Monday, June 23, 2014

Who Will Be the French Matteo Renzi?

Matteo Renzi's reform efforts may yet fail, but at least he has created a sense of movement in Italy that is sorely lacking in France:
So where is the hope coming from? Renzi is not just going after the economic troubles. He seems to be attacking the very deep structural issues in a novel way. He is seeking serious constitutional reform in a country that has seen no constitutional changes for 30 years. Changing the constitution is difficult and requires a super-majority, which Renzi does not have. But when you meet with Parliament members and ministers from Renzi’s party, there is an optimism that is almost catching. Somehow or another Renzi has convinced a lot of people in the Italian political system that reform is possible. In particular, he wants to do away with the upper house (their senate) and streamline the decision-making process in the remaining house of Parliament, with different rules for creating majorities.
France is in desperate need of a politician capable of creating such a sense of motion.


brent said...

I laughed when Renzi launched his first national campaign with no program, only the slogan "Adesso!" (Now!). But somehow his intense, beaming presence seems to work wonders: defectors from both Grillo's M5S and the far-left SEL are enlarging his majority, and his triumph in the EU elections was undeniable.

But still, as Mauldin points out, plausible solutions to Italy's predicament are hard to find, and the bankers have to make do with wishful predictions. Renzi promises to stand up to austerity policies in Brussels and has made some concessions on tax relief for low earners at home, but how far can he go before the bankers protest with untenable interest rates? In short, instilling hope is the gift of great politicians--and Renzi is the second coming of Macchiavelli, I say with unmixed admiration--but eventually reality kicks in.

At that point, I am more intrigued by his final suggestion: a face-off in France in the 2nd round in 2017 between one version of that reality-MLP's surge to end the Euro and maybe the EU--countered by center-right take-your-medicine candidate Christine Lagarde. That would be something to see.

Mitch Guthman said...

Originally, I thought that François Hollande was that man but obviously I was horribly mistaken. The natural French politician, of course, would have been Bayrou in the center—basically steering the course that Hollande promised in 2012. I thought for years that he was just waiting for a moment like this to make his move but he’s apparently totally supportive of Hollande’s policies—his only criticisms have been that they aren't conservative enough or are too supportive of the social welfare state. Worse, he seems to have become mentally and physically inert, so he’s out.

Mélenchon would be the obvious choice on the left and, indeed, he was totally on fire during 2012, successfully pushing Hollande slightly to the left during the campaign but his self-destructive, narcissistic tendencies have lead to so much foolishness since then that he has become totally marginalized even on the left. Moreover, I doubt he is capable of the necessary self-discipline.

But a part of why Mélenchon has become marginalized the reluctance of many in the FdG to break with Hollande and the PS. One advantage possessed by Renzi is that a nominally “leftist” but actually neoliberal party isn’t in power in Italy at the moment so his path is clear and he isn’t constrained in the ways discussed last week by Laurent Bouvet and by others here. We’ve seen a number of comments on this blog and attention has been directed to a number of articles in the past making clear the difficulty of breaking with the nominally “leftist” party that has traditionally lead the left in France.

I think that if the French (and particularly the left) want a politician or a political movement capable of of creating such a sense of movement, they will first have to answer the question posed by Laurent Bouvet: “Faut-il tuer le PS pour sauver la gauche?”

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Brent,

I think you’re largely right. Italy doesn’t have the power to fight the austerity policies in Brussels and Berlin on its own. Italy could have been a very powerful and important ally in that fight if Hollande had done as he promised and given an ultimatum to the Germans. But alone, and especially without French support, I don’t see how Renzi can hope to achieve anything. Not to mention the fact that the last time there was grumbling about the EU’s economic policies in Italy, the elected government was ousted by Berlin and the ECB in a bloodless coup.

As for the potential face-off between MLP and Christine Lagarde: Yes, it would be an awesome spectacle but I fear that it would end in a victory for MLP. For the French, it would be a Sophie’s Choice between the unreconstructed Vichyite monsters promising economic growth and the preservation of the social welfare state and the advocates of neoliberalism who offer the people nothing except a slow wasting death for the France that arose from the ashes of the Second World War.