French politics

Bend it like Mitterrand?

Is François Hollande on the path of François Mitterrand, the former and unique French socialist president of the fifth Republic so far?

Evocating Mitterrand is almost compulsory when you are a socialist candidate running for the Elysée. On the last January, the former PS First secretary came to Jarnac, (the Mitterrand birthplace) to pay tribute to his predecessor. The reference to the ex-French president was very striking during the meeting of Le Bourget in such a way some people did not hesitate to make a comparison between the Hollande and the Mitterrand gestures.

Some analysts are considering François Hollande as a new “force tranquille” (quiet force) directly inspired by François Mitterrand in 1981. As the former president, the former mayor of Tulle (centre of France) is looking for ensuring a large part of French people, wanting to put forward and embody a new direction for the Hexagon.

Comparing Hollande and Mitterrand is not obvious and may be confusing. Indeed, referring to Mitterrand is the temptation to imitate him in his attitude or his gesture at the risk of being mediocre. What is more, the Mitterrand personality durably imposed and influenced the history of the French left.

In fact, we can explain the reference to Mitterrand not vis-à-vis the gesture but the current strategy led by the socialist candidate: gathering and uniting his party, the French left and then the country pointing out the sparring partner and insisting on some universal values. That was the case during the François Hollande meeting when the socialist candidate clearly designated the world of finance as his main challenger, an indirect way to tackle to Nicolas Sarkozy. Twenty-four years before, François Mitterrand used this same strategy pointing out the “clans” and the “gangs”, a direct reference to the right and his leader, the PM Jacques Chirac. Introducing himself as a rallying president in comparison with a revanchist right, Mitterrand easily won the election and got a second presidential mandate face to Chirac.

As Robert Schneider, a Nouvel Observateur journalist, explained very well, the main asset of Hollande is to be able to make references to Mitterrand to make a very personal analysis and deliver a very personal vision of the French society and the project he wish to embody. This strategy is not obvious but remains relevant and audacious insofar as it allows to the French left to get a leader, something it had been looking for during a long time.