Wednesday, May 8, 2013

To Shake Up or Not to Shake Up

"Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," François Hollande announced a cabinet shakeup. Or did he? Actually, he announced that a cabinet shakeup would come in due course.Why? For what purpose? Who was not doing his or her job? He didn't say. He did praise Manuel Valls, who polls highest among his ministers for his law-and-order--some would Sarkozy-bis--approach to the interior ministry. And he renewed his confidence in Jean-Marc Ayrault, whom most outside observers regard, rightly or wrongly, as a sort of milksop. As unpopular as Hollande himself, Ayrault at least will not put him in the shade.

So once again, true to the governing style that I described the other day, President Hollande has made a headline by doing nothing, only promising that something might happen someday. If he took this step on the counsel of advisors, he should fire them. If he slipped the comment into the interview with Match on his own, he should slap himself for repeating the impulsive error of announcing the 75% marginal tax rate on high earners, which has plagued him since his election. This simulacrum of action, this pretense of a carefully worked-out strategy, every step of which has been planned in advance ("le remaniement viendra en son temps"), is wearing very thin indeed.

Hollande criticized Sarkozy, in his time, for being a president who governed by "coup d'éclat permanent." It was a clever play on words. Hollande, alas, seems to want to govern by coup de plat permanent. 

Le Monde suggests that ministers might be motivated by the fear of losing their jobs. Heavens, if they haven't always feared losing their jobs, then the president hasn't been doing his.


bernard said...

I do not think that a change of government should be dictated by the fact that a minister does or does not do his/her job. In such a case, you change the minister involved and that's it.

President Hollande may have made that comment only to downplay expectations of an imminent change in government. Such expectations are deleterious to the political climate and take a life of their own.

A change of government should occur when a fundamental new phase in government action is required. The government is presently implementing a number of reforms in the very difficult context of a recession in France and, more generally throughout much of Europe. The recession is the principal cause of disaffection with President Hollande and the government. Much would be forgiven in a better economic context compared to now, where the slightest mistake appears unforgivable.

In this sense, it appears to me pointless to change the government long before the economy is ready to turn around as a new government would be exposed to similar disaffection as the recession continues. The time to change the government will be when the economy is stabilising and ready to turn up, which present reforms will be contributing to, and a new phase in governmental action will be required to accompany and support recovery.

Incidentally, no one should base policy or political action on the expectation or the bet that the government changes in a foreign country, however important, eg Germany. Germany is France's partner whether the SPD or the CDU-CSU or the FDP or the Greens are in office (I don't think I have forgotten any acceptable party). If at some point a German government is more French Socialist Party compatible, fine, we take that fact under consideration. If not, we continue dealing in a friendly manner with Germany anyway.

This said, just like Chancellor Merkel (and PM Cameron) campaigned actively and openly for Mr Sarkozy's re-election in 2012, nothing prevents the Socialist Party, various Ministers and even President Hollande to campaign actively in favour of the SPD in the coming September 2013 German election: we do have our preferences even if we consider the German government as a given in the formulation of our policy.

Mitch Guthman said...

My guess is Hollande’s ministers are already convinced that the PS is going to lose the next election even if it’s against Le Pen. They're apparently not very worried about Hollande firing them, either. Montebourg spends more time off the reservation blabbing about himself in the press than he does doing his actual job or supporting Hollande. Certainly Christiane Taubira is freelancing with both gay marriage and reparations. France 24 English has a big article on Taubria’s interview in the Journal de Dimance calling for France to provide land as reparations. The focus of the France 24 article is how Taubira feels comfortable saying this exactly one day after Hollande’s unequivocal statement on Friday that France would not pay reparations for slavery.

Hollande’s government is not only rudderless, it’s being dragged by people like Taubira into all kinds of very emotional but also very small bore disputes like gay marriage and reparations, which are fringe issues with very little resonance with the majority of French voters (even with most PS voters). Why is Hollande allowing himself to be dragged into gay marriage and reparations for slavery instead of resolutely focusing on the economic crisis which is potentially going to push France into a depression and leave the PS wandering in the wilderness for another 40 years?

Mitch Guthman said...


I disagree with the idea that it’s politically wise or morally acceptable to simply follow Andrew Mellon’s advise to purge the moral wickedness of the poor and middle class allowing the depression to run its course. Yes, it’s true that the economy must eventually improve somewhat once we have liquidated everything and Davos Man has stepped in to pick up the pieces.

The human costs, however, will be staggering---what’s happening now in Greece will spread to the rest of Europe. The social welfare state will be destroyed. Democracy will be replaced by oligarchy. Millions will lose everything.

Unsurprisingly, the French wish to avoid this fate if possible and they elected Hollande because he promised to fight against the misguided, murderous austerity that has been imposed upon the people. Yet, Hollande isn’t dealing with the economic crisis at all. He is simply inert; just so much deadweight dragging the party down with him. A reorganization is very much in order and Hollande might want to start with himself and his priorities.