Manuel Valls, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Fleur Pellerin (photos: MaxPPP)
I haven’t written anything on French politics in three months and didn’t anticipate doing so this week, but, with all that has happened in the past three days, think I should. My blogging confrère Art Goldhammer has been going to town on the latest psychodrama, summing up François Hollande’s “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week” in The American Prospect on Monday and, in his jeremiad today, mournfully evaluating Manual Valls’s new government, plus the lamentable state of French politics more generally. As I agree 98.5% with Art’s analyses, I won’t cover the same ground here as he. Just four comments.
First, after Arnaud Montebourg’s Sunday grandstanding in Frangy-en-Bresse (in the Saône-et-Loire profonde), Hollande had no choice but to have the government resign and ask Valls to form a new one. This was apparently not Hollande’s initial reflex but when Valls watched Montebourg’s improvised address on the télé before the latter’s copains et copines at his annual Fête de la Rose—visibly made after he’d had a verre too many—and took note of Montebourg’s petite phrase promising to send the President of the Republic “une bonne bouteille de la ‘cuvée du redressement'”—which means what it means—Valls told Hollande that it’s him or me, that if Montebourg (and Benoît Hamon) weren’t fired illico, that he (Valls) would resign. Question d’autorité et de cohérence. If Valls were to quit, then Hollande would clearly have no choice but to dissolve the National Assembly. Or maybe quit himself. So PM Valls exercised his authority over Président de la République Hollande. Quelle spectacle.
Second, the whole operation was manifestly staged to get rid of three ministers and three only: Montebourg, Hamon, and Aurélie Filippetti (who should have probably been gotten rid of when Valls formed his first govt back in April). The big story with the new government is the replacement of Montebourg at the Ministre de l’Economie etc with the social-libéral Emmanuel Macron. As Art Goldhammer has well described Macron in his aforelinked post I needn’t say anything about him here, except maybe to add a personal detail, which is that Macron, age 36, is married to his high school literature teacher twenty years his senior—intéressant; normalement c’est l’inverse—and to observe that he’s almost a caricature of the French bourgeois d’Etat—et l’énarque pantouflard—, un prodige qui a eu un parcours sans faute. Le meilleur de la classe. Et la gauche caviar dans toute sa splendeur. À propos, France 2’s David Pujadas made Valls uncomfortable during the latter’s interview sur le plateau last night (from 19:33)
Valls: Emmanuel Macron est un Socialiste…
Pujadas: Mais ex-banquier chez Rothschild on a entendu…
Aïe! Ça fait mal…
As for the other ejected ministers, Hamon has been replaced by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem—the rising Socialist star, of Algerian-Moroccan parentage—at the Ministry of Education—the first woman ever to head this very high-profile ministry—and Fleur Pellerin (of Korean origin, adopted by a French family)—, who knows the dossiers—, happily taking over from Filippetti at culture and communications. Both are good, IMO. The new government, which is resolutely social-libéral—i.e. Blairist, or maybe Clintonian-Obamaist—is tighter and more ideologically coherent than the last one. France finally has a social-libéral government, but a decade too late. Problem now is, entre autres, the government’s political base is too narrow. With the exception of the PRG and allies (i.e. Christiane Taubira)—who, electorally speaking, represent not quite nothing but almost—the rest of the left (Front de Gauche, EELV) opposes the government and with the frondeur PS in quasi-opposition. And Hollande not having seized the perch extended by François Bayrou in 2012, an opening to the center is no longer possible. The last time a government governed with such a narrow electoral base was during the Cresson and Bérégevoy years (1991-93), and we know what the electoral consequence of that was. With the majority hanging in the balance and the left-wing of the PS up in arms, Valls will almost certainly be obliged to use Article 49-3 to get certain key bills passed (Pacte de responsabilité, etc) and dare the frondeur Socialists to vote for a censure motion, which, if it were to succeed, would result in early legislative elections—and certain defeat of up to 80% of PS deputies. This is not a good way to govern—ce n’est pas la bonne méthode, as Jacques Chirac would say—but if Hollande-Valls want to get their social-libéral legislation passed, this will likely be the way.
But it’s hard to see how this situation can last for three years. Hollande is at 17% in the polls, a hole too deep to climb out of, next year or in three years. In view of the calamitous state of French industry—the problems are deep, structural, and will take years to remedy (and many years have already been lost here)—, unemployment is not about to drop anytime soon. Ce n’est pas une information but Hollande—if he runs—and the PS are toast in the next presidential and legislative elections. Period. But the UMP—qui est en piteux état—is, as one knows, absolutely not in a position to take over. Not right now. The PS may be in a calamitous state but so is everyone else. Looking at the latest IPSOS/Le Point “baromètre de l’action politique,’ what is striking—and this is my third point—is how almost all major politicians have negative ratings higher than positive—and for the majority of these, the negative-positive gap is considerable. French voters are fed up with all of them, left, right, and center. The whole lot. It’s quite amazing, actually. Of those who are hypothetical presidential candidates, the only ones whose favorable numbers are higher than his/her negative ones are, at present, Alain Juppé, François Bayrou, Ségolène Royal (yes!), and (believe it or not) Laurent Fabius. It’s hard to see Mme Royal making a run if her ex decides not to in ’17, quoique on ne sait jamais… But Fabius? I’m going way out on a limb here but if Hollande throws in the towel in ’17, Fabius, the elder statesman, could well emerge as the candidat de réchange (and with Valls, burned by Matignon, biding his time till ’22). Une hypothèse, c’est tout. As for the UMP, all I can say is that I hope and pray that Juppé remains steadfast in his announced intention to run for the presidency of the UMP and, presumably after that, to be the UMP’s presidential candidate. And to, of course, block a return by Sarkozy (a return by whom I have never believed but that must, in any case, be prevented at all costs). Juppé will certainly be opposed by the UMP right-wing—which is forming into a French Tea Party—but he’s the only one on the right who, at present, has the stature to lead this country. And ward off a disastrous second round face off between Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen.
As for Mme Le Pen—and this is the fourth point—, just about everyone is now predicting that she will go to the second round of the next presidential election. Ça va de soi, presque. I normally eschew engaging in such speculation three years before an election but it is indeed possible that this will happen, that Marine LP will finish ahead of the PS or UMP candidate (mostly likely the PS) and square off against the one who makes it through (most likely the UMP). Many are also predicting that she will win outright, that Marine Le Pen will be the next Présidente de la République. I will say right now—d’ores et déjà—that this will not happen. It is totally out of the question. Period. I offered some of the reasons as to why in my post after the European elections in May but may also add her tenaciously high negative poll numbers, which today are at 63%—far higher than any other first-tier political figure save Jean-François Copé (and, of course, François Hollande, but he’s the chef de l’Etat being judged on an actual bilan). Poll numbers bounce around, of course, but there is no reason whatever to believe or expect that Marine LP’s curve will cross, as it were, in the next three years, that her positives will overtake her negatives. And that, as a consequence, 50.01% of French voters will cast their ballots for her in the second round of a presidential election. It won’t happen. Never. Jamais de la vie.
A final point. I return to my speculation of last November, on Hollande’s predicament and a possible way out for him. Dissolultion of the National Assembly and élections législatives anticipées. In 2016. You read it here first.
UPDATE: I reread my posts on the PS presidential primary campaign, of the fall of 2011. In the one on the first round of the primary (here), I devoted more space to analyzing the candidacy of Arnaud Montebourg than of the others. Those interested in his case may find it worth the read (as what I wrote three years is still relevant).
Benoît Hamon and Arnaud Montebourg having a fine time at the Fête de la Rose,
Frangy-en-Bresse (Saône-et-Loire), August 24 2014 (photo: LP/Olivier Corsan)