We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan and her Letter From Paris column! Nicole stayed longer than usual in Essex this year in order to see the outcome of the election and celebrate Thanksgiving. She has now returned to Paris and here is her first column of the 2016-17 series. We know this will please the many readers who have been asking about Nicole’s welfare and (perhaps even more intensely) the future of her column — it also pleases us greatly. Welcome back, Nicole!
In the Wake of Election Surprises Everywhere, Where is France’s 2016-17 ‘Saison’ Headed?
Debates, elections, referendums, reshuffling of governments- the political landscape of the European Union (EU) is shifting. It would be a mistake however to place the events under the simplistic label of “populism,” a trend following the startling votes supporting both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. It is more accurate to describe the ongoing turbulence in the EU as a stand taken by its members toward the future of Europe.
On Dec. 1, the decision of president Francois Hollande not to run again in next May elections, caught everyone in France by surprise. After many months of tergiversation, Hollande, with the abysmal 7.5 percent score in the polls, made the logical — but still wrenching — announcement during an unprepared TV news hour.
It was an unprecedented move in the fifth Republic, creating , a “lame duck” a la française situation for the next five months. What a contrast with May 2012, when, on Bastille Square, I had watched the euphoria of the population when Hollande was elected! The new president made a point of arriving by train instead of flying, like an ordinary citizen. A delirious crowd was celebrating the end of eight years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s rule.
What went wrong with this “ordinary” president?
Specialists pondered over the assessment of his policies. Many of his reforms, particularly to boost the economy like the CICE (Credit d’Impot de Croissance et d’Emploi) or the Macron law, will survive him. His mandate was highlighted by the signing of the Paris accords on climate change, the armed forces deployment against Islamist radicals on the African continent, and the firm measures taken to protect the country from terrorist attacks.
But Hollande’s political management was a disaster, commented Thierry Pech, director of the Terra Nova foundation. Although intelligent and highly educated, the president lacked a visionary plan and the ability to give a direction to his programs. He wanted to carry out reforms but never explained them in advance.
The battle to pass the el Khomry labor law was emblematic of his shortcomings. His objectives were sound:- facilitate the laying off of workers, reject the rigid 35 hours per week Socialist taboo, and relax the rules concerning work on evenings and Sundays. Unfortunately he presented the law proposal as a done deal and resorted to “49-3” or executive orders, which irritated the deputies in the National Assembly. He frequently kowtowed to the anger of the street. When the el Khomry law was finally voted on, it had been gutted of much of its content. The scourge of high unemployment remained throughout his mandate.
The campaign toward the May elections started with the primaries of the right and center parties. Francois Fillon was catapulted into the lead of Les Republicains (LR) with 66 percent of the votes versus 23 percent for Alain Juppe who had been expected to win. Nicolas Sarkozy , coming in third position, was eliminated.
Fillon, several times a minister and prime minister under Sarkozy, conducted a discreet but intensive campaign for three years, using social networks rather that the traditional media. His program is quite conservative: reduce the number of civil servants by 500,000, decrease unemployment allowances, complement the social security benefits by increasing the share of private health insurance. He advocates a free market economy. In foreign policy, he has a pragmatic attitude to relations with Putin, wants a strong Europe and to control the flow of migrants. By preempting part of the program of Marine Le Pen of the far right Front National , he may be in a good position to beat her.
Fillon’s victory represented only 40 percent of the total electorate, so there is still plenty of ground to cover. Next will come the Socialist primaries.
Emmanuel Macron, former minister of the economy in the cabinet of Manuel Valls, is running as an independent. Only 38, he is a brilliant young man who had had a versatile career, including one year with the Rothschild investment bank. On Dec. 9, the boisterous gathering of 16,000 supporters marked the start of the movement he is calling, “En marche,” under which he promises to modernize the labor market in order to create jobs and eliminate the old divide between right and left.
The battle has just began.
Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.
About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.