France is in the throes of a regime crisis

France is in the throes of a regime crisis

Things are getting more uncomfortable for President François Hollande. In the aftermath of the “affaire Cahuzac,” his popularity rating is hitting rock bottom. Can he last four years?

In an attempt to reverse abysmal popularity ratings against a background of disastrous economic indicators, the beleaguered president addressed the nation. The exercise was not only unconvincing, but only a few days later, his government found itself engulfed in a scandal worthy of a banana republic.

After four months of vehement denials, former Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac confessed he had undeclared earnings in a foreign bank account. On that fateful Tuesday, taxpayers discovered that the fiscal administration that has been conducting a ruthlessly efficient job of squeezing every cent out of their pockets was led by a liar and a fraudster. They instinctively sense that the moral outrage of the government is, in part, for show. How could they not know?

If it had not been for investigative journalism acting as the fourth pillar of an increasingly dysfunctional democracy, the “trusted” minister of their “normal” president (HDN, 21/08/2012) would have continued to cheat the administration he was leading into battle against fiscal fraud at home and internationally.

France is not immune to political scandals involving money, lies and sex. President François Mitterrand had notoriously lied about his past (closeness to the Vichy regime) and hidden a mistress whose upkeep was born by taxpayers. Former Foreign Minister Alain Juppé was deprived of his civic rights for a year following a criminal conviction (abuse of public funds). The Socialist Party barely recovered from the serial sex scandals of ex-IMF chief and presidential hopeful, Dominique Strauss-Kahn…

The latest scandal is testing the patience of the people to the limit. Across the country, they are reports of Socialist Party members tearing up their cards in despair. The divided opposition is rallying, some vehemently calling for the dissolution of the National Assembly, others for a Cabinet change.

A recent survey revealed shocking results on the level of mistrust of the French toward their political class for an “advanced” democracy (Cevipof). Some 72 percent think that “politicians primarily act in their personal interests” with a staggering 62 percent who believe that “most are corrupt.” Parallels are drawn with the insurrectional climate of 1958 when the regime crisis led to a return to power of Charles de Gaulle and the birth of the Fifth Republic.

The Cahuzac affair is thus the tip of both a visible and invisible iceberg of murky state affairs in a country where the political elite lives seemingly detached from the full force of the law that rarely fails to catch ordinary citizens. That something is rotten in the republic is confirmed ad nauseam by the flow of daily news on judicial affairs involving elected officials.

With a big interventionist state gulping 57 percent of GDP, is it really surprising that politicians are tempted to put their fingers in the “public” honey pot? As the country turns into a tax hell, can wealth creators (entrepreneurs, professionals) be blamed for placing some of their assets outside the reach of unconscionable politicians?

In a hyper-presidential system, all eyes are directed toward the president, who has a lot of explaining and leadership to do. Yet as the regime crisis deepens, an indecisive accidental president pontificates on republican morality, shying away from action and reassuring no-one. The country appears rudderless…

Sophie Quintin Adalı is an analyst for, the Francophone project of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.