The election campaign now well and truly underway in France probably matters more directly to us in Britain than the razzmatazz of the American elections in November (providing of course that the more gruesome Republican candidates are weeded out in the primaries).
François Hollande may not have been the first choice for many socialists – his very ‘ordinariness’ places charisma outside his range; his programme is cautiously social democratic, not transformative; other more exciting contenders have – how can we put it delicately? – fallen by the wayside. But he was the democratic choice of three million Socialist party members and sympathisers in an open primary which gave the Left a game-changing kick-off in the campaign.
His assured performance at the rally at Le Bourget in late January, addressing 25,000 supporters (that’s ten times the size of the Sheffield rally and without the gaffes), on TV and in a programme which rightly places all the emphasis on jobs and growth have given him a head-start. In the French presidential and legislative elections in April and May of this year Europe’s Left has its first chance of re-gaining power in a major EU member state since 2004.
This matters. First it means that at the top table in Europe there will be at least one significance voice opposed to the technocratic imposition of continent-wide austerity which is the mantra of the currently all-powerful centre-right. Hollande is committed to re-negotiate the ‘Fiscal Pact’ to be agreed in principle by 25 member states in March.
The French socialists do not reject budgetary discipline but want, quite reasonably to avoid arbitrary straight-jackets being imposed on member states without any accompanying measures for growth, and without adequate parliamentary safeguards. And their party has started working out a coordinated economic programme with German social democrats in the fairly confident expectation that ‘Merkozy’ will be seen by 2013 as a kind of historical aberration. Continue reading Guest blog from Julian Priestley: Opening a New Front in France