By Najete Michell
Since being elected on 6 May the Hollande government appeared to lack direction on several issues, reflecting pressures from the right and the left.
Critique of the government has focused on it ‘not communicating’ and for postponing difficult decisions.
All this hesitation succeeded in was to make nobody happy, reflected in a rising dissatisfaction rate, up to 58 per cent in the latest polls.
But in the last 2 weeks, these hesitations were suddenly resolved with the adoption of the Gallois report. The report, conducted by Louis Gallois the former head of EADS aerospace group, was commissioned by Hollande to look into the declining competitivity of France compared to Germany in particular.
France’s share of Eurozone exports is down to 13 per cent, compared with 17 per cent a year ago, while its unemployment rate stands at 10.2 per cent, against Germany’s 6.9 per cent. In October, the IMF cut its growth forecasts for the French economy to 0.1 per cent this year and 0.4 per cent in 2013.
Austerity measures become clearer
Hollande had already announced the general approach in a television speech in September when he ‘asked’ the French to make an effort for two years and put up with cuts and austerity (without using the words) so that the country can ‘become more competitive’. The speech explicitly stated that only after such efforts can there be any measures for the redistribution of wealth or improving the living standards of the least well off.
The Gallois report spells out what this concretely means. The report’s 22 proposals include slashing the social contributions paid by employers by 20bn euros (£16bn), as well as those paid by employees by 10bn euros, leading to a cut in employment based tax income of E30bn. The report then suggests these funds are recouped by an increase in VAT (a non-progressive tax) and by major cuts to public spending.
Of course there is not one single measure compelling capital to invest. So we are not ‘waiting for redistribution’, Hollande in fact proposes redistribution now, but in favour of capital.
These measures would be on top of the measures announced in his September speech where he flagged up tax rises of 20bn Euro and spending cuts of 10bn Euro next year aimed at reducing the state deficit to the Eurozone target of 3 per cent of GDP (from 4.5 per cent this year).
Hollande has rightly described this as the biggest effort of fiscal contraction in 30 years.
In October the French parliament voted through the recommendation of the European agreement on the economy, which says that the target for state deficits should be reduced to 0.5 per cent of GDP (even lower than the 3 per cent currently set).
A demonstration of 80 000 against it did not stop it being voted through. Despite some opposition inside the SP it was overwhelmingly passed, to the big relief of capital.
So on the economy, after hesitations, a clear course has been set continuing Sarkozy’s austerity policies and endorsing the approach of cuts and fiscal contraction being set across Europe.
Social and environmental policy
As expected Hollande and the Socialist Party have not stuck to their promises on other issues either.
First, on ‘marriage for all’ (gay marriage), the initial bill included not only gay marriage and adoption but other equal rights regardless of gender and sexuality, such as fertility treatments. But the latter were withdrawn after strong lobbying by socially reactionary layers.
Similarly the government is retreating on the rights of non-EU foreigners to vote in local elections. This is a very delicate matter as this was the one measure Mitterrand did not implement when he came to office in 1981. This created bitter resentment in the affected sections of the population and this time the SP promised it would apply it for the next municipal elections in 2014. But given the mobilisation of the right and the extreme right against it, it is again considering putting it off.
On the environment, a major struggle has developed against the entirely unnecessary proposal to build an airport near Nantes, in Brittany at Notre Dame des Landes. The strong local opposition, which is occupying the fields despite severe police repression, is supported by the Greens and others. This is adding to concerns and debate among the Greens – on nuclear power for example – about whether to stay in the government.
The same applies to the international policy pursued by Hollande. Above all, he has pledged to intervene in Syria, rushing to recognise the US sponsored new opposition formation. And in the latest example of France’s stepped up military role in sub-Saharan Africa in its former colonies, is preparing for intervention in Mali.
His government’s position on Palestine has been very weak. During Benjamin Netanyahu recent visit to France, he went out of his way to support the right-wing Israeli PM, saying they shared common views on Israel. During a visit to the Jewish school in Toulouse (where three innocent Jewish children were killed by Mohammed Merah several months ago) Netanyahu called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel. Hollande made no response, nor did he say anything to the claim that the just cause of fighting anti-Semitism is the same as defending Israel.
Racism and anti-Roma policies
However, while the government has been very slow in most areas, there is an exception.
Manuel Valls, Minister of Internal Affairs and Immigration, has been omnipresent since the Socialist Party took office. The list of his attacks grows all the time.
He has continued the persecution of the French Roma begun by Sarkozy in 2010. At the time, they condemned the way the Roma were evicted, but Valls has intensified the expulsions from their camps without offering any other accommodation or camping grounds on which they can stay.
The Roma have not only been forced to constantly move by the authorities and the police, but have been faced unofficial attacks. For example, in Marseille, a Roma camp was attacked by local people, who forced out the inhabitants and then burnt down their camp, while the police looked on doing nothing.
Valls has also shown his “muscular” way to apply “law and order” in Black and Arab communities. Under the pressure of the police union, he has refused to implement one of the SP electoral campaign pledges to end the racist use of stop and search powers by the French police (who have the right to make random checks for identity cards). These powers are used particularly against Black and Arab people, often forcing the victims to attend the police station, disrupting their employment or other harassment.
In a further show of ‘muscularity’, Valls organised the extradition to Spain of French citizen and Batasuna member, Aurore Martin. Batasuna, the non-violent Basque nationalist organization, is legal in France, although it is illegal in Spain.
In a sad indictment of the rightward drift in the French population, this has all made Valls into the most popular minister of this government among the population and in the Socialist Party itself.
Decline of left within the SP
The opposition in the SP has been slowly declining over the years and at the last SP conference on 26 October could only muster 13 per cent on key votes.
The whole conference, which was not well attended, was a non-event insofar as there was hardly any debate. Under the pretext that the ‘right is attacking us so let’s unite’, the general approach was against any voices of opposition and the hegemony of the view that the party must support the government.
At the same time the government and the SP refuse any collaboration with the left outside the SP organized in the Front de Gauche
This right-wing orientation by the government and the party is simply worsening the relationship of forces with capital, demoralising the population and helping create the conditions for the rapid return of the right to office, alongside the strengthening of the Le Pen’s extreme right.
Having effectively adopted most of the policies of the extreme right, the right is only divided over tactics on whether to seek to replace it or make electoral alliances with it.