May 31, 2014
PARIS – France’s embattled president, Francois Hollande, is “fini.” So goes the prevailing view here from cafes to boardrooms. With three more years to go in his term, France’s Socialist president looks like a dead politician walking.
Three years is an eternity in politics. Yet things look so gloomy for Hollande that he recently mused about not running again in 2017 if the economy does not improve.
Add to Hollande’s cup of woe the crushing defeat of his Socialist Party in this week’s EU parliamentary that left France’s Left trailing the hard-right National Front. Hollande’s popularity rating slide this week to a pathetic 14%. France’s left is terrified that the National Front will become the official opposition, relegating the Socialists to irrelevance
Meanwhile, the opposition center-right UMP party and its maybe pretender Nicholas Sarkozy became ensnared in yet another ugly illegal fundraising scandal, driving yet more voters to the National Front.
Hollande has himself to blame. During a period of Europe-wide recession and monetary crisis, Hollande chose to follow a cherished 1950’s socialist nostrum by raising taxes on already over-taxed French. Top tax rates rose to 75%, sparking a small exodus of wealthy French, most notably bad boy actor Gerard Depardieu who supposedly moved to some dark-side-of-the-moon place in Russia.
Depardieu is currently starring in the film “Welcome to New York,” a sleazy recounting of France’s sleazy former Socialist star, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his naughty sexcapades.
Ironically, if Strauss-Kahn had not been set up in New York in a phony sex assault against a hotel housemaid, he would likely be president of France today. And a much better one than the lackluster Hollande.
Many French suspect a classic honey-trap mounted by Sarkozy’s supporters in French intelligence.
Initially, French were amused by Hollande’s own women troubles, as he commuted between new mistress, actress Julie Gayet, in covert nocturnal visits on the back of a motorbike, and the fearsome Valerie Trierweiler, known to the unloving Paris press corps as “Valerie Rottweiler.”
Amusement has been replaced by growing anger as taxes, prices and unemployment steadily rise. France’s economy is now the most sluggish in Western Europe. London is now France’s fourth largest city as young entrepreneurs flee the socialist system.
When politicians run into trouble at home, they plunge into foreign affairs. Hollande’s efforts to distract public opinion by sending troops to strife-torn Mali and Central African Republic, or growing French involvement in Nigeria, Cameroon, Libya, Lebanon and Syria have left the public cold and cynical.
A socialist president’s popularity should be at least 40% since over half the working force is employed by government and 56% of the national economy goes through government hands. You don’t vote against the hand that pays you unless you are really, really angry.
In desperation, Hollande appointed his most dangerous Socialist Party rival, Interior Minister Manuel Valls, as the new prime minister. Tough-guy Valls was originally promoted to counter former conservative president Nicholas Sarkozy, who lost the presidency a year ago to Hollande.
Socialists, particularly the party’s hard left, hate Valls for his tough economic policies, and for cracking down on a crime-wave by gypsies from East Europe. Valls’ popularity rating has soared to 68% while Hollande looks like a French kamikaze pilot.
Valls might push Hollande aside in 2017 to become the Socialist leader and presidential candidate. Since voters everywhere have short memories, Sarkozy’s popularity is on the rise, positioning him for a run in 2017 if he can escape financial scandals that dog him. Both Sarko and Valls are short, intense, ill-tempered men with foreign roots, Sarkozy in Hungary and Valls in Spain.
French voters elected Hollande to get rid of Sarkozy. Now they want to kick out Hollande.
France’s basic problem remains: too much government, taxes too high, truculent unions scaring off investors, and anti-business bias. Given the endless strikes here and the Left’s crass political interference in business, one would be crazy to open a factory in France. Germany keeps growing while France stagnates.
France is very well run, its medical system is a world leader, French are brilliantly educated (they have knowledge v just degrees), their nation is rich and beautiful, their patrimony maintained with respect. As Germans say, “ happy as God in France.”
Few want to change this magnificent nation. But France must change to compete with China and afford its cushy lifestyle lest it become a museum of past greatness. President Hollande is not helping.
copyright Eric S. Margolis 2014