2014: New Deal for President Hollande

What a first couple of weeks! After a disastrous fall, President Hollande decided to take a huge initiative in a master political maneuver – one that some analysts have already dubbed the launch of the President’s re-election campaign. It is possible to say, without exaggerating, that January was the month when Hollande decided to make a fresh start after a very difficult end to 2013.

This overhaul was done in two phases. During his New Year’s Eve wishes to the nation, Hollande attempted to gauge public opinion. He proposed a “responsibility pact” between the government and employers: the government would lower taxes on labor, while the employers would engage in the creation of thousands of new jobs. “I dare you to do it!” answered Pierre Gattaz, the very-liberal leader of the MEDEF (the employers’ union), while the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) stood stunned by the Hollande’s proposition.

The second phase was undertaken during last week’s press conference. A very confident Hollande announced a number of measures that break with the classic socialist policies and will force the whole political community to adjust to this reorientation in French politics. Among these measures, Hollande promised the end of business contributions to the family welfare system (one branch of the welfare system that gives allowances when you have children), as well as a new phase in French decentralization that will give some powers of the départements to the metropolis governments, as well as giving more powers to the regions, the largest administrative division.

Both of these ideas are surprising coming from a socialist president. Traditionally, the Parti Socialiste (PS) has defended the current welfare system, where businesses and workers both contribute to the system, and PS officials do not encourage a much-needed simplification of local government.

In fact, Hollande has not been in very good terms with his own party since he was elected in mid 2012. The PS has always been more traditionalist than its European counterparts (the other socialist, labor, and social-democrat parties in Europe) and, while it has accepted capitalism as part of its doctrine, it has yet to embrace social-democracy. Unable to dictate this change in doctrine while he was leader of the PS, Hollande can now do so by engaging the power Ayrault’s government has over these reforms. This maneuver is seen as political takeover by a large number of Socialist representatives.

If Hollande shook the PS with his announcement, the impact has been twice as powerful on the right wing. The center right of Bayrou and Borloo has been ridiculed. After supporting Hollande in the last election, Bayrou had distanced himself from the President for not being courageous enough in his reforms and for allying to UMP that he once criticized. Now, Hollande is embracing the same policies that Bayrou supports, which shows how incoherent he is and how useless his new party might become.

The UMP has been divided with regard to Hollande’s announcements. Many among its most moderate members have welcomed Hollande’s recent decisions, which they have promoted over the last year. Former Prime Ministers Alain Juppé and Jean-Pierre Raffarin have publicly expressed their satisfaction with Hollande’s announcements. Meanwhile, UMP leader Jean-François Copé, along with the former supporters of Nicolas Sarkozy, decided to adopt a strict posture of opposition that might be seen as counter-productive for the country.

The only group that has not been impacted by these political changes is the wider French public. Despite Hollande’s thunderous propositions, the main topic in the media remains his affair with actress Julie Gayet – rumors of pregnancy have even emerged – and the consequent complications in his relationship with his current girlfriend, Valérie Trierweiler.

But it does not matter. Hollande might not benefit from these changes in the short term, but in the long run, he has taken back the leadership he lost following the bonnets rouges protests, and has managed to recreate foundations that are strong enough to carry him through the local and European elections this spring. After that, nobody knows what the future might hold for him.

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.

Trackbacks

  1. […] New Deal for President Hollande. What a first couple of weeks! After a disastrous fall, President Hollande decided to take a huge initiative in a master political maneuver – one that some analysts have already dubbed the launch of the President’s re-election campaign. It is possible to say, without exaggerating, that January was the month when Hollande decided to make a fresh start after a very difficult end to 2013. […]

  2. […] efforts at economic reform, most notably the “responsibility pact” that he outlined at the beginning of the year. The pact, which he detailed in his New Year’s address, aimed to lower employment costs for […]

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