France’s embattled Prime Minister narrowly survived a confidence vote yesterday, by a margin of twenty-five votes. Addressing legislators, he painted a dramatic picture of the European economy, and demanded that the pace of deficit reduction be brought down.
Manuel Valls called for a vote of confidence in his government Tuesday (16 September), during his policy address at the National Assembly. Valls prevailed, receiving 269 votes to 244.
However, he lost 45 votes since his first policy address last spring, leaving his government without the support of an absolute majority in Parliament.
Notable among the government’s supporters was the MP and future European Commissioner, Pierre Moscovici.
Social measures and liberal politics
Valls offered symbolic social concessions in order to appease MPs that may otherwise have used their vote against him, unimpressed by the liberal measures announced by his government. The addition of 40 euro per month to some state pensions, and the lowering of taxes for 6 million households in 2014 are two such trade-offs.
“Reform does not mean destroying our social model. It means affirming our priorities by rejecting austerity,” he assured parliament.
The task of classifying Valls’ politics is becoming a complicated one. “Manuel Valls may not be a social liberal, but neither is he a social democrat. How do we classify him? Statist reformist, perhaps. If this were not an oxymoron,” Cécile Cornudet commented in the French daily, Les Echos.
“Europe is falling behind the rest of the world”
Valls painted a fairly dramatic picture of the European economy, in which “weak growth and the risk of deflation call into question even our most reasonable forecasts,” blaming the situation for France’s problems. “The economic crisis shatters our certainties and feeds our anxieties, torments our daily lives, our families, neighbourhoods, relationships,” he stated.
In his policy address, the Prime Minister placed greater emphasis on European issues, particularly the economy, than in his last address, in April.
The French leader congratulated himself on developments in European monetary policy, stating that well-adapted policy is vital to supporting economic growth. “Five months ago, I criticised the euro for being too expensive. Since then, it has lost 10 cents against the dollar,” Valls asserted, declaring that action was now “urgent” because “Europe is falling behind against the rest of the world.”
Valls also praised France’s role in “triggering” the 300 billion euro investment programme promised by Jean-Claude Juncker, whilst specifying that “announcements are one thing, implementation is another”. He promised that France would keep a close eye on the fulfillment of the plans.
The Prime Minister also reiterated his call for changes to the timetable of deficit reduction “demanded by Brussels”. His spring commitment to reduce the French deficit to below 3% of GDP by 2015 now appears unrealistic.
Valls warned that France would not “ask Germany for favourable treatment” in light of this shortfall, but that “an agreement between our two countries is indispensable”. “Our message should be heard. Germany should carry out its responsibilities in full,” he stressed. The Prime Minister is due to meet Germany’s Chancellor at the end of September.
Christian Jacob, President of the UMP group (Union for a Popular Movement), responded:
"Mr Prime Minister, even you are no longer the fire wall of a president in distress. Because after five months in government, you have been worn threadbare. You are worn out having done nothing. This is your masterstroke: to have demoralised the country without making the slightest reform.
"You have said nothing this evening that will give hope. You have risked absolutely nothing to bring back hope to a suffocating France. You promise austerity without reform. [...]. If, today, your fate had been in the hands of the French people, you would without doubt have been on your way home this evening".
- EURACTIV France: Le gouvernement perd la majorité absolue à l'Assemblée Nationale