Politics, Analysis, Europe

ANALYSIS - Dark clouds hanging over France

Failing French social model not capable of meeting expectations of people

Akin Ozcer   | 14.12.2019
ANALYSIS - Dark clouds hanging over France

The writer is a retired member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the author of books “Agur, ETA artık yok (Agur, ETA no longer exists)” (2018), “Çoğul İspanya: Anayasal Sistemi ve Terörle Mücadele Modeli (Plural Spain: Constitutional System and Counter Terrorism Model” (2016) and “Euskal Herria: İspanya Siyasi Tarihinde Bask Milliyetçiliği (Euskal Herria: Basque Nationalism in Spanish Political History)” (1999).


Life is practically coming to a halt in France as an ‘unlimited’ pension-reform strike continues.

Millions of workers, especially from the transport sector, have taken to the streets of major cities since Dec. 5 to protest against proposed changes to the French pension system.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided to abolish the wealth tax to prevent the rich from fleeing the country in 2017, but that did not go over very well with the French Republic.

In current demonstrations, a wide range of citizens, including the Yellow Vests movement that led large scale protests in France which spiralled into mass riots last year, and those protesting the increasing of retirement age and wages that are not keeping up with inflation, are targeting the French president.

People in the streets are talking about how Macron’s policies are making the rich richer and saying nothing in the country will be fixed unless Macron leaves France.

While they are aware of the consequences, 59% of the people in France support the strikes, according to a BVA poll.

These figures rise to 72% in workers and 81% in public agents. The greatest support to these movements, on the other hand, are coming from Jean Luc Melenchon’s radical left party, La France Insoumise, and a radical right party whose president, Marine Le Pen, tamed to a great degree and renamed it National Rally, with levels of support as high as 79% and 75%, respectively.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s goal is to calm the masses down by announcing a tangible project proposal. However, it’s not possible anymore for the failing French social model to meet the expectations of the people. The gigantic dark clouds over its economy do not allow France to act as a proper welfare state.

The protests reached Reunion Island and police there are on a hunger strike due to poor working conditions; Overseas France and other Overseas Territories are facing similar problems, in larger magnitudes, even, because of the decrease in the amount of tourists visiting.

Unemployment is on the rise. Over 500,000 people in Overseas Territories are facing unemployment and wages are low. It is hard for France, who has massive problems unsolved in major cities, to manage overseas problems, as expected.

Political hurdles

France is facing no less serious political problems than the economic/social problems that surfaced in recent years. An independence referendum will be held in New Caledonia for the second time in 2020.

Voters in favor of autonomy are increasing daily. Just like all French colonies, eventually, they will acquire their freedom as well, since France’s colonialist mission has come to an end in the modern world.

France has to embed metropolitan policies and meet the demands of the minorities it has been ignoring.

The addition of the local language-learning related articles from the Deixonne law (abolished in 1951) to French education plans is not sufficient anymore. Minorities must be given the right to be educated in their mother tongues, and also granted a certain level of “autonomy".

Considering the three minority groups below, it is obvious that France has no choice but to solve these issues in a pragmatic manner.

Corsica issues

The luckiest of the minority groups in France are the Corsicans, without a doubt.

They have acquired “single territorial collectivity” status effective from Jan. 1, 2018 and nationalists are in charge since the elections held in December 2017 -- the absolute majority in the autonomous parliament belongs to the nationalist union Pe a Corsica.

Nationalists' biggest demand is the release of political prisoners, while France, who insists on not recognizing the PKK’s Syrian branch, the YPG, as a terrorist group, does not want to release Corsican liberals under the excuse of “terrorism”.

Another demand of the nationalist group is the recognition of the local language, an Italian dialect, as the second official language in the region and the island acquiring “autonomous” status.

Occitan nationalism

There exists a region in southern France called Occitanie, however, it refers to a large area, including the Piedmont region in Italy, which has a history going back to the Middle Ages. It’s the homeland of Cathars -- the first people to be massacred by the church in the First Crusade.

If 1 million Cathars were not burned alive in Montsegur in the 14th century, there might have been another country in southern France today called Occitania.

The Occitan Nationalist Party (Partit Nacionalista Occitan - PNO) founded in Nice in 1959 demands the autonomy of regions speaking the Occitan language, similar to the Catalan and Basque separatists in the neighboring regions.

PNO is actually the largest of the three parties who have formed the unofficial and temporal Occitan Federal Democratic Republic. The eventual goal of the Occitan nationalists is the realization of the yet-unofficial autonomous state.

Breton nationalism

There is a nationalist movement dating to the start of the 20th century in Brittany where people speak a Celtic local language.

Breton nationalism is represented by the radical right-wing party Revival.

Semi-presidential system situation

France has an authoritarian regime, who is not as libertarian toward regional nationalist movements looking to gain increased levels of autonomy in order to practice diverse ethnic/cultural identities as its neighbor Spain.

In fact, France’s political system radiates major authoritarian qualities. This is mainly because the semi-presidential system does not allow for the complete separation of powers. The legislative and executive powers are directly joined under the president.

The government is led by a prime minister who is assigned by the president who, though has some parliamentary responsibilities, ultimately has to abide by the president’s last word. The president even has the right to abolish the government and the prime minister, as well as the parliament.

Francois Mitterrand, who came to power in 1981, dropped the parliament and asked for and got a majority more in line with his political ideas. Mitterrand invented “cohabitation” when a majority that was against him was elected in 1986 and further increased the president’s power.

The general elections in France are held a few weeks after the French president’s election and the election of a parliament that is more agreeable with the president’s ideals is guaranteed.

The two-round runoff system, whose democratic essence is highly controversial, makes it easier for this result to be obtained in the general elections. As a matter of fact, Macron got 2.8% more votes compared to his rival Le Pen, while in the general elections his party got 304 chairs while his rival’s party only eight.

In light of this data, it is hard to disagree with Jean-Charles Aknin’s description of the French system, democracy-like dictatorship, in his article “French democracy and the drastic control of its counter-powers” published in the online French opinion journal Mediapart. It presents itself as an even greater problem in the case where a candidate is selected because they are the “non unwanted one” - while still not the “desired,” like Macron.

France needs to leave aside its ancient pride of being a “great nation” and concentrate on more tangible problems of its people to solve its problems, which will not be as easy to execute as it is to say, as that will require plenty of reforms and revisions.

*Translated by Can Atalay

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