With Majority In National Assembly, French Socialists In Control

June 18, 2012  

The Socialist Party has the right to be jubilant. In the second round of the parliamentary elections, it scored an absolute majority, an objective that appeared remote after the first round. It has not scored a similar achievement since 1981.

From Israel’s perspective, this is a better result than having the Socialist Party dependent on the far left or the Ecologist-Greens for a parliamentary majority. The latter two parties are much more anti-Israel than the socialists.

As the ministers competing for seats in the National Assembly all emerged victorious, there will be little change in the cabinet.  It is now up to Hollande to decide how generous he wants to be to other parties of the left – even if he does not need them.

The Socialist party now controls all the levers of power in France – municipal, regional and national governments. The only thing that has eluded it is a special parliamentary majority that would allow it to pass constitutional amendments without the assent of the opposition.

While the Socialists have a mandate to rule, it pays to remember the 1981 experience. The presidential victory of Francois Mitterrand was followed shortly by the parliamentary elections that gave the Socialists an absolute majority.

The Socialist government then tried to change the tenor of social relations. It legislated pay hikes and extended vacations, but it was swiftly brought to heel by economic realities and changed direction in 1984.

If anything, the French government now has less room to maneuver.

While Francois Hollande has accumulated strength to argue his case for more growth measures within the European Union, France is still signed on to a treaty that will compel the country to rein in its deficit and bring it down to 3%. If adherence to the European Union will not achieve this, the capital markets will impose discipline. They can cut France’s credit rating and thus increase France’s debt repayment costs.

The Socialists, since 1984, have shown that they can be economically responsible, but they still have to cater to a constituency that expects changes now that the left has fully returned from the political wilderness to the corridors of power. It will be interesting to see how Hollande and his Minister of Finance Pierre Moscovici negotiate this dilemma both within France and within the European Union.

The far right National Front has so far managed to win 2 seats in the National Assembly. This number does not qualify the front to be a parliamentary group with the right to propose laws. Yet we are still talking about a psychological watershed, as the Front cracked the single-member districts and one of the seats was won by the next generation of the Le Pen dynasty, 22-year-old law student Marion Marechal Le Pen, who will be the youngest member of the National Assembly.

The idea that a National Front candidate is electable and not a wasted vote and at best a spoiler, could change relations within the French right.

The defeat of Francois Bayrou means that, for the moment, France no longer has an effective centrist movement. Bayrou himself admitted that his decision to back Hollande in the second round of the presidential election did not go down well with his supporters. After 15 years in the National Assembly, he is going home.

The UMP, that forms the core of the parliamentary opposition, will hold a leadership contest in the autumn and it now has 5 years to try and rebuild.

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