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French Socialists feel power in reach

French Socialists feel power in reach
By Euronews
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Encouraged by the results of the first round of voting in legislative elections, France’s President François Hollande can feel confident of sealing his electoral win five weeks ago. He asked voters for their robust support so he can set his programme in motion.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, himself freshly elected in his Nantes constituency, on the evening of the first legislative round seconded the call to voters for the run-off next Sunday.

Ayrault said: “It’s quite simple: either the President of the Republic gets a large and coherent majority and the change you chose on 6 May can be put into effect, or he doesn’t get it, and the rebalancing of the country by justice cannot happen. France’s voice will be weakened in Europe and the world.”

This is the main message of the Socialists’ electoral campaign, repeated by all the ministers in the new government formed on 17 May. Each of them looks like he or she will have little or no difficulty in winning election in the second round of the legislatives, which reduces the likelihood of a cabinet reshuffle, required in the case that anyone in it fails to win election. That should save time, and allow the work of governing to begin promptly. For the moment, vote-winning measures are top of the list, such as moving the retirement age back down to 60.

Social Affairs and Health Minister Marisol Touraine said: “The President of the Republic committed to a fair and rapid action in favour of everyone who started work young and has attained age 60 and who has completed the duration of contribution.”

On Sunday, that promise seems to have been convincing, according to the second-highest official in the Socialist party, Harlem Désir.

Désir said: “I think that the first decision on pension system, on school system has been supported by the electorate. So it’s a kind of confidence vote which has been expressed but there is a second round and what is at stake is a stronger participation.”

The Socialists, after long years in opposition, now feel that at last their time has come, if they can manage to win enough seats in the Assemblée Nationale. Immediately after next Sunday’s poll, full attention will turn to serious EU and euro matters.

Marion Gaillard, a historian and professor in political science in Paris, who specialises in relations between France and Europe, in an interview with euronews, offered her opinion on the changes affecting French politics, and how others are observing them.

Sophie Desjardin, euronews: The French presidential elections were followed with keen interest elsewhere in Europe, making headlines in all the major newspapers; we’ve seen far less interest, however, for the legislative elections in France, and yet a lot depends on them. Why does Europe feel less concerned about this vote?

Gaillard: Policy on Europe is largely handled by the president. It has been like that since the start of the Fifth Republic, which began in 1958, even when the left and right shared power, in cohabitation. That may be why there is less interest in this election, even though the stakes are crucial for France. The change chosen by the French in the presidential election is relying on the legislatives to become real. Europe also needs this, to avoid instability in a time of crisis, to reassure our partners and the markets.

euronews: Many European analysts said that the French choice of François Hollande for president was a realignment of the political axis in Europe. Do you agree with that view?

Gaillard: It is clear that the positions Hollande took during the presidential campaign, on the need for the fiscal pact to be accompanied by a policy for growth opened up debate in Europe. But this realignment also comes from the deterioration of the economy. It shows that the choices taken by European leaders for several years are not necessarily the best ones. They clearly do not bring the expected economic results, and they can also be socially and politically dangerous, bringing an increase in extreme positions and weakening the power of the traditional parties that support Europe.

euronews: What is going to happen if the left does not get an absolute majority to govern? How could that effect the president’s policies and initiatives?

Gaillard: We know that when there is cohabitation, say between a socialist president and a conservative parliamentary majority, the president still keeps a hold on policy on Europe. But even so, the French position would with doubt be weakened, as you’d have the president and the prime minister attending European Councils, and there might be a split between the approaches the Elysée and the government want to take.

euronews: The euro zone is riding a storm, austerity is undermining voters’ spirit, including the French. The scenario is not like Greece here, but, like in many of our neighbours, the extreme right is emerging as the third force in politics. What does this tell us about Europe and the way Europeans feel?

Gaillard: Evidently, the rise of the extreme right can be translated as a rejection of Europe, given the positions they take over and over again towards European questions. It’s evident that in France, like in other European countries, the current landscape is marked by austerity, debt and social crisis. These do not reinforce pro-Europe feelings, but rather lead to a rejection of Europe. Therefore, it is time to restore the desire for Europe to all the people of the member countries.

euronews: The presidential election marked a change in French-German relations. How about the legislatives? How important are they?

Gaillard: So far, in the Chancellor-President duet, François Hollande has enjoyed the strength of his new legitimacy, while Angela Merkel has suffered both internal and external setbacks, becoming more and more isolated in Europe and the world. She has been criticised for her preference for austerity. We might see a readjustment there, if the French socialists lost the legislatives, in which case we would see their legitimacy crumble. Hollande would be weakened as she attempts to take Europe by the hand again. We saw that last week with her proposals for a political union.

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