Opinions - 21.08.2012 - 00:00 

François Hollande's first 100 days

Amidst enormous expectations, François Hollande took office on 15 May. Has everything changed since? Not really, writes HSG politics professor Christoph Frei in his commentary.<br/>


23 August 2012. The socialist candidate had persistently promised to break with his predecessor’s presidential style. In certain ways, he might have succeeded – in trivial ways, too. “He travels to Brussels by train!” The media have been focusing on differences for weeks; new things obviously sell better. But there was also, and particularly, a great deal on show that was business as usual. François Hollande is turning out to be a reliably socialised part of an elite which has governed France according to the same pattern for a long time.

New government squad in office
According to expectations, the new president acquitted himself of a small selection of heavily symbolic promises from the election campaign, albeit with supplementary clauses with regard to detail. According to expectations, he has cancelled selected reforms launched by his predecessor. In line with the logic of the political system, heads are rolling everywhere. People are being replaced behind the scenes on an almost daily basis – here the prefect of the Paris police force, there the director of a cultural foundation. Whether it is at the helm of administrative branches or in government-controlled institutes, enterprises and agencies: Sarkozy’s people must leave, Hollande’s own trusted people are installed. Nothing about this is new, nothing unusual.

If the new head of state – as in the present case – comes from a different political family from his predecessor’s, a further element is added to the established procedure of the transfer of power. Once installed, the new government instructs the audit office to examine the books. The figures dug up with the highest priority vary, but the result is invariably the same: the state of public finances is even more precarious than previously assumed!

All this is traditional. How else could the steep path from the heights of electioneering rhetoric down into the depths of political everyday life be mastered? This transition is always risky; it has to be managed in the best possible way.

Thinking, talking, gaining time
Finally, the time-tested techniques of the first hundred days include newly appointed bodies: councils, reflection groups and committees. François Hollande has created a dozen of these in next to no time – a record in the Fifth Republic. Announced with drums beating and trumpets sounding, bodies of this kind are supposed to officially help the government to reassess well-known old problems, to re-analyse social and economic situations, and to reformulate both diagnoses and therapies.

If you let yourself be affected by the stilted designations and mandates of such committees, you will find it difficult to retain a clear view of things. Lionel Jospin and his considerable band of warriors, for instance, have been called upon to reflect on no less than “the deontology and renovation of public life in France”.

Back to the future
Where people reflect upon, debate and weigh up things at the highest level, political decisions can be postponed. This fledgling president must gain time, too – he, who had incessantly promised his compatriots change “without delay” and he, who had finally placed his own election campaign under the motto of “Le changement, c’est maintenant.” He, too, is now being hounded by the impatience of public opinion.

And whither is the journey going? The silent agreement between the socialist François Hollande and his electorate can be condensed into a remarkably conservative formula: a great deal is supposed to change to ensure that many things can become what they used to be. This goal overrides everything else. It aims to defend the French nation’s acquired rights with regard to social security and the welfare state – against globalisation and against the primacy of the economy. The relevant framework conditions are chronic over-indebtedness at all levels of governance, highly excessive non-labour wage costs in the economy, and stakeholders spoiling for a fight everywhere. Bonne chance, Monsieur le Président.

Picture: Photocase / Hunfi

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