Eszter-Petronella SOÓS PhD

19. Austerity, when popular: the French just love Manuel Valls

The parliamentary speech of Manuel Valls, and the austerity package announced afterwards has shaken the French political elite up. The moderate right finds itself in the most delicate situation: French citizens are in favor of the Valls austerity package (we are talking about a big, nice majority). And they just love the new Prime Minister, too.

Everybody knew that 50 billion euros would be saved in the French budget: President Hollande said so in his  new years’ speech and repeated the same during his press conference in January. There would be austerity, that was for sure. But what kind of austerity? After the arrival of the new Prime Minister, the picture is now getting clearer. PM Valls have already announced two important “packages”: the first will significantly cut red tape for economic actors, the second will save 50 billion euros in the budget. The most painful part of the budget cuts is the fact that wages in public service and pensions will be freezed for a period of one and a half years, otherwise, the rest of the cuts does not really affect the population directly.

The parliamentary opposition is looking for a political remedy against this package, quite understandibly. The new PM is quite popular, and the French seem to accept the austerity package, too. The freeze in pensions is the only measure that does not get the approval of the majority (the freeze means, by the way, that pensions will not be majored by the inflation rate, but nothing will be taken away from anyone).

The PM is clearly in his honeymoon phase with the French people: he is three times (!) as popular as the President. According to the classical political recipe, he uses his initial political capital to push unpopular decisions through, hoping that he will be able to live off of results when the initial political capital is gone.

The problem is the fact that his boss, the President himself wants to live off of those very same results, too. If results fail to appear, that obviously won’t help either of them (moreover, President Hollande declared that there was no use in running again for office if the unemployment rate does not go down). However, if results do appear, then a weird socialist “primary” might start right at the top of the state: a duel between the President and his Prime Minister. The fact that Manuel Valls wants the top job too, is an open secret in Paris.

Will there be a bitter divorce after the honeymoon, right when things start to go okay? If the French left wants to regain and preserve the chance to win again in 2017, they should avoid this situation at all cost. On a second note, such a primary might be a good problem for them. Because that would mean that France would be feeling better.





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