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Western Press Review: The French Voter Issues A 'Demand for Change'

  • Don Hill



Prague, 2 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The surprise in the French elections wasn't the defeat of the center-right governing parties. It was the strong margin of defeat. Western commentators reach a broad consensus that economic reform of the deficit-troubled French economy is likely to be derailed by what victorious Socialist leader Lionel Jospin called the voters' "demand for real change."

TIMES OF LONDON: This was an election about jobs

In its lead editorial this morning, the paper labels yesterday's results "peculiar" and says they're not so much an endorsement of Jospin's policies as a rejection of the program of defeated Prime Minister Alain Juppe. The Times says: "The most peculiar parliamentary election in the history of the Fifth Republic ended yesterday in a crushing humiliation for Jacques Chirac." The newspaper says: "Alain Juppo's coalition has been punished because voters believe that it has failed to put France first. This was an act of revolt by a surly electorate, rather than an endorsement of Lionel Jospin, the Socialists' grey leader."

The editorial contends: "With unemployment at 12.8 percent, this was an election about jobs. M Jospin has no remedies. His promise to renegotiate the terms of EMU is irrelevant. His plans to create jobs by a shortening the working week, capping pay and padding the already bloated public payroll should have been treated by any educated electorate with contempt. France has voted for a shot of morphine. It is a measure of its pain, but anaesthetic never cured a patient yet."

TIMES OF LONDON: The French election results are bad news for Tony Blair

In a companion editorial, the paper warns that the resurgence of leftist sentiment in France hardly presages a new source of support for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's midroad program. The newspaper says: "Forget the international solidarity of the Left. The French election results are bad news for Tony Blair. The big win of the Socialists represents a victory for 'old' Labor and a vote for a defensive, protectionist attitude and against economic realism."

It concludes: "Mr. Blair will attend later this week a European Socialist conference in Sweden. It will be an occasion for celebration -- after Mr. Blair's landslide victory and following M. Jospin's triumph last night. But behind the bland tone of mutual congratulation, Mr. Blair is out of step with many of his European Socialist and Social Democrat colleagues. After all, in many ways, he is much more of a Christian Democrat in his outlook and policies."

WASHINGTON POST: France is not inclined toward smaller government or free markets

Anne Swardson writes in an analysis that appears today that the French have followed a national predilection for government control and intervention. She says: "Three-and-a-half centuries after King Louis XIV first said, 'L'Etat, c'est moi' (The state, it is I), the French people showed yet again just how attached they are to a strong, active and interventionist government. The message of the overwhelming victory of the Socialist Party is in large part that France, unlike nearly every other developed democracy in the world today, is not inclined toward smaller government or free markets. The nation that already has the highest tax burden and the largest public payroll in Europe has opted to stay that way.

"Socialist Party Leader, and next prime minister, Lionel Jospin overturned a huge conservative majority in the legislature not by promising to meet such post-Cold War challenges as the burgeoning low-wage economies of East Asia but by pledging to create 700,000 new jobs for youth, half in the public sector. In a nation with one of the highest budget deficits in Europe, he spoke out against 'austerity' and said he would fight for 'social Europe,' a code word for broad benefits and labor protections."

A number of German newspapers worry today about the future of European integration and the common currency, the euro.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The left does not want more austerity

The paper writes that with the French election, 12 of the 15 European Union member nations are governed "by or with the left, which does not want any more austerity."

HANDELSBLATT: Paris will place more emphasis on growth than trimming its budget

The business daily says the prime minister-elect, Lionel Jospin, wants to end liberal reforms. The newspaper says: "If one takes his campaign statements at face value, France can get ready for an archaic economic policy and Germany can expect a livelier debate about the euro." It says: "The Bonn government will have to adjust to the fact that Paris will in the future place more emphasis on growth than on trimming its budget and will question the European stability pact in its present form."

GENERAL-ANZEIGER: Chirac will be more difficult than ever

The Bonn newspaper says the election makes President Jacques Chirac "one size smaller politically." It says: "As a partner, he will be more difficult than ever, (an) uncertain leader who wants to make up for a mistake."

SAARBRUECKER ZEITUNG: A storm is brewing in Europe

The paper says, "the signs in Europe are pointing to a storm."

NEUE OSNABRUECKER ZEITUNG: Two of the most important EU countries have voted for change

The paper says: "First the Labor triumph in Britain, now the victory of the left in France -- two of the most important EU countries have voted for change." The newspaper says: "Social concerns play a dominant role at a time of austerity," and adds: "This is a clear warning sign to the Bonn coalition."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: France is headed for a major slowdown in economic reform

The paper editorializes: "Chirac left the door wide open, but it was the French voters who invited the left back in from the political wilderness to lead a new government." The newspaper says: "(If) Jospin sticks to the broad outlines of his economic program, France is headed for a major slowdown in economic reform, with consequences for growth and employment predicted by everybody except the left's own political leaders."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Jospin supports closer European monetary and economic cooperation

In a news analysis carried today, John-Thor Dahlburg writes: "Under France's political system, where executive power is parceled out between a president and a prime minister, Chirac will be forced into uneasy, two-headed political 'cohabitation' with a hostile prime minister, almost certainly Socialist Party leader Lionel Jospin, Chirac's foe in the 1995 presidential election. The outcome could have profound consequences for Europe, because the Socialists are demanding new conditions for creating a single European currency, increased protection for workers and an emphasis on creating jobs for the unemployed."

He says: "Jospin, whose party negotiated France's adhesion to the 1991 Maastricht Treaty on European union, supports closer European monetary and economic cooperation but opposes imposing yet more austerity measures so his country can meet the strict economic criteria to qualify for the single currency in 1999."
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