Marine Le Pen returns

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National Front leader Marine Le Pen has been quiet so far on the struggles facing the government. This Saturday, she’s back, making her “rentrée” with a speech in the village of Brachay, east of Paris. Brachay is the place where the FN got its highest share of the vote in elections in 2012.

She was on strong form in her speech, making the most of the recent government turmoil to repeat some of her major themes. In particular, criticism of austerity and membership of the euro. A few quotes:

On the new government of Manuel Valls: “just an illusion of change” that “won’t get through the winter”

On Francois Hollande: “he has confirmed that he’s anchoring his policies in the most brutal kind of ultra-liberalism” and “he’s the emperor with no clothes” and Manuel Valls is “the prince with no clothes”

On the opposition UMP party: “they have nothing else to offer than more austerity”

The National Front was the winner in May’s European elections. Le Pen is calling for dissolution of the National Assembly and fresh elections.

Manuel Valls: the new Thatcher?

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Former minister Cécile Duflot has been laying into Prime Minister Manuel Valls in an interview with business daily Les Echos. Duflot is one of many feeling ruffled by Valls’ performance at the employers’ federation conference on Wednesday. He got a standing ovation from France’s top business people after he told them “j’aime l’entreprise” (I love business). It’s all part of the government’s sharp turn to the right and the desire to get the French economy moving again after it stalled in the first half of the year.

Duflot is a member of the green party, EELV (Europe Ecologie Les Verts), and served as ecology minister for two years under former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

In the interview she says that Malls was “imitating Thatcher” when he did his “liberal stand-up” at the Medef conference. Naturally, Duflot is not viewing any imitation of Thatcher as a compliment. It’s also important to understand that liberal doesn’t have the same centrist (UK) or left-wing (US) connotation in France. Instead, it tends to refer to free-market economic policies and is used as an insult by the French left, in the same way as it’s used as an insult by the American right. I know, it gets a bit confusing.

Here’s what she said:

“Le stand-up libéral de Manuel Valls relève de la posture, une stratégie de communication pour apparaître moderne…Être moderne, ce n’est pas faire du blairo-thatchérisme ringard.”

Translated as “Manuel Valls’ liberal stand-up is just posturing, a communication strategy to look modern….but looking modern isn’t about some kind of cheesy Blair-Thatcher act.”

She adds that “imitating Thatcher in 2014 is really sad.”

Duflot published an outspoken book last week about her time in office. In it, she spoke of her disappointment with Francois Hollande as president. She says in the book “à force d’avoir voulu être le président de tous, il n’a su être le président de personne”, or “by trying to be a president for everyone, he ended up being the president of noone.”

She’s also reported to have told Manuel Valls she would never serve in any government led by him as way back as the 2012 election. She kept her word when the Greens all decided to stay out of Valls’ first cabinet in April.

Duflot is now one of several former cabinet members who are outside the tent. Like Arnaud Montebourg, she’s a charismatic media performer. Could a bid to be the Greens’ presidential candidate for 2017 be in the offing? 

http://videos.lesechos.fr/3753594850001

Who’s who in the new French cabinet

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Le Monde has put together this handy little page with pictures of all the members of the new cabinet (known as Valls II in France, as it’s PM Manuel Valls’ second cabinet). Hover over the picture and get age, education and even their wealth. Here’s the link.

34 members in total, 18 men and 16 women (so Hollande just about holding onto his 50/50 pledge). Five members are 40 or younger while 11 are 60 or over.

Off message already?

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New economy minister Emmanuel Macron has sparked anger just 24 hours into his new job. The 36-year old former banker was drafted in to replace left winger Arnaud Montebourg after incendiary comments about economic policy led to a full-scale cabinet reshuffle.

Macron made comments seeming to suggest that rules around the 35-hour week could be weakened.

He gave an interview to weekly magazine Le Point, given before he became a minister and while he was still an adviser to President Hollande. In it he said “we could allow companies and sectors, where there are majority agreements, to waive the rules around working hours and pay.” He referenced the fact that companies in difficulty are already allowed to ease off on the 35-hour rule.

The 35-hour week policy was enacted in 2000 when the Socialists had a parliamentary majority. Lionel Jospin was Prime Minister and the law was pushed through by Martine Aubry, the closest challenger to Francois Hollande when he stood as the party’s candidate for the presidency.

Socialist MPs lined up this Thursday morning to criticise Macron’s remarks. The Prime Minister’s office has issued a quick denial, saying there is “no intention to review” the 35-hour rule.

Other parties have also taken to the airwaves. The far left Olivier Besancenot, himself a presidential candidate in the past, said “we don’t have a government, we have a time machine. All the social gains we’ve made are being torn up.” He goes on to describe Macron as a graduate of one of France’s top universities and “a millionaire who learnt his trade at the Rothschild bank, and not sitting at the counter”.

Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who served under President Nicolas Sarkozy, had a different view. He said he would vote without hesitation for a change in the rules.

The obvious response to that is why he didn’t push through any changes during his five years as PM. Fillon said “we should have done it, it was a mistake.”

Link to the Francois Fillon interview here: BFM TV 28 August 2014. Interview with former PM Francois Fillon

Unemployment up again

Pole Emploi - Pole Emploi

More bad news on the job front. July saw an extra 26,100 people looking for work. That takes the total to a record 3.424 million (up 0.8%). No surprise there and the rise was widely trailed by the employment minister and prime minister ahead of the announcement. Here’s a link to the labour ministry website for the official release.

The number has risen in every single month since Francois Hollande’s election, except one.

One piece of good news for President Hollande

Credit: Margaux I Hermite

Credit: Margaux I Hermite

Francois Hollande may be having a difficult rentrée but he can take consolation in the fact that it could be even worse. He is lucky that the opposition party is in complete disarray. While he struggles to get a grip on his ministerial team, the UMP party remains leaderless. That follows an earlier scandal over party funding that claimed the scalp of the leader Jean-Francois Copé. As a result, there’s noone in the conservative ranks to spearhead criticism of the hapless Mr Hollande. However, out there somewhere is the looming presence of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who could be plotting his return to lead the party.