Tue Sep 18th, 2012 at 08:38:55 AM EST
If you are the successor of a hyperactive omnipresident whose main idea of political action appears to be controlling the media cycle by imposing its subjects and rhythm, and you position yourself as the exact opposite (discreet, modest, "normal"), you give the country a welcome rest. That might last, say, the length of the summer recess. Then its back-to-school and back-to-work, people's minds are getting concentrated on everyday problems that have not gone away, and you are still not communicating, not imposing your themes, not explaining what you are doing -- well, people conclude you're not doing anything (this may also be factually correct, but let's stick with communication and perceptions for the moment).
Meanwhile, the opposition, that only recently was accustomed to making nonstop media noise, leaps into the breach you have left by your silence. "Oh, how we love and admire Sarkozy!" they cry. "And if Sarkozy was right after all?" ask pensive "journalists" (right about what, that's too much for them). And oh how useless the new president is! And oh how his ratings are collapsing like a failed soufflé! (They are). And so:
Help, Sarko's coming back!
Sarkozy, of course, is out of the spotlight, nursing his injured pride, waiting for the moment when the people rises up and drags him back to the Elysée Palace. Fortunately, that is unlikely to happen. Once his replacement as leader of the UMP is decided, his successor (probably Jean-François Copé) will hasten to stop talking about him. The message will cease to be: "Sarkozy would have done better than Hollande", to become: "Copé will do better than Hollande".
Hollande is making attempts to get back in the saddle, by TV appearances and declarations. So he has promised that he's now in attack mode against unemployment, and will reverse the rising trend within two years. He has also announced the (future) closure of the Fessenheim nuclear power station, and a moratorium on fracking. Since he has Europe-Ecologie-Les Verts in coalition with him, he can hardly do less. What EELV is doing there (apart from the ambitions of one or two highly-placed individuals) is hard to make out, since they are not getting much in concrete terms and are forced to sit on the fence concerning the European Fiscal Pact, and also have to listen to pro-nuke pronouncements from left-of-PS productivists like Arnaud Montebourg, Minister for Productive Recovery (or something). (May I make it clear I'm in favour of having an industrial policy and the means to carry it out, but Montebourg just seems to be there for the gesticulation).
In fact, the entire government gives off an aura of amateurish lack of focus, off-message communication, and inter-ministerial conflict. Hollande's "normal" stance is part of the focus problem, but a bigger share goes to Prime Minister Ayrault, considered within and without the government as incapable of leading and holding together a team. The fact is that, if communication from Hollande has been missing, the PM needed all the more to fill the gap. Gossip is now open (I heard a bunch again this morning on French public radio) as to who should replace Ayrault and when: if it's not until after the next elections (municipal), that's in a couple of years' time, so why not make the change quickly right here and now?
Who would take over? Technocratic names like Louis Gallois (ex-CEO SNCF, ex-CEO EADS), Anne Lauvergeon (ex-CEO Areva), or even Pascal Lamy (WTO), are being bandied about. Among pols, the current Interior Minister, Manuel Valls (who has been busily doing a Sarko with the media while the president and PM have kept mum) is seen as lead candidate. Valls would mean the most rightist edge of the Socialist Party would be in charge (and he's a much more trenchant character than Hollande, so he would probably have the appearance of really being in charge); a technocrat would mean, well, heh, a technical government designed to carry out those necessary reforms we all know France has been crazily refusing to implement for so many years while the rest of the world economy goes from strength to strength...
The Fiscal Pact will be voted, the 3% deficit aimed for... At least with a modicum of fiscal load-spreading skewed towards the better-off. Unfortunately, Hollande sidelined, during the electoral campaign, a more ambitious progressive taxation scheme proposed by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Camille Landais (Pour une révolution fiscale). There may be some useful cleaning-up of the tax code done, but it will be crumbs compared to the needed cake.
Where is Hollande at with regard to Europe? Unlike Sarko, he doesn't do the sickening Merkozy puppet-show. Let us be thankful for small mercies. Otherwise, he's incapable of unhitching from the German wagon, or just you watch those rate spreads. Which means there is no France-Italy-Spain front (even supposing Rajoy would get out from Merkel's skirts), which is downright tragic.
Back to the future, or forward to the past...