What therefore lies ahead? The salaries of the President and all government ministers will be reduced by 30 per cent with immediate effect. Petrol prices will be frozen for three months. For all those who began work at or before the age of 18 and have paid 41 years of contributions, the right to retire at 60 will be restored. Salaries in public enterprises will not be allowed to exceed a ratio of 20 to 1. Legislation will be introduced to separate the investment and retail arms of the banking system.
Beyond this, Hollande has made much publicised promises to create 60,000 new teaching posts and to balance the budget by 2017. The latter target, Hollande told the audience of his televised debate with Nicolas Sarkozy, will be attained by savings on expenditure of €50 billion and by increases in taxation of €40 billion. There will consequently be a new wealth tax, a tax rate of 45 per cent on income above €150,000 (it presently stands at 41 per cent) and, of course, a tax rate of 75 per cent on income above €1,000,000. It is this proposed 75 per cent rate that has put a spring in the step of West London estate agents.
But at the heart of Hollande's entire strategy has been the pledge to renegotiate the European fiscal pact agreed to last December by Nicolas Sarkozy. The plan is to tilt the balance away from austerity towards growth and employment creation. Hollande envisages a broader remit for the European Central Bank and the issuing of eurobonds to fund infrastructure projects. Here Hollande thinks that he is capturing a broader mood within the eurozone but by the time that I left Paris, only two days after Hollande's victory, the noises coming from Berlin were that renegotiation was not a possibility. "The party's over" announced the front page of Le Figaro. If this is so and if Angela Merkel refuses to budge, then Hollande's room for manoeuvre on economic policy will effectively be reduced to zero. Already there are rumours that some of France's biggest companies, having delayed the decision in an effort to help Sarkozy, are about to announce major redundancies.
What of the wider political picture? One of the undoubted winners of France's presidential contest was Marine Le Pen. In the first ballot she secured nearly 18 per cent of the vote, again showing that rivals, journalists and pollsters consistently underestimate the appeal of both Le Pen herself and her party's programme. While she did better in certain parts of France than others — she did spectacularly well in former industrial areas like the Pas-de-Calais, for example — there was no region of France where she scored less than 10 per cent. She received a higher percentage of the working-class vote than any other candidate and over 20 per cent of the votes cast by those aged between 18 and 34. Many factors explain this success — not least Le Pen's own performance and personality — but her underlying appeal undoubtedly derives from her willingness to address issues — immigration, law and order, the need to protect French industries from foreign competition, and so on — that are of concern to a sizeable cross-section of the French population. Only among the liberal professions did she fail to make any significant electoral advance.
This success places Le Pen in a very powerful position. Moreover, her calculation was that a defeat for Sarkozy would be to her advantage. Having done her best to sabotage his chances, she immediately cast the Front National as the only party capable of opposing the Left.
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