It’s like old times to come back to France and find how discontented the French are. There hasn’t been a Socialist president since the late François Mitterand, and so the voters decided to give another socialist a go. A mistake, much to be regretted. In the space of a year, François Hollande has become the most unpopular president ever recorded; three quarters of those polled want him out. Recession has led to 3.2 million unemployed, another record number. Taxes have also never been higher; the better-off have fled abroad, and with them 150,000 young people. The French lady I sat next to yesterday in the south of France told me that her two children in their thirties have been laid off and have no chance of finding jobs now.
It’s as though the voters have forgotten that socialism is the tried and tested instrument to impoverish any country unwise enough to adopt it. The Left in France clings to a decayed Marxism, so one alternative to Hollande is the rabid Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who sees himself as Che Guevara. He and his followers are out in the street, and yesterday assembled for theatrics in the Place de la Bastille. Bigger demonstrations are mounted in Paris and other cities against the law to allow gay marriage, which has passed in the Assembly but still has to be ratified. “Manif pour tous,” is currently the national cry, or “A demo for everyone.”
Listen to the screams of Figaro, a choice example of mainstream media. Yesterday’s issue chronicles Hollande’s failure to implement any of the promises he made while campaigning for office. No less than four other articles pitch into Hollande, one of them by François Fillon, a former prime minister. The title of his contribution says it all: “Hollande is leading the country to catastrophe” — the last word in immense type.
Most dramatic of all, Hollande is blaming Germany for forcing austerity down the throats of the EU members, on the grounds that this is the way to prolong and deepen an already severe recession. Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, collaborates with other socialists to accuse German chancellor Angela Merkel of “selfish intransigence.” All she really wants, a memo of theirs says, is reelection in the fall. They are calling for confrontation.
France’s abject surrender to Germany ever since 1940 has left Europe on its knees. This break between the two countries may be a foretaste of the larger break-up of the Europe Union. If Hollande engineers that, even unconsciously, he will have redeemed socialism.