Hollande's first 100 days: the swan song of the Welfare State

Gaspard Koenig

by Gaspard Koenig

French author Gaspard Koenig blogs on President Holland's first 100 days in charge and concludes the Socialist leader's policies all stem from a single rigorous point of doctrine: the political will can and should tame, and even replace, intrinsically evil markets.

For a long time I couldn’t fully conceive how Hollande, a bland party apparatchik with zero personal charisma, could have become the President of France, a country quite rightly reputed for its taste for glory and grandiosity. What kind of ruse of history was such a non-event supposed to conceal? I recently read a thoughtful comment from one of his fellow Socialite grandees, Malek Boutih:

“When a journalist asks me who Holland is, I just say: Hollande is the Welfare State! He’s the guy one calls 'le Monsieur’ at the post office… the guy behind the grill – fully disincarnated.”

That’s it. Hollande is the ultimate – and probably also terminal - embodiment of the European-style Welfare State. Contrary to what can be read he is not a neutral technocratic figure or a hidden progressive. His instincts, forged by decades spent in serving the State (as an ENA graduate), in playing the byzantine game of the Socialist Party and competing for public offices in Corrèze (in the middle of nowhere but the electoral stronghold of Jacques Chirac) are deeply ideological. And those who voted for him on the implicit assurance that he would then renege on his most leftist promises have been properly fooled. If Hollande were to be compared with any Socialist of the past it would be neither Tony Blair nor Gerard Schröder, but rather Konstantin Tchernenko.

Apart from his tweeting girlfriend, Hollande seems to have only one object of adoration and one source of inspiration: the State. Or rather, in its crudest form: the Civil Service (which still employs more than one in five workers in France). In his inauguration speech he gave it a special tribute:  “France is fortunate to have a high-quality civil service. I would like to tell all its employees how grateful I am. I am looking forward to working with them.” Quite accordingly, not a single senior Minister had any serious experience in the private sector. France is governed by a group of high-minded, career politicians untainted with the trivial realities of running a business.

As a result, the policies decided during Hollande’s first 100 days all stem from a single rigorous point of doctrine: the political will can and should tame, and even replace, intrinsically evil markets.

Prices are too high? The State will cap them. A ceiling has already been placed on rent: bureaucrats will now decide whether owners are allowed to increase their prices, and for how much (depending on where the estate is located, whether it has been recently refurbished, etc). A cap on fuel prices will probably also come into force by the end of August, making taxpayers pay in place of consumers.

Private enterprises intend to shed jobs? The State will prevent it. Hollande recently declared that the redundancy plans made by the car-maker Peugeot were  ‘unacceptable’ – and so they were not accepted. The firm is being forced to review its plans and Arnaud Montebourg, the farcical minister for ‘industrial rebound’, will himself help the distressed family firm in the design of its industrial strategy. To simplify matters, a law forbidding redundancies in ‘profitable’ companies is currently being debated in the Parliament.

10% of the workforce is unemployed? The State will provide quick jobs. From September on, an estimated 150,000 ‘high-potential jobs’ will be created. After all, with public spending representing 56% of GDP (compared to a 45% EU average), France has still a 44% margin which the Government seems decided to fully utilize...

If the Leviathan itself is short of cash, with a public debt reaching 90% of GDP? Not to worry, the State is not short of pockets to empty. The ‘wealth tax’ (an absurd tax on assets as opposed to revenues, which even the Spanish socialists have abolished) has already been fully re-established and, along with inheritance tax, increased. But the meat will come in the Autumn with the top income tax rate expected to reach 75%, the tax on enterprises also on the rise and surely lots of other innovations to find the €33bn still necessary to meet the 3% deficit target.

Instead of addressing the structural causes of France’s lack of competitiveness the Government is vainly fighting its consequences, every day moving closer to a command economy. It is doing the opposite of what the EU – including France – imposes on bailed-out countries, and what a plethora of experts recommended in the recent past (starting with the excellent Attali Commission in 2008). Just imagine that, at a time where every Government in the world is raising the retirement age, François Hollande managed to decrease it – from 62 to 60 for certain categories of workers.

“I am not dangerous”, he told the British press while campaigning in London. Oh yes he very well is!

London should represent an ideal observatory to witness the coming collapse of the last European Welfare State. The number of French walking on the ‘red carpet’ offered by David Cameron to cross the Channel is increasing by the day, with nearly 400,000 of them now settled in the UK capital. London has already sheltered the Huguenot protestants in search for a place where they could practice their religion. Today, it is set to welcome those of us who, in order to escape from the daily Statist brainwashing, are seeking a free market culture in which to live and do business.

 

Gaspard Koenig is a French liberal author and politician. He is currently working in London for the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development). He recently ran a liberal campaign in London in a Parliamentary election for French living abroad. You can follow him on Twitter @gaspard2012

 

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Comments

Anonymous - About 1571 days ago

One of the pithiest and most perceptive surveys of the State of play in France I've seen yet. Wish I'd written it and will try to pass it around.
Hollande and co have but one goal: to carve out bigger and bigger empires for themselves, just so long as someone else is paying.

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Anonymous - About 1570 days ago

With such a bullshit president I feel terribly ashamed of being French

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