After 17 years in the Élysée, the Right is looking tired in France. For the first time under the Fifth Republic the Left dominates the Senate, an overwhelming majority of regional representatives are Socialists, and polls are predicting landslide victories for the PS in 2012. So why are the French still so gloomy?
After the much-hyped Socialist primaries last year, the glum reality of François Hollande’s Presidential candidacy is beginning to sink in. The former partner of Ségolène Royal looks set to clinch the Presidency, but he has largely missed his opportunity to open a dialogue about France’s future and project any idea of a lasting solution to the long-term economic decline the country now faces.
The Socialist manifesto smacks of a party fighting to govern a nation that has run out of money and run out of ideas, with no overriding vision tying the austere policies together. Hollande has proposed a future jobs fund with a meagre 150,000 posts as the solution to France’s unrelenting youth unemployment problem (hovering between 20% and 25% for the best part of a decade). Coupled with the preservation of the 35-hour working week and the right to retire at 60, the radical and reformist PS of the Mitterand era has long disappeared.
Christened “Monsieur Normal” by the media, Hollande’s “normality” has rendered him increasingly unexciting. As yet another of the middle-aged, white, male species of politician that dominates France, his brand of normality is of the Ed Miliband variety – Hollande is part of France’s political élite as an alumnus of the National School of Administration, and he has spent much of his career within the bosom of the PS. His failure to connect with the real “Monsieur Normal” was sorely highlighted earlier this year. In the bleak banlieue of Le Bourget, he was attacked by a flour-pelting protester who accused Hollande of “rolling France in flour” (pulling a fast one) instead of seeking to solve France’s housing crisis and Paris’ appalling housing conditions, just two examples of crucial national issues that have been largely overlooked by the PS as they seek to widen their appeal by bank-bashing and not saying much else.
Much to the chagrin of many in Europe, a Socialist victory in France will not herald the resurrection of the left across the continent. France’s situation is not unique, but the inevitable Hollande win in April will reflect a discredited UMP and nervousness about the French economy, rather than a national optimism for how the Left can improve Europe’s fate in the age of austerity.