France in the 1990’s Part IV
In June Jospin took over the leadership of a coalition government of different leftist groups: Socialists, Communists, MDC, Greens and radicals. Thus began a new period of cohabitation between a center-right president and a left-wing prime minister, who had, among other things, since the election campaign, supported a statist line and was particularly attentive to social problems. At the international level, Jospin’s success was still part of that general process that had led to the affirmation of the left in 13 out of 15 countries of the European Union (only in May 1997was the election of Labor T. Blair in Great Britain): a left characterized, albeit with different accents, by the intention to combine an opening to the market economy with the awareness of the need for a reaffirmation of the role of the state. According to Shoppingpicks.net, this awareness was particularly strong in Jospin, who more than the others felt the need for a social policy that should not be sacrificed on the altar of economic renewal and European integration.
But the country’s serious social and political problems reappeared shortly thereafter. Between November 1997 and January 1998 the tensions in the urban peripheries re-exploded, marked by the problems of immigration, mainly North African, and unemployment; in April 1998 the new law to regularize the position of illegal immigrants (the so-called sans papiers, a problem at the center of French political life since 1996) was approved with the abstention of the Communists and the vote against by the Greens, while the following month the the same Assembly passed the law on the legal duration of the working week in 35 hours, however, to be submitted for approval by the Constitutional Court following the appeal of the center-right parties. The same regional and cantonal elections of March 1998, won by the left, albeit by a narrow margin, recorded strong abstention (42, 5% to the regional ones), a phenomenon that, despite its fluctuations, had characterized French political life in the last two decades, reflecting a disaffection towards politics on the part of an electorate disappointed by the corruption of a large part of the political class, by the increase in unemployment despite the growing wealth of the country, from the repeated demonstrations of weakness of the ruling class. For the center-right, the crisis emblematically represented by the persistent electoral strength of the FN was repeated in those elections, when some members of the UDF established – against the position of the national leadership itself – an electoral alliance with the FN. Stigmatized by Chirac, by the secretary of the RPR Ph. Séguin and by the leaders of the same RPR, the agreement reached with Le Pen – d ‘ on the other hand, already implemented on some electoral occasions during the 1980s – it caused a serious split within the moderate right, signaling a disconnect between the center and the periphery of the party; on the other hand, it seemed to contribute to a political legitimacy of the FN, favored in part by the transition from the intransigent phase of Le Pen’s leadership to the more moderate phase of his deputy, B. Mégret (especially on the theme of ‘national preference’).
In October 1998 the Jospin cabinet was faced with a strong youth protest, expressed, on the one hand, by a very active minority of students demanding greater government commitment in the field of education (suitable premises, more professors, special funds) and, on the other, by groups from marginalized social groups (especially immigrants from the urban suburbs), protagonists of episodes of violence during the numerous events that followed one another for weeks throughout the country. As for the question of sans papiers, after the law of April which allowed only a part of irregular immigrants to avoid deportation, in November 1998 the Minister for Employment and Social Solidarity, M. Aubry, drew up new legislation. Taking note of the interest of the countries of emigration in recovering part of their working energies and, at the same time, of the resistance of immigrants to a definitive expulsion from the host country, the circular established that irregular migrants who had agreed to repatriate would benefited from a free professional training contract in France for jobs agreed with the countries of origin, as well as multiple temporary visas to be able to return to France after at least six months of work in the country of origin.
While the contrast between political power and the judiciary worsened, and the political parties were facing a profound phase of revision, between 1998 and 1999 Jospin’s position was considerably strengthened: despite the resurgence of the Corsican crisis and the conflicts that arose within the alliance government and in public opinion itself in the face of the intervention in the war against Yugoslavia (March-May 1999), the government coalition obtained a clear affirmation in the European elections (June 1999), the only case among the center-left governments of the Europeans belonging to NATO.