Progressive Futures

François Hollande after one year

1 May 2013

The Silent Reformer or Lost in Reform?

Renaud Thillaye

The jubilation and fanfare that greeted François Hollande’s election win seems like a distant memory. His first anniversary of President of the Fifth Republic is clouded by dismal approval ratings, terrible press at home and abroad, and widespread confusion about what his government stands for. The change promised for France has not happened, and he is no longer the flag bearer for a different Europe.

For many European commentators and politicians, there is no doubt about Hollande’s central shortcoming: he has yet to get real about fiscal discipline and structural reform. France has only itself to blame for its poor performance, unsustainable welfare state and huge, still increasing public debt.

This paper takes a different view: the record of the PS-run government is far from being negligible after one year. There is widespread awareness in Paris about the need to reform the French socio-economic model. The developments of the last few months prove that successful reforms from the Left are possible.

However, this reform programme has to go further. Hollande and his government have to decisively take on vested interests in French society and their critics within the Parti Socialiste. The winners and losers of the inevitable distributional conflicts need to be acknowledged and political capital should be invested less in symbolic gestures around societal modernisation and more in leading a crisis-mode government dedicated to economic rescue.

The paper sets out a detailed account of the first year in office and argues that there is room for a more consistent and far-sighted reform of the French social model as a way to strengthen both competitiveness and social justice.

Photo credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO /