Intrigue at the French presidential court

Intrigue at the French presidential court

If observers were left in any doubt about the state of French politics, the mutiny by three ministers and the announcement of a third government has clarified the situation.

If the country’s economic decline was of interest to the French political elite, reforms would have been conducted a long time ago. The latest palace intrigue shows its main concern is short-term political survival, not the interest of the nation.

In the early 2000s, Germany carried out painful structural reforms with the “Hartz reforms.” Though now showing signs of weakness, its economy remains Europe’s proverbial engine. In the U.K., Tony Blair left many of Thatcher’s liberal reforms untouched. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron set out to reform the state and increase competitiveness. Courageously, he is cutting into the “benefits culture.” The British economy is now growing at a 3 percent rate, the highest in the EU.

Reforming takes courage. In France, the caste of professional politicians has shown none, merely selling the idea of reform to the voters to ensure its re-election.

Candidate François Hollande had, of course, solemnly promised change. Yet, two years into his presidency, the only changes the people have witnessed are a change of “First Girlfriend” and of governments with the third one put together Aug. 26 by an embattled executive duo.

The crisis was triggered by the mutinous outbursts of three key ministers (economy, education, culture), which resulted in a remarkable outcome; a quick decision by a president known for his propensity for indecision.  

Three issues transpire from this latest palace intrigue. First, the vivacity of the president’s response seems to indicate his second prime minister and political rival, Manuel Valls, may have used blackmail tactics along the line of “either we get rid of these clowns or I go.”

Secondly, it would appear the president has fired his last political bullet. For the inevitable next crisis, he may be forced to dissolve the Parliament, particularly if rebellion continues to spread within his party. Given that the opposition UMP has imploded and the National Front has gained in strength, this scenario is very worrying.

Finally the mutiny by Left-wingers highlights that they felt the moment was opportune to leave the sinking Hollandist ship. So much for solidarity...

They will not be missed. Mr. Montebourg, the Economy Minister appointed as minister of “productive revival” in the first government had shown the depth of his demagoguery with inter alia threats of nationalization. Under his stewardship, foreign direct investment fell by 70 percent in 2013. This is nothing short of a disaster considering that in Germany it increased by 15 percent.  

Will the cabinet reshuffle change anything? The new youthful economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, 36, is unknown and has been chosen for being a faithful Hollandist.  He will stay on the wrong course set by the president, so there cannot be a miraculous turn-around in unemployment and enterprises bankruptcy figures. Despair is likely to grow and social unrest looms large.

Inevitably, the new ministers will strive to imprint their lack of ideas and vision on history. The country is not short of talented individuals, but they have deserted the political sphere. With economic decline being accelerated by inept decisions and non-reforms, the people would probably be better off without a government...

France is getting closer to a fully-blown regime crisis. The only question now is what will happen when the president falls.