Written by Hilary Barnes
Those in France who like to guess what France’s deeply unpopular President Francois Hollande will do next, and claim to have some knowledge of what people within the orbit of the president are talking about, say that he may choose to dissolve the National Assembly and call a new election.
So far this is unsubstantiated gossip, picked up in a small item in the press that happened to catch my eye, but there are at least two good reasons why the president might be considering this option.
The first is that an election to the National Assembly at any time within the next year or so would almost certainly see the present socialist government of Prime Minister Jean Pierre Ayrault voted out of office.
The president would then have no choice but to call on a leading figure from another party to form a government, which would exist in cohabitation with a president not of the same political persuasion, a situation that has arisen several times before in the history of the Fifth Republic.
The president, however, is not left without anything to do. The constitution makes him responsible at all times for foreign policy and defence.
The president’s choice would almost certainly fall on a person from either the main opposition party, the conservative UMP, the party which brought the former president Nicolas Sarkozy to power in 2007, or from one of the small centre parties that usually co-operate with the UMP.
Deliberately to annihilate a government of the president’s own party might seem an odd thing to do, but there is a rational for it.
Hollande’s calculation in doing this would be that the new government would soon prove that it could not make a better job of running France than Prime Minister Ayrault’s quarrelsome crowd, and this would give Hollande his best chance of fighting the 2017 presidential election with a chance of winning a second term, perhaps even with a socialist majority at his command once more.
We all have our dreams.
The second point is based on something more substantial than gossip, namely signs of crumbling of support for Hollande’s government in the National Assembly, as Gerard Grunberg, political scientist at Science Po in Paris, has pointed out in an article at the Telos website, which is generally sympathetic to France’s Socialist Party.
The majority includes includes the Socialist Party itself, with 276 out of 545 seats, who can count on the support of the 16 Ecolos (Greens), while the support of the 15 members grouped together in the “Front de gauche”, whose support is more theoretical than reliable. The Ecologists hold two of the 38 ministerial portfolios in the present government.
Some senior members of the Ecologists, including Vincent Placé, who is an Ecologists member of the indirectly-elected Senate (the less important of the two parts of the legislature), are clearly in favour of dropping Ecologist participation in the government and the commitment to support for the government in the National Assembly votes, on the grounds that the government is not doing enough to implement policies dear to the hearts of the Ecologists. The Ecologist ministers, however, have not so far shown themselves willing to drop the comforts and privileges of government office.
The Front de gauche are equally disillusioned with the present government, which is not as radical as they would like it to be. They are being strongly encouraged go into outright opposition by Jean Luc Melenchon, the far-leftist candidate who won 11 % of the vote in the first round of the 2012 presidential election.
Admittedly, there is some way to go before the support of the Ecologists and the Front de gauche disintegrates completely, but the situation is bad enough to mean, says Grunberg, that the political left-wing alliance behind the government has in fact ceased to exist : The Socialist Party is on its own.
This might not matter if the Socialist Party in the National Assembly was a well disciplined force that could always be counted on to back the president and the prime minister, but this is not necessarily the case.
There is a substantial minority of the Socialist Party members who are far from happy with the government ‘s policies, especially, but not only, its economic policy and measures to cut the budget deficit and bring the national debt under control, which are accompanied by almost no growth in GDP and rising unemployment.
The fact that this austerity policy must be implemented under the treaty-based terms of France’s participation in the European Monetary Union – the Euro zone – only aggravates the leftists , who feel that France is in the humiliating position of being told what to do, and to the wrong thing, by the dominant member of the Euro zone, Germany.
Grunberg argues that in a situation in which support for the government by the Ecologists and the far-left members of the assembly is disintegrating, the left-wingers in the Socialist Party must decide whether they feel themselves to be closer to the or the Socialist Party. Which way they will jump he does not say.
But from the government’s point of view, this is nevertheless a thoroughly unsatisfactory situation, as it puts the Socialist Party’s leftists in a position in which it will be continuously tempted to make the party and the government hostage to its extremist wing, steadily undermining the authority of the party leaders, says Grunberg.
In short, Hollande may find that as his majority in the National Assembly melts away, or he merely fears that it might, to play the dissolution card may seem like a smart thing to do (but, for the record, this is not a possibility mentioned by Gerard Grunberg).