In 2000 the term of the French president was reduced from seven years to five years by constitutional amendment. The purpose of this change was to discourage further cohabitation—a president and prime minister from different parties. This power sharing had become associated with deadlocked government. Under the amendment, legislative and presidential elections are more likely to occur in the same year and hence to register similar outcomes. The shortened presidential term took effect in 2002.
Jacques Chirac was overwhelmingly reelected in the presidential election of 2002. In a surprise showing in the first round of presidential balloting, National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen had finished slightly ahead of Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin. Appalled by the success of Le Pen, over 1 million people took to the streets in protest before the second round of voting, in which only the top two candidates appeared on the ballot. Chirac swept the election, winning the second round with more than 80 percent of the popular vote. The outcome was a stunning defeat for the Socialist Party and for Jospin, who resigned his post and retired from politics.
In the 2002 legislative elections a coalition of center-right parties backing Chirac, called the Union for the Presidential Majority, captured an absolute majority in the National Assembly, thereby completing the rout of the left. (The coalition was later renamed the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP.) The elections ended five years of cohabitation between Chirac and the Socialist-led National Assembly and gave Chirac significant new power over the direction of the French government.
Chirac appointed Jean-Pierre Raffarin as prime minister of the new government. Raffarin, a member of the small, pro-free-market Liberal Democracy party, had led an interim government since May, following Jospin’s resignation. Raffarin pledged to support Chirac’s conservative reform agenda, including tax cuts, a major crackdown on crime, and the easing of labor regulations.
Despite the lopsided conservative victories, voters closely watched the performance of Chirac and the new government, particularly in its economic policies. Of special concern were tax cuts introduced in hopes of spurring economic growth and boosting future tax revenues. In the short term, the cuts threatened to expand France’s budget deficit beyond 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), a limit imposed by the EU. After France’s budget deficit exceeded the 3 percent limit two years running, in 2002 and 2003, the European Commission issued a formal warning to France to restrain government spending. However, the commission subsequently announced it would suspend its excessive deficit procedure, thereby sparing France from fines for violating the EU deficit ceiling. With little room to maneuver, the French government was forced to reduce planned tax cuts, provoking sharp protests from the right. Meanwhile, the persistence of high annual unemployment rates in France drew strong criticism from the left.
In 2003 the government announced a proposal to restructure the public sector pension system, prompting widespread demonstrations. Later that year, both houses of parliament approved the reforms, which required employees in the public sector to work more years to be eligible for full state pensions. But opposition to Raffarin’s economic reforms raised questions about the governing coalition’s ability to maintain popular support. In local elections held in 2004, center-right parties lost control of 13 regions to leftist parties—a result that analysts attributed to growing public discontent with the government’s economic policies. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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