French voters expressed themselves at the polls democratically choosing alternation in electing Francois Hollande as President. With only the second Socialist Party president in French history, France risks once again experiencing the errors and hesitations of Socialist power at the helm. The U-turn of the last Socialist President, Francois Mitterrand, from socialist economic policy to one of austerity comes to mind.
Even prior to taking office Hollande explained in a media appearance that the fiscal state of the nation is worse than previously thought – a convenient position from which to perhaps prepare French voters for a letdown on the costly promised state spending that formed the cornerstone of his campaign.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, one can nevertheless appreciate that President Sarkozy led France with courage, energy, convictions, and determination during the worst economic crisis the country has seen since the 1930s. As Europe on the whole continues to grapple with the crisis, with individual countries like Greece and Spain teetering on the brink, and the Eurozone on the whole in less debt compared with other countries around the world including the USA, it’s hard to deny that Nicolas Sarkozy’s France, despite the challenges it continues to face, weathered the storm better than its neighbors.
Moreover, Sarkozy’s Franco-German partnership with Angela Merkel, and his various international leadership efforts in instances ranging from definitive and swift military action in Libya, France rejoining NATO, to G8 and G20 summits, resulted in France being re-established as a respected voice on the world stage.
For those who respect these values and efforts and remain skeptical of a Socialist presidency and the potential of the party for mobilizing its allies on the hard-left, including greens and communists, there’s still another opportunity to ensure that some semblance of balance remains.
In June, French voters both within the country and living abroad will have the opportunity to elect candidates for the National Assembly – the country’s federal legislative body. Currently held by Sarkozy’s presidential majority. A renewal of that confidence in center-right candidates would allow for control of government to be kept in their hands and to counterbalance the new, leftist Presidential power.
If this phenomenon occurs, it would be the fourth time in French history that a so-called “cohabitation” has resulted in a balancing of power, with the first two of three historical instances having occurred under France’s first Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand.
While Article 8 of the Constitution of the French Republic provides for the President to name a Prime Minister, the parliamentary majority has the power to bring down a government in the event that it disagrees with the choice of Prime Minister. In the past, this provision has resulted in the President appointing the Prime Minister of the majority parliamentary party, as was the case in 1997 when center-right President Jacques Chirac named Socialist Lionel Jospin to the Prime Ministership to preside over a Socialist majority parliament. A few years later in 2002, voters wiped out the Socialist influence in parliament by voting in a center-right UMP majority.
In 1986, and five years into his first term, Socialist President Francois Mitterrand appointed center-right Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to preside over a newly-elected center-right majority comprised of two major center-right parties. Chirac’s presence in that role was apparently so appreciated as a counter-balance to Socialist power in that era that Chirac later went on to become President in his own right.
In both of these instances, one thing stands out: French voters always end up being grateful for the presence of a center-right leadership as a counterbalance to power. And now, with a Francois Hollande Socialist presidency a reality, June’s legislative vote represents a crucially important last chance for voters.
(Julien Balkany is a French National Assembly candidate to represent French citizens living abroad in the United States and Canada, and New York based co-founder and managing partner of private investment firm, Nanes Balkany Partners.)