Yesterday, François Hollande announced several reforms directed against the sort of corruption that Jérôme Cahuzac has now admitted. Bernard Girard believes that this presidential intervention, marked by the president's grave and forceful tone, will help to salvage his quinquennat and rebuild his authority. Few other commentators share that view. Already there are calls for more drastic presidential action, such as a cabinet shakeup.
Of course the cabinet shakeup is the last refuge of all political scoundrels. It is what one does when something must be done, even if it's unlikely to do any good. And that may well be the situation in which Hollande finds himself at the moment. The problem is that his options are severely limited. Who would be likely candidates to replace Jean-Marc Ayrault? Pierre Moscovici is already under attack by the right for connivence with Cahuzac. Manuel Valls, often touted as the next prime minister, has been accused of failing to pursue the allegations against Cahuzac with a parallel investigation led by agencies under his control. If Hollande were to turn to Fabius, he would be accused of a panicky retreat into the Mitterrand era. Martine Aubry? She and the president do not get along. Ségolène Royal? Heavens! There are less well-known possibilities, but if the point of replacing Ayrault is to escape from an intolerable impasse, the new PM will have to appear credible from day one. I have heard rumors that, in an attempt to shake things up for real, Hollande might even look beyond the PS to, say, Bayrou or Borloo.
Any such move could easily backfire. If seen as a panic response to a crisis, it could actually weaken the presidential authority it is meant to strengthen. Meanwhile, this whole business distracts from the real problems facing France, of which tax evasion by a minister is definitely not one.