The retreat on the ecotax is Hollande in a nutshell, even if this particular maneuver was executed by his ex, Ségolène Royal. The government has purchased what it hopes will be social peace at the price of weakness and irresolution. It has given up the principle of the ecotax, which was to force truckers to, as economists say, "internalize the externalities" of pollution and maintenance costs. It has surrendered to a regionalist display of lawlessness from a motley coalition of protesters in Brittany. And it has given up 400 million euros or so in needed revenues. In doing so, it sets no discernible course for the future and forfeits the trust of political allies among ecologists. It renounces any principled commitment to emissions reduction. And it demonstrates its weakness and irresolution in the plainest possible way, by retreating in the face of opposition--and weak, regionalist opposition at that.
Die-hard Hollandistes may counter that the ecotax defeat was redeemed by the great Alstom victory. Right. Alstom has sold itself to General Electric, as it intended to do all along. True, GE paid more than it originally intended to, but the state has kicked into Alstom's capital, raising its value. Montebourg has an eyewash victory to put in his pouch and a few meaningless "guarantees" about jobs and "sovereignty," but in the end the deal went through as designed by the private parties involved.