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Hollande appeals to own party's 'responsibility'

February 22, 2015

French President Francois Hollande has called for "responsibility" and "lucidity" from his Socialist lawmakers, days after his government was forced to ram an economic reforms package through parliament without a vote.

Frankreich Präsident Francois Hollande mit Premierminister Manuel Valls 26.05.2014
Image: Reuters

Hollande urged his center-left lawmakers to run a tighter ship on Saturday, at the end of a week in which the Socialists risked a no-confidence vote in parliament in order to push through an economic reforms package.

Amid backbench opposition to the "Loi Macron," named after Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Manuel Valls made use of a special clause in the French constitution: by invoking article 49-3, Valls was able to implement the Loi Macron without a vote in the National Assembly, but then had to face a no-confidence vote in the lower house of parliament instead.

The government survived Thursday's censure motion relatively comfortably, but it was the first time in nearly a decade that a French government had taken such a risk to pass legislation. Hollande, visiting the Paris International Agricultural Show, called on his party members to close ranks.

Frankreich Paris Demonstration gegen Reformen 15.11.2014
'Our golden rule: People first!' reads this protest placard as Parisians lodged their disapproval of the Loi MacronImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Etienne Laurent

'Conscience' in opposition, 'lucidity' in office

"One must understand what the French people want," Hollande said. "What is it that they are asking for? That the country advances; that the country changes; that the country succeeds."

"When in the opposition, one must have a conscience. But when in the majority, one must display responsibility, lucidity."

An Odoxa survey published by newspaper Le Parisien and broadcaster iTele on Saturday suggested that around six in 10 people in France believed that the Socialist party, divided by the unusually pro-business reforms in the Loi Macron, was at risk of breaking apart.

"There comes a point where if the parliament does not understand what the country wants, then a form of defiance starts to take root," Hollande said. "[Our] role is not to pitch parliament against the people. On the contrary, it is to say: 'Now we need to move quickly.'"

Merkel und Hollande in Paris
Merkel's words of praise were unlikely to sway the left wing of Hollande's SocialistsImage: Reuters/Rossignol

German seal of approval, carefully proffered

Chancellor Angela Merkel touched on the economic reforms during her visit to Paris on Friday, albeit choosing her words rather carefully, given her image as the hawkish driver of European cost-cutting and austerity.

"France needs neither my encouragements, nor my congratulations, but I believe that it's a good thing that this law has been adopted. It provides genuine scope for action," the German chancellor said at the Elysee Palace.

At the same appointment, Hollande had been keen to stress that "we have not done this in order to please the European Commission, or Germany," but rather "for ourselves, because this can allow us to create economic activity and jobs."

With an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, economic growth well below a single percent of gross domestic product year-on-year, and an annual budget deficit still exceeding the EU's nominal limit, Hollande's government has faced increasing domestic pressure.

The president even addressed this at the agricultural show in Paris on Saturday - an event also visited by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, now opposition UMP party leader, and by Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front. Hollande urged critics of European economic policy and austerity to consider the benefits of being in the Union - pointing in particular to the agricultural sector itself.

EU Parlamentswahl 25.05.2014 Frankreich Front National
The nationalist National Front is as strong as it has been for roughly a decade in France, two years before electionsImage: Reuters

"I get worried every time that I see populism in Europe progress, this extremism, this challenge to what is the foundation of our Republic," Hollande said. "The populists say that we must exit the EU [but] if we listen to the populists, then there would not even be any more subsidies given to our farmers, no more guarantees on prices."

France votes in municipal elections in March, with surveys currently suggesting that the conservative UMP and far-right National Front are almost neck-and-neck, with the Socialists a distant third. The next presidential election is due in spring 2017.

msh/cmk (AFP, Reuters)