Socialists as far as the eye can see | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.06.2012
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Europe

Socialists as far as the eye can see

For France's socialists, it's an historic first. They not only hold the presidency, but also an absolute majority in parliament. And this is what Francois Hollande will need if he's to push through his proposed reforms.

The new president in the Elysée Palace no doubt breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday evening. The man who was elected to office partly due to the fact that he was not Nicolas Sarkozy now has an absolute majority in the National Assembly and with it a hold on power almost unrivaled by his European counterparts.

Neither the election overkill - this was the fourth round of voting in the last two months - nor the embarrassing cat fight which played out last week on Twitter between Hollande's partner Valerie Trierweiler and her predecessor Segolene Royal, could stop the landslide.

Conservatives in opposition

Hollande now has the overall majority he had been hoping for. With 300 seats to 207, the Socialists sent Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right UMP party to the opposition benches. The danger from the right has also been allayed. The feared rise of the extreme right in the form of the Front National, which notched up a record 18 percent in the first round of presidential voting, was stifled by France's electoral system. That makes it hard for smaller parties to get into the National Assembly without strong coalition partners.

Despite that, the Front National was celebrating on Sunday night: For the first time since 1987, the party is sending two MPs to the parliament. But it wasn't the charismatic party leader, Marine Le Pen, daughter of the party's founder, Jean-Marie, who won a seat. Instead, her niece, 22-year-old Marion Marechal-Le Pen, became the youngest-ever French MP, beating a center-right rival in the south-eastern town of Carpentras. Her fellow FN candidate, lawyer Gilbert Collard, also defeated rivals in nearby districts.

The French National Assembly

The Socialists will have a majority in the National Assembly

Hollande in charge

As a result of the electoral victories of the last five years, the Socialists also hold a majority in the senate, as well as a number of key regional and local offices. This success, comparable to the victory of Francois Mitterand in 1981, brings with it responsibilities. The French now want to see action, says Renault Dely, editor-in-chief of the news magazine Nouvel Observateur.

"This spate of conservative electoral defeats have put power in the hands of the Socialists. That's a first for the left." For the government and the president, he says, that means Hollande has more responsibility to implement real reforms. "If he doesn't do that, he won't have any excuses at the end of his mandate after five years," he added.

The program of reform amounts to a general takeover of the state. France is battling with declining growth, flailing industry, rising unemployment and a huge national debt. The president has a balancing act ahead of him to keep his election promises and still hand over a balanced budget in 2017.

More difficulties for Merkel

Hollande will be able to push through the tough cuts that are necessary without having to make compromises with the Greens or the radical Left. The extent of his power is worrying for some people. "Where will we find any counterweight in the coming weeks and years? Where is the opposition?" asks the essayist Eric Brunet. "We seriously have to ask the question about the opposition. It won't be the unions. Or the press."

French President Francois Hollande talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the NATO Partners meeting at the NATO Summit, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Chicago.

A new axis in Europe: Hollande and Merkel

The first date on the agenda will take him to Brussels and Berlin. Last week, Hollande formed the so-called "Paris-Rome growth axis" along with Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti. Angela Merkel will have to ready herself for opposition to Germany's austerity plans from its most important ally in Europe. The French concept for growth is taking hold. According to one newspaper article, Hollande wants to inject 120 billion euros into the economy to stimulate the markets.

The new French president also wants to invest in the "intelligent network," in renewable energy, and in nano- and biotechnology. And he's in favor of a financial transaction tax. The plans would be funded by the EU's untapped rescue funds and by a recapitalization of the European Investment Bank.

Publicist Francois Lenglet believes France's president will have to take a deep breath: "Nicolas Sarkozy was Merkel's agent," he told DW. "By contrast, Francois Hollande holds sway in the south of Europe - in the countries with financial problems. He is starting a power play with Angela Merkel. And he's right on some arguments! The Germans are now saying to us: OK, we'll make a political union, but everyone's looking at their own budgets and we are getting multi-lateral control mechanisms. That's all among the key questions, which the president will have to answer in the coming weeks."

Author: Carolin Lohrenz / ji
Editor: Gabriel Borrud

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