As I survey the wreckage across Europe, I keep thinking back to May 2012, when there was still hope of renewal. I trace yesterday's dismal outcome back to the original sin of the Hollande presidency: Hollande's reneging on his promise to renegotiate the TSCG. This is what his voters expected. He had told them he would do it. And then he didn't. It's as simple as that.
Consider the counterfactual. Suppose he had bucked Germany on the TSCG and hence on austerity. Even if he had failed to persuade the Germans, he would have taken a stand, and because he would have shown some backbone, things would look very different today--even if he had failed to persuade the Germans in 2012 (as he undoubtedly would have failed). With Matteo Renzi's strong showing in Italy and unexpected stirrings on the left in Spain, Hollande could have joined forces with progressive elements to the south to exert renewed pressure on Germany. Instead, his presidency is a flamed-out wreck, and Renzi is left without the support that a feisty France could have provided.
It is clear that voters across Europe want change. Instead, they will get Juncker and a reinforced Merkel--the twin pillars of the calamitous status quo. And Hollande has now committed himself so deeply to austerity that a change in course will only make him look weaker still. He has no choice but to dig in. Of course Valls might rebel, might deliver an ultimatum to the president that he will resign unless he is allowed to stake out his own European policy. In which case Hollande might as well abdicate. But if he persists on his present course, he is doomed to impotence for the foreseeable future. His territorial reform has countless enemies whom he cannot defeat in his weakened state. His spending cuts will increase unemployment, sending still more of the working class over to the FN. His efforts to divert attention to Africa will look more and more ludicrous as Europe crumbles around him. And the justification of all this--to maintain the Franco-German alliance that is at the heart of European union in Hollande's estimation--will become more and more hollow as the Union is threatened with disintegration as a consequence of Franco-German policy choices.
Hollande has modeled his whole career on that of his mentor, Mitterrand. But Mitterrand when elected in 1981 kept his promise to nationalize, even though many advisors told him it was unrealistic. And it was, in the narrowly economic sense, but it was an act of pure political realism to satisfy the deep desire of those who had elected him for a concrete commitment to a change of direction. True, the price paid for the education of the electorate by bitter experience was high, but it was necessary. Hollande wouldn't even have had to pay such a high price for putting up a fight in 2012. Germany's responsibility would have been clear. Instead, he made German (and UMP) policy his own, and now he cannot escape from his identification with its failure.