As the days pass at the beginning of any electoral mandate of importance, the holder of office must be thinking about what quick wins he or she can clock up, for they know that they must have something to show for the first 100 days.
François Hollande’s 100 days are up, and the consensus is decidedly mixed on the accomplishments so far.
The right-wing press reports on a disappointingly inert start to the Hollande presidency, the left-wing press is decidedly cautious. Small measures regarding the rise of rents, budgetary nitpicking, lowering the President’s salary, multiple commissions, and a new European treaty on the fiscal crisis that doesn’t go as far as hoped have failed to ignite the imaginations of those who voted for Hollande (and the rest). The far left are already voicing their disappointment, the chattering classes are dismayed that manna is not falling from the sky and according to polls around 44% of the French are somewhat dissatisfied with the President so far.
In part this is due to the changed political climate, and thanks to a masterful campaign by Hollande himself. Very cleverly, he managed to lower expectations to the extent that little is hoped for quickly or easily, and anything achieved that could be viewed as generally positive can be sold as a “win”. Some commentators saw this lowering of expectations as a by-product of a weak and insipid candidate (which some still see, even to go as far as criticising his less than punchy grammar…). It can perhaps now be viewed for what it was: a shrewd and necessary reboot of the political landscape. Expectations are lower, therefore the attitude of the people is more sceptical, but also less judgmental than it would perhaps have been.
The fault also lies with the rotten calendar that new Presidents in France (since the death of Georges Pompidou shifted the date for the election) are handed: their mandate starts in mid-May, when everyone is weekending away, there is a peak of activity in June and then the country shuts down and people switch off the news until early September. Nicolas Sarkozy tried to counter this fact when he came to power in 2007 and the result was a chaotic summer of bad laws and public image blunders. This summer, the extraordinary parliamentary session confined itself to plugging the hole in this year’s budget.
So the heavy lifting in terms of policy will commence at the rentrée, in early September, when the 2013 budget comes to parliament and the commissions, including the Commission on Public Life, led by former Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, begin to report. The latest page of the Euro crisis will be written when a show-down with the Greeks and the Spanish will lead to a crunch between Hollande’s calls for mutualisation of European debt and Angela Merkel’s increasing political problems at home (not to mention her recalcitrant Constitutional court). And Syria continues to punch holes in any attempt by Hollande to project an ethical foreign policy.
The next 100 days will be far more important than the last. But they make less eye-catching copy for the leader writers.