, PARIS, Sep 16 – France’s under fire government faces a crucial parliamentary confidence vote Tuesday as the country battles a political and economic crisis and President Francois Hollande’s popularity stagnates at record lows.
In what promises to be a gruelling week for the Socialist leader, who has the trust of only 13 percent of the French according to the latest Ipsos poll, he will also face reporters at a rare news conference on Thursday.
Experts say the government is unlikely to lose the confidence vote, which would precipitate fresh elections, but it will certainly expose splits within Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls will outline the government’s work programme and submit it to a vote, just weeks after former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg stepped out of line and publicly criticised the direction his country was taking, sparking an emergency cabinet reshuffle.
Valls has urged party unity, particularly in the face of the threat posed by the far-right National Front, which made huge strides in recent local elections and which he has warned is “at the gates of power”.
“This is not the moment to call into question the legitimacy of the president, elected by the French for five years. I do not think this is the moment to call our institutions into question,” Valls told parliament last week.
Ahead of the vote, Valls vowed to see out his mandate “right to the end.”
A left-wing rump of the ruling Socialists estimated at around 40 strong has threatened to abstain in Tuesday’s vote in protest at what they see as the government’s pro-business lurch to the right.
They have voiced reservations about Hollande and Valls’s Responsibility Pact, a package of tax breaks for companies over three years financed by 50 billion euros ($66 billion) in public spending cuts, in return for a pledge by firms to create jobs.
Leading Socialist rebel MP Christian Paul said there would be “several dozen” deputies abstaining in the vote in protest at “a prime minister who refuses to change a policy which the majority of French people think is not working and not fair.
In an indication of the seriousness of the crisis facing France at the moment, a new poll showed two-thirds of voter believe there will be a “social explosion in the coming months.”
Already, pilots at Air France have downed tools in what promises to be the longest strike in 15 years, sparking travel chaos throughout the country.
Experts say Valls, who did not have to call the confidence vote, wants to wrest back control of the political agenda after a horrendous few weeks for Hollande.
On the economic front, Hollande has been battered by disastrous data showing unemployment at record highs and zero growth. In addition, the eurozone’s second-biggest economy has admitted it will be unable to get its ballooning budget deficit below the EU ceiling until 2017 two years later than promised.
In addition, head of state Hollande has suffered the indignity of having his private life splashed across the front pages after his former partner Valerie Trierweiler spilled the beans over their tempestuous relationship and break up.
But political scientist Philippe Braud told AFP he thought the vote was still likely to pass “because the fear of catastrophe is still the best source of unity”.
Hollande’s second challenge of the week will be his Thursday encounter with the French and international press.
The president is likely to not only face questions about France’s economic woes but also tricky queries about Trierweiler’s kiss and tell.