The referendum on the EU constitution caused one of the latest Socialist Party crises. Though conservative President Jacques Chirac lost the vote, the defeat hit the opposition socialist Yes campaigners hard. Afterwards Party Secretary Francois Hollande tried to limit the damage saying his party shouldn’t see the vote as a problem. We made a courageous democratic choice, he said.
Hollande has faced the task of re-inventing the party, and establishing its political direction. His European political colleagues have faced similar problems. Romano Prodi in Italy held a vote that made him the centre-left coalition candidate. In Germany, the SPD has just elected a new leader and the party has made its reformist agenda clear in the grand coalition.
But it is a different story in France says Professor Pascal de Witt from Brussels Universite libre: “There are in its political and historical culture two important elements: political culture marked by conflict and a political culture hostile to liberalism in all its forms but particularly economic.”
During the referendum on the constitution, Laurent Fabius went against the party line campaigning for a No vote. Now seen by some as a more prominent figure in the far left camp – many still see the former prime minister as a traitor. Socialist heavyweight Dominique Strauss Kahn recently said that his party had no interest in towing the extreme left behind it. So where’s the party going?
Arnaud Montebourg who leads the new socialist bloc is worried: “What does it mean to be socialist in the 21st century? In a global economy where no-one believes in politics that’s a fundamental question.” Hollande’s position appears secure for now, but hard times lie ahead, most notably winning the battle for the Socialist party nomination in the 2007 presidential elections.