Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Le Pen’s parliamentary hopes are dashed in French elections

It was an eventful evening in France on Sunday, with the socialists celebrating a historic majority taking up to 320 seats in parliament.

Axelle Lemaire won her northern Europe seat, whilst Francois François Hollande’s ex-partner Ségolène Royal and Marine Le Pen’s parliamentary hopes were dashed.

There was debate that in order for Hollande’s socialist programme to be enacted in France, there would need to be a joint coalition of the far left and Greens. The Socialists, however ,won the majority of seats in the national assembly and no pacts at least for the time being will need to be formed.

Axelle Lemaire had a stunning victory becoming France’s first MP for northern Europe. The socialist is one of 11 new overseas MPs and Lemaire will represent 100,000 French voters living in the UK.
It was widely expected Hollande’s former partner Royal would win the seat in La Rochelle, however that honour went to the dissident socialists Olivier Falorni, who had the public backing of Hollande’s current partner Valerie Trierweiler.  Trierweiler tweeted her support for Falorni last week with Royal stating that:

“Traitors always pay for their treachery in the end. I will continue to weigh upon national politics. I am passionately motivated by the love of France and the well-being of the French.”
Royal had set her sights, if elected, on becoming the new speaker of the national assembly after her bids to become French president and head of the Socialist party fell through. Falorni picked up a whopping 63 per cent of the vote despite receiving less votes than Royal in the first round. Falorni was asked to step down after the original result but refused to do so.

Le Pen was widely expected to win the seat in her home town of Henin Beaumont, especially as the fire brand leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon conceded defeat last week. However this seat went to the socialist Philippe Kemel.

The Front National did celebrate some victory gaining two MPs in a 24-year hiatus including Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, elected as an MP in Carpentras. At the age of 22, this makes her one the youngest ever French MPs. The race for Henin Beaumont is not quite over yet with Le Pen widely expected to challenge the narrow result.

France also elected its highest ever number of female MPs at 155, which leapfrogged it from 69th to 34th worldwide for female representation.

This article was also published on left foot forward.

Are European borders set to close?

European parliament has reacted strongly this week about calls for the review of the Schengen agreement.  The Schengen agreement was instituted in 1985 near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg, initially with five member states of the European Economic Community. This has now grown to 26 signatories.  It effectively facilitates the flow of internal travel without the need for a visa, between countries that have signed up to the agreement.

MEPs are angry that the EU home affairs minsters led by the Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU, agreed that visa free travel that the Schengen agreement allows could be stopped temporarily.   MEPs may take the matter to court, as the legal basis on which Schengen is based has been altered.  European governments can currently suspend this agreement in times of urgent need; however the debate is now focusing on whether this length of time should be extended for periods of up to two years.  This would be following previous monitoring of borders showing a threat to national security or public policy. Greece has been criticized for example, for not securing their borders with Turkey enough.  Germany and France have led the call to date for countries to be able to reintroduce border controls.  Sarkozy during his presidential election campaign had said that he would consider pulling out of the Schengen zone.

The UK is not signed up to the Schengen agreement, alongside Cyprus and Ireland.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

France to get a new MP for northern Europe

As well as the legislative elections on the 10th and 17th June, French citizens in the UK will also get the first ever opportunity to have an expat represent them in overseas constituencies.  The northern Europe constituency seat created by Sarkozy will comprise the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.  There are a sizeable number of French citizens living within the UK, with over 120,000 officially registered at the French consulates in London and Edinburgh, with unofficial estimates putting that figure nearer 400,000.  Approximately half of the registered French citizens live in London.

Polls show that 54% of French citizens abroad voted for Sarkozy.  However in the UK this trend was reversed with 52% of French voters here choosing Hollande.  The socialist candidate Axelle Lemaire is based in London otherwise known as France’s sixth city, so this puts her in strong campaigning territory.  The key issues for Lemaire are school places for parents who would like their children educated in French schools and public sector workers, issues that resonate well with French voters in London.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Who will take control of France’s parliament?

The battle lines have been drawn and 6,500 candidates are gearing up for the start of the French parliamentary elections campaign.

On June 10th and 17th the two rounds of the elections will take place for 577 seats where the socialists need to win a majority in parliament in order to support the policies and reform plans of President François Hollande.
They are hoping to continue riding the wave that saw his historic win this month, but will not take anything for granted with their campaign slogan being “Give a majority to change”.

The result of the legislative elections also has a direct impact on the make-up of Hollande’s government, with 26 out of the 34 members are standing in the elections, including newly appointed prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrau.

The socialists are taking a risk by not signing up with the far-left ‘Left Front’ coalition, although this could change as the campaign progresses.
UMP candidates, meanwhile, will be contemplating whether Nicolas Sarkozy’s departure will help or hinder their campaigns. If they gain enough seats it could spell trouble for Hollande. UMP has held the majority in parliament for the past 10 years. Even so, UMP may have to decide whether to court the far right as Sarkozy did in the presidential elections in order to keep their majority.

Marine Le Pen has indicated alliances could be possible in the parliamentary elections, even though this was not the case for the presidential campaign.

UMP’s French defence minister Gérard Longuet and MP have recently indicated talks with Front National are a possibility.

Current polls indicate the socialists are at 46%, UMP 33%, and Front National 17%.

This article was also published on Left Foot Forward

Ireland votes yes

In the recent vote on the fiscal pact Ireland voted a resounding yes with over 950,000 votes as opposed to the no vote polling 650,000. In an unusual move to hold a referendum middle class voters ticked yes, whereas in the main working class voters ticked no.   Fears of Ireland voting no overall though, were not realised and Europe especially Angela Merkel can breathe a small sigh of relief.  The Irish public it seems have decided not to take the risk of voting no and stay in the heart of the Eurozone but some important issues remain.  Ireland in some ways has been seen as a success story for the EU.  Growth has improved whilst the deficit and borrowing costs has reduced in the face of harsh austerity measures.  These measures as a result of the yes vote are only set to continue.  This will allow them to access money from the European Stability Mechanism, which will allow Ireland to continue servicing its debt.  However levels of borrowing will be high as well as unemployment.  The political and economic situations in Spain and Greece could have knock on effects for Ireland, if they develop in an unfavourable way.  Ireland wants to overcome its economic challenges; however the austerity alone is not the sole answer.  Prof Marcus Miller and Lord Skidelsky in the financial times recently stated that:

 “George Osborne is in fact conducting a high-risk, live policy experiment with the British economy.  The lack of growth and the evidence of double-dip recession suggest that the experiment has indeed failed. The chancellor should either change his policy or stand aside”

The Prime Minister stated that the fiscal pact would not solve all of Ireland’s problems.  It’s hard to see jobs and growth materialising in big numbers.   In the months to come, the Irish public will be watching the economy closely to see whether austerity can bring growth.