Hollande is lost: the Left should speak against the German right’s obsessions

The rift in the French government speaks more broadly to what the left-wing narrative should sound like on the austerity obsessions of Germany and the European Union

The rift in the French government speaks more broadly to what the left-wing narrative should sound like on the austerity obsessions of Germany and the European Union

From afar the actions of President Hollande of France seemed to happen in a split second. First we hear there’s a left flank in the ruling party that is causing a ruck, then the whole government is dissolved. Enjoying my bank holiday, I wondered whether Hollande wasn’t just throwing his toys out of his pram?

Turns out he was. Arnaud Montebourg, the now former economy minister, has always been a thorn in the side of Hollande, but by that we mean to say he has always reminded Hollande of where he went wrong on the economy, or in other words how he defied the French public by going back on his promises.

Hollande is the most unpopular French president in living memory, this is his second government revamp since the end of March; should he not have been asking himself just how bad that will look? To slightly modify an old truism, if a government is re-jigged twice in a six month period then it makes Hollande himself look unfit to govern, not his party.

But what is so controversial about what Montebourg is saying? He has called the austerity measures in France and wider Europe a “financial absurdity”, has accused Hollande of undermining purchasing power in favour of cutting budgets, and of taking the wrong course of action on the economy, as opposed to what Montebourg himself has previously called a “moderate and balanced” alternative.

Looking at what is going on in France at the moment we should resist supposing it is a French-only issue. The pleas that Montebourg has made, as well as other members of the ruling socialist party in France, including now education minister Benoît Hamon and culture minister Aurélie Filippetti, are pleas that right-minded people from all European countries should be making of their governments.

As Montebourg has said, the deficit-reduction measures carried out all over Europe and the US since the 2008 financial crisis have “crippled economies”, and it is absolutely ridiculous that a socialist party should turn its back on principle, and the promises it originally made to its electorate, to suit the “obsessions of the German right”.

Montebourg has said that his country is free, but is not demonstrating this fact. Indeed a two-pronged attack on the freedom of European countries is currently taking place: firstly the European Commission, an unelected body, initiates and executes legislation, with the European parliament merely providing the appearance of democracy; second, those countries then kow-tow to the austerity measures of Germany, at the expense of the citizens’ will.

Instead of resorting to what Paul Krugman has previously called the confidence fairy, which in part hopes (or dreams) that markets reward countries with lower borrowing costs if it cuts spending and reduces deficits, Montebourg has diagnosed it correctly, saying that the power of growth should be put back into the hands of people through purchasing power: how do you do that? You increase their share of their nation’s spending.

That’s exactly what the social democrats in Germany want for themselves. In 2013 they advocated on behalf of demand-enhancing measures such as an $11.50-per-hour minimum wage for Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Did Merkel listen? No.

Instead, workers in Germany have seen next to nothing in return. As Costas Lapavitsas pointed out earlier in the year, Germany, at the top of the EU hierarchy, enjoys unprecedented power across the European continent, and extols the virtues of austerity, while German workers see either pay freezes or slow rises.

Montebourg points to the UK and the US for economies that have turned the tables and started to grow, but this is a poorly executed point for what he is trying to suggest: neither this country nor the US have extended the recovery to the vast amount of working people in it, still in debt themselves, still seeing their wage share shrunken, and having to carry out personal austerity measures like cut down on essentials.

But his wider point is correct: why should European countries buckle to the austerity obsessions of Germany and the European Union. We need to put the power of economic growth back into the hands of the wider population, and in the meantime President Hollande needs to rethink his priorities.

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15 Responses to “Hollande is lost: the Left should speak against the German right’s obsessions”

  1. robertcp

    Hollande does not know what he is doing and much of the austerity in Europe appears to be counter-productive. There is also a strange belief that austerity will lead to growth. The UK government discovered that this was not the case when the economy ground to a halt. To be fair, it learnt its lesson and the economy is now recovering.

  2. Selohesra

    Didn’t EdM so admire Hollande & his vision

  3. robertcp

    Ed M was encouraged by another left of centre leader, Hollande, winning an election. Hollande appears to be worse at governing than winning elections.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    What Holland said he’d do and what he actually did are quite different.

    Ed has signed very much onto what he’s actually done, which is very similar to what the Tories are doing.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    I don’t believe it for a second. The political right fullwell know that austerity will shrink the economy and lead to the “need” for further austerity – it’s a way of achieving their ideological goals under the cover of that.

    The UK government has doubled down on that, and Labour have signed on the dotted line to keep doing that. So no, we’re not recovering, we’re in a downward wage/productivity spiral, with a bubble in the city.

    The indicators are there.

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    Germany has managed to smack it’s OWN economy nastily with austerity, even. Goes to show!

    Hollande’s managed to discredit the left by not following through, sadly.

  7. Peter Martin

    Why austerity economics is theoretically and practically flawed!

    Google {petermartin2001 balance government budget}

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    You can look at the evidence.

    Every single time it’s used, it shrinks GDP sharply. Even when, as in say Italy, they had a primary surplus.

  9. Peter Martin

    Yes, I agree, the real world evidence is there to see. Its easy to see why theoretically too. Cutting spending and raising taxes to reduce the deficit is barking up the wrong tree.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Sure, but there have been lots of claims from the right and even centre (i.e. Labour, and their promise to follow it) about the real-world effectiveness, which can and should be debunked.

  11. I've Voted YES for Scotland

    Banish the BMW. Make the MAD Merkelites in the Mercedes go BACK to Germany. Kick out the Korrution and save Europe from NAZI German takeover.

  12. FailedEvolution

    Official : Tsipras exposes Euro-banking mafia and its puppets


  13. treborc

    And then you woke up and found the war was over.

  14. GREAT Britain UK=OK!

    Sadly the war is still on, Germany started it in 1914 and they are still dominating Europe in 2015 so that is why the British people of all political parties increasingly want a very swift BRexit out of the euro disaster zone back to our Green and Pleasant land the UK that is OK! with http://www.no2eu.com Goodbye to our problems!

  15. GREAT Britain UK=OK!

    Actually, it’s not over, they’re still trying to take over Syria and still occupying Ukraine and Belgium, the EU is a ridiculous regime !

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