A Change Has Gotta Come

Hollande’s administration risks alienating the French electorate. Illustration by Peter Ansell for La Jeune Politique

Hollande’s administration risks alienating the French electorate.
Illustration by Peter Ansell for La Jeune Politique

Among the main characteristics of democracy, the changing of political power is one of the most important and the most indicative of a mature democratic regime. In this sense, the electoral success of the Parti Socialiste (PS) after ten years of right-wing leadership breathed new life into France’s politics. But fifteen months after the inauguration of President François Hollande, the assessment is bitter. The left-wing majorities in Parliament and government have alienated the vast majority of the French people, to the point that the current President and Prime Minister are the least popular since polls on the subject were first taken.

Of course, the economic crisis and the massive unemployment resulting from it have weighed down the popularity of the executive branch, but there is more than that. The rise of polling in favor of the extreme-right Front National (FN), along with the declining popularity of traditional Government parties, certainly shows that the PS has failed to implement a real change in public policies. Or, at least, they have failed to show that they have.

The new Government has indeed taken some decisions that are pleasing to a left-wing majority, but they have done so with moderation: to counterbalance the rise in taxes, they have granted the market tax reductions; to counterbalance the recruitment of new teachers, policemen, and judges, they have imposed drastic austerity measures on the other departments; to counterbalance a less repressive judiciary policy, the Interior Minister has been as harsh on immigration as his right-wing predecessor.

These political choices can be partly explained by the personality of President Hollande, who was known during his ten years as leader of the PS for his ability to compromise. But now, he is President and this strategy has failed: as a left-wing President, he will never attract the right-wing electorate, and his outreach efforts towards the right have upset his own supporters.

The next local and European elections in the spring are likely to be revelatory: on the local level, the PS can probably escape disaster thanks to years of progressive policies by its mayors, but on the continental scale, the party will suffer from its association with the ultraliberal policies pursued in Brussels. President Hollande’s policy choices may be courageous, but they are not as identified with the left as they should be. Thus, they deprive the French people of a real political alternative, an alternative more and more of them are now trying to find in the FN.

This is the danger.

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