor growth. Nevertheless, the core of the text remained intact. Indeed, when the communist representative Alain Bocquet declared, “this treaty is nothing else than, down to the last word, the treaty Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy signed,” it was followed by voices on the right side of the hemicycle saying “that’s true!” — not without a certain irony.

Speaking for the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), party of the former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Christian Jacob described what he saw as a “majority on the verge of collapsing.” Then, Jacob affirmed that the UMP representatives “will not shrink from their responsibilities. We will vote for the treaty Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated and signed. This text is the pact of trust between France and Europe sealed by Nicolas Sarkozy. We will do it to keep France from being the laughing stock of Europe.”

The fact that 13 socialists out of the 297 members of the majority declared they would vote against the Pact, and 2 that they would abstain, only makes it more awkward for Ayrault. As a matter of fact, the PM’s speech was designed to rally the socialists who are still skeptical, knowing that European policies have always been a sensitive issue and often divided the Parti Socialiste (PS). According to Ayrault, “France is greater inside Europe.”

The socialists clearly do not want to repeat the scenario during the last debate regarding the Lisbon Treaty, which almost tore the party apart. On a reassuring tone, Ayrault addressed the following message to the skeptics, “I understand the doubts, I count some of my friends among the indecisive… I do not cast them the first stone.”.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, only 65 representatives of 577 would not approve the treaty. The French people seem to support the Pact. Recent polls by the BVA institute and published by Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France indicate that 64% of them would vote in favor of the pact if there were a referendum.

What is really at stake is the unity of the Left. The ecologists from Europe-Ecologie-les-Vertsofficial allies of the PS in the Assembly and the government, announced that despite their previous and sustained opposition to the treaty, their party was still open for discussion.

The extreme left and the left part of the PS have already expressed their firm opposition to the treaty. On Sunday, September 30th, several thousands of protesters gathered in Paris to express their concerns regarding what they see as a pure austerity policy, worthy of Sarkozy. This part of the left, which was a crucial support to Hollande during the presidential campaign, considers itself deeply betrayed.

The first official demonstration against the government of Hollande nad Ayrault was organized by the left  — not by the right. A bad omen, to say the least.

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  1. […] since changed his mind in asking for the treaty’s ratification, although his own party is facing internal divisions on that […]

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