Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

François Hollande, Dead Man Walking

by John Redmond Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 09:04:33 AM EST

As astute political observers have noted over the past three decades, an increasing divorce has installed itself between the French people and its political elites. There are many debates about the origin of the Gallic malaise, which despite the elite conventional wisdom has virtually nothing to do with its supposedly hidebound labor laws. And, it is true that Gallic Malaise is a common theme in French polity, dating as far back as the aftermath of the revolutionary period itself. Invocations of this malaise have often carried a revanchist tint, the supposedly terminal French decline certainly not being confirmed by a healthy demography and, until recently, a strong economy. But, it is a powerful meme, one which one sees in public discourse and in punditry, especially on the right.

It is nonetheless a meme which is quite powerful today, and is consuming the Presidency of François Hollande, whose days appear more numbered than ever, if one is to believe a recent poll indicating that only 4% of the French electorate think he should even run for re-election. Indeed, according to some polls, were he to run, he could even find himself relegated to 5th place in the first round, behind Marine Le Pen, who is in first place in most polling, Nicolas Sarkozy (if he wins the LR primary on the right), centrist candidate François Bayrou (who has indicated he will run if Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for LR) and Jean-Luc Mélanchon on the left. Why? Because Mr Hollande is arguably the most tone-deaf President the French elite have ever produced, once famously opining that voters are not to be trusted, as they don't really know what they want.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger


Hollande's presidency was an own-goal from the start. Campaigning on a classic left program, invoking high finance is his enemy, promising a roll-back of previous President Sarkozy's pension reforms and a lowering of unemployment, criticizing Sarkozy's VAT increases as regressive, and contesting the balanced budget amendment agreed between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy (the moniker "Merkozy" being a common epithet in the 2012 election campaign, and candidate Hollande promised to go to Berlin and renegotiate what he was then calling the "austerity pact"), Mr Hollande, once installed in the Elysée, backtracked on virtually all of it save for pensions.  Indeed, he did go to Berlin, one of the first things he did once in office, and promptly came back and had his Parti Socialiste majority ratify Merkozy's austerity budget deal. Further, he enacted economic and labor market reforms which at times seemed to have been written by the Medef, France's largest employer organization, while later admitting that the Sarkozy VAT increase, regressive as it is, was a good idea after all. And, of course, unemployment is now higher than it was under Sarkozy.

Unfortunately, it is unclear whether Mr Hollande has yet taken note of his demise. Signs that he has not abound. And he continues to insist that he will make his intentions known at the end of the year. This is a problem for the PS, which is bound by its bylaws to hold a primary election, and initial agreements were in place to have it take place in early December, with a November 1st deadline for candidatures, and therefore before Hollande's ultimate decision. Perhaps because of these conflicting calendars, the PS, despite this agreement, has taken no steps to actually organize it. Recent reports have Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the current leader of the Parti Socialiste, under pressure from François Hollande to not hold the primary, and indeed Mr Cambadélis is publicly expressing the possibility that an exceptional PS convention be held to rescind the bylaw concerning the primary.  

Why the pressure? Because not only is François Hollande unpopular with the voting public, polling in the low teens for approval. François Hollande is also very unpopular with the left, ostensibly the PS' core voters.  In fact, were the PS to actually hold such an election, Mr Hollande would badly lose, with him polling at 19% among voters with left sympathies (the eligible electorate for the PS primary), behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Nicolas Hulot, Manual Valls and Emannuel Macron. Among left voters, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is by far the most popular candidate to represent the left, though among PS voters (perhaps half of the "left" electorate) this is not the case. It should be noted that Mr Mélenchon has adopted much the same Euro skepticism as the left in the Netherlands, so his increasing popularity should be seen in this light. The EU is even less popular in France today than it is in the UK.

Less than one year away now from the end of an error.

Display:
the man. I did not vote for Sarkozy either. I was one of those observers (Bernard, Migeru also coming to mind) who was deeply skeptical of Candidate Hollande, especially once he had named Manuel Valls to head up his campaign. The writing was on the wall then.

Some called him the French Zapatero, after the social democrat leader of Spain who committed political suicide by pushing through Merkozy's austerity pact. I think this is being too charitable to François Hollande. After all, Zapatero's negotiating position was very weak within Europe, this was before the ECB was doing its job as lender of last resort, Spanish long-term yields were in the 6/7% range.

François Hollande did not have that weak position, in fact, France probably has the strongest negotiating position in Europe bar Germany. It is a testament to his poor statesmanship that he made such a glaring error as to accede to the Austerity pact after having promised to renegotiate it.

I never thought I would live to regret President Sarkozy, but I do.

by John Redmond (Ladybeaterz@NolesAD.com) on Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 09:22:41 AM EST
"I never thought I would live to regret President Sarkozy, but I do. "

Should this not read President Hollande?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 04:10:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I meant more like I miss Sarkozy.

He was a better president than Hollande.

by John Redmond (Ladybeaterz@NolesAD.com) on Sat Jun 18th, 2016 at 05:33:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If the goal for Hollande was to destroy PS then he has done the best job he could. I had a sick feeling about him during the election. I doubt that political suicide was Holande's intention for PS, however. It just shows the extreme dangers of letting elite insiders specializing in political machinations within a party become the presidential candidate. Wish I could recommend a way to prevent this.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere." (But it helps!)
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 18th, 2016 at 02:54:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am indeed on record for having called Hollande the French Zapatero as soon as August 2012, two years before Valls became Prime Minister and when recently elected Hollande had pretty much surrendered to Merkel-Schäuble's Austerity Pact for the whole Eurozone. I was already fearing that turn during the presidential election campaign. I just refrained from using the "Vichy socialists" expression, à la Steve Gilliard - too close to Godwin, and I'm not an historian.

And yes, I agree that Hollande had a much, much stronger negotiating position than Zapatero or Papandreou ever had: he just chose not to fight, or rather, to roll over after merely putting a token fight. During all his political career, he's ruled through endlessly negotiating compromises; this is what allowed him to raise at the top of the PS and to secure the PS nomination for running against Sarkozy. He's genuinely convinced that, by appeasing the Medef and running orthodox fiscal & budgetary policies, then the Confidence Fairy will show up, unemployment will abate and growth will restart just in time to save his rear end next year.

Unlike you however, I don't harbor any regret for Sarkozy's years: his term has marked a new low in terms of social regression, mendacity, cronyism, using the state institutions to his own benefit and sheer corruption, even making Chirac look good (quite an achievement). Not to mention starting yet another war in Lybia with all the consequences we know, even if those paying the heavier price are mostly dark and poor (thus beneath Sarko's notice).

by Bernard on Sat Jun 18th, 2016 at 02:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As you know, here in France, that goes hand in hand with copinage, corruption and the like. And yes, he made us regret Chirac, who was more moderate in tone (though not necessarily on policy), but Chirac was a champion when it came to politicam corruption.

But objectively, Sarko was a far better president than Hollande where it counts today - on the European stage. When the crisis came, he did not wait for Berlin's approval of (admittedly too modest) stimulus measures. François Hollande has proven, as MLP actually said to Mme Merkel's face, the best governor general of the French province that Berlin could ever hope for.

Hollande is a miserable failure, not just in his destruction of the center-left as a credible governing alternative to the right, but as a human being as well.

by John Redmond (Ladybeaterz@NolesAD.com) on Sun Jun 19th, 2016 at 09:07:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - François Hollande, Dead Man Walking
Recent reports have Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the current leader of the Parti Socialiste, under pressure from François Hollande to not hold the primary, and indeed Mr Cambadélis is publicly expressing the possibility that an exceptional PS convention be held to rescind the bylaw concerning the primary.  

Well, this morning, Cambadélis announced that the Primary election will be held in January 2017, after all. It will be open to the PS and its allies (so, excluding the Communists, Greens or Melenchon's Parti de Gauche). And yes, it is "compatible with Hollande's schedule". Is it an implicit acknowledgement of the weakening position of Hollande within the PS, or an attempt to double cross any potential rivals? The sorry show goes on...

(That sound you hear are the knives being sharpened within the PS)

by Bernard on Sat Jun 18th, 2016 at 02:09:20 PM EST
Hollande would be the sorriest excuse for a Caesar ever! As a candidate he is worse than Dukakis. Can the PS even produce a credible Brutis, et al?

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere." (But it helps!)
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 18th, 2016 at 03:01:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who's on the right of Hollande. Other historical leaders in the PS ("Elephants" in the PS lingo) have been marginalized or left the PS altogether.
by Bernard on Sun Jun 19th, 2016 at 04:15:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds like the PS is in worse shape than even the neo-liberal infested US Democratic Party. Very sad.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere." (But it helps!)
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jun 19th, 2016 at 08:42:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Vallis is appropriate from another standpoint. Any credible Brutus has to be to the right of Caesar.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere." (But it helps!)
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jun 19th, 2016 at 08:47:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
in which one can always find at least a devil or two.

I note the continuing usage of the divisive, even Bush-like term "loyal," as employed to indicate which one the left will putatively be qualified to run - "reformist and loyal" PS, "ecologists" but only those who have remained "loyal" to this massively unpopular government (de Rugy et al) and the Radicaux de Gauche who are, as you know, to the right, generally speaking, to the PS.

Sure a few so-called "frondeurs" will present, but they will almost certainly be marginalised in the way the primary will be constructed, and indeed Montebourg has laready indicated that if the primary is not properly open, he will run outside of it. And of course, the most popular lefty in the political environment is not going to particpate either, and in fact his current has been explictly excluded, as have the PCF (at this point, who cares, though Chassaigne is a decent potential candidate, good speaker) and the remnants of the actual ecologists (and not the butt boys who have gone over to the ridiculously named "belle alliance populaire," which might be the most unpopular popular movement ever seen.

The whole thing stinks of typical Hollande/Cambadélis court intrigue, a way to get the PS to spend November through January to talk about anything but its own miserable record, and the outcome could very well be the re-coronation of the most unpopular President in the history of the republic.

But yeah, they have announced a primary. I confess surprise, though as I said, I doubt it will be a real primary of the left. The PS machine will ensure a Sanders type be marginalized....

by John Redmond (Ladybeaterz@NolesAD.com) on Mon Jun 20th, 2016 at 05:26:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Whatever his personal failings, François Hollande seems emblematic of the decline of social democracy which lost its primary raison d'être when the Soviet Union died and western elites no longer needed to fear a socialist revolution. Social democracy was the price they were prepared to pay to stave off that terrible vista.  Ever since then global capital has been flexing its muscles, playing off one government against another and threatening recalcitrant unions with divestment to another market.

Indeed we don't have countries any more, we have markets. Most global corporations don't break down their numbers by country any more, we are all part of the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) region. Profits are reported where taxes are the lowest, production is located where labour costs are lowest, and products are sold where they can command the highest prices.

And the thing is, nation states not big enough to dominate a market on their own haven't yet devised a strategy to combat this. Nationalism is the inchoate response, but it merely compounds the problem.  The EU is the best solution we have, and even it has failed miserably.  For all his incompetence, Hollande has delayed this process almost as well as any: France is still a functioning social democracy.  As the UK is about to find out if it votes for Brexit, the alternative is even worse.

There is only one long term global solution, and that is for global political institutions to wrest control from global corporations, and that isn't even on any political agenda yet.  For the foreseeable future we will live on democratic islands in a rising corporate sea.  France, for now, is still one of the hold-outs. A returning Sarkozy wouldn't make that any better.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jun 19th, 2016 at 01:46:23 PM EST
People fought back with considerable success against the demands of capitalism before the Russian Revolution! The fall of the Soviet Union is not the end of the world for those trying to protect society from the destructive effects of capitalism. I am heartily sick of that meme. Get over it and focus on what needs to be done.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere." (But it helps!)
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jun 19th, 2016 at 05:35:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
characterisation of France as a social democracy. Politically, it is not, though the social environment has all the trapping of one.

The post-war settlement was essentially brokered between the Gaullists, who held (mostly) the levers of power, with an able contesting partner accross the negotiating table in the persons of the PCF and the CGT. The post-war settlement and what was acheived in terms of social progress essentially was the result of that partnership, and in many aspects should probably be considered more a patriarchal capitalism, with a strong sense of social responsability, buttressed by a strong PCF and left unions who kept the other side honest.

The PS has always been the odd man out in this configuration, and its attempts to insert itself into the settlement in order to push the interests of its electorate (the PS is and pretty much always has been a petit bourgeois party, core electorate being functionaries and especially the corps of teachers) have been mostly contested by both the historical left and the right as well. Jérôme, a perfect representative of the PS view, would often joke with me about my party tendancy to "collaborate" with the right, this is a fairly strong current of opinion within the PS to decredibilise those to their left, with increasingly weak results.

Now, what we are seeing is that the PS insertion into that settlement is seen by popular opinion as illegitimate. This government, and not just Hollande, is plumbing the depths of democratic credibility, and in so doing is setting the stage for a crushing majority for a right which has shed its Gaullist sense of social responsability. And, in the extreme divisiveness the present government is employing in attempting to maintain legitimacy, it is consciously undermining the remnants of the actual left which contributed to the social post-war settlement, and which could actually continue to act as a counterpoint to the crushing majorities that the right parties are likely to enjoy in 10 months time.

France may look like a social democracy, but it really isn't one, and François Hollande's presidency, far from protecting the post-war settlement, is fatally undermining it. This is a reason for the street protests, the strikes without end. And it is the reason that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, imperfect as he is, is far more popular on the left than anyone associated with François Hollande or Manuel Valls.  

by John Redmond (Ladybeaterz@NolesAD.com) on Mon Jun 20th, 2016 at 05:17:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that France is not a social democracy in the sense that it has typically been run by a social democratic party:  rather that social democratic policies have been implemented as the outcome of a collaboration between left and right, often not including the ostensibly social democratic PS.

In some ways this is similar to Ireland, where the ostensibly social democratic Labour party has rarely been anything other than a marginal player in national politics, and most of the actually social democratic policies have been implemented by Fianna Fail - the Irish Gaulist Party.  It was Fianna Fail which initiated the building up of a large range of publicly owned semi-state enterprises in all sectors of the economy; the development of close union/government working arrangements through National Partnership agreements and the implementation of a good deal of social and employment law protections for workers as a result.

No one would call Fianna Fail a social democratic party, any more than the Gaulists, but we can see the degree to which their policies ended up with a distinctly social democratic tinge by the degree that their neo-liberal successors are now trying to dismantle their achievements of state led development and cooperation with leftist forces in society.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 20th, 2016 at 05:53:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries

The Killing of Jo Cox

by Frank Schnittger - Jun 17
24 comments

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be

by gmoke - Jun 15
5 comments

Long tunnels

by DoDo - Jun 12
23 comments

What 9/11 liberals ignore

by DoDo - Jun 5
68 comments

Developments in Austria

by generic - Jun 8
1 comment

The arsonist party

by fjallstrom - Jun 8
1 comment

Recent Diaries

The Killing of Jo Cox

by Frank Schnittger - Jun 17
24 comments

Long tunnels

by DoDo - Jun 12
23 comments

Developments in Austria

by generic - Jun 8
1 comment

The arsonist party

by fjallstrom - Jun 8
1 comment

The tragedy of Hillary

by DoDo - Jun 6
47 comments

What 9/11 liberals ignore

by DoDo - Jun 5
68 comments

France on Strike

by John Redmond - May 30
37 comments

Böhmermann

by DoDo - May 29
11 comments

A Tale of Two States

by Frank Schnittger - May 26
20 comments

Edmund Burke for Socialists

by ARGeezer - May 25
22 comments

More Diaries...