The major announcement that Hollande made today was what he called a "responsibility pact" among the "social partners." What might "responsibility pact" mean, and why did its announcement cause Laurence Parisot to tweet joyously that enfin employer charges for cotisations familiales would be reduced by €30 billion over the next three years?
The answer is clear: the "responsibility pact" is the ingenious name conjured up by Hollande's spin doctors for a second wave of austerity. Employers are delighted to be relieved of €30 billion in charges. "Households," presuming that households have feelings, might feel somewhat less delirious with joy at the announcement that the €30 billion will not be shifted onto their shoulders. So, how will the cut be financed? By a massive reduction of state expenditure. Not just €30 billion but actually €50 billion by 2017. How? Hollande didn't say. But of course budget-cutting talk is cheap. One can always worry about the details later, or count, as Hollande is no doubt counting, on that elusive "expansionary contraction" that is supposed to follow declarations of virtue by formerly sinful politicians. "The Lord helps those who help themselves." Perhaps, but He has been remarkably unhelpful to Greece, Italy, and Spain. The UK's somewhat improved recent economic performance in the wake of draconian austerity is probably Hollande's actual inspiration, but France lacks Britain's financial sector, where most of the gains have been concentrated. So Hollande is probably investing in vain hopes, hoping that their vanity will not become fully apparent until another 18 months of inaction have passed, by which time his approval rating will have sunk into the single digits. But there is always consolation in la vie privée, about which the less said the better--or so we are told (see below).
This is a proposal that the American Tea Party would love. John Boehner would be falling all over himself to praise it. But how in the world can it be implemented in France? What does Hollande propose to cut? He didn't say, but the glum faces on any number of his ministers at various points in the proceedings suggest that discussions are already under way. The only one who didn't look glum was Montebourg, who seemed excruciatingly bored, perhaps because he is already planning his exit from the government and his repositioning as the anti-Hollande for a 2017 presidential bid. Of course, he will have to prepare for Valls, who will challenge him as Sarkozy-bis. Hollande is a dead letter. He is finished in French politics, and I don't care about the polls, reported in the Guardian, that suggest his extra-non-conjugal escapade with Julie Gayet has actually increased his approval rating ("Oh, those French!" clucks the English writer).
And while I'm on the subject of la vie privée, it's rather amusing that, when asked whether Mme Trierweiler is still la première dame de France, Hollande said he would take up the question at a later date but before his scheduled trip to Washington. The French, who profess to have no interest in the private lives of politicians but can talk about nothing else whenever a scandal hits the press (like people everywhere), have nevertheless adopted the habit of their much-reviled puritanical American cousins in creating an official position of "first lady," whose occupant is chosen not by the people but in consequence of the sexual choice of their elected leader. The people nevertheless pay for her staff of 4, she has an office in the Elysée, performs official functions, etc. So private life and public life constantly interpenetrate in this day and age, and yet this interpenetration is not to be discussed in public. Perhaps it would be more honest and aboveboard to concede that a president's private life is not and cannot be private in the conventional sense and then consider what implications that might have for a president who, as a candidate, promised that his behavior would always be exemplary. If a president wants his private life to remain private, then his partner should behave as Yvonne de Gaulle behaved and stay out of the public eye.