France in the 1980's

France in the 1980’s and 1990’s


The ‘cohabitation’ is born

The difficulties of the two-year period 1980-81, especially in the economic field (the inflation rate remained at 13.3% over the two years and the number of unemployed reached 1.5 million in 1981), ended up irreparably wearing down the compactness of the majority. The reasons for social tension, added to the rivalry to the right and the collapse of the Communist Party to 15%, which reassured some moderate sectors, facilitated Mitterrand’s victory over Giscard d’Estaing in the presidential elections of May 1981. The elections called after the dissolution of the The Legislative Assembly gave 37.7% and a majority of the seats to the Socialists, something that only the Gaullists had succeeded in 1968.

According to animalerts, the new government, chaired by Fr Mauroy, with the participation of four Communist ministers, made a drastic change in the economic field, starting the implementation of the ‘common program’. The ambitious plan envisaged the launch of a policy aimed at supporting the weaker classes, fighting against unemployment and against inflation. Numerous reforms were carried out: abolition of the death penalty, nationalizations, capital tax, administrative decentralization, a 39-hour working week, retirement at 60, co-management in companies, etc. However, the severity of the economic crisis, with the persistence of high rates of inflation and unemployment, forced the choice of rigor, freezing wages, conversion to the market economy. For the ministry a ‘ a further cause for concern arose with the protest, even violent, of farmers, worried about the low profitability of some agricultural products and very dissatisfied with the community policy in the agricultural field. In the elections for the European Parliament in June 1984 the right, unified around Chirac on a more liberal than Gaullist basis, won 43% of the votes, while on the far right the Front National of J.-M. Le Pen passed from ‘ 1.03% of its first appearance in 1979 at 11.8%. At the 1986 legislative elections, the Socialist Party stopped at 31%, while the Communist Party reached its all-time low, the extreme right was growing and the right was in the majority. In this context, with the formation of a Chirac ministry, a situation of ‘cohabitation’ arose for the first time between president and prime minister from opposing camps. The president could not prevent the application of the economic program of the right, but the hasty privatizations it put in place were soon blocked by social difficulties and student and popular demonstrations. In 1988 Mitterrand with 54% of the votes was re-elected president against Chirac, who resigned as prime minister following the defeat. The socialist M. Rocard was called to form the new government, in a parliamentary situation in which the right still retained the majority. The inevitable ungovernable situation led Mitterrand to dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections. The Socialist Party obtained only a relative majority and Rocard, reconfirmed as prime minister, it set up a cabinet in which the main ministries were in the hands of socialist exponents, but some positions were distributed to independent personalities or of moderate center orientation. The demonstrations for the bicentenary of the Great Revolution seemed to attest, in a Paris renewed also from an urban point of view, a rediscovered balance, albeit in a context characterized by the extinction of political passions, after the last five years lived rather in the name of lively and personalized contrasts between the Presidency of the Republic and the Presidency of the Council.

The nineties

In the mid-nineties, the social and political situation in France presented strong elements of continuity with its previous history and, at the same time, important factors of novelty. Since the 1970s, French society had undergone profound transformations which, together with strong urbanization, had determined an expansion of new productive sectors, the expansion of an area of ​​assisted pauperism, the massive increase in non-EU workers, the progressive slippage of conflict from social boundaries to more strictly ethnic-cultural ones. The political framework showed, alongside the persistence of traditional post-World War II French alignments, new presences, such as the ecologists or right-wing extremists of the Front National of Le Pen. In this social and political context, political elections were held in March 1993, in a difficult climate for the governing coalition, after in 1992 various politicians, especially socialists, had been the subject of investigations by the judiciary for corruption and others. financial offenses. The elections to renew the Legislative Assembly saw the collapse of the Socialist Party and the triumph of the parties of the right, while the Front National of Le Pen and the two environmentalist groups, which had presented themselves together, although achieving a good percentage result, did not get seats as a result of the majority system. In this way, a situation of ‘cohabitation’ was created again. The new government, led by the neo-Galilist E. Balladur, it set among its first objectives the reduction of the deficit and unemployment. However, the measures adopted between 1993 and 1994 did not prove sufficiently effective, while stricter legislation on immigration and the conferral of French citizenship and some attempts to reduce the scope of public assistance met with strong social opposition. The presidential elections of April-May 1995 were characterized by internal competition between the two main exponents of the right, Chirac and Balladur, to the advantage, in the first round, of the socialist candidate L. Jospin, a leader who presented himself, above all, as guarantor of a return to the moral integrity of the Socialist Party after the scandals that had involved it in the previous two decades. In any case, it was Chirac who had the upper hand in the ballot, thus succeeding Mitterrand as president of the Republic. The new government, led by A. Juppé, based on a substantially neoliberal line, moreover urged by the need to comply with the dictates of the Maastricht Treaty, adopted a policy of cuts in spending on social services, pensions and public sector wages. The measures adopted greatly dissatisfied a substantial part of the electorate and provoked, in the second half of 1995, a series of demonstrations and a succession of strikes in the public sector. To further undermine the image of the right, new scandals involved among the other three former ministers of the previous government. In order to strengthen the shaky governing coalition with electoral consensus, President Chirac decided to dissolve the National Assembly and to hold early political elections (May-June 1997). From the first round, however, the union of the left came out with the advantage (gauche plurielle) led by Jospin, who saw the socialist victory confirmed in the next round. With Jospin at the helm of the government, a new period of ‘cohabitation’ began, this time between a center-right president and a left-wing prime minister. 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; a left characterized, albeit with different accents among its components, by the intention of combining openness to the market economy with the awareness of having to reaffirm the role of the state: an awareness particularly evident in Jospin, who more than the others felt the need for a social policy not to be sacrificed on.

France in the 1980's