As French Prime Minister Manuel Valls finished his speech, a thunder of applause rumbled through the auditorium, followed by a standing ovation and friendly handshakes. One might assume from the rhetoric socialists typically espouse that he was addressing a labour union, or perhaps a crowd of Socialist Party (PS) militants. To the dismay of the French Left however, Valls was giving a speech at the summer university of Le Mouvement des entreprises de France (MEDEF, The Movement of the Enterprises of France), the largest union of French employers and entrepreneurs. “Let’s stop systematically opposing State and enterprise, opposing company heads and employees, employers’ organizations and labour unions”, he went on. “It is companies that generate the wealth that must benefit all. I like enterprise!”, he adds, to the delight of his audience. Enterprise? One can just picture Jean Jaurès spinning in his grave.
Valls was speaking to the MEDEF on behalf of President François Hollande, in an attempt to promote the so-called ‘responsibility pact’, an ensemble of measures aimed at reducing non-wage labour costs by €10 billion for employers, modernizing the fiscal code, and easing restrictions on employer activity. It would additionally serve to simplify norms and procedures, particularly regarding the hiring and firing of workers. The hope is that such policies will render France more competitive in the global economy, an area where they have been continually reproached given that they boast the highest social expenditure as a percentage of GDP of any OECD member, hovering around 33.0% in 2013.
Such a policy favouring growth at the expense of worker is a tenuous position to hold as a Socialist. In fact, it is hardly socialist at all. The responsibility pact and a general slashing of public expenditure has prompted left-wing detractors both within the Party and outside of it to accuse the government of Valls of leading a policy of austerity. On the European scale, however, the PS vehemently criticizes austerity measures enacted by conservative governments. Opposition to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s euro-zone austerity has become a key rallying point for the Left across Europe.
Yet Merkel’s measures have far more depth than the tentative policies of a Socialist in unfamiliar waters. The chancellor seems justified in her approach. German industry posted a 1.9% production increase in July whereas the French economy will see an overall estimated growth of only 0.4% in 2014, lower than previously predicted by Bernard Sapin’s Ministry of Finance. German unemployment stands at a solid 4.8%, versus France’s 10.2% in July, up 0.1% from January.
France is facing enormous and seemingly insurmountable problems. The steadfastness of the government in sticking to its austerity measures despite their apparent failure caused dissension in the ranks of the PS in recent weeks as a ministerial mutiny exploded on August 25th. The timing could not have come worse at a point of economic downturn in a country were social and racial tensions are running high. Three ministers in Valls’ cabinet quit in a show of force- Arnaud Montebourg, Minister of the Economy, and a hardline Socialist, explicitly and strongly denounced the policies of his government. In show of support, Benoît Hamont, Minister of Education, and Aurélie Filippetti, Minister of Culture and Communication, followed suit. “You must leave the stage when you can no longer play the part,” said Montebourg during his resignation speech, a hint of pride in his voice. Prime Minister Valls was rutheless in his response, and summarily dismissed the entire government. Valls sent an even clearer message with his choice of successor to Montebourg. He nominated Emmanuel Macron, general secretary to the Elysée, but also more notably a former investment banker with Rothschild. A socialist minister from the world of finance, the supposed arch-enemy of the Left? A more determined response could not be hoped for. The ruling party in France, though nominally Socialist, runs closer than ever to the conservative establishment.
– Adrian Carlesimo