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French Local Elections Prove France Is Ungovernable

Politics / France Mar 31, 2014 - 06:15 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Turnout Low - Interest in Democracy Even Lower

French media made a brave attempt following the second and final round of local elections, 30 March, to paint a picture of a “moderate recovery” in voter interest. In fact the countrywide turnout to vote was around 53% on 30 March compared with 52% on 23 March, according to the French Interior Ministry. Many large cities were plagued by turnouts in some districts of as low as 16% of registered voters bothering to vote. In other words, 84% of voters did not vote.

Final voting was in many cases at least a four-way standoff, between Hollande's Parti Socialiste, the revived or “reborn” UMP of former president Sarkozy, Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front, the Ecologists and their allies called the New Left, and other parties. Winner's in these free-for-all standoffs typically received 30% or 40% of all votes cast, meaning they had received votes from as few as 5% of all registered voters! This is democracy.

Another key feature of French democracy was shown by the media's handling of what really happened – a huge loss of interest and faith in the democratic process, at least in French democracy, and the sure and certain growth of Le Pen's NF. France's 5 state-owned TV channels and its many state-owned radio stations made a point of not saying they have a major part of the blame for the NF becoming “a mainstream party like all the rest”. At least until this election, in 2014, state-owned media in France has peddled the official propaganda line that the NF “is unconstitutional”. It is a non-party, it should be banned, people should not vote for it.

Hollande's PS or Parti Socialiste has especially used that propaganda, for years, often joined by the UMP which at the same time cobbles often-secret electoral alliances with the NF across the country! The basic goal was to create a guilt feeling among voters for the NF, resulting in them giving false answers to opinion polling organizations about their voting intentions – resulting in what is now the third-largest political party in France being a “shadow force”.

France Cannot be Reformed

Speaking to Reuters after the first round of voting, on 24 March, French Finance minister Pierre Moscovici claimed that: "On the reforms, we have to keep calm and show courage." Moscovici added: "We are ready to take all the measures needed for France to remain a credible country".

Following the 30 March debacle for Hollande's PS, which lost dozens of “Parti Socialiste bastions”, such as the city of Limoges where the PS has won every local election since 1912, Moscovici told French media such as Europe 1 RMC Le Monde, that he feared it “has become difficult to reform France”.  We might conclude that he now thinks France is an incredible country – not credible.

The major point is that the latest swath of reforms proposed by the PS and pushed through parliament where it has an almost automatic majority (when the few but majority-critical Ecology MPs vote alongside the PS), are both hard to understand and opposed by a large majority of French.  Voters responding to opinion polls have repeatedly said they “do not understand” what the PS reforms are supposed to do – except raise taxes and make life even more difficult. Hollande has however totally ignored popular reaction to and concern over his reform program, inevitably pushing down his popularity, to the lowest favourable scores for a French president since polling of opinions on the president started in the 1950s.

Details of the reform program as communicated by Hollande's official spokeswoman, Najat Belkacem have been controversial, often denied then rejigged and reissued, and have led to major splits inside Hollande's PS and among its sometime-ally Far Left supporters and critics, and the Ecologists. Refusal by Hollande to “pony up the details” has inevitably heightened suspicion that his ill-starred Pacte de Responsabilite, a supposed tradeoff of lower taxes for enterprises against more jobs, is only in fact a government tax-raising gambit. Belkacem has on occasions said “about 50 billion euros” would have to be found, somewhere, to fund the Pacte.

Finance minister Moscovici has fine-tuned his repeated press conferences announcements of the triple whammy. Unemployment is up. Government debt is up. Economic growth is almost zero. And of course the spending deficit as a percentage of GDP is rising – not as he promised. The large and slightly increasing trade deficit, as France de-industrializes and throws out manufacturing workers, is now taken as a constant or “structural challenge”, sometimes offhandedly explained by Moscovici as mainly due to imported energy, the same lame duck excuse used by Sarkozy's governments, and by Hollande's PS to push its “energy transition” reform program.

Mix and Mingle – Pot Pourri

Hollande's Pacte de Responsabilite could be the turning point in French politics. This pact is firstly never fully defined, and is linked in Parti Socialiste policy weaving and shuffling with other programs such as the equally ill-starred Ecotax or “ecological tax”. Hollande and his prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who may be a first victim of the voter rout of 23 and 30 March, have stolidly defended “all parts of the reform program”, but the Ecotax was itself sufficient to spark street rage in wide areas of the country – especially Brittany. The popular reaction to the Ecotax – to tax all goods vehicles “to protect the climate” - featured the Brittany Red Caps movement, a genuine popular uprising of tens of thousands of protestors calling for one thing.

The end of the Hollande government, after the Ecotax is abandoned.

 Red Cap action to date has included the systematic destruction of dozens of 2-million-euro electronic gantries on major roads to flash any goods vehicle, check its origin and destination, mileage run, cargo, ownership and road user history – then apply a tax. The PS government was forced to admit it had let a contract for the gantries with a clause for compensation for lost earnings, for years ahead, to the private operating monopoly. This monopoly, close-linked to the PS, and granted the operating concession under murky conditions, will be paid around 2 billion euros - new charges for government, funded by debt.

Other parts of the related “ecological and energy transition” reform program included now abandoned spending programs for cabling city centres in 13 major cities, to give free recharging services to electric car users. Another part of this program, to create electric car hire stations in city centers across France was also abandoned – after the spending of tens of millions of euros.

One major irony is that details of PS government spending plans and programs are carefully kept out of French media – but Paris has to notify the European Union of details for planned public spending measures, with the next disclosure set for April 15. Leftover or inherited measures from the Sarkozy years are also “hard-baked into the pie”. Ranging right across the spectrum, they obligatorily include born-to-lose spending programs. One example is continuing Sarkozy's dilettante interest in solar photovoltaic power and his decision to invest hundreds of millions of euros in “France's only solar PV producer”. This concerns a European market that is saturated with suppliers – and facing cuthroat competition from China's subsidy-bloated solar PV industry able to itself and alone produce more than the world's total market demand!

Shifting Alliances

Hollande's PS, like Sarkozy's UMP diabolized and cast out the NF, calling it “unconstitutional”. Despite the reasons for this “unconstitutionality” never being explained, or later denied when they were, this smear strategy was a win-win for the “mainstream parties” for many years, but Marine Le Pen, and her father Jean-Marie are now Elder Statespersons for the powerful non-state media in France such as BFM TV and iTele. Both have cultivated their new respectability in countless TV and press interviews, to the point that Marine Le Pen's NF of today is a mainstream political party with policies little different from the PS or UMP – except when it concerns key symbolic issues such as immigration, the Muslim religion, and Europe.

In all cases, and above all in economic policy, the NF cultivates shock announcements that are quickly ridiculized not only by the mainstream parties, but also independent analysts. Just one example is the NF's claim that any immigrant to France who obtained nationality after a cutoff date set by the NF as 1974, “could or might” have their citizenship revoked. Why 1974?

 Despite this fundamental lack of credibility, the UMP operates de facto, sometimes open electoral alliances with the NF, while the PS pushes hard on the Ecology button, which the UMP also did when it held power. The net result is strangely mutated, strangely similar platforms being offered by all three leading parties – the PS, UMP and NF. To be sure, this only accelerates the loss of contact between the populace and power.

Real anti-constitutional parties and movements now exist, but to do not play the voting game, and the major divide is Europe. As opinion polls for example by Ipsos often show, the French public like other voters in the EU have cooled on the never-described or defined “European ideal”. For Marine Le Pen this is a winner – her NF claims it will 'tear up all the treaties” and renegotiate from scratch, converging in this part of her platform with the extreme Left and former Communists, still called the Communists but now with a deliberately out-of-focus platform on most issues.

As the Red Caps movement shows, by the rejection it instantly sparked among the “mainstream parties”, including the NF, ground-up anti-constitutional movements deliberately avoiding the trap of a party platform and machine are growing in France, and perceived as a dire threat by the political elite. Turnout for anti-constitutional demonstrations, which inevitably turn violent due to the PS government ensuring that happens, is large and sustained because government and the political system no longer relate to the people.

The time needed before France has its Kiev Flash Mob revolt, and street-credible government, may not be all that long.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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