At first, le capitaine du pédalo d'État said, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" His prime minister wanted to ban the demonstrations against the labor code reform promised for Thursday by the heads of the CGT and FO. President Hollande, who has been taking a lot of flak for his want of "authority" because of the regrettable images of casseurs running amok and trade unionists attacking a children's hospital, decided that the time had come to show firmness. So he backed his prime minister.
But then the torpedoes starting coming from another direction: not the unions, now, but the political parties, including most especially his own. And Laurent Berger, the head of the CFDT and the one union leader supporting the reform, messaged from a train that the president's decision was "une immense connerie." What's more, his interior minister, the normally unflappable Cazeneuve, opposed the prime minister. Banning the demo would not spare the police but expose it to an even greater risk of completely undisciplined violence. Without a defined route and a union-provided service d'ordre, wildcat demonstrators would be free to roam everywhere, and trouble could erupt at any corner.
So three hours after backing the PM, the president backed down again. Now the demo would not be banned but rather confined to a presumably more easily policed route around the Bassin de l'Arsenal, away from businesses and in an area subject to strict entry and exit controls. The right to demonstrate, whose denial had provoked howls of protest from both left and right, would be reinstated with many professions of respect for the sanctity of protest tempered by reminders of the sacred rights of property, etc. etc.
So, once again, c'est la débandade à gauche. The president is clearly not in command of his own ministers, let alone the country. The labor code reform still hangs in the balance, but its fate has become secondary to the issues of order and authority: Can the government maintain order, at a time when even the militant unions are frightened of the potential for chaos represented by the casseurs, and does the president have any authority left after yet another episode in which his attempt to appear decisive ended by deconstructing itself.
The economy is at long last showing signs of mild improvement, yet it will do François Hollande no good, because the pédalo is sinking under him, having zigged and zagged for four years only to end up sailing in circles around the Bassin de l'Arsenal. To borrow a judgment from General de Gaulle, "Quelle mascarade!"