Volume 1, Issue 11 (Originally Published 14 May 2012)
No. It isn’t. But what does it mean for France to elect a socialist President?
François Hollande’s election continues a trend of anti-austerity elections across the European Union, and the President-elect has set a renegotiation of the EU fiscal pact – to reduce spending cuts and focus on ‘growth’ – as one of his first challenges.
True to form, Britain is opposed to the proposal. Angela Merkel’s response was blunt enough – “I expect France to implement the fiscal pact unchanged.”
But it appears there might be room for slight compromise around the edges, with European Commission President José Barroso suggesting an 11 per cent increase on EU spending by 2020.
Suffice to say, I don’t expect Hollande to single-handedly break the European Union before this goes to print. (Although in love, war, and Europe’s economy, anything can happen.)
Amongst other policies, Hollande is expected to reform abortion funding and the prohibition on euthanasia, to legislate for gay marriage and adoption, and to legalise embryonic stem cell research. For those radicals amongst us who believe in a woman’s right to choose, equality regardless of sexual preference and the importance of reasonably unfettered scientific endeavour, this is progress. But this puts him in Joe Biden [and Obama] territory, not Trotsky- land.
The most “socialist” policy Hollande touts is a reported 75% taxrate for incomes over a million euros, although the substance is much less drastic than much of the commentary has suggested. The 75% bracket applies only to income earned over one million euros, with lower rates applying for the first million of that income. On Hollande’s proposed system, a successful worker (most likely a pastry chef) on two million euros will pay an effective tax rate of around 59%; high, yes, but something short of revolutionary.
I lived in the north of France for a few months following Sarkozy’s 2007 election, and remember clearly the hard- line, Kevin-Andrews-with-even-less-tact approach he took towards minorities – Islam, in particular. I don’t mean to suggest that France didn’t, and doesn’t still, have significant social issues to deal with, or that Sarkozy is the worst offender; but there are appropriate ways of discussing mu-lt-ic-u-lt-u-ra-lis m, a n d ‘wit-h-a-d-e-ma-g-o-g-ic cricket bat’ is not one of them.
Sarkozy is the sort of man who has both the audacity to be seen wearing a €55,000 Patek Philippe wristwatch whilst promoting austerity measures, and the political incompetence to be seen removing it before immersing himself amongst his own supporters. Lest you feel bad for him, I’d suggest only that a man who goes home to Carla at the end of the day has scarce o complain about.
It’s doubtful that some 51.7% of voters supported Hollande thinking that he would mount a revolution against the bourgeoisie, destroy their control over the means of production, and sit back idly as the state withered and people learned to love each other. The “socialism” Hollande espouses appears no more radical than free- market social democracy.
Orwell wrote in 1946 that the word ‘socialism’ had divergent, irreconcilable meanings. Seventy years (and Michelle Bachmann) later, that clarity has hardly improved. Whatever one means by it, one conclusion flows from the recent French election: either Hollande is not a socialist, or we all are.