Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Political Crisis in France

by

After the sudden dissolution of his government, French president François Hollande is edging ever a bit closer to the political abyss. His prime minister, Manuel Valls, has just formed a new cabinet, which excludes three major socialist “rebels”: Arnaud Montebourg (economy), Benoît Hamon (education) and Aurélie Filippetti (culture). While various key figures, including former presidential candidate Segolène Royal, retain their posts, the net result is that the government’s political centre of gravity has shifted noticeably to the right.

Montebourg and Hamon were not only influential cabinet ministers; they had also made a Faustian bargain with Valls five months ago. In the aftermath of the spring’s calamitous local elections, both men gave their political backing to the new prime minister.

The dissolved government was an unholy alliance. The departed ministers come from the party’s soft left, whereas the former interior minister has long cultivated an uncompromising right-wing profile. Clearly Montebourg and Hamon hoped that going all-in with Valls would force Hollande to change his stand on Europe, and on the controversial “Responsibility Pact”.

A growing number of Socialist party faithful are openly decrying the austerity drive imposed by the European Central Bank, under the surveillance of Angela Merkel. They complain that it undermines people’s purchasing power, increases France’s public deficit, and has led to the rise of the extreme right.

As Montebourg put it in his farewell speech at the Economy ministry, austerity policies have “continued to mire the eurozone in recession and soon, deflation”.

He had a point.

Going nowhere fast

Despite all the pro-business and pro-market measures, the French economy has been in poor shape since 2012. According to INSEE’s economic forecast, the French economy will grow 0.7% this year, significantly below the government’s 1% forecast, while unemployment is set to rise to 10.2% by 2015.

Hollande’s Responsibility Pact was announced in January 2014. It aims to lower corporations’ labour costs in return for boosting recruitment, part of a swathe of measures to reduce unemployment. This effort represents a €41 billion cut to the levies firms pay on labour.

The French employers’ union, the MEDEF, has categorically refused to pledge it would create jobs in return. At the same time, Hollande has announced he would cut 50 billion from public spending by 2017 in a bid to rebuild confidence in the French economy.

Austerity measures are obviously unpopular. They have already left lower-salaried workers with less purchasing power, and there have been drastic cuts in public spending and public services. Tax cuts have drained the state’s revenue stream, so public debt has increased from 85.8% of GDP in 2011 to 93.5% in 2013. In reality, austerity has increased public debt and has been totally unhelpful to tackle the deficit.

Feeble warriors

The first Valls government was labelled a government of “guerriers” (warriors), an attempt to burnish the new team with a macho patina of unity and resoluteness. These were only words: it only took 147 days for the government to implode, one of the shortest periods in power for any French cabinet since de Gaulle founded the Fifth Republic in 1958.

And despite having an absolute majority in the National Assembly, the Socialist government remains weak. There is no political majority to back its economic policies; austerity is not only rejected by the left (Left Front and EELV – the Green party), but it is also increasingly criticised by various factions within Hollande’s notionally centre-left Socialist party.

Tellingly, most socialist “rebels” are not hard leftists; they are moderate social democrats, who are genuinely unconvinced that austerity is going to help restart the economy. They are also deeply disturbed about the political impact of Hollande’s policies after the party’s recent crushing defeats.

What’s more, there is every sign the situation is getting worse. Going by opinion polls, if there were a presidential election today, neither Hollande nor Valls would qualify for the second round. To make matters even worse for the Socialists, a disillusioned and angry popular electorate is abstaining en masse – and some, of course, have been voting for Marine le Pen’s far-right Front National.

But all this was entirely predictable. After all, Hollande’s government has been in perpetual crisis almost since he took office.

Dashed hopes

To be elected president of the French republic, Hollande pledged a break with five years of Sarkozysm. He promised to govern for the many who have been suffering from the economic recession; he was also committed, he said, to a more transparent and more collective style of leadership. None of this has been evident in his term so far.

With the so-called “rebels” removed from the government, the situation looks bleak – especially for those campaigning against austerity.

In an act of defiance, Valls has nominated Emmanuel Macron to the economy ministry. Before becoming Hollande’s deputy secretary general at the Élysée Palace, Macron used to work in the Rothschild Bank. He is a staunch partisan of austerity and of the pursuit of free-market policies.

In a stubborn bid for survival, Hollande (via Valls) has yet again dismissed his critics rather than engaging them. The president is not for turning, and neither are his opponents from his own party – but with no economic improvement in sight, the political crisis he faces can only get worse.

Philippe Marlière is a professor of French and European Politics at University College London (UK). On twitter: @PhMarliere.

 

Philippe Marlière is a Professor of French and European Politics at University College London (UK). Twitter: @PhMarliere

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail