Mitterrand, Hollande, and France's Socialist Legacy

On the New President's Agenda

Hollande at the Hotel de Ville after being sworn in as president on Tuesday morning. (Courtesy Reuters)

Last Sunday, for only the second time in the history of the Fifth Republic, France elected a Socialist president. François Hollande -- who was sworn in on Tuesday -- is quite different from his Socialist predecessor, François Mitterrand, and the times are different as well. Mitterrand created the modern Socialist Party in 1969, and his victory for "the people of the left" was projected as a "rupture" with the Gaullist foundation of the Fifth Republic. In retrospect, it also represented the final act that legitimated the republic itself. Hollande served as the longtime secretary-general of the Socialist Party, and that modest role speaks to the similarly modest objectives that he has announced for his presidency. 

As I argued in an essay prior to the election, Hollande is committed to negotiating broad changes in the European austerity pact, changes that will build in instruments for economic growth. For France, he is also committed to preserving at least some of the key achievements of the Mitterrand years and of previous Socialist governments. He has pledged to preserve the retirement age of 60, to increase the number of teachers and police, and to use state funds to subsidize job creation. This increase in spending, he argues, will be paid for by an increase in taxation on the wealthy. He has also vowed to submit legislation that would give immigrants (third-country nationals, that is, not citizens of an EU country) the right to vote in local elections, a Mitterrand-era pledge that was never fulfilled. 

On the other hand, in the run-up to the second round of voting, Hollande's position on immigration hardened considerably. In a gesture to National Front sympathizers, he vowed to "reunite the French people." More concretely, he pledged to limit economic immigration by legislating each year the number of applicants for work visas who would be accepted (proposed by the Sarkozy government last year, but

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