Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Social Democrats All

A contest has broken out in the Socialist Party to see who can proclaim more vociferously than the next his adherence to social democracy. François Hollande, in a curious interview with Rue89, explicitly envisions an alliance with MoDem while rejecting any possibility of an alliance with Besancenot's proposed party of the left. At the same time he seems to be promoting the candidacy of Bertrand Delanoë, whom he says he encouraged to take advantage of the "void" left by the absence of other leaders at La Rochelle. But one of those leaders, Manuel Valls, who did attend on Friday, says that he was not asked to speak and therefore left. His adherence to social democracy goes so far as wanting to change the party's name. The Strauss-Kahnians certainly would not deny that social democracy has always been their goal. Yet oddly, Michel Rocard, who might justly claim always to have held the position to which everyone now seems to be rallying, was jeered when he appeared at La Rochelle by militants who shouted, "He's with Sarko. What has he got to do with us?"

The only présidentiables at this point who have not rushed to embrace the social-democratic label are the erstwhile candidate and Laurent Fabius. Fabius is keeping his own counsel for the time being. As for Ségolène, well aware that the so-called "20-euro Socialists," who joined the party by payment of a membership fee in support of her candidacy without having spent long years in the trenches, have "shifted involvements" away from party politics, she may be calculating that the way to win the leadership struggle is to veer once again leftward, away from her mid-election overtures to Bayrou and back toward le peuple de gauche (or is it the will-o'-the-wisp that Pierre Rosanvallon has baptized le peuple introuvable?).

But one wonders what social democracy means to this lot? Hollande says he favors "reduced deficits and support for private investment." This is hardly even Blairism, let alone social democracy. I've discussed Valls' and Delanoë's positions in the past, but much remains shrouded in vagueness. And perhaps it must remain that way until Sarkozy has accumulated a few failures.

No Social VAT

There will be no social VAT on the agenda in the near future, according to Claude Guéant. As you will recall from earlier discussions, the social VAT was to make up at least part of the 14 billion euro cost of the Sarkozy tax cut package. Without the social VAT, the deficit will rise, conceivably beyond the 3 percent GDP limit set by the European Stability and Growth Pact. It was against this eventuality that the Euroland finance ministers warned Sarkozy a while ago. Apparently the government has decided that it will be easier to brave the wrath of European partners than to face the domestic opposition (60% opposed) that a hike in the VAT could mobilize. The concerns of the European finance ministers will be accentuated, however, by the reported slowdown in Euroland economic growth, which afflicts not just France but also the other major Euroland economic engine, Germany, which had been enjoying more robust growth in recent quarters. If growth remains anemic, it will be very hard indeed for France to meet its SGP obligations.

Joly, Sarko, Berlusconi

Eva Joly, who was the magistrate in the Elf Affair, has compared Sarkozy to Berlusconi for his proposal to lift criminal penalties on such white-collar crimes as misuse of corporate funds (abus de biens sociaux). She finds it strange that the president would propose trials for individuals held to be incompetent by reason of insanity and of minors on the grounds of victims' rights while siding with the criminals against the victims in white-collar crime: "I do not understand a society that makes its children and madmen responsible while lifting responsibility from the shoulders of its elites, as well as a complete misunderstanding of what constitutes organized economic crime." She also criticized Sarko's proposal to ban anonymous letters of denunciation as evidence in cases of tax evasion and business fraud. The former judge notes that both the OECD and UN require member countries to protect anonymous witnesses.

On Joly, see here and here.