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Monday, June 18, 2012

France’s Hollande: Standing Above His Party’s Legislative Victory

In the 2012 election of the E.U. state of France's legislative Assembly following the election of Francois Hollande to replace the deeply unpopular Sarkozy, “the Socialist Party won 280 seats and two allied parties won another 34, giving the parliamentary bloc 314 seats — considerably more than the 289 needed for a majority in the National Assembly. The Greens, who are part of the government, have another 17 seats, while the far left won 10. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right Union for a Popular Movement won 194 seats and its allies another 35 seats, bring the total to 229 seats, a sharp drop from 304.” The typical analysis ensuing from this result concerned the added strength that Hollande would have in pushing the E.U. toward balancing austerity with stimulus spending. The Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said the government would work to fix public finances and reduce unemployment. “The goal is to shift Europe toward growth and protect the euro zone from speculation,” he said. “The task before us is immense.” At least the Socialist Party would not have to deal with other parties on the left that are less pro-E.U., as the Socialists had established an absolute majority in the state’s Assembly.  However, the Socialists did not have the three-fifths majority needed to make changes to the state constitution, such as shifting more governmental sovereignty to the E.U. (federal) level. At the time, the E.U. was at a precarious place in not having enough sovereignty to safeguard the euro.

Interestingly, during the evening of June 17th as the election results came in, Hollande stayed out of the media spotlight. It was the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayraunt who spoke for the Socialist Party. He spoke along with the leaders of the other parties and several candidates (both winners and losers). Hollande’s absence was notable because it suggests that it might not be wise for a figurehead to be perceived as being too partisan; unlike party leaders in a legislative body, a governor or president represents the republic as a whole, and thus the public (rather than partisan) good. Hollande was smart to spend the evening preparing for (or travelling to) the G-20 meeting en Mexique le lendemain. Standing apart from the temptation to publically celebrate the victory of his party, he put himself in the future position of being able to credibly claim that agreeing to shift more sovereignty to the federal level is en l’intéressé de la France. In other words, resisting the temptation to engage in partisan displays can translate into political capital that a figurehead can use to facilitate a shift in the constitutional design of governance. Moves on this scale are fitting for a figurehead who is oriented to the big-picture rather than to trying to win on every issue.


Steven Erlanger, “Socialists’ Victory in France Buttresses Hollande’s Power,” The New York Times, June 17, 2012.