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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.

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.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jun 18th, 2016 at 02:54:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
See "Last Six US Democratic Party Presidential Nominees."
by rifek on Tue Jun 21st, 2016 at 01:49:38 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?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
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.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
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.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
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 ]
John Redmond:
The PS machine will ensure a Sanders type be marginalized....
If said PS machine is still able to function properly: a growing number of elected PS MPs are getting worried at their prospect for re-election as well as being associated with the most unpopular government ever. The machine looks less and less likely to help them keeping a hold of their seat: then, all bets are off...
by Bernard on Mon Jun 20th, 2016 at 07:43:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, the French left are saddled with their Trump and have a last chance to avoid going down with him. Can they seize the day?

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jun 20th, 2016 at 09:07:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hollande may well take PS down with him. If it drops into single digits that will leave room for a more effective left party. But I do not understand the system in France well enough to understand the practical implications of such an implosion. If PS implodes how many left leaning National Assembly and Senate representatives are there likely to be? Might there be a three fifths majority for UMP or FN?

Nor do I  know if this means a UMP win or if it will be FN. Either might be more effective in pressing for the needs of French citizens than Hollande has been. He mostly seems eager to show the elites of wealth just how forthcoming he can be in their interests.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jun 21st, 2016 at 03:41:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
own the machine.

It may not be working well, hell, Cambadélis had to admit to a primary, and lord knows he didn't want to, "Belle Alliance Populaire" hack that he truly is.

But it will work well enough to ensure that the rules keep out a proper challenge from Hollande's left. Only token "frondeur" (and what a joke they are, even less credibility than Hollande, and rightfully so given their lack of spine to date) opposition will, I predict, be accepted. That the folks in the PS machine now refer to a "BAP" primary tells us all we need to know about their plans.

Mélenchon rightfully stays out of such a clown show, and even Pierre Laurent, nearly as spineless as any "frondeur," is staying out too. And Montebourg, prudentally, is also keeping his distance, and keepting an option open of running outside of this so-called primary. Macron, too.

If the PS actually has a properly open primary like they did in 2011, Hollande will not get past the first round. That's what the polls I refer to in the above diary indicate, pretty convincingly. Then of course we have the option of Hollande not running - then we have the prospect of Valls being the standard bearer? Who else?

It may be a primary, but it is a charade, and I have no doubt these guys, disconnected from the reality of actual French voters, believe their own bullshit and see this charade as an opportunity to avoid having to talk about their pathetic record, and, as Pierre Laurent says today in an interview, move towards the coronation of François Hollande or in any event someone from the so-called "social liberal" wing of the PS and its allies.

by John Redmond (Ladybeaterz@NolesAD.com) on Tue Jun 21st, 2016 at 02:56:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The thing is, Left electors in France are legitimists. They will vote for the perceived "mainstream" candidate of the left. In previous times of crisis, the PS has used this reflex to devastating effect : "vote utile", electoral wipeout of all non-PS candidates.

But it doesn't have to work like this. Common candidates of an alliance of all the non-PS left may well defeat rump PS candidates in the first round of legislative elections (it is already happening at department level). A credible alternative will carry the necessary legitimacy.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Sun Jun 26th, 2016 at 06:10:10 PM 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.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
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 ]
And slowly but steadily the dominos fall.

Don't anybody say we at ET didn't try to shout from the rooftops.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jun 20th, 2016 at 11:22:35 PM EST
Hilarious ("Hollande's presidency was an own-goal from the start."; "Unfortunately, it is unclear whether Mr Hollande has yet taken note of his demise. Signs that he has not abound."), clear, and very helpful explanation about this unbelievably bad situation.

Thanks for pointing to Bob Hancké's "The Persistent Myth of the Lazy French Worker" (quickly click on Print to access the text).

Do you agree with his assessment?

French growth and unemployment do not, did not, and never have depended on more flexible labor. The problem with France is simple: It is in a monetary union with Germany - a much stronger and better-organized economy, where workers are properly trained, employers and unions talk to each other, management and employees work together, and finance takes a strategic interest in what companies are doing - and therefore pays a high cost in no longer being able to control the main levers of economic adjustment, from interest rates via exchange rates to fiscal policy. There are a few ways out of this conundrum: Either France can leave the eurozone, or Germany can  choose between raising its domestic demand drastically or abandoning the euro, so its real exchange rate can appreciate and leave others more breathing room. Labor market reforms have very little to do with any of this.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire
by marco on Wed Jun 22nd, 2016 at 05:22:42 AM EST
With only a bit of a caveat- we see framed here a bit of a variant of the often-cited "catholic country" versus "protest country" divide which is not uncommon to hear in economics.

Personally, I would prefer that a more consensual approach to polity, assuming that consensus is a fair one far all, including the weak. Germany could perhaps do better on this score (lots of working poor) but they have mastered consensual politics.

It is hard to see how that would work in France, especially after what have essentially been thirty years of regular application of austerity, and an ill-adapted currency union, which has createe large swathes of losers, with a few winners. To be sure, the atmosphere is not one for consensus, it is for confrontation, which we see today.

And, in fact, the confrontational approach can and does work. The aftermath of '68 was a decade of major projects (TGV, civil rights) and mostly strong economic growth. The malaise set in with Mitterand, and the move towards currency union, with the 1990's being France's first lost decade, this past one being the second.

So it is a tough nut to crack here, at root cultural. But the author is absolutely right that so-called labor flexibility has nothing to do with the malaise (any more than it did in Spain or Italy) and everything to do with an ill-thought-out currency union.

Pushed by the French elite, of course, a truly astounding earlier own goal.

Hollande is simply following the tradition. And, it is telling that, on a site created by a prominent PS Social Liberal, no one even bothers to try to defend that sorry record.

by John Redmond (Ladybeaterz@NolesAD.com) on Wed Jun 22nd, 2016 at 06:43:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but they have mastered consensual politics

Since when and how so? (Probably a topic for another diary.)

which has created large swathes of losers, with a few winners.

Here you mean within France, or among the EU/Eurozone states?

So it is a tough nut to crack here, at root cultural.

That would indeed be another interesting diary.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Wed Jun 22nd, 2016 at 10:36:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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