What does it mean to be “on the right”? In France, this question has long been debated. The great political scientist René Rémond famously saw the right in France as torn between a series of apparently contradictory positions: secularism and clericalism, authoritarianism and liberalism, statism and anti-statism. In recent decades, the French right has seemed similarly fractured, in ways that both perpetuate and depart from its earlier cleavages. It can espouse free-market capitalism but also “economic patriotism,” European integration as well as national sovereignty, republican tolerance but also rabid xenophobia. In particular, the French right has been dogged by the persistent problem of its relationship with the National Front (Front national, or FN). Does the Le Pen family party ultimately share many of the mainstream right’s values, only expressing them in more virulent terms? Or is the FN’s identity sui generis, as distinct from the center right as the latter is from the left? Continue reading
Lemas Announces the Government
Nearly three and half hours behind schedule, the Elysée’s new Secretary-General, Pierre-René Lemas, announced, standing on the steps of the presidential palace, the composition of the first Ayrault government. A chaud, here are a few off-the-cuff reactions:
The new socialist government is decidedly moderate. It represents the triumph of Parti socialist’s right or centrist currents and is resolutely social democratic. The factions loyal to President Hollande himself, as well as Ségolène Royal in 2007 and the once important Dominique Strauss-Kahn, have prevailed. This is evident first of all in the choice of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault himself, who interestingly combines a traditional socialist trajectory (rural working-class background, employment as a public school teacher, youthful activism, and municipal politics) with a pragmatic, centrist outlook (with the added bonus of German language skills). The “Hollandais” did especially well: the new president’s ENA classmate Michel Sapin was given the labor ministry, his campaign spokesman Manuel Valls was rewarded with “Place Beauvau” (the interior ministry), and loyalists Jean-Yves Le Drian and Sebastien Le Foll landed defense and agriculture, respectively. Though his career is finished (and his legal troubles increasing by the day), Dominique Strauss-Kahn still managed to leave his mark on the new government: his former student and leading social democrat Pierre Moscovici will take over the finance ministry, somewhat surprisingly edging out Michel Sapin, a Hollandais who had the job back in the nineties. Continue reading
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Tagged Aubry, Ayrault, Fabius, Filippetti, Hollande, Montebourg, Moscovici, Peillon, Sapin, Taubira, Touraine, Valls
Ayrault & Hollande
Today (Tuesday, May 15), François Hollande became president and he named Jean-Marc Ayrault prime minister. Ayrault is expected to announce his government tomorrow (Wednesday, May 16) afternoon. What follows is some reckless speculation, based on press reports, on who the members of the government are likely to be: Continue reading
The Hotel de Matignon:
The Prime Minister’s Residence
On Tuesday, May 15, in a ceremony held at the Elysée Palace known as the “passation des pouvoirs” (or transfer of powers), François Hollande will succeed Nicolas Sarkozy, becoming the seventh president of the Fifth Republic. One of his first tasks—besides determining Europe’s fate with Angela Merkel—will be to appoint a prime minister, whom he will charge with forming a government. The current prime minister, François Fillon, submitted his resignation on May 10. The president-elect has said that he would like to have a new government appointed by the evening of May 16. This government will serve until the second round of parliamentary elections is held on June 17, at which point it is likely that a slightly modified government will be named—one that, presumably, will serve a number of years, until Hollande decides a reshuffling is needed.
Naming the prime minister will be one of Hollande’s most important early decisions as president—one that should prove particularly illustrative of his governing style. Who are the top contenders? What factors will he consider? And whom will he choose? Continue reading
The French left has many deserving heroes. Jean Jaurès proved that socialism could be republican, ethical, and profoundly humane. Léon Blum continued his project, while achieving an impressive record of social reform during his so-called Popular Front government of the thirties. Pierre Mendès-France brought these ideas into the postwar era, conceptualizing a left that was compatible with a modern, technological society, even as he brought the dark chapter of France’s colonial war in Indochina to a much-needed close. After ’68, Michel Rocard made a persuasive case that the democratization of daily life was socialism’s greatest message to the modern world. And whatever their limitations (and Machiavellian ambitions), François Mitterrand and Lionel Jospin showed that socialists could govern—and that, from time to time, they could remain faithful to their core ideals.
The French left does, indeed, have many deserving heroes. I do not believe François Hollande is one of them. Yet he will likely be only the second socialist president of the Fifth Republic, and the first of the twenty-first century. All things considered, this is a good thing. For several reasons. Continue reading
The first round of the 2012 French presidential election takes place on April 22. The following is Sister Republic’s run-down of the ten candidates on the ballot:
Union for a Popular Movement (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, UMP)
It has been a strange five years: the man regarded as unquestionably the most talented French politician of his generation has become one of the least popular and, perhaps, worst presidents of the Fifth Republic. Nicolas Sarkozy, who used to say that he dreamed of being president while shaving in the morning, is struggling for his political survival. He risks becoming the first incumbent since Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1981 to be denied a second term (a point that Giscard famously rubbed in, with wonderful passive aggressiveness, by letting the camera dwell on his empty chair for the entire duration of the Marseillaise at the end of his farewell speech).
Sarkozy, renowned for the nervous energy he brings to every endeavor, does have a record to run on (thanks in no small part to his competent and self-effacing prime minister, François Fillon). In 2007, he introduced measures to minimize the impact of public sector strikes on the French population. He implemented a controversial pension reform, which meant that most French people not facing immanent retirement will have to work longer. He has, like all Fifth Republic presidents, made foreign policy a priority. He was critical in securing Western military intervention on behalf of the Libyan rebellion; he has taken a hawkish stance on Iran; and he reintegrated France into NATO’s integrated command. Most importantly, he has played a critical role in the euro crisis, negotiating the Greek bailout and crafting policies to staunch the risk of future defaults. In this context, he found a crucial ally in German chancellor Angela Merkel, though he has often placed himself to the left of her draconian fiscal conservatism. Continue reading