Jospin buoyed up by the economic tide

French Prime Minister enjoys greater popularity in his country than with his political allies, writes John Lichfield in Paris

Everything is going right for Lionel Jospin; except for those things which are beginning to go wrong.

The French Prime Minister travels to Bonn today to give what amounts to a political and economic progress report to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Since their last, difficult tete-a-tete in Poitiers in June, Mr Jospin's position has been greatly strengthened, partly through luck, partly through skill.

The French economy is picking up; the markets have swallowed, for now, the promise that France will almost make the entry guidelines for monetary union this year; the franc remains usefully weak but not in free-fall; inflation barely exists; exports are booming; opinion polls are encouraging; the right-wing opposition is mostly engaged in savaging itself. For once, the Franco-German summit may be more pre-occupied with German political and economic problems than French ones.

But Mr Jospin faces a somewhat rougher ride when he goes on to the "summer university" of his own Socialist party in La Rochelle at the weekend. After three months of grace, the radical wing of the party, and Mr Jospin's Communist and Green coalition partners, are beginning to growl at his methodical and centrist approach to government.

The immediate cause of the unrest is not economic. The left has reluctantly accepted that Maastricht will take precedence over most of the economic ideas on which the Socialists campaigned successfully in May. There is to be no large increase in state-spending; the plan to reduce the working week to 35 hours will probably be put off for three years; the promise of 700,000 state-paid or subsidised jobs for the young will be phased in gradually; there will be no miraculous cure for unemployment. Everything will be mortgaged to Maastricht and an upturn in growth (now forecast to reach 3 per cent next year).

In return, parts of the left and the Greens had hoped for some form of emotionally-satisfying, symbolic left-ward shift in cost-free social policy, especially on immigration. Mr Jospin let it be known this week, however, that he would introduce only cosmetic changes to the restrictions on immigration, and the tougher controls on illegal immigration, introduced by successive right-wing governments.

This has been greeted as a betrayal. Hundreds of thousands of left-leaning French people, led by prominent intellectuals, demonstrated against the previous government's toughening of the laws in March. Mr Jospin himself (reluctantly) joined one of the demonstrations. The Socialist programme in the May election promised to abolish all the laws and start from scratch. In fact, the proposals put forward by the interior minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, accepted the thrust of a judicial inquiry and suggested that the existing laws be softened in places but mostly preserved. The Greens warned yesterday that the proposals "would cause a serious crisis of confidence, within the governing majority, and between this majority and its electors". A Socialist deputy, Yann Galut, warned that Mr Jospin would have enormous difficulties getting the proposals through the National Assembly.

The issue is a dangerous one for Mr Jospin. It divides the Socialists down one of their most explosive fault lines: between the mostly middle- class "moral" left on the one hand and the more working class "economic" left on the other. Mr Chevenement, head of a populist, Socialist splinter party, is one of the fiercest opponents of Maastricht but close to white, working-class opinion on immigration. His silence on the pro-EMU approach of the Jospin administration may depend partly on being given his own way on immigration policy.

What is more surprising is that Mr Jospin's retreat from campaign promises across a broad front has not damaged his popularity in the country. It was precisely the accusation that they had campaigned on one set of policies, and governed with others, which mortally damaged the previous administration of Alain Juppe. Mr Jospin is getting away with it, so far.

As Le Figaro said yesterday, the Prime Minister has perfected the art of "walking backwards on tip-toes". How to explain this paradox? Partly, it seems, the French instinctively like and trust the school-masterly Mr Jospin, where they instinctively disliked and distrusted the bureaucratic Mr Juppe. But the sense of a rising economic tide may also be buoying up Mr Jospin's popularity.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most