Jacques Julliard, a left-wing political commentator who has written a history of the French Left, makes a [harsh] point about his compatriots. Turning France around, he has said, involves “reversing the trajectory of a country which has accepted no longer being in the front rank, which has consented to its own humbling, and which refuses to make sacrifices.”Thus writes John Vinocur in his International Herald Tribune column.
Julliard hardly considers [François Hollande] the cause, but describes [the president] as not “sufficiently prophetic or adventurous” to engineer the turnabout.Of course, this is not just a matter of 10 months of limited response by the left.Ten years ago, Nicolas Baverez, a conservative economist and essayist, wrote that the entire French leadership class “cultivates status quo and rigidity” resulting in protectionism, narrow definition of French interests, and a disinclination to transfer significant sovereignty to the European Union.… With Hollande in charge, this leaves the French with what the French historian and novelist Max Gallo described to me as the mind-set of a “retiree of independent means.” And what Alain Minc, an economist who served as a close adviser to Sarkozy, calls a “fragile country without a compass. In its own way, it is sicker than Italy because of the inefficient French productive apparatus.”What to do? With a major demonstration of authority, Hollande could start pushing the French by calling on the full institutional powers of the presidency in the manner of François Mitterrand’s historic course reversal when he turned away from Socialist economics in 1983.It would require a bold, exemplary act with universal symbolism, like officially abolishing the 35-hour workweek. It would require practical measures like lower taxes, and much greater flexibility in the French labor market. Moreover, it would take Mitterrand’s willingness to face down strikes and political turmoil, and demand vast political courage of Hollande.Could it happen? Take this as an answer: When Hollande was asked on television last week about future levels of public spending, he replied, “We’re going to make savings in 2013 so that there won’t be any more effort required by the French.”