Jan Royall reflects on why the French election results are a victory for Labour too
Last night’s victory for the French Socialists is a fantastic result for all of us on the left in Europe. It signals a revival of social democracy and a new chance for Europe to shift the debate away from the politics of austerity and towards jobs and growth.
François Hollande’s Socialist Party won an outright majority in France’s parliamentary elections, gaining 300 seats in the 577-member National Assembly, to the Conservative UMP’s 207. The Greens took 18 seats while other left-wing parties collectively gained 28 seats. On a less positive note, the Front National returned to the National Assembly for the first time since the 1990s.
Closer to home, the socialist candidate Axelle Lemaire won the newly created Northern Europe constituency and will now represent UK based French citizens in France’s parliament – many congratulations to Axelle!
The French Left now controls both chambers of parliament, after winning the Senate last year, as well as all but one of the regions and a majority of departments and large cities. A strong parliament was necessary for Mr Hollande to be able to push through the reforms he campaigned on and he and his cabinet are now in a great position to do so.
In France, he has already started to put in place a different kind of politics from that of Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP, appointing a balanced government (with an equal number of men and women) and announcing plans to limit executive pay at state-owned companies.
In Europe, the expectations on Mr Hollande are also great. During his campaign, he rejected austerity alone as a solution for Europe’s woes and pledged to put the emphasis on jobs and growth. He criticised the fiscal compact treaty for its lack of a growth agenda and promised to re-negotiate it once elected. Although he was criticised at the time for his ambitious pledges, it is clear that, since winning the election in May, he has already changed the terms of the debate.
For his first EU summit, Mr Hollande eschewed the pre-summit meeting with Angela Merkel, preferring instead to meet Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, marking a shift in the traditional Franco-German axis. He made the case for the mutualisation of European debt (so-called Eurobonds), giving new momentum to a longstanding debate and gaining allies along the way. Yesterday, it was reported that he had made proposals to the EU for a €120bn "growth pact" to re-energise the union’s economy.
The outcome of the French election is important for Britain, too. Here, the Coalition government’s failed policies on the economy are not working and we are now in a double dip recession with record levels of unemployment. Meanwhile, under David Cameron’s leadership, our country has become increasingly marginalised in Europe. But Labour now has a fantastic opportunity to work with our sister parties and show there is another way, focused on jobs and growth and centered on our common values of fairness and equality.
I met François Hollande in February when he came to London and I was convinced by his enthusiasm and commitment to build a stronger, fairer Europe. His party’s victory yesterday offers not only hope for France but a better vision of the future for us all.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords