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Now, a French Spring?

Is France poised for a revolution?

by
Michel Gurfinkiel

Bio

April 25, 2013 - 12:17 am

Less than one year after François Hollande’s election as president and the stunning victory of his socialist supporters at the National Assembly, there is a widespread feeling in France that his administration is doomed. According to the latest poll released by Journal du Dimanche on April 21, 74% of the French now entertain bad opinions about Hollande as president, whereas only 25% still support him. These represent the worst figures ever for a head of state at the same point in his mandate since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

The French media wonder whether such discontent may lead to a constitutional crisis — or even a revolution. A French Spring. “Is this 1789?” asked Le Point, a right-of-center magazine. This is a reference to the Great Revolution of 1789 that terminated the Old Regime not just in France, but all over continental Europe. Le Point’s cover featured Hollande as Louis XVI, with a white wig and surrounded by bloodthirsty sans-culottes.

Le Nouvel Observateur, a left-wing magazine, offered a different yet equally ominous parallel: “Are the 1930s back? The 1930s were a time for both left-wing and right-wing revolutions in Europe: Stalin-style communism on one hand, Fascism and Nazism on the other hand. In France, it materialized in right-wing riots in 1934, in a Popular Front electoral victory in 1936, and finally — after a crushing military defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany in 1940 — in a far right dictatorship: the Vichy regime.

L’Express, a left-of-center magazine, devoted its cover to “an imploding Left. The point is that the Left should currently be, in classic democratic terms, fully equipped to shape current French politics at will. In addition to the presidency and the National Assembly, it holds a majority in the Senate, the regional assemblies, and most municipalities, either alone or together with its left-wing allies the Green party and the neocommunist Left Front. But its actual grip over the country, or its ability to pass legislation, is dwindling.

Why so much bad luck? First and foremost, there is the personal factor: Hollande has no charisma whatsoever. He was elected against the unpopular outgoing conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than on his own merit or on his escapist, loony Left platform. He used to be pudgy; he is now flabby. He does not know how to dress — a deadly detail by French standards. He is a poor orator, due both to a high, pinched voice and to a shabby command of the French language and French literary classics.

His private life cannot be turned into an asset either: he lived for decades with Ségolène Royal, another socialist politician (who actually ran as a much more charismatic presidential candidate of the Left against Sarkozy in 2007) and fathered her four children, but did not marry her. He now lives, still unmarried, with a rather unmanageable journalist, Valerie Trierweiler. The French have always expected their leaders, until now, to be sexually active, but at the same time to pay lip service to traditional mores, which two presidents before Hollande — François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac — knew very well. Mitterrand, a socialist, never divorced his wife Danielle, turned his mistress Anne Pingeot into an almost official “second wife, and Mazarine Pingeot, his daughter out of wedlock, into a princess of the blood (with Danielle’s explicit consent). Chirac had scores of mistresses — from movie stars to journalists — but remained loyal if not exactly faithful to his wife Bernadette.

What should be taken as Hollande’s real qualities, and might have carried much weight in America — his modesty, his sincerity, and his real courage in extremely touchy issues — is ironically seen in France as further evidence of his weakness.

During the presidential campaign last year, Hollande said he would be, if elected, a “down-to-size president.” That statement was intended as a further attack on Sarkozy, who tended to be an oversized president. But it backfired so much — you don’t elect a non-hero — that in the final TV debate with Sarkozy he had to reassert himself as a more virile candidate, and point no less than fifteen times in 3 minutes and 21 seconds to what he would do if elected: “Moi, président de la République … “.

The trick worked. Alas, Hollande reverted, once elected, to an unassuming and thus unconvincing image. He earned, in the process, a very unflattering nickname: “Pépère” (or Daddy-o”). “Can Pépère make it?” asked Le Point a fortnight ago, something that came quite close to sheer character assassination.

Hollande’s second problem is the economy. Most European economies (including, first and foremost, the French economy) are in recession: business is slowing down, jobs are fading away, budgets cannot be balanced. The French economy is no exception in that regard. Pierre Moscovici, the minister of finance, posits a 0.1% growth in 2013. The IMF forecasts a – 0.1% growth.  And such a situation means, in practical terms, that the average household is going to bleed.

Most European governments ascribe their present economic difficulties to the global financial crisis ushered in  by the American financial meltdown of 2008. There is some truth about that assertion. America was, since 1945, the driving force behind prosperity in the world and especially in Europe (either the Cold War Western Europe, or the post-Cold War, ever-expanding European Union). America’s periodic setbacks in economic matters were thus bound to have consequences in Europe. And the 2008 American crisis had to have very important consequences.

On the other hand, the 2008 crisis also exacerbated the systemic problems or contradictions plaguing the European Union as a whole, and every single European country in particular, especially France. It bared the fact, for instance, that it is nonsense to operate as most Europeans do under a deflationary single currency — the euro — and keep at the same time extensive welfare state dispensations. Or to opt for an overregulated single market, run by an unelected bureaucracy unanswerable to the people — the present European Union — or an overregulated and overtaxed domestic economy run by an unelected statist nobility — the “French model” — and wonder why nobody creates companies and jobs.

Nicolas Sarkozy promised to bring France and Europe closer to the real world, but failed to deliver except for some valuable piecemeal reforms. Hollande is much more serious-minded in this regard. He insists, along with Moscovici, on a balanced budget and as many cuts as possible, and thus runs not just against the program he had campaigned for and was elected upon, but against a whole national culture of delusion.

However courageous the Hollande-Moscovici policies are, they stay unfortunately too much within the euro and EU doxa and inconsistencies, and accordingly will not or cannot bring about any improvement to the French and European economy. And unfortunately again, the French voters, either Right or Left, realize that in one way or the other. Moreover, the minister of budget, Jerôme Cahuzac, one of the best proponents of the austerity line, was found to be a tax dodger who kept an illegal bank account in Switzerland, and a perjurer who lied about it to the president, the finance minister, and the judges. Cahuzac resigned and will be tried. But the global image of the administration declined even further. Hence the present tide of disaffection about the president and by implication about the present state of French democracy.

In a desperate attempt to keep his consistuency loyal, if not happy, Hollande insists on a disastrous societal reform: same-sex mariage. Technically, both the socialist National Assembly and the socialist Senate approved it (the last National Assembly vote took place on April 23). Fifty-four percent at least of the French adamantly resist it, however, and many of those who say they approve it are not sure whether everything in the package should be so easily accepted.

Most French do not object to gays or lesbians or transgender persons living together and enjoying as such most of the benefits ascribed to regular married couples (something that, as “pacs” or civil partnership pact, was already part and parcel of French law for some years). They object, however, to same-sex couples being registered as “spouse one and spouse two.” Or being automatically allowed to “share” children that, incidentally, might be produced by proxy mothers or adopted. And, in an even deeper way, they are uncomfortable about the complete blurring or blotting out of gender differences.

All in all, Hollande is facing popular protest and unrest from all sides. Both Marine Le Pen’s National Front on the far Right and Jean-Luc Mélanchon’s Left Front on the far Left ride on economic frustations, advocate secession from the European Union and from the eurozone,  and preach — with the full oratory talent that Hollande lacks — against the free market or globalization. At the same time, grassroots opposition to same-sex marriage (or “marriage for all,” as the socialists recast it) is growing, and translating in mass demonstrations week after week.

Something as cosmic as the 1789 Revolution may not be in the making. But what about one of the minor revolutions the French have been so prone to? From the storming of the Bastille to the foundation of a lasting republic in the 1870s, there were no less than eight “minor” revolutions in France: the country switched every ten or twenty years, almost like a pendulum, from one dynasty to another, from one political system to another, and from liberty to tyranny and back.

The Third Republic — from 1870 to 1940 — was a more stable regime. Still, it was challenged at least two times, in the late 1880s and in the 1930s, and it collapsed instantly in 1940. The postwar Fourth Republic lasted thirteen years: its transition to De Gaulle’s Fifth Republic in 1958 was engineered through a military coup in Algeria, then a French overseas province.

The Fifth Republic itself almost collapsed ten years later, during the 1968 “Students Revolution.” It survived, but faced in the ensuing decades, at regular intervals, protracted strikes or protests. A mass protest for school freedom almost finished François Mitterrand’s socialist administration in 1984. Eleven years later, large scale strikes emasculated the Chirac conservative administration and postponed much needed reforms by twenty years.

Will the present multifaceted unrest coalesce into a similarly patterned crisis, or just melt away? Can it stir similar movements throughout Europe, as was so often the case in the past? Are we talking, at the end of the day, of mere cabinet reshuffles, or new elections, or a referendum on reforms — or is democracy itself imperiled? My guess is that a lot will depend on the most basic and most unpredictable factor in human affairs: the weather. A rainy spring or a sunny one may affect street protests and demonstrations. And change the face of Europe either way.

Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum.

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Top Rated Comments   
Just to be clear, because it totally ruined your point.

There was NO RIGHT WING in 1920 to 1940 Europe. Fascism and Communism are both LEFTIST movements. They are both versions of Socialism. The only difference seems to be that the Fascist Ruling Elite wore better fitting clothing.

Fascism is ruthlessly and relentlessly LEFTIST. Mussolini was a Socialist and founded his Fascist Party to improve upon and perfect Socialism. In Germany it was the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

Please stop repeating the WWII era Communist lie. It is high time that we on the actual liberty loving Right stop perpetuating it.

r/John - The Mighty Fahvaag
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The 1930s were a time for both left-wing and right-wing revolutions in Europe: Stalin-style communism on one hand, Fascism and Nazism on the other hand."
Don't you just love it when misinformed fools like the author of this article continue pushing the Lefts agenda. The NAZI's were the National SOCIALIST German WORKERS Party how much more LEFT WING could they possibly be.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The 1930s were a time for both left-wing and right-wing revolutions in Europe: Stalin-style communism on one hand, Fascism and Nazism on the other hand."

I stopped reading right there.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (39)
All Comments   (39)
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1) The homosexual marriage laws passed in France are not popular. There have always been leftist protests, but never anything from the right, and the normal religious folks generally stay out of politics. Not any more. That is the uprising that you see--the normal French are pissed off about homosexual "marriage pour tous" forced down their throats.
2) Regarding the Carbon tax, I recently spent a few weeks in France--to purchase my airline ticket on Expedia.com, it cost $1200 with $600 in taxes. The exact same ticket on expedia.fr cost 2750 euros--with over 1200 euros being taxed as part of a bogus carbon tax.

The people in France are realizing that socialism-complete socialism-does not work.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No one seems to comment on the huge drain on the European economy for the alarmist warmist CO2 nonsense. The EU budget for climate change approaches a trillion euros. This is like a tax but is one hundred percent waste. Drives up the cost of energy, drives any business that uses energy off shore or broke. Subsidies redirect what little investment capital there is into unproductive trash.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm sure glad that my ancestors got out of France when they did.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes. Taubira's law, passed this week, guarantees it. I wouldn't call it a Spring. I would call it a much needed cleansing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Irrespective of the definitions of left or right ... the fact is that most modern states that have followed liberal governmental policies are bankrupt or near bankruptcy. It is possible that actual bankruptcies might ensue and the holders of government debt will lose their investment. Orderly or disorderly, clearing the debt is a requirement; and history instructs that blood will flow in the streets.
Perhaps Frenchmen are evidencing an awareness of these realities.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As Prelude, France has never been anything approximating a Constitutional Republic with Democratic form. It has always been Statist in one form or another with the government able to operate pretty much at will in any way that it wants, with no real functional limitations.

And that said, the cyclical nature of French governance is absolutely true. And in part accounts for the governmental cynicism matched by the cynicism of the populace. When a country can change constitutional forms more often than it changes underwear, with the same elites remaining in charge; cynicism is rational.

And we are overdue for a change in France. Add to all the contradictions listed by Mr. Garfinkiel; the slowing and regression of the French economy which has led to the existence of massive unemployment in the key 20-30 year old male demographic, the unsustainable increased taxes to maintain the stipends to keep the welfare classes quiet, the insistence on governing by Socialist ideology regardless of the wishes of the mass of the people [the same sex marriage issue is going to be a wedge issue, I suspect], and the as yet uncommented upon reaction of the inhabitants of the Zones Urbain Sensibiles to the non-Sharia compliant nature of the new law; and the tinder is laid.

There is a possibility of a shower of sparks, from a number of events; and if something catches fire, who will stand with the current governmental system?

Oh, and waltererc, Amen. I note the revelation today that the leadership of both sides of the "Möbius Strip Party" that rules us are working on exempting Congress and all Congressional employees from Obamacare.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The economy will fail and was designed to do so by the EU. Maybe not on purpose but failure is the net effect. If I were in charge, I would gear up the army because when Islam is denied its welfare benefits, the riots will be unbelievable.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Michel Gurfinkiel is the Founder and President of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, a conservative think-thank in France, and a Shillman/Ginsburg Fellow at Middle East Forum. "

One would think that the President of a Conservative think tank would know that Facism and Communism are both Leftist political movements. Then again he's from France, so Facism is probably "to the right" in their spectrum.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, and also some other things of note: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the namesake of the institute in question, was actually the founder of Leftism, or liberalism, rather than Rightism, or conservativism. He was effectively the 18th century's equivalent of Karl Marx, as it was thanks to his mad ideologies that resulted in that horror known as the French Revolutions, filled with "republican marriages" (sticking people to a pole naked and then throwing them into a river) the guillotine and, until Communism and Socialism/Nazism in the 20th century, had the most deaths under any system, and thus one of the worst. It was also extremely similar to the Russian Revolution, in fact, especially with the persecutions of religious people and trying to destroy it. In fact, the French Revolution is what inspired Marx to found Communism in the first place. Gurfinkiel, I highly suggest you do some research on what political lining Rousseau followed under and highly suggest you disband it and rename it for an actual rightist/conservative figure in France. In fact, if you were a conservative in France during the Revolution, most likely you would end up losing your head or have your head made into a football, or being forced into a sexual position and bound by a log experiencing your last breaths of surface air before having water enter your lungs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm perplexed that so many people seem to be really upset over the French Fascist/Communist issue. I understand conservatives' deep resentment at the way the left/prog/dems have a reflexive habit of painting us as fascist, but I think it's best to fight them on that point in the here and now and not get so wound up over things that happened 70-plus years ago. We're just beginning to make some headway in the battle against the left wing fascists for the best possible reason, because events are finally revealing the rot underneath their benevolent façade, so I think we should concentrate on that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think you make good points. I too "get" that the Nazis and Italian Fascists can be shown to have been "manifestations of the Left," and have argued as much. But it becomes an academic exercise that might win points in a debating society, but is next-to-useless against the overwhelming power of the narrative that has been built up by the Left over many decades, and which the "right" did very little to counteract. The real enemy is statism, of which the Left is the most enthusiastic promoter, and the Left currently holds most of the institutional cards. Thus, equating a smothering, oppressive government with the Left is the best counter-narrative.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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