Socialists shift focus to parliamentary poll win


CHANGE IN FRANCE:FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE will be formally inaugurated as French president next Tuesday, but plans were already being made yesterday for a series of meetings with European and world leaders.

Celebrations at Place de la Bastille in Paris had barely ended when senior Socialist Party figures gathered at the Hollande campaign headquarters to work on the hectic schedule that faces the incoming head of state.

Mr Hollande will join outgoing president Nicolas Sarkozy at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris today for the annual ceremony marking Victory in Europe Day, 8th May 1945. The new president is expected to make a visit to Berlin as early as next Wednesday, the day after his formal swearing-in.

During a phone call on Sunday night, Mr Hollande and President Barack Obama agreed to meet at the White House ahead of a G8 summit at Camp David and a Nato gathering in Chicago later this month.

A prime-minister-in-waiting could be announced this week. Jean-Marc Ayrault, the leader of the socialist group in the National Assembly, is a leading candidate, but party general secretary Martine Aubry, former finance minister Michel Sapin and Mr Hollande’s communications director, Manuel Valls, could also be in the running. Mr Hollande has promised that his cabinet will include as many women as men.

A transition team is already in place, and work has begun on a number of early initiatives Mr Hollande had promised to act on quickly if he won.

These could include decrees to reintroduce retirement at 60 years for people who started working at 18 and a three-month freeze on petrol prices.

Mr Hollande will also ask the state auditor to carry out a full review of public spending, and plans to legislate for a new 45 per cent tax rate for incomes over €150,000 a year.

“It’s a beautiful victory, but it doesn’t call for the same euphoria as in 1981,” said campaign member André Vallini, referring to François Mitterrand’s first presidential election win for the socialists. “The country is in a difficult situation. It has a lot of problems to resolve,” he added.

Attention is already turning to parliamentary elections, which take place on June 10th and 17th and could have a significant impact on the shape of the next government. The Socialists hope momentum from Mr Hollande’s victory will propel them to a majority in the lower house, while a fierce battle is expected on the right between Mr Sarkozy’s UMP and the far-right National Front.

If the right won a majority, it would force Mr Hollande into “cohabitation” with a right-wing prime minister and government – a scenario the Socialists are desperate to avoid. “To govern, we need a clear majority, and I call for a mobilisation of everyone who wants change,” said Mr Valls.

Given that the left already controls nearly all French regions, a majority of départements, major cities, the Senate and now the Élysée Palace, taking control of the National Assembly would give it a clean sweep of institutions.

The low-key, purposeful first day of the Hollande era, and the Socialists’ efforts not to appear triumphalist, were no doubt influenced by the furore that broke out in 2007 when Mr Sarkozy celebrated his election win by inviting wealthy friends to an expensive Paris restaurant and then took a holiday aboard a billionaire’s yacht.

The only signs of celebration yesterday were the sounds of cheering and applause that came from the Hollande campaign headquarters in Paris. Delphine Batho, Mr Hollande’s spokeswoman, said the atmosphere inside was “studious but joyous”.

“We have gone through a historic moment,” she said.