Ségolène Royal, who has been slipping in the polls in the last month, has just given a defining policy speech to revitalize her campaign. Her basic premise is that in the last three months she listened to constituents and developed her ideas, and is now going to campaign on them.
[Link] In Ms Royal’s battle to become the first woman president of France, she has chosen to paint herself as the candidate who will defend France’s generous social model against the threats of globalisation and economic liberals, notably Nicolas Sarkozy, her centre-right rival for the presidency.
Young people are at the heart of her programme. They would be given a €10,000 interest-free loan to start their own companies. The state would create 500,000 subsidised jobs for young people. First-time house buyers would get interest-free loans for their mortgage deposit.
The state would intervene to reduce “precarity” in society. Bank charges would be regulated. Companies would be given fiscal incentives to employ people on full-time contracts. Businesses moving production overseas or laying off workers when already profitable would be penalised.
Advertising income for commercial media would be taxed to fund public service broadcasting. On the 35-hour working week, Ms Royal promised to “consolidate this right and reduce the negative effects for workers and employees”. The minimum wage would rise to €1,500.
For sure, this move left is somewhat of a flip-flop. Royal initially campaigned as a fairly neo-liberal reformer who would increase the workweek to 40 hours. Still, it’s good that she found a way to combine a very reformist focus on the future with traditional left-wing politics.
More importantly, if this policy speech rescues her in the polls, which I think it will, it will be a prime example of how the left can become more electable by sticking to its guns. When Sarkozy touts abusing immigrants and slashing welfare, the proper response isn’t to hide in a dark corner but to pledge amnesty to illegal immigrants and increases in social insurance.
At first glance, the proposals outlined in the article range from moderately good to superb. The one that stands out the most is the proposal to write economic growth as an objective of the European Central Bank; right now its sole objective is price stability, which encourages a monetary policy that promotes recession and unemployment.
The minimum wage increase means something different in France from in the US, due to glaringly different levels. France’s current minimum wage is €1,250 per month, which, at 35 hours a week, translates to €8.22/hour. Relative to GDP, it’s more twice as high as what the US minimum wage will be if Bush signs the minimum wage increase bill. In particular, the upward pressure it exercises on wages extends well into the lower middle class.
The turbulence around her campaign, aggravated by divisions within her own party, has raised growing questions over whether the socialist candidate is too inexperienced and unpredictable to become president.
Even Alain Duhamel, one of France’s most reputable political writers, had such trouble taking her seriously that he omitted her from his book on 15 presidential pretenders last year.
Despite the recurrent attempts to cast her as a lightweight who doesn’t have the right background and genitals for the job, she managed to poll ahead of Sarkozy for a while in early January. Yes, she flip-flops and triangulates. So did Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Unlike them, Royal is now specific and detailed on policy, even more so than Newt Gingrich was in 1994.
It’s of course entirely possible that she’ll pull a Clinton and break her promises. But with a 100-point plan to measure her against, it won’t be especially difficult to tell whether she indeed lied. In addition, if she wins, it will be because of this plan, which will make it even more likely she’ll try to enact a substantial portion of it.