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Uprising

Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012, 11:55 am

In France, François Hollande Disappoints

By Bhaskar Sunkara

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A few months into the Hollande presidency that was supposed to be a game-changer for Europe, many are wondering where the change is. It’s symptomatic of a broader impasse facing social democrats on the continent, one I wrote about recently for Uprising. How do you govern on the left wing of austerity without undermining your own social base?

[The center-left wants] a milder form of austerity, but they’re reliant on forces to get elected that are staunchly anti-austerity. The cuts that they are able to force through end up undermining the very social base that elected them in the first instance. They do want less of these cuts than the center-right and they are more open to using the state to stimulate growth, but they are structurally constrained by new economic realities and, tasked with the burden of governance, are forced to act “responsibly” and maintain stable conditions for accumulation and private investment.

Oddly enough for a leader who hasn’t exactly done much yet, and has limited prospects for what he can accomplish, Hollande has attracted plenty of strong feelings. But much of the support for and opposition to the socialist has been ideological. He’s in a sense become a floating signifier. It's worth noting what Hollande has actually done and what’s on the short-term agenda for his administration.

  • The much-discussed 75 percent tax on income over a million euros hasn’t been implemented. Hollande is still pledging to follow through and the French capitalist class is threatening to “go Galt.” Parliament is planning to debate the measure in September. But, as symbolic pleasing as “soaking the rich” would be, the new tax would only affect between 7,000 and 30,000 citizens, not enough to make much of a dent towards the 33 billion euros the government plans to raise in new revenue next year.
  • A new “Tobin tax” on financial transactions is welcomed, but is actually more timid than it seems.  It was proposed by right-leaning Nicolas Sarkozy before he left office.
  • Hollande famously snubbed SYRIZA, hinting, as Philippe Marlière writes, that if Greeks voted for the radical party they would be booted out of the eurozone.

The Left Front’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who led a spirited insurgent campaign last election season, has also attacked the more moderate Hollande in stronger terms lately, calling him a “a market liberal like those who have already driven the Greek, Spanish and Portuguese disasters.” This stance is partisan, but actually well warranted. With the Socialist Party’s weak approaches to raising revenue from the rich, how will they meet their budget targets? The answer is simple and disappointing: more austerity is on the way.

Hollande certainly isn’t the eccentric that Sarkozy was. He’s incapable of disgracing and scandalizing the executive office like his predecessor. But perhaps that’ll only make it easier for him to implement his own brand of austerity.

Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @sunraysunray.

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