France's Hollande tightens grip on power with election win

France's Hollande tightens grip on power with election win
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Monday, June 18, 2012 - 2:18pm

New French President Francois Hollande tightened his grip on power Monday as the Interior Ministry confirmed that his Socialist party and its allies won an absolute majority in parliamentary elections Sunday.

Hollande allies claimed 314 seats in the 577-member National Assembly -- the lower house of the French parliament -- according to early confirmed results by the French Interior Ministry.

The results signal a clear French shift to the left, bolstering Hollande's position to push through an anti-austerity agenda after years of government budget cuts.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party experienced its biggest losses since 1981, winning just 229 seats.

The far-right National Front won its first seats in parliament in 15 years, with two lawmakers elected, including the 22-year-old granddaughter of party founder Jean-Marie le Pen.

Party leader Marine le Pen, however, suffered a shock defeat, losing the stronghold seat of Hénin-Beaumont in northern France.

The Europe Ecology and Greens party captured a surprise 17 seats.

The outright victory of the Socialist party and its allies gives them complete control of both the Senate and the lower house, allowing Hollande to push through laws without the need to compromise.

Hollande has already introduced some of his programs, which are centered on growth and spending, not austerity, reversing Sarkozy's policies.

This includes a "growth pact": 120 billion euros worth of measures to stimulate growth in Europe, including developing renewable energies and biotechnologies.

The proposal was presented to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders last week, the Journal du Dimanche newspaper reported Sunday.

Other reforms include raising the minimum wage, a partial return to retirement at the age of 60 and increasing the value-added tax on goods sold in stores.

Hollande has also vowed to slap a 75% levy on incomes higher than 1 million euros ($1.26 million) and raise taxes paid on the revenue of large fortunes.

Discussion is already under way on education reforms, including a review of the French school year and increasing the stipend paid to help parents with school-age children.

"You have confirmed your will for change," French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told French voters in a statement Sunday, saying that the government's "objective is to reorient Europe toward growth and to preserve the eurozone from speculation."

More than 500 seats were decided in the latest round of balloting, according to French election officials, after a first round of voting proved inconclusive in those districts.

Hollande has unsettled investors with his criticism of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals for troubled economies such as Greece's and Ireland's.

His policies have put him at odds with Germany's Merkel, who holds the purse strings for a large portion of the European Union's bailout efforts.

Hollande became France's first Socialist president since François Mitterrand left office in 1995 as he swept to election victory over the incumbent Sarkozy, one of the most U.S.-friendly French presidents in decades.

Hollande, who was sworn into office in May, has chosen mostly moderates for his Cabinet, indicating an effort to build a broad coalition in the country.

Last month, Hollande said he wanted to balance the need to reduce the debts of European governments with efforts to stimulate growth.
 

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