Valls survives confidence vote in France but support dwindles

Vote of confidence fails to dispel sense of crisis in French politics

Prime minister Manuel Valls survived a confidence vote in the National Assembly yesterday by 269 votes for his government, compared to 244 votes against. A total of 53 deputies abstained, including 31 from Mr Valls's own socialist party.

Parliamentary support for Mr Valls has dropped markedly since April, when 306 deputies voted confidence for him. Though yesterday's score was a majority of votes cast, it did not constitute a majority of the total of 577 deputies. "Mr prime minister, your days are numbered," said the leader of the opposition UMP group, Christian Jacob. "You'll fear losing your majority every time a vote is taken, including for the budget."

Before the vote, Mr Valls delivered his second general policy speech in five months, made necessary by the collapse of his previous government on August 25th.

Mr Valls sought to persuade recalcitrant socialists, greens and communists who believe the Hollande administration has veered right. His government does not practise austerity, Mr Valls argued, promising not to abandon the French “social model”.


Door of power

Yesterday’s vote of confidence did not dispel the sense of crisis in French politics. A recent poll indicated that

Marine Le Pen

, leader of the far right-wing

Front National

, would lead the first round of the presidential election if it were held today, and would defeat President François Hollande in the run-off. Ms Le Pen “is at the door of power”, Mr Valls said last week. He has since privately told visitors that “if in the next three to six months, the situation isn’t reversed, it’s f***ed,” according to

Le Monde


Mr Hollande’s approval rating has sunk to an abysmal 13 per cent; Mr Valls’s to 22 per cent. Economic indicators are grim. Since 2011, French taxes have risen by €69 billion, but deficit spending nonetheless increased from 4.1 per cent last year to 4.4 per cent of GDP this year. (The government had promised it would fall to 3.6 per cent.)

With 0.5 per cent inflation and 0.4 per cent growth, Mr Valls said yesterday, “We made a clear choice this summer: no tax rises, no additional budgetary savings . . . We do not want to enter a depressive spiral”.

The key passage of Mr Valls’s speech was a response to Arnaud Montebourg, the former economy minister who condemned what he called German-inspired austerity policies.

“When we create 60,000 jobs in education, nearly 5,000 jobs in justice, the police and gendarmerie, we are not doing austerity,” Mr Valls said.

“We are not doing austerity,” Mr Valls repeated eight times, boasting that the Hollande administration has: maintained the level of the culture budget; increased the RSA basic welfare payment by 10 per cent; created subsidised “jobs of the future” and a “youth guarantee”; increased the back-to-school allowance and student scholarships; enabled 150,000 people to retire at age 60; increased the minimum monthly payment for the elderly to €800; awarded a bonus to retirees receiving less than €1,200 per month, and invested massively in transport infrastructure.

Hardly credible

Weighed against these expenditures, Mr Valls’s promise that “nothing must turn us from our commitment to realise €50 billion in savings in three years”, hardly seemed credible.

Mr Valls warned restive deputies that “Calling for the dissolution of the National Assembly, calling for the resignation of the head of state . . . weakens France”.

"How do you expect the opposition to respect the president when his own entourage ridicule him?" Mr Jacob of the UMP retorted. "You claim to embody a modern, social democratic left. Compare what you are doing to what Gerhard Schröder did in Germany. You're making réformettes."

Jobs saved

Mr Valls said his government saved tens of thousands of French jobs by persuading the

European Central Bank

to weaken the exchange rate of the euro.

The three-year, €300 billion investment plan espoused by Jean-Claude Juncker, the new president of the EU Commission, was also a victory for France.

Responding to demands by the business lobby Medef, Mr Valls said that reform does not mean changing the 35-hour working week, lowering the minimum wage or the salaries of civil servants, or doing away with permanent contracts.

“Reform does not mean breaking our social model. Reform means confirming priorities while refusing austerity.”

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times