Report March 2015 (Départementales, European budget rule)

Local Elections – Will the Far-Right Gain More Influence?

France, 23 Feb – 22 Mar 2015

Departmental elections put political system under stress ++ France granted two more years to comply with European budget rule ++ Tragic helicopter crash leaves ten dead ++ Alleged death of Bouygues’ CEO Martin Bouygues.
by Matthieu Choblet

Departmental elections put political system under stress

Time for elections again in France: The first round of the French departmental elections took place on Sunday 22nd March. Not for the first time in this legislative period, elections, usually considered second-rank, put France’s political system under stress and make the governmental majority shiver.
The reason for this isn’t new either. In the run-up to the elections, the far-right party National Front (FN) was set to win more votes than any other party in the first round of the elections according to polls.

So is FN-leader Marine Le Pen right to claim that her party is “more than ever, the balance point of political life in France”? At least, she has every reason to believe that many voters will choose to penalise the governing Socialist party (PS). Sure enough, the general councils governing the 101 French departments are not the place to decide on popular FN-issues such as leaving the euro zone or the Schengen agreement. The council’s main responsibility lays in the management of welfare allowances and basic education. Anyway, the elections offered the opportunity to grouch on the reform of the departments (see French Report November 2014/2), to make welfare promises and … to reject “Islamic proselytism” in kindergarten.

The latter adds to the current tensions in a country still shaken by the events of January. Recently, more than 30 mosques all over France received letters addressed to “Moniseur l’imam” containing insults to the Prophet Mohammed. “This country is getting mad”, sighs Alain Juppé, Mayor of Bordeaux and prospective centre-right challenger of Francois Hollande in the 2017 presidential elections. “Today in France, we have racism, anti-Semitism and islamophobia”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minster Manuel Valls is sounding the alarm on behalf of the government. In a statement he confessed his “anxiety” that the FN would be “at the gates of power” by 2017. “Trapped between Daech (the so-called Islamic state) on the one side and the far right on the other”, as the Prime minister describes France, Valls seems to believe that the looming threat of a far-right government will bring sufficient leftist voters back to the ballot-box.

Yet, experts are in doubt about this strategy, considering Valls’ simultaneous affirmation that nothing will make him change the course of the government’s economic policies. The PS will also find it particularly hard to campaign in rural regions, where approval of FN is even higher than unemployment, public services are disappearing and people fear to be the “losers of globalisation”.

As provided by the French electoral system, constituencies with no absolute majority in the first round will hold a second round of elections one week later, involving the first and the second best candidate.
France granted two more years to comply with European budget-rule

The European Union has extended the deadline for France to comply with the European Union’s 3 percent budget-rule until 2017. In order to so, France will have to cut its budget by a further 30 bio. euros, in addition to the 50 bio. euros cut prescribed previously. The decision had already been indicated in November but was postponed as the new Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker was taking office. Reportedly, the Commission first wanted to see whether the French government was willing to push through the liberal Loi Macron, before deciding on new sanctions.

However, the budget cuts are not to crop the new working allowance prime d’activité for workers earning less than 1,400 euros per month. “This will be a major boost for the purchasing power of the working poor”, promised Manuel Valls. The measure is consistent with the European Commission’s political design that budget cuts shall not impede a government from implementing so called activation policies.

But how shall these policies be paid for? Despite of flagging economic growth the government is gambling on steady revenues from taxation. “Tax is a pillar of the republican structure and also a pillar of the French social model,” declares state secretary for the budget, Christian Eckert. “Thanks to this model, France suffered less from the crisis that hit countries all other the world from 2008 to 2010. Yet this came at a cost that someone has to assume.”

Tragic helicopter crash leaves ten dead

Two helicopters crashed leaving ten people dead, including three prominent French sports personalities. The collision occurred during turning operations in Argentina for an adventure show on TV. The tragic event recalls the death of a candidate in 2013 during the shooting of the reality series “Ko Lanta”, in which contestants must survive on an uninhabited island. “When someone died at Koh Lanta two years ago, everybody mourned, but when the show started airing again, people rushed to their TVs”, observes a professor in media studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris. “People want to see extremes on TV”. The participating sportswomen and men may have earned up to 150,000 euros in such a show. Increasing one’s celebrity status is often a further motive to participate.

Alleged death of Bouygues’ CEO Martin Bouygues

The French news agency AFP created a hoax by reporting the death of Martin Bouygues, chairman and chief executive of the industrial group and blue chip company Bouygues. The announcement that “Martin Bouygues, aged 62, died Saturday morning at his residence in the Orne” put journalists all other France on alert – but to no avail. The confusion was soon rectified when the news reached the French major TV channel TF1, which is owned by Bouygues. As a consequence two journalists were dismissed. The AFP is the third largest news agency in the world and known to be a trustworthy institution.

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