France’s mainstream left- and right-wing parties have split in their response to Marine Le Pen’s Front national‘s victory in Sunday’s regional elections.
Whereas President François Hollande’s Socialists are withdrawing from the contest in those regions where they stand little chance of keeping the nationalists out of power, Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains and their allies are staying in the race.
That could split the anti-Front vote in the runoffs next weekend, but the conservative leader and former president is wary of playing into Le Pen’s narrative that there is a conspiracy of mainstream parties intent on blocking her.
Labor reforms unveiled by French prime minister Manuel Valls this week shy away from weakening protections cherished by his Socialist Party and its trade union allies, including the country’s 35-hour workweek and indeterminate-term contracts.
“Our principle is to bring more flexibility but not less protection,” Valls said.
His plan tinkers around the edges of the jobs market. It would let firms negotiate working conditions with their employees rather than trade union representatives, for example, and allow them to opt out of some of the thousands of national work regulations that are especially onerous for small companies.
Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, is attempting to unify his party, but the very reforms that make him a divisive figure on the left are still likely to stop him from seeking the Socialists’ presidential nomination.
There is little doubt that Valls would be a stronger contender in 2017 than the incumbent, François Hollande. Polls show he would decisively beat the Front national‘s Marine Le Pen in a theoretical runoff and would come close to defeating Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative former president.
Hollande, by contrast, would lose against both, if he even managed to qualify for the second voting round.
Elections in France this year and next could doom any chance of deeper economic reform even as the country seems incapable of bringing down unemployment.
Stuck at over 10 percent since he came to power in 2012, the high jobless rate has weighed down on President François Hollande’s popularity. With an approval rating under 20 percent, the incumbent seems unlikely to win reelection in 2017. But he is still running and should want to avoid dividing his Socialist Party on economic policy.
The next regional elections are due in December. Called after a reorganization that saw the number of regions cut from 22 to thirteen, the Socialists are gearing up for another defeat. They have lost all local elections since Hollande beat the conservatives’ Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 with 51.6 percent of the votes.
Despite the liberal instincts of some of its leaders and hopeful signs of an economic recovery, France is unlikely to enact more than piecemeal reforms between now and the next presidential election, due in April 2017.
Politico reports that the ruling Socialist Party’s rhetoric on economic reform is mostly out of tune with what is happening.
President François Hollande’s attention has shifted away from an economic overhaul to more immediate concerns such as trying to improve his low approval scores, courting young voters and unifying a fractious, rebellious left-wing parliamentary majority.
Hollande is using the breathing space of .6 percent growth in the first quarter of this year to champion social reforms that should rally his leftist base.
Socialists in France and the United Kingdom are struggling with the same problem: how to mix their left-wing instincts with a program that does not scare businesses.
Britain’s Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, tried to woo business leaders on Monday, saying the ruling Conservative Party’s proposed referendum on European Union membership was a greater threat to enterprise than his regulation and spending plans.
France’s Socialist Party government survived a confidence vote on Thursday called by the conservative opposition after it rammed through economic reforms without consulting parliament.
Earlier in the week, President François Hollande used emergency powers allowed under the Constitution to bypass lawmakers and enact liberal economic reforms that are meant to pull the country out of malaise and avoid a confrontation with the rest of the European Union.
Manuel Valls, Hollande’s reformist prime minister, recognized that a majority of lawmakers might have voted down the measures had they been put up to a vote. He argued that the government could not risk their rejection. “Nothing will make us move back,” he said.
French president François Hollande bypassed his own Socialist Party lawmakers on Tuesday by signing into law liberal economic reforms that are meant to pull the country out of economic malaise and avoid a confrontation with the rest of the European Union.
Manuel Valls, Hollande’s reformist prime minister, admitted there might not be a majority in favor of the measures but said the government would not risk their rejection. “Nothing will make us move back,” he said.
French prime minister Manuel Valls announced a package of long-awaited economic reforms on Wednesday that at least some members of his own Socialist Party are likely to resist.
“We need to unblock the economy, liberate energies, lift constraints,” Valls said. Responding to criticism from within his party, he added, “Sometimes you have to choose risk over rent, immobilization, conservatism. The French are ready, often more than their leaders.”
The plan includes many of the measures floated by economy minister Emmanuel Macron in October, including allowing businesses to operate on Sundays and opening protected professions such as pharmacists and notaries.
It would also make it easier for companies to fire employees and reduce nonwage labor costs which currently make up a third of the average salary.