France in the 1990’s Part III
Following the electoral result, the replacement of Balladur by party colleague A. Juppé marked the start of a strongly neoliberal policy – also prompted by the need to agree to the dictates of the Maastricht Treaty -, which resulted in strong cuts to spending on social services, pensions and public sector wages. This policy greatly displeased a substantial part of the electorate and provoked, in the second half of 1995, a series of demonstrations and strikes in the public service. Despite Juppé’s cabinet reshuffle in November and the lifting of the pension reform the following month, the government’s restrictive policy continued to attract criticism throughout 1996., while new political and financial scandals were returning to the fore, involving, among others, three former ministers of the Balladur cabinet.
Beyond internal politics, other issues engaged the France di Chirac and Juppé between 1995 and 1997. Just a month after his election Chirac announced the resumption of nuclear tests (suspended by Mitterrand in 1992) in the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa: a decision that, severely attacked by public opinion in France and especially abroad, and only interrupted in January 1996 after the sixth test (eight were planned), it seemed to signal a change in foreign policy by the new president. In contrast to Mitterrand’s line, characterized by a convinced Europeanism, an approach to the United States and a preferential relationship with Germany, Chirac seemed to want to resurrect, with a weapon of the highest symbolic values such as the nuclear weapon, that grandeur of the Gaullist past that seemed strongly reduced, if not lost, at least on the military level re-proposing a primacy compared to a Germany now economically and politically at the center of Europe, recovering its decision-making autonomy from the United States (Clinton’s harsh attacks on tests did not managed to stop Chirac), claiming, in short, for France a primary role in the world forum. Also on the international level, Chirac reiterated his intention to maintain an active presence in Africa (his first state visits took place in July 1995, in Morocco, Ivory Coast, Gabon and Senegal), leading the country to an economic commitment (cooperation, development aid, cultural exchanges) and an opening of dialogue with African regional organizations.
According to Shopareview.com, the crisis in government policy was added to a general climate of uncertainty and public dissatisfaction, which resulted, among other things, in a general increase in consensus towards the extreme wings of the political spectrum; Chirac thought of exploiting the moment by dissolving the National Assembly and calling early political elections for May-June 1997, in order to strengthen the shaky ruling coalition with electoral consensus before discontent led to a comeback of the left.
In the meantime, the Socialist Party had reorganized itself under the leadership of Jospin and, relying on a renewed leadership also from the generational point of view, had redefined its line according to a decidedly social democratic approach, which attributed a decisive role to the state in pursuing a policy income redistribution, the fight against social inequality, the creation of jobs for young people, the halt of privatizations, the reduction of the working week to 35 hours, the reduction of tax privileges for companies and income from capital. In view of the political elections, Jospin had also taken steps to guarantee 30 % of the electoral districts to women, while in January 1997 it had concluded an agreement with Les Verts and the Parti radical socialiste (PRS).
The moderate right, on the other hand, forced to rely on the unpopular head of government Juppé (but ready to accept his resignation after the defeat in the first round), was also penalized by Le Pen’s refusal to support the center-right in the ballot. The rewarded election results so the left as a whole and in particular socialists (which respectively obtained the 44, 3 % and 25, 6 % in the first round, and 319 and 241 seats after the second round), while the center-right had settle for 256 seats; a deputy from the FN and an independent completed the training. The grouping of the PS and allies (united with the 38 seats of the PCF and the 7 ecologists) had thus reached the parliamentary majority, recovering electorate bands made up of employees, workers, unemployed, even if the social demarcation, increasingly thin between the electorate of the various parties, seemed to confirm the trend a slow structural decline of the links between ideologies and social affiliations has been going on for some time.