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Economy

French Socialists face left-wing opposition in golden rule budget vote

media French President François Hollande with PM Jean-Marc Ayrault Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

France’s Socialist government is set to face opposition from some of its left-wing allies but win the support of the right-wing opposition when it asks parliament to ratify the European Union’s fiscal pact. The pact includes the so-called “golden rule” that governments should never run up deficits of more than 0.5 per cent of GDP.

On Thursday France’s constitutional council ruled that a constitutional amendment is not needed for the treaty to be adopted, relieving the government of the obligation to win a three-fifths majority of both houses of parliament.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

President François Hollande immediately ordered the cabinet to set the parliamentary machinery in motion and a vote should take place before the end of September.

But Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Left Front still opposes the treaty, as did Hollande until a commitment to 120-billion euros-worth of growth-boosting investment was added to it, and is set to vote against.

What’s more it could be joined by some of the Green party, EELV, even though it has members in the cabinet and possibly some on the left of Hollande’s onw Socialist Party.

Last year, the Socialists opposed the adoption of the golden rule in parliament when Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP government tried to include it in the constitution.

On Friday former right-wing budget minister Valérie Pécresse slammed the Socialists “for making France lose a year” in holding up the rule’s adoption.

Logically, therefore, the UMP will vote for a measure it thinks should already be on the statute book, as should the various centre parties, including François Bayrou’s Modem, which is committed to budgetary rigour and the reduction of state spending.

Parliamentary elections 2012

So the vote should see the Socialists part company with their left while harvesting the votes of the mainstream right-wing opposition - an embarrassing situation if it wishes to burnish its left-wing credentials.

Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault are unlikely to lose much sleep over that, however, since this year’s general election delivered a clear majority to the Socialists and the hard left performed less well than it had hoped.

As the economic crisis shows no sign of abating, they are probably resigned to taking some unpopular measures that will arouse of criticisim from the left. 

On the other hand, of course, they will certainly not always be able to rely on the UMP helping them out if push comes to parliamentary shove.

Most worryingly of all for the centre left could be the opposition of the far-right Front National, which is weak in parliament but has gathered support in the country with its combination of xenophobia, euroscepticism and denunciation of the effects of globalisation.

It is likely to make political hay out of the unity of what it describes as a cosmopolitan Parisian elite around EU-inspired austerity.

The constitutional council also endorsed the government’s first budget, which reversed a Sarkozy government reduction in wealth tax.

But it criticised two elements, a tax on the sale of digital television channels and a 30 per cent reduction in ministers’ salaries.

It judged that ministers legislating on their own salaries constituted a conflict of interest.

The government immediately announced that the cut would go ahead anyway.

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