The Week of the President: From ‘Flanby’ to Commander-in-Chief

Cartoon by Justin Walker for La Jeune Politique

Cartoon by Justin Walker for La Jeune Politique

Hugo Argenton is LJP’s French columnist. He lives in Lille, France. The opinions expressed in this editorial are his own and are not indicative of LJP’s views.

One of the biggest difficulties in analyzing politics lies with the fact that it cannot be disconnected from time and bias. If you follow general public tendencies, you inherently re-enforce the status-quo. However, if you approach the issue from a new perspective, and propose a less accepted argument, you run the risk of looking foolish if these predictions do not play out. Despite the inherent risks, I will follow the latter approach.

Friday, January 11 may mark a change in the presidency of François Hollande. The President, who has seen his authority challenged from all sides during the first eight months of his mandate, secured consensus on an important decision: intervention in Mali. Surely, France does not have the same tradition of “Commander-in-Chief” as America, but during the conflict, the President will likely gain authority. In so doing, he will dispel his timid image and nickname, “Flanby” (a French pudding), which have considerably harmed his popularity.

So far, the strategic decision to support the Malian President, who is currently threatened by Muslim fundamentalists, has yielded largely positive results. Almost all of the leading political figures in France supported his decision. Left Party leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and former Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin — who delivered the well-known UN speech against war in Iraq in 2003 — were the only two critics.

Hollande’s support of Mali also took some focus off the controversial gay marriage debate. The President also took a new posture regarding the massive demonstration last weekend. While acknowledging the success of the protest, he affirmed his determination to lead the reform and refused to concede to a referendum. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira served as his spokeswoman throughout the weekend, emphasizing the resolution of the Government.

Furthermore, the President will ride the success of the employment negotiation. Management and workers’ unions struck an unexpected deal, one that will bring more flexibility to employers in times of crisis and guarantee employee protection. This success, however minor it might seem, is also important for Hollande, as it will validate his controversial vision for political compromise.

Now, Hollande may have found the path to credibility as President of the Republic. Nevertheless, many challenges lie ahead. First and foremost, there are risks of direct backlash from the French intervention in Mali. In the past, Islamic fundamentalists have targeted the most prominent countries involved in Iraq as retaliation. While we cannot allow fear rule our society and politics, we can expect a re-enforcement of security policies in the coming weeks.

Second, the Government cannot make errors like the 75% tax that was deemed unconstitutional. Of course, the Council of State — the judiciary body that advises the Government — has a responsibility to censor the symbolic measures taken by the Constitutional Council, but such a fiasco is what makes the Government look weak and amateur, and hurts the authority of all its members.

Third, the problem of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has not yet been solved. While the discipline of his ministers has grown, his lack of authority remains an issue. Moreover, if Hollande moves forward on the political stage as a strong leader, Ayrault will have greater difficulty doing the same. He risks finding himself in the same marginalized position as François Fillon had been under Nicolas Sarkozy.

New Year, New Deal. This seems to be the motto of François Hollande this January. While the conflict in Mali was strategically essential, he might as well seize the opportunity offered to him to assert himself as a figure of authority, the Commander-in-Chief.

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