Wednesday, October 3, 2012

France's Absence from the European Debate

Jean Quatremer reinforces a point I've been making for some time now: François Hollande is failing to propose a strategy for European integration capable of inflecting Germany's wish to impose its own vision of Europe:
Alors que la France, tel un célèbre village gaulois, se querelle sur le traité d’union budgétaire, ses partenaires ont depuis longtemps tourné la page et préparent activement le coup d’après, celui du saut « fédéral » que devra effectuer la zone euro afin de donner un gouvernement à sa monnaie unique. C’est encore une fois l’Allemagne qui mène la danse. Elle use non seulement de sa puissance économique, la seule qui impressionne les marchés, mais elle profite aussi du vide politique laissé par François Hollande, un chef de l’État qui semble paralysé par les contradictions de sa majorité. Angela Merkel lui a confié, en juin dernier, qu’elle avait bien l’intention de lancer en décembre prochain le processus menant à une réforme en profondeur des traités européens, processus qui devrait aboutir en 2014. Et depuis, elle martèle, comme elle l’a encore fait le 17 septembre, que « c’est absolument le bon moment pour de coopération politique en Europe ». « C’est consternant », note un haut fonctionnaire européen : « le décalage entre le débat politique français et les discussions européennes est total. Encore une fois, la classe politique française va se réveiller dans deux ans, quand tout aura été bouclé ».
The likely result is all too predictable: Germany will have its way, and France will be obliged to accept, reluctantly, the German vision of Europe, which is based entirely on budgetary discipline and not at all on a coordinated growth agenda. To be sure, it is not clear that France would prevail if it were to press for a different outcome. Probably it would not. But its absence from the debate is distressing, and will only reinforce the arguments of the anti-Europe forces gathering to Hollande's left and right. See also this second piece by Quatremer for more on this theme.


Rédaction Contreligne said...

the "German vision of Europe (...)is based entirely on budgetary discipline and not at all on a coordinated growth agenda."
You are absolutely right, and Hollande, a very wise and clever politician (i.e. expert in power struggles) knows that France cannot prevail now on this. Hence the 2013 budget, which is designed to show that France is able to make difficult decisions, and a diplomacy that is postponing the moment when a confrontation will take place. Quatremer does not understand that a debate now (before the next general elections in Germany) would be a suicide for Hollande, Monti and Draghi. May I point you to a good article on "La difficile Question allemande" in Contreligne (

PF said...

Moscovici (Hollande's longtime associate) has on several recent occasions laid out fairly federalist and growth-focused long-term plans. See his speeches at Bruegel and the Peterson Institute, i.e. some of the most elite international policy-making fora. So some in Hollande's administration are thinking about how integration could better serve France and creditor countries. But yes, the mystery here is how Hollande would hope to carry this out as a political strategy.

The above comment offers one arguably comprehensible line of political reasoning, but I really wonder what leverage Hollande would have by late 2013, if he's been suffering through deepening recession/stagnation and long since shown himself to be timid and unconfident in the face of Merkel. Who would listen to him by that point and what larger public conversation would have prepared the ground for his belated suggestions? He's already losing the confidence of those who are inclined to give him time...

Much of Delors' vision foundered on an inadequately thought-through political strategy in the early to mid 1990s, and one wonders if Hollande has even less of a sense of one. Biding one's time can be a first step, but when does the second step come.

PF said...

Correction: It wasn't the Peterson Institute. It was LSE.

Massilian said...

"Hollande is failing to..." That's already the leitmotiv everytime Hollande doesn't speak when and as media editorialists think he should. I am glad he doesn't. I think if Hollande was gibbering upon request every other day, he would be failing much more. Absence from the European Debate ? Which debate ? Who is "debating" ? Do you mean 26 heads of state are debating, except François ? I must have missed something.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Rédaction Contreligne,

You seem to be assuming that the conditions for changing the direction of Europe will somehow improve after the German general elections. Angela Merkel is apparently running (and seeking coalition partners) on the premise that the countries outside the Northern area are wastrels who will benefit greatly from austerity and internal devaluations and there is no danger that the economic turmoil will spill over into Germany.

Now, having told Germans they should “stay the course,” what makes you think that she would be receptive to a complete reversal of course? In what way will conditions be better for reversing the current disastrous policies once the German election
is out of the way?

I must agree with PF's comment above asking what leverage Hollande would have at the end of 2013 and suggesting that as confidence in Hollande erodes his leverage will decrease, not increase.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Massilian,

I don’t want Hollande to talk more. There’s been more than enough talk already. Too much talk. I want him to act. He might begin by keeping his only substantive campaign promise and renegotiating Merkozy.