A policy “reorientation”
France’s parliament votes on the European fiscal pact
Francois Holland campaigned on a promise to “renegotiate” the European fiscal pact signed by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. Now the French president is trying to persuade his Socialist deputies to vote in favour of the very same pact, in treaty form. In a parliamentary debate on October 2nd his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, argued that a rejection of the treaty, which enshrines budgetary discipline and goes to a vote on October 9th, would provoke “a political crisis and the collapse of monetary union”. But the irony of this turnaround has not been lost.
Mr Hollande faces a rebellion on the left of his party, with about 20 deputies threatening to vote against, and from the Greens, who have formally decided to oppose the treaty. This is particularly odd for the two Green ministers, Cecile Duflot and Pascal Canfin, who have ruled out resigning from government despite their party’s opposition. On September 30th tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest at the treaty and at austerity, urging Mr Hollande to “listen to the people not the financiers”. A group of Eurosceptics on the right have declared that, if the treaty is approved, the loss of sovereignty will turn French deputies into mere “museum guards”.
In all likelihood, the treaty will nonetheless be approved. Mr Hollande can rely on the votes of most deputies on the right, who are relishing the sight of the Socialist Party, which kicked up such a fuss against the original pact, now championing the text. Bernard Cazeneuve, the Europe minister, who has been pleading the cause in endless meetings with deputies, still holds out hope that dissident Socialists might be won round. He argues that the treaty needs to be seen in the context of a policy “reorientation” in the euro zone since Mr Hollande took over. Leaders have agreed to a parallel growth pact, albeit modest, and to work on other measures, such as common banking supervision.
Achieving parliamentary approval, however, will not bury Mr Hollande’s Europe problem. A one-time protege of Jacques Delors, father of European integration, Mr Hollande is, at heart, a Euro-enthusiast. Yet his party, like his country, remains divided. Mr Hollande was particularly scarred by a rebellion within his own ranks, at a time when he was party leader, against the draft European constitution in 2005, which the French as a whole rejected in a referendum. He dithered for months before sanctioning Laurent Fabius, who led the dissidents and is now foreign minister. The underlying party split still lingers.
The debate about “political union” in the euro zone is almost entirely absent in France. Writing in Le Monde, a daily, Francoise Fressoz, an editorialist, called this a “strategy of silence”, designed not to stir up divisions. In his speech, Mr. Ayrault declared that France was ready to make proposals, but on condition that the objective was “integration solidaire”, or integration with solidarity. But what exactly he and Mr Hollande mean by this, besides the mutualisation of debt, is unclear.
Perhaps silence is indeed what best suits Mr Hollande, who is not a grand visionary but prefers to wind his way forward carefully. He may not know himself what it is he wants. Above all, he will resist a rush into any proposed treaty changes that would then have to go to a referendum in France. A recent poll suggested that, if the referendum were re-run today, 64% of the French would reject the Maastricht treaty, which the country approved in 1992 only by a whisker.