Hollande meets Obama for a...tea party?
France and the U.S. may be separated by ocean—and a language—but when President Francois Hollande sits down with President Barack Obama this week, the two leaders may find they have more in common than they originally thought.
Business and international policies may be the official reason for Hollande's state visit, but domestic politics could very well be a major topic of discussion as France starts to feel the effects of its very own tea party.
Over the past few months, the French president, who is already suffering from record low popularity ratings amid a scandal over his private life, has also had to contend with increasing political activism undermining his government's authority.
Last week, the government found itself backed into a corner over its new draft law detailing rights and benefits for same-sex parents, after a call from the "Manif Pour Tous" (Protest for All) movement brought tens of thousands to the streets of Paris and Lyon on Feb. 2.
The movement, originally created to fight the government's proposal to legalize gay marriage, calls for the new family law to be dropped. Following the protests, the bill won't be read until the end of the year at the earliest.
(Read more: Hollande avoids personal life as he unveils reforms)
A week earlier, Paris was the location for a "Day of Anger" as a group of about 50 small anti-Hollande pressure groups staged a demonstration that quickly turned violent and saw 250 people arrested and 19 policemen injured.
The government's recent troubles highlight a deepening anger with mainstream politics and could threaten the Hollande administration's ability to run the country.
Surveys conducted by CEVIPOF for Sciences Politiques released in January show that French people feel that politics is increasingly disconnected from reality. The survey found that 87 percent think that politicians do not take their opinions into account and 66 percent admit that they trust neither the left nor the right.
The French, traditionally open to globalisation and defenders of the European Union, are starting to doubt the advantages of being open. The percentage of people who think that the country's membership of the European Union is a "definite good thing" has dropped to 35 percent from 47 percent in October 2011, and 66 percent think they are too many foreigners in France.
For the Socialist government, the problem is more widespread as French commentators say these latest demonstrations are indications that the French society is starting to become more right wing.
The National Front, the country's far-right party, is expected to score well at the May European elections, and a poll released Sunday by IFOP found that 29 percent of French people would like to see electoral lists from right-wing UMP party win at the March municipal elections ahead of the Socialist Party.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls told the Journal du Dimanche that the country is "witnessing the creation of the French version of the tea party," adding that "by exploiting the political and leadership crisis on the right, and the National Front party's move away from the far right, a conservative and reactionary right has been set free."
At the height of its powers last year, members of the U.S. tea party played a major role in the deadlock over the budget and deficit in Washington, closing down government for more than two weeks. Could the same happen in France?
Thomas Guénolé, senior lecturer at French university Sciences Politiques, has his doubts. The French version of the party, he says, is yet to have the clout of its stateside counterpart due to its lack of "political development strategy, ideological stance and money."
(Read more: Sarkozy returns to Instagram and…politics?)
When it comes to the shift to the right of French society, Guénolé admits there is a "Le Penisation" of the society. The Le Pen family is the powerhouse of the French far right, and since Marine Le Pen's election to party leadership, the National Front has gained in popularity.
Ideas championed by the Le Pens, once easily discredited, have now become mainstream, Guénolé said. A majority of French people now agree with the idea that immigration is source of unemployment or that Islam is incompatible with the French Republic.
Both leaders appear to want a lot out of this state visit and were keen to emphasize the two countries' closeness. In a joint letter published simultaneously in The Washington Post and Le Monde on Monday, they wrote of their friendship "stretching back more than two centuries" and of their "deepening partnership," mentioning trade deals, climate change and their combined effort in Africa where France has taken a leading role, first in Mali and in the Central African Republic.
In a rare treat for a state visit, Hollande will enjoy a ride on Air Force One, but many might chose to focus on the fact that the French president will be flying solo, since his separation with long-term girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler at the end of January after reports that he had been cheating on her with actress Julie Gayet.
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