‘France is in crisis and politicians are powerless’

With France plunged into a new political crisis on Monday after the president asked his prime minister to form a new government, The Local took to the streets of Paris to gauge the opinion of the public.

'France is in crisis and politicians are powerless'
The French public were left even more disillusioned with the political leaders after Monday's shock resignation of the government. Photo: AFP

President François Hollande and his Socialist Party were embroiled in yet another political crisis on Monday. 

On Monday, Hollande asked his prime minister, Manuel Valls, to form a new cabinet after two ministers publicly criticized the government's economic policy. 

Hollande’s popularity is already at an all-time low, but with the appointment of Valls as Prime Minister of France, in April, he had hoped to win back some of his electors, and to re-assert his authority.

But things have clearly not gone as he had hoped. On Sunday, the soon-to-be-sacked Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg and Education Minister Benoît Hamon questioned Hollande and Valls economic policy of trying to trim state deficits by imposing €50 billion worth of cuts.

The rebel ministers demanded a change of tack towards growth and more tax cuts for residents.

But for Prime Minister Valls "a line had been crossed", leaving him no choice but to reshuffle the government and oust the rogue ministers.

Karine Bellier, 41, an HR consultant, agreed that Hollande and Valls had to take action.

“Changing the government is the only good option if Hollande wants to keep a hold on it. Arnaud Montebourg is the economy minister, and criticizing the economic policies of the government was out of line. By reshuffling, Hollande shows for the first time some signs of authority and of leadership," she said.

LIVE: Hollande's presidency is in 'disarray'

Gustave Kenedi, a political economy student added: "After this, Hollande hopes to have a united government. The way I see it is that he is sending a clear message to everyone in his party: he will not deviate from the reforms he has announced”.

Kenedi added that the real question now was whether the president of France would have a majority in parliament to support his new government, and to back up these reforms: “If not, we risk a dissolution of the National Assembly, which would be catastrophic, both for him and for the socialist party”.

Many of the people The Local spoke to saw Hollande as a weak president, who was incapable of bringing about change.

“France is already impossible to reform, whatever the government. But it’s worse with Hollande,"  said Michel Torralba, a 35-year-old computer engineer.

"Just take a look at the economy!  We don’t seem to be going in the right direction. We've already changed the prime minister once, and nothing has changed. I’m not expecting more from a new government," he said.

That was a view shared by Jean Talbot, a 47-year-old transport agent who believes that during such a complex economic crisis, the government has no power to do anything. Reshuffling will not bring any new solutions.

"We are in the middle of a crisis, and no politician can really change that, whether on the left or on the right of the political spectrum".

Faced with high levels of unemployment and a stagnant economy, French people are worried and fed up, and they feel the government does not realize how bad it is. 

Alice Blois, a 25-year-old office worker, told The Local “the government spends more time bickering than implementing policies to get people back to work. Changing the government once more only highlights its lack of unity, which we are all suffering from”.

Standing out from all pessimism surrounding France, was retired soldier and journalist Gérard Willaume, who told The Local that whether the government changed or not, between today and tomorrow, he would still support it.

“I believe we are on the right track, but what people don’t get is that it takes time, most of the reforms will only have effect on the long run. The global context is bad, it’s not all Hollande’s fault. For my part I will only judge him in 2017, when we will be able to see whether his reforms have had any results," said Willaume.

by Léa Surugue

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OPINION: Macron’s speech revealed his long game for France, but is it a game he can win?

In the wake of Emmanuel Macron's (unusually brief) speech to the nation and an orgy of blame and speculation, John Lichfield takes a look at how the turbulent months ahead are likely to play out in France.

OPINION: Macron's speech revealed his long game for France, but is it a game he can win?

In eight minutes on Wednesday evening, we saw the best of Emmanuel Macron and the worst of Emmanuel Macron. In his TV address to the nation, he was confident; he was solemn; above all he was brief.

He accepted that the hung parliament elected last Sunday reflected “deep divisions” in the country. He said that France  must “learn to govern differently…We must build new compromises…based on dialogue, open-mindedness and respect”.

But he failed to admit any share of responsibility in the impasse which voters have created. He said that he still had a “clear mandate” from his Presidential victory in April. He called for compromise but said that some of his own promises – no new taxes, no increased debt – were untouchable.

Hear more analysis from John and The Local team in our Talking France podcast.

In April, Macron acknowledged that he had won partly through the votes of people who disliked him but feared Marine Le Pen more. He promised to govern with them in mind. He hasn’t.

His alliance drifted through the parliamentary campaign without strongly defending Macron’s presidential programme, let alone coming up with new ideas to appease the voters, of Right or Left, who supported him on April 24th by default.

That is not the only reason for the mess that France is now in. Other factors played a part: voter fatigue; inflation; the perpetual French instinct to demand “change” but resist all changes; a campaign which largely ignored the gathering threats in the world outside.

France now finds itself, by accident, in a world which the present generation of French politicians have never known – a German, Italian, Spanish or Belgian world of coalitions, compromise and shifting alliances.

This was the world – a world of revolving-door governments –  which Charles de Gaulle devised the Presidency-dominated Fifth Republic to replace. Some argue that the return of parliamentary power will be A Good Thing.

It will generate more profound political debate and a culture of constructive compromise. I doubt it. The new National Assembly – with nine political groups, including large blocs from the Hard Left and Far Right – will be more bear-pit than Periclean Athens.

There has been a witch-hunt going on in the French media about who is “responsible” for the fact that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National leaped from 8 seats to 89 in the new Assembly.

READ ALSO Is there really a ‘voter surge’ to the far-right in France?

The Left, both in France and abroad, has blamed President Macron’s Ensemble! alliance for failing to give clear advice to its supporters last Sunday to vote for the Left in two-way, second round contests with Lepennist candidates. As a result, they say Le Pen won at least 30 seats which might have gone to the Left-Green alliance, Nupes.

They fail to point out – and the French media has only belatedly started to point out – that exactly the same thing happened, only more so, with those Left voters who faced second round races between Macron and Le Pen candidates. Almost 60 percent of the Far Right victories – 53 – came in two-way contests  between the Rassemblement National and Macron’s Ensemble! alliance.

Exit polls vary but all of them suggest that voters of the Left  abstained, or even voted for Le Pen candidates, to “screw Macron” more than Macron voters abstained or voted Le Pen to “screw” the Left.

In effect, the Macron alliance and the Left-Green alliance shot themselves collectively in the feet by abandoning the so-called Republican Front against Le Pen. Each might have won at least 30 extra seats if both had voted for one another. The Macron alliance might even have just scraped a majority – which is presumably what Left-Green voters wanted to prevent.

A similar hue and cry is in progress against the Macron camp for its alleged willingness to work with Le Pen and her deputies in the new parliament. There has been some loose talk by some Macron allies. Most senior Macron lieutenants have ruled out deals or alliances with the Far Right bloc.

But what of Macron himself, who asked Marine Le Pen when they met on Tuesday whether she would contemplate joining a government of national unity? He asked the same of most of the party-leaders he met.

All refused and as Macron said in his eight-minute address, the idea is impractical and unjustified.

Why raise it at all then? Especially with Le Pen?

Partly, I think, because Macron believes that as President of the Republic he cannot pretend that the 89 Far Right deputies do not exist. Partly, I believe that Macron is playing a would-be clever waiting game.

He sees no real prospect of a long-term alliance with the 64 centre-right deputies. He expects in the short term to conduct  urgent business – including a new anti-inflation package  -through ad hoc alliances with the centre-right and moderate Left.

In the longer term, he believes (and maybe hopes) that such cooperation is doomed to fail. He wants to be seen to have given all combinations of parliamentary peace a chance before he “declares war” and calls a new legislative election next year.

Hence last night’s message. What are all the groups in parliament – including the three Macron-supporting ones – prepared to concede to allow the vital business of government to continue?

It might have been smarter politics if Macron had said, more clearly, that he also is ready to make concessions and listen to other people’s ideas.