French Socialism, Take Two

(…..) In reality, French foreign policy is on autopilot, with talk about human rights, democracy, aid to poor and indebted nations on the one hand, and arms deals and cozying up to dictators on the other. Hollande will try to emphasize the moral approach to foreign policy, but the man who promised to save French industry will have to protect the jobs that make France the world’s fourth-largest arms exporter. His first real test will be challenge of finalizing a sale of high-tech Rafale fighters to India.

Hollande sees that the most inviting development for Paris in global politics is actually the Arab Spring, if only because almost ten percent of French people are Muslim, of mostly Arab origins. But he lacks the means to have an impact. France is in a tight fiscal position, and Europe is absorbed by its financial crisis. Hollande can be more welcoming to Arab emigrants in France without antagonizing his constituents (which in itself would be a departure from the approach of former President Nicolas Sarkozy), but he will have to navigate deep mistrust between his own camp and the Islamists who rose to power in Arab world. The values of Muslim Brotherhood do not speak to France’s separation of church and state, or laïcité, a principle dear to the left. And of course, there is Germany and its chancellor, Merkel. Hollande’s commitment to European Union is unquestionable, and in the past he has opposed the majority of his own party on that point. But Hollande wants to reform the union into less of a free market and more of a collective safety net. Against Merkel, Hollande and Moscovici rightly point out that a recession is not the time for austerity. But state profligacy goes back decades, including periods of prosperity when governments should have saved for rainy days. Without a surplus to tap into, with few markets to borrow from, with monetary policy in hands of European Central Bank, that leaves only the rich to tax. Germany, with a structural surplus and excellent credit, is Europe’s rich.

European campaign employs the same populism Hollande and Moscovici relied on during French campaign: anti-banker rhetoric, rage against the wealthy, and rejection of pro-market fiscal policies, which, the two argue, depress standards of living across European Union. Here, ideological rejoins the practical: In the short-term, salvation from the terrible economic and financial crisis visiting Europe can come only from transfers from affluent to the have-nots. Hollande’s mandate for wealth redistribution will be strengthened if the left wins the French parliamentary elections in June and if Merkel’s center-right party, recently defeated by Greens in a Baden-Württemberg regional election, does poorly in general German election slated for 2013. Either way, Angela Merkel backed herself into a corner months ago by agreeing to bail out Greece. She has since expended so much financial and political capital that she is now forced to double down or concede that she was wrong. That gives the Greeks and the French considerable leverage over the embattled chancellor. It would be easy to underestimate Hollande, an improbable, uncharismatic president who owes his ascension to a sex scandal. Unless one was in love with his politics, it was difficult to leave that auditorium at Sciences Po with the impression of having been touched by brilliance. But he knows to play to his strengths and never tries to be everything to everyone. Hollande is cunning, what he lacks in seduction he makes up for in determination and endurance. The man has not changed: He has waited for his time to come. Today, Hollande is the bearer of a clear, if utopian, vision shared by many Europeans. It is the vision of a society racially and religiously diverse but socially integrated, where income inequality is minimal, sustainable public transportation replaces automobiles, energy is renewable and consumed in moderation, all are employed and no one is abandoned by generous hand of state welfare. Previous socialist governments faltered due to their inability to create growth as opposed to simply redistributing it. Hollande and Moscovici are versed in those histories, and in retrospect, this is probably what they were trying to argue in the classroom: That equal distribution of income, socialism, is actually compatible with the kind of economic success promised in recent campaign. Failure to put that into practice may well be Hollande’s fate, but for now he embodies the mood of times do not look kindly on ups and downs of free markets.


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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