If we look at the last months polls, the political and economic situation in France, and unemployment levels, François Hollande has no chance of winning a second term in 2017. The current president, however, can still hope for a second chance. For this highly unlikely scenario to work at least four things need to happen:
1. Improvement in economic performance and most of all a drop in unemployment
On this measure Hollande can look at things optimistically. All indicators are showing that economic growth is returning. A minute uplift is observed at the moment, but all leading economists are unanimous in their optimistic forecasts for 2016. According to expectations, 2015 will be better than the previous three years. Economic growth is expected to be around 1.1%, according to the EC’s spring forecast, and 1.2%, according to the IMF, with an average of 0.4% for the 2012-2014 period. Surely, major factors for this positive data are three fully external indicators – low petrol prices, the drops of the Euro and interest rates. Hollande himself jokingly named it “a lucky line-up of three planets”.
The French president wishes to add something of his own, taking on the task of increasing consumption. To achieve that a drop of taxes for certain population groups is considered, so they can stimulate consumption growth and thus production, announced the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. This reduction will affect around 9 million families that earn less than double the minimum wage. This measure is expected to reduce tax income to the state by 4 billion each year in 2016 and 2017. The aim of the Socialist party is to quickly increase the purchasing power of the poorest portion of workers, but the measure is met with criticism from the right as well as from the ECB and IMF. “We are not in 1981”, say MPs on the right. The ECB stresses on the lack of competitiveness of French manufacturing. The EC increases its criticism on budget deficit, which will again exceed the allowed 3% this year.
Problem is that even with a 1.2% growth the French economy would not immediately increase neither investments, nor the number of people employed, least of all wages. And this will have no effect on consumption. Actually, according to an analysis by investment bank Natixis, without the three outside factors (petrol, Euro exchange rate, interest rates) growth would only be 0.8%. The extremely low inflation rate has more of a negative effect. And the increase in minimum wage is tied to it and the last increase of January 1st was 8 eurocents per hour, or 3 Euros per week. And if this is “financial justice” to the ones earning less than double the minimum wage, for all the rest Hollande’s term is a true catastrophe from a taxation standpoint. Within the right wing even arose the term “middle class genocide".
In terms of unemployment Hollande has another problem. The turn of the downward trend in the summer of 2013 that was hailed with so much hope turned out to be just a computing mistake in data analysis. The data from May of this year turned out to be unreally high due to wrong numbers submitted by unemployment bureaus. The ones for June were too low because of missed data. Thus the boss of Pôle emploi Jean Bassères can continue to state their statistics are completely accurate, but trust in them is about as much as in Greek statistics. INSEE (The French Statistics Institute) does not do parallel analysis but uses ready data, unlike in the USA, Germany, or Great Britain, where a parallel count is done every three months.
After the successive change of calculation models unemployed persons turned out to be 2.858 million, while unemployment offices account for 3.582 million. If we add the people, who are unemployed, but not actively seeking a job due to different reasons the count rises to 5 million. Another 1.5 million do not meet the criteria for an unemployed person. All of these deal two serious blows: lack of trust in statistics as a whole and doubt in official data. When you have turned lowering unemployment into a personal cause and a foundation of an election campaign this is not a problem, it is a catastrophe. Even if the forecasts for greater economic growth in 2016 come true and bring about new employment, if the statistics are not beyond doubt this would not persuade voters.
If somehow forecasts do come true, Hollande will be able to boast a rather positive balance. This would restore some of his authority in the left as well as elsewhere. If, however, this condition is not met, Hollande will find it difficult passing the first round. Without a drop in unemployment, which has turned into François Hollande’s personal agenda there is just no way the President could overcome the low trust and it will turn into low electoral support. Political scientists are adamant that the French voter has turned pragmatic and much like he punished Sarkozy for failing to keep his promises in 2012 they would do the same to Hollande in 2017. In the pollsters' opinion voters are even more likely to give Sarkozy a second chance, rather than Hollande.
2. Lack of serious competition in the left
You could say that if economic conditions do not improve Hollande has not got even the chance of being the Socialist nomination, but… Actually, at the moment there is no serious competition in the left. According to latest polls, the French prefer Martine Aubry or even Manuel Valls to the current president. Ségolène Royal so far claims she is not going to run again and is obviously content in the role of Minister of Ecology and Energy and the “virtual” functions of first lady and vice-president. Martine Aubry is tightly entangled in a dark political line and dramatic lack of political charisma. And if she stands no chance against an acting president, running for second term, the case of Prime Minister Valls is more interesting.
Valls is a preferred candidate to the French, but behind him stands an interesting socially-liberal coalition of Social Democrats to the left, through the centrists to liberal-democrats to the right, while in a primary election it would be the socialists, left radicals, and even communists and greens that would vote. In 2012, Valls collected a little over 5% in the primary. The resemblance with Sarkozy is scarily big for the leftist electorate, and according to all political analysts he stands further right even from most rightist candidates. Another important issue is the good relationship between Hollande and Valls. Although treachery is quite common in French politics, Valls will probably wait for the year 2022 if Hollande decides to run again. As for the new star – economic Minister Emmanuel Macron, he is rather the undisputed favourite for a Prime Minister if the left wins. Regardless if the new president’s name is Valls, Hollande, Aubry, or Royal.
3. Nicolas Sarkozy as a candidate of the right
If the candidate of the right’s name is Nicolas Sarkozy François Hollande would have a much easier job uniting the socialists and all lesser left and far-left parties, and even part of the centre behind himself. Even part of the moderate right, which is “allergic” to Sarkozy would back Hollande on the principle of “anything but Le Pen and Sarkozy”. This is, however, a double-edged sword, as Sarkozy is well-weathered in politics and quite able to manipulate through the media, and most of the media owners are his close friends. Besides, nobody can say for sure whether hate for Sarkozy, or boredom from Hollande would tip the scales more in the day of the election. If the right candidate’s name is Alain Juppé, however, it would cause way more trouble for Hollande. The former Jacques Chirac Minister and current Mayor of Bordeaux is well received by left voters. Besides, if Sarkozy is the candidate of the right, the candidacy of centrist François Bayrou is almost certain, which would scatter votes and would allow Hollande to make it to the second round.
4. A second round against Marine Le Pen
Everyone could argue that a duel Hollande–Le Pen is difficult to predict, but hardly anyone truly imagines Marine Le Pen in The Élysée Palace. Most Frenchmen would not allow this (holds true for a Sarkozy–Le Pen duel, or even Bayrou–Le Pen). Meaning if Hollande overtakes Sarkozy/Juppé and Bayrou in the first round he will surely be elected president. However, even if all four conditions come true, victory is not certain, for it is more and more often that the case in modern politics (excluding Merkel and to some degree Cameron) that voters have the tendency to replace ruling authorities often. These four conditions are, however, mandatory for an even minimal chance of a second term for Hollande. We already know French polls rarely guess the favourites, we will probably find out if this is also true for outsiders at these elections.
*Alexander Nikolov is a blogger living in France
Translated by Stanimir Stoev