Hollande to tackle debt crisis after France vote sweep

Added by on June 18, 2012

Strengthened by his Socialists winning a majority in parliament, French President Francois Hollande faced the daunting task Monday of pushing left-wing reforms in the face of Europe’s debt crisis.

As Hollande flew to Mexico for a G20 summit expected to dominated by the eurozone’s financial woes, the Socialists and their supporters basked in taking control of France’s lower house National Assembly from the right.

Sunday’s parliamentary run-off saw the Socialists — who already dominate the upper house Senate — win 314 of the Assembly’s 577 seats, enough to form a majority without the complication of support from the Greens or far left.

“Forty days after giving the keys to the Elysee to Francois Hollande for five years, the French people have given him all the means to exercise power,” business newspaper Les Echos wrote on Monday.

Left-leaning newspaper Liberation hailed the result as an “impressive wave” of support for the Socialists, saying they would enjoy a “hypermajority” in parliament.

The right-wing UMP party of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, whom Hollande defeated in last month’s presidential vote, and its allies were reduced to only 229 seats after dominating parliament for the last five years.

Hollande had urged voters to give him a strong majority to implement a traditionally Socialist tax-and-spend programme to steer France through the eurozone crisis, rising unemployment and a faltering economy.

The result will strengthen Hollande’s hand as he faces off with eurozone paymaster Germany in his effort to shift the bloc’s economic focus from fiscal austerity to growth.

After Mexico, Hollande will meet the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain in Rome on Friday ahead of a full summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on June 28-29.

French media reports say Hollande is proposing to fellow European leaders a 120 billion euro ($152 billion) “growth pact” that would include a tax on financial transactions and massive investments in infrastructure.

Socialist Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the government would move quickly to implement reforms but warned of the difficulties ahead.

“The task before us is immense. Nothing will be easy,” he said after Sunday’s vote, saying the government’s priorities were “restoring public finances, returning to growth, reducing unemployment and making our industries dynamic.”

Ayrault is expected within a few days to announce the final make-up of his new cabinet, but few changes from an interim government announced last month are expected, as all 25 ministers up for election won their seats.

The interim cabinet officially resigned on Monday and Ayrault was tasked with forming a new government.

The cabinet will soon need to tackle France’s 2013 budget, balancing Hollande’s promises of major new spending programmes with vows to reduce budget deficit to zero by 2017.

The new parliament — in which 40 percent are first-time members — will begin sitting on Monday with the far-right National Front set to return to the Assembly for the first time since 1998.

Though leader Marine Le Pen failed by a handful of votes to win a seat, the anti-immigrant and anti-EU party is sending two members to parliament after Le Pen’s niece, 22-year-old Marion Marechal-Le Pen, won a seat in the southern Vaucluse region and the FN won another seat in the nearby Gard constituency.

The right meanwhile will focus on rebuilding from its loss and choosing a leader, with UMP secretary general Jean-Francois Cope and ex-prime minister Francois Fillon the frontrunners.