Monday, October 01, 2012

Neoliberalism and center-left politics: France

The role that center-left parties have come to play under the influence of neoliberal ideology and practice is to sell One Percenter policies to workers, minorities and small businesspeople. I've written about this before, e.g., What "neoliberalism" is about for Democrats and Republicans 09/05/2012.

French President François Hollande is providing a sad example of how this works. He was elected earlier this year on a promise to oppose German Chancellor Angela Merkel's austerity policies, and specifically to demand renegotiation of the Stability Treaty, which is the fiscal suicide pact on which Merkel insisted that EU countries should adopt.

I wrote about Hollande's major capitulation to Merkel on the fiscal suicide pact in EU summit result: Angie pwns Hollande, rolling train wreck continues 06/29/2012.:

Angie punked him. That's the only way I can read that at this point. The fiscal suicide pact is a bad idea. If Hollande wasn't able to sidetrack that particular train toward the cliff, there's little to hope from him in terms of saving the eurozone in its current form ...

Angie won. The future of the EU and the eurozone lost. And there's this on Hollande: "his government announcing a public spending freeze and public sector job cuts to meet its deficit reduction targets in the week before the summit." Austerity politics in face of the depression. This is an awesome level of FAIL.
Hollande's capitulation was so complete, coming within weeks of his election and winning only cosmetic concessions on the economic stimulus he said he would demand that it made Obama look like a tough and demanding negotiator against the Republicans, that it's hard to believe he was ever serious about it. Even at that time he was already agreeing to pursue new austerity measures of his own.

Politicians breaking promises isn't exactly news. But Hollande is flushing the key promises that made his candidacy appealing, and doing so during an economic depression that is already turning into a crisis for democracy in Europe. I'm thinking here of the authoritarian turn that Hungary and Rumania have taken and of the way Merkel, acting through the EU, imposed new governments on Greece and Italy. And at a time that European leadership was showing itself painfully inadequate to deal with the crisis.

Turning so quickly away from central promises in such a time, and doing so with only the barest pretension of a fight, is practically inviting the voting public to lose faith in democracy. Leo Klimm gives a good summary of Hollande's current course in Frankreichs Präsident der Schmerzen Financial Times Deutschland 26.09.2012, which unfortunately at this moment is mostly behind subscription.

With French unemployment at a 13-year high and a new recession impending if not already begun, Hollande on Friday offered an austerity budget, of which the main thing good that can be said of it is that it does raise some taxes on the wealthy. French unions staged anti-austerty demonstrations on Sunday to protest against the fiscal suicide pact, which the Parliament has yet to approve, and against the cuts proposed by the Socialist President who came to office earlier this year promising to oppose austerity policies. Hollande's electioneering against Merkel, who pretty much openly supported his opponent Nicolas Sarkozy, has now turned into Hollande acting like BFFs with Merkel.

As Klimm reports, at a private meeting in early September Hollande said he planned to reduce French social insurance and expressed admiration for the neoliberal Agenda 2010 plan enacted by the red-green coalition government in Germany under Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. A "reform" whose dramatic effects in lowering German workers' income and reducing their job security is now very apparent. Hollande now says that within two years he wants to implement the neoliberal idea that is euphemistically called labor flexibility, but in reality means reduction of income and loss of job security, just as with Germany's Agenda 2010.

Under the conditions of right now, this is a numbing level of cynicism on Hollande's part.

In Schuldenkrise: "Kampfbudget" soll Frankreich sanieren Financial Times Deutschland 28.09.2012, Klimm reports that Hollande's budget proposal is "den härtesten Haushaltsentwurf seit rund drei Jahrzehnten ..., um die EU-Defizitregeln im kommenden Jahr um jeden Preis einzuhalten" ("the toughest budget proposal since around three decades ... in order to hold to the EU deficit regulations in the coming year at any price.")

This is just nuts, pursuing austerity policies in the middle of a depression with a new recession beginning. The European Union wasn't supposed to be about deficits and austerity. It was supposed to promote international peace and democracy above all. Now, the EU has become a hammer to force destructive neoliberal policies on the public in member nations. It's just awful.

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