What France Will Remember of 2013

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski for flickr

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski for flickr

The Presidential election of 2012 was certainly not one of revolutionary speeches and promises of a new tomorrow, but the success of François Hollande and the coming-to-power of the Parti socialiste and its allies nevertheless brought great hope among the French people. For those who chose to put their faith in Hollande and his party, 2013 has been a major disappointment, and they are more disillusioned than ever with traditional politics. And regarding Hollande’s promises to bring the French together again in particular, this faithlessness is a hurtful failure.

Let us be honest: the President is not entirely to blame in this failure. A large segment of French society appeared unwilling to accept that France be governed through left-wing policies, and they have constituted themselves as a strong and uncompromising opposition movement to the President. They have emerged during the long parliamentary debate that led to the legalization of marriage and adoption for homosexual couples, and later moved to fuel the opposition to Hollande’s reforms on taxes.

This conservative force is a new challenge for all political leaders. Like the American Tea Party at its beginning, they reveal the incapacity of the opposition to play its role in Parliament. They also inject in the political sphere supposedly unconventional ideas and miracle solutions to the country’s challenges, solutions that in fact weaken the republican pact. This force, off which the ‘Manif pour Tous’ is the most-visible organization, also represents a difficult enemy for the majority. Framing the people against the elite in times of economical and social sufferings, they aim at isolating the actions of the government, making it meaningless. And so far, they have succeeded.

In their success, they have been greatly helped by the communication disaster that is the Socialist majority. While the government is progressing in the application of its platform, their actions have been lost in public opinion because of the incapacity on the part of country’s leaders to pass a clear message through: the members of the Parti socialiste and of Parliament have been advocating their own ideas at the expense of the government’s, members of the government have been contradicting each other, and the Prime Minister has been reversing his decisions on several matters. All the while, the President seems to be overlooking this mess, waiting for the most consensual decision to emerge.

François Hollande looks stuck in his promise to ‘normalize’ the presidency. He has been unable so far to change France’s taste for authoritative leaders, and his will to discuss and compromise in order to reconcile opposing positions has been seen as indecision and soft leadership.

This position does not apply, however, on matter of defense, where the President has engaged the country in two conflicts: one in Mali where France prevented the fall of the democratic regime, and one in the Central African Republic where the military will have to mediate in the midst of religious tensions. While those two interventions were necessary, legitimate in the eyes of the United Nations, and a symbol of France’s remaining power in Africa, Hollande will have to organize the successful exit of the French troops. The recent experience in Afghanistan shows how difficult that is.

Now, with weakened political capital and a growing fiscal reluctance, Hollande and his government have engaged in an enormous battle over tax reform. This was one of Hollande’s main promises as a candidate, one that he chose to delay once elected until the Prime Minister decided to recall it for strategic reasons. Although reforming the tax system will take years, it will also alienate many who will see their taxes raised or their advantage canceled out. It will probably be unpopular, but this is a necessary reform in order to stabilize the budget.

There will also be elections in 2014, and as unemployment has yet to decrease, the consequences might be serious for the Parti socialiste and its allies. The local elections should be relatively safe for Socialist incumbents in big cities – the quality of their management will be acknowledged – but it will a lot more difficult in smaller towns all over the country where the Front National (FN) is expected to reach new highs. The FN might even benefit from the EU’s unpopularity to become the country’s leading party during the European elections later in the spring.

2013 has been a hard year for Hollande, who has failed to reconcile French divisions and has alienated himself a large segement of the country. But 2014 should be even harder with contradictory short-term and long-term objectives confronting. While the President is certain to remain in the Elysée until 2017, his Prime Minister may act as a fuse and be replaced to give the government a new face, unless the French finally get used to Hollande’s governing style.

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  1. […] a first couple of weeks! After a disastrous fall, President Hollande decided to take a huge initiative in a master political maneuver – one that […]

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