French election debacle for Hollande

French conservatives celebrating result in Marseille, 30 Mar 14 Marseille: French conservatives celebrated big gains in the local elections

President Francois Hollande's Socialists will fight the European elections bruised by big local election losses and bleak economic data.

Every politician thinks of "the next election". The Socialists will be happy to forget this latest one.

Last night they lost 155 towns, of some 500 they had controlled. "Punishment," read the front-page headline in the left-leaning Liberation newspaper.

The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said he took part of the blame for the government's defeat. Prime ministers of France are always the lightning rod for criticism, but this valiant attempt to deflect focus from the president, won't hide the real issue. Francois Hollande is failing.

The unemployment rate he pledged to reverse by the end of 2013 continues rising.

The number of jobseekers without any work rose by 31,500 last month, one of the biggest monthly increases of the past year. The overall number - including those working part-time - is almost five million.

Today it was announced Mr Hollande's government missed the deficit target of 4.1% it had promised EU partners it would meet. It must cut deeper.

Higher taxes (which some on the left have labelled "punishment" of the rich) seem to be scaring employers away. According to the UN, foreign direct investment in France fell by a staggering 77% last year.

Mr Hollande's government must find a response.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, 30 Mar 14 Prime Minister Ayrault accepted part of the blame for the Socialists' losses

That "next election", the European election, is less than two months away - with the National Front (FN) and conservative UMP neck-and-neck in the polls.

Both had reasons to celebrate last night. The FN took a record 14 (possibly 15) towns, while the UMP took the other 140 towns the Socialists had lost. Good news for the UMP leader, Jean-Francois Cope, who has laboured in the shadow of the departed Nicolas Sarkozy.

FN leader Marine Le Pen, not surprisingly, is also focusing on "the next election".

"It will be a political earthquake," she told me. "A resurgence of patriotism and sovereignty across Europe."

In Socialist ranks there will be much soul-searching today. But it was the opposition leader Mr Cope who echoed the voice of the disgruntled voters we interviewed at the polls.

"The real question is: what does Francois Hollande want to do with our country?" he said. "What people want more than anything else is a sense of efficiency, of results."

A government reshuffle is expected tonight.

Mr Ayrault is one of Mr Hollande's closest allies and a friend. But most believe he has already fallen on his sword. Interior Minister Manuel Valls is expected to replace him.

The government must present by 15 April a new plan to cut spending in line with EU targets - yet they also intend to lower labour taxes, to help France's embattled companies. Quite a juggling act.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Is there a big lesson for the UK electorate in this?

    No, there is NOT. Why is this question asked, anyway? Is it not possible to discuss a situation in a country other than Britain without trying to recast it in a narrow British perspective? Francois Hollande is about as "socialist" now as any French rightwing politician, so much is clear, and clearly perceived as such by the French electorate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I am surprised at Le Pen's success. I was under the impression that she was finished when the lefties here in the UK, spearheaded by the UAF, put on a demonstration in Cambridge worthy of any renta-crowd to deny her a platform. Looks as if our leftie street thugs are much needed in France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    "Last night they lost 155 towns, of some 500 they had controlled."

    We can only hope that they do not lose the bravery they showed in the Spanish Civil War against Fascism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    #22 Paul

    "It strange that being 'Proudly English" or "Proudly French" gets you labled a racists."

    --how far back do you want to go with British and French history ?

    Let sleeping dogs lie --and forget the question.

    Neither have shone on that topic.

    #25 Lucy J

    "Only because the EU has made it that way"

    -Say that to 99% of Americans"

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The EU is a better hope for the future of humanity than the naked greed and dog-eat-dog mentality unleashed by Thatcher and Reagan (the witch and Ronnie may be dead but their odious ideas live on unfortunately) in the 1980s. The French socialists got a deserved kicking but the main conservative UMP party is not a party of Euro-skeptics or xenophobes like the FN or UKIP.


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