Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future, said Niels Bohr. But what the hell…
Following the debacle of the European elections, the government will undergo a major reshuffle in June or July 2014. Jean-Marc Ayrault will remain as Prime Minister, given that any alternative to him would set be more of an ideological threat to Hollande’s new business friendly positions, however a reduced cabinet of between 16 and 20 ministers sees many jettisoned who had failed to make their mark and significant promotions for Michel Sapin, Bernard Cazeneave and Fleur Pellerin. Manual Valls remains untouchable and unmoveable however and stays at the Interior. Fabius will bow out having fulfilled the role of elder statesman and contributed to a few historic deals, including setting the scene for a deal between the US and Iran.
In by a whisker
The local elections are nationally bad, but the Socialists hold Paris, Lyons, Lille and by a whisker, gain Marseille. The general media focus being on these larger cities, the spin on the overall campaign and result is more favourable to the Socialists then they had ever dared predict. The mood in the party however will be bad – many party members will have lost their elected posts and overall the party will become increasingly restless.
The National Front is ahead (by at least five percentage points) of any other party in the national result for the European elections. Whilst the Socialists take a drubbing, the focus of attention is on why the UMP performed so badly. Clever expectation setting and a general sense of socialist malaise will mean that the Socialists do as badly as expected. The strength of the extreme right in the election throughout the European Union will give an edge to the centre-left coalition and enable Martin Schultz to become president of the European Commission.
Not turning out to turn them out
Both the local and European elections will see record low levels of turnout by voters. Soul-searching politicians and talking heads will obsess as to how to engage people in politics further. Most will forget that when they feel that elections are relevant to them, electors do continue to vote. However not voting should perhaps be seen as more of an expression of choice rather than apathy. The calls to adopt a “none of the above” option for elections will grow.
Grow, baby, grow!
The French economy will grow by between 1.8 and 2%. Unemployment will stagnate in the first half of the year and begin (slowly) to go down from June 2014 onwards. At the end of 2014 the public perception will continue to be that high unemployment is a result of the ineffectiveness of the government’s economic program, but there will be no broad adherence to the right’s economic program.
The Never-Ending Story
Divisions within the UMP will continue to provide entertainment to journalists, hope for the Socialists, and continued frustration for everyone on the centre right in France. Nicolas Sarkozy will continue to tease the general public (and most significantly his own supporters) with a possible return to frontline politics. In the meantime Jean-Francois Cope will continue to reinforce his own power base, even though the results of the European elections will have the effect of reigniting the blame game within his own ranks. He will however manage to ensure the blame is so evenly spread across all of the leading figures of the right, that he escapes much of the opprobrium. All the while, Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe will continue to build their own parallel power structures to challenge Cope’s mastery of the party.
The Forgotten Election
The Senatorial Elections in September 2014 will, as a result of unfavourable geography, slightly reinforce the left majority within the upper house, but the independence of both Socialist and Communist Senators will result in the government not being able to count on the Senate more than they were in 2013.
The Next Reform
Whilst taxes occupied much of 2013, the focus will shift to structural reform of the state in 2014, with serious discussions around the organisation of ministries, government departments, and an increased degree of decentralisation. Limited measures reducing the role of departments will be taken, however the biggest news will be made by the reform of local taxation systems, and in particular the habitation tax in the second half of 2014.