French elections increase European crisis drama

The French elections June 17 produced a decisive victory for President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party.

In the elections for the French Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the National Assembly, or Parliament, voters go to the polls twice. In each of the 577 single-member electoral districts, all candidates who got at least 12.5 percent of the vote in the first round have the right to compete in the second round, if they (or their parties) wish. This year, the first round happened on June 10, and already showed a clear leftward tendency, which had been first indicated by the defeat of conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy by Socialist Francois Hollande in April and May.

On Sunday, in the second round of the parliamentary elections, this trend was firmly consolidated. The Socialist Party won 306 seats for itself and close allies (up 104 from the last elections in 2007 and more than enough to legislate by itself without even having to reach out to the Left Front (the Communist Party and close allies) to get its measures passed.

Since the Senate already has a Socialist Party majority, this gives Hollande a very strong hand not only in internal French politics, but in France’s relations with the other countries in the European Union and the joint Euro currency zone.

France is one of the biggest economies in both of these bodies, and Sarkozy had made a united front with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to fiercely impose a policy of austerity on those countries whose economies have been faltering because of the world economic crisis.

How Hollande will actually handle these matters is yet to be seen, but earlier he had been calling for policies more focused on growth and less on austerity, as well as the creation of new European mechanisms of funding development projects.

The gain by the Socialist Party largely came at the expense of ex-President Sarkozy’s UMP (Union for a Popular Majority), which, in spite of some small gains for allies, lost 119 seats, ending up with 229 seats for itself and allies. This is a much bigger swing away from the UMP and toward the Socialists than was seen in the presidential election.

The Left Front (Front Gauche) – though during the presidential elections its candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon was able to generate a lot of enthusiasm – did not do well, losing eight seats and ending up with 10 in the new Chamber of Deputies. It seems likely that at the last moment, a large proportion of the Left Front’s base moved to the Socialist column.

The extreme right-wing, verging-on-fascist, National Front did better than the last time, and entered the Chamber of Deputies with two seats, having had none before. The National Front’s ferociously reactionary presidential candidate ran for a seat in the constituency of Henin-Beaumont in the north of France, but was narrowly defeated by a Socialist Party candidate. The overall national vote for the anti-immigrant National Front was 13.6 percent, down from the nearly 18 percent in the first round of the presidential elections, but nevertheless the biggest advance for the extremist right in recent Western European elections.

The new majority in the Chamber of Deputies is center-left and “pro Europe,” which means that they will make some moves to restore their own country’s social safety net, shredded under Sarkozy, but they do not intend to do anything like pulling France out of the European Union or the Euro zone.

An important item will now be whether Hollande, his hand strengthened by the parliamentary victory, will try to modify the European fiscal compact called the “Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union” that the German government and the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission want to use to force even more austerity, especially on the poorer governments in the area, even if it causes them to collide with the wishes of their own people. Many in Europe see this treaty as a gross violation of national sovereignty, but so far not enough pressure has been generated against it for it to be significantly changed.

Hollande has said that he does not intend for France to “play the game of exercising extortion against Greece”, but it remains to be seen what will actually change in French policy.

Photo: Socialist Party of France Facebook page.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.