The role of serendipity in French politics

The role of serendipity in French politics

from 2011 to 2017

Historical perception of recent events that have challenged the democratic process

Didier BERTIN - July 20, 2017

 

I-PERIOD 2011-2012

1-The unexpected withdrawal of the candidacy of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) in the election to the Presidency of the Republic

About one month before his planned candidacy for the presidential election at the primary elections of the Socialist Party (PS), DSK, the Managing Director of the IMF, was arrested in New York on 14 May 2011 in An Air France plane to Paris still and on the ground of New York airport; DSK was incarcerated at Rikers Island Prison. The arrest followed accusations by a maid of the New York Hotel Sofitel for inappropriate behavior. On 19 May he was released on bail and under various other conditions and finally "on parole" on 1st July because of the accusations of the maid appeared to be ambiguous. On 23 August 2011 Judge Michael Obus dropped the prosecution on the advice of Prosecutor Cyrus Vance. This blurred situation and the intense media coverage did not allow DSK to stand for the PS primary elections of October 2011 and France which was in a difficult economic situation was thus  deprived of the  expertise in economics of DSK. DSK had been Professor of Economics, Chairman of the Finance Committee of the National Assembly (French House of representatives), Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade, then Minister of Economy and Finance and Industry and finally General Director of the IMF.

As compared to him the other candidates appeared lacking of competency in this field and in particular François Hollande.

2-The nomination of François Hollande to the candidature for the Presidency of the Republic

François Hollande was chosen because of the vacuum left by DSK and which was the favorite before his withdrawal.

François Hollande completed his studies in 1980 (ENA) and was an auditor at the “Cour des Comptes” (an important French state body controlling the utilization of the funds provided by the State) for 9 years during which no assignment was entrusted to him due to his lack of availability. He was elected as MP for the district of Corrèze (center of France) from 1988 to 1993. He was reelected MP in 1997 and 2002. In 2001 he also became Mayor of Tulle (a city in Corrèze of 47 000 inhabitants). He became First Secretary (leader) of the PS until 2008 then General Councilor of Corrèze. It is clear from this course that François Hollande, unlike DSK, had neither the skills nor the experience required to serve as President of the Republic whose main challenge are in the field of Economics. The political activity was the sole job of François Hollande without a real knowledge of business world.

3-The election of François Hollande to the Presidency of the Republic

Despite his shortcomings François Hollande was elected as a result of negative circumstances concerning both DSK and Nicolas Sarkozy. Nicolas Sarkozy was affected by poor economic performances and in particular by rising unemployment and public debt and by many cases and scandals which had, among other things reduced his popularity; since 2009 the polls were unfavorable to him regarding his re-election as President.

The disappointments of DSK and Nicolas Sarkozy gave François Hollande an unexpected chance to be elected despite he was not at all the right man to become President. Moreover, his apparent humility of Francois Hollande was seen as a mark of honesty amidst scandals.

II - PERIOD 2012-2017

1-The five-year presidential mandate from 2012 to 2017 and the behavior of many left-wing MP’s: Paving the way for an undoubted victory of the right-wing party

Francois Hollande's lack of ambitions could have been perceived at the beginning of the five-year presidential mandate when he had himself renounced to his own major campaign promises by arguing that he was discovering reality. He gradually and comfortably adapted his personal political line to the facts instead of attempting to modify them. He had first declared that he was socialist then social-democrat supporter then became supporter of free capitalism with social considerations (social-liberal in French); this change of flexible political identity permits him to move from actor to spectator in the economic stage.

Moreover, Francois Hollande's key promise on which it was not possible to return was the reduction in unemployment; in fact unemployment increased by 20.69% between the beginning and the end of the five-year mandate. Francois Hollande pursued his economic policy with what he called "his toolbox", i.e. by applying expensive and vain incentives. Francois Hollande's five-year mandate was a huge mess illustrated by the sharp deterioration in his confidence rating as it never happened before in the Fifth Republic (i.e. from 1958).

In the course of the Fifth Republic, the economic power of the State was reduced to a much lower level than that of enterprises, and the power of the State had reached its peak under General de Gaulle and under François Mitterrand.

The State has shifted from being a major player in the economy and employment to being a mere supplier of financial incentives without any guarantee of result. From 1970 to 2016 unemployment rose from 0.6% of the working population to 10%. The incentives should have been accompanied by coercive steps but for this it would have been necessary to confront the European Commission which advocates a reduction of the role of the State in the field of economics according to the doctrine of free capitalism (called “liberalism” in French).

While remaining in the EU and the Euro the member states must resist and act in the interest of their citizens as just Germany did last July 12 (2017), having decided to protect its strategic assets against raiders and consequently employment and purchasing power. At the beginning of the five-year mandate Jean-Marc Ayrault (fist French Prime minister) said that the rules were moving within EU but this was not accurate. Many left-wing MP’s have given up their duty to remind the President of his campaign promises and have preferred to follow him when he said that there were no other alternatives to his failed policy.

The population started to feel disinterest and even disgust for politicians. In 2017 the confidence rating of François Hollande fell to the lowest i.e. 14%, in the history of the Fifth Republic to the point that he had to renounce to be candidate for a second mandate. Under these conditions Francois Fillon (Right-wing) had to win the elections as President without doubt although he played an important part in the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012 as he was his Prime minister.

Unemployment trend:

May 2012 - 2,900,000 unemployed - March 2017 - 3,500,000 unemployed

Confidence rating of François Hollande:

June 2012 = 55% - December 2012 = 35% - 2013 = 21% - 2014 = 15%. December 2016 = 13% - May 2017 = 14%

2-François Fillon

Francois Fillon was to become the next President of the Republic if, once again, improbable circumstances did not change the fate. François Fillon began his own sabotage by presenting during his election campaign a program of hard and brutal austerity that was to affect the majority of the French. Despite this, he had kept all his chances because he claimed that he was incarnating the Catholic rectitude.

The revelations about the gifts he had received and the remuneration with public funds he had paid to his wife and the rest of his family quickly eliminated any hope for him to be president. The legality of his behavior had become unimportant because what mattered was the moral aspect. Even though the fact that he objectively increased the income of his private family with public funds made unacceptable his plan of austerity for the French population.

 He himself acknowledged that his practices were not normal but traditional in the political world, which the citizens did not doubt but which accentuated their divorce with the politicians; this has also played in favor of extremist parties such as the right-wing National Front and the left wing party of Rebellion (Parti des insoumis), both dangerously anti-European.

What also contributed to the dissatisfaction of the voters is that Francois Fillon was not replaced as a candidate of his Party (Les Républicains-LR) as if what did François Fillon was not so important for them. Moreover, François Fillon stubbornly stood as a candidate probably because if he had been elected he would have been in a better position to defend him or had not realized the voters' resentment.

III- SITUATION OF FRANCE IN 2017

1-Election of the President of the Republic: Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron born on December 21, 1979 began his graduate studies in literature and philosophy but finally chose the elitist and traditional way of the IEP-ENA. IEP is an Institute of politics and ENA created in 1945 had for its sole purpose to train high-ranking officials who were lacking in France after the war. In France this way opens many doors because of a system of castes with which France does not want to end and whose monolithic thought of its beneficiaries questions their adaptability to circumstances. The same elitist reference enabled Francois Hollande to become president.

Emmanuel Macron left the ENA in 2004 but moved away from the public service from 2008 by joining Rothschild Bank until 2012. His opponents thus qualified him of Merchant Banker during the elections while this was not justified by his short experience in this field. Merchant Banks recruit former ENA students to occupy prominent positions with no adequate experience because of their supposed business and general relations and their know-how in communicating with the Public administrations.

From 2012 to 2014 Emmanuel Macron became Minister of the Economy in replacement of Arnaud Montebourg whose ideas were then incompatible with those of Francois Hollande perceived as a new partisan of free capitalism. Arnaud Montebourg would have liked to renegotiate the European treaties as François Hollande had proposed during his election campaign. From 2015 to 2016 Emmanuel Macron stood out on the right-wing in the discussions on government bills and opposed increasingly Francois Hollande and Manuel Valls (new Prime Minister).

Despite their common support for free market, he reproached them for taking only half steps and moreover it was probably urgent for him to distance himself at the end of the mandate with a President who had become very unpopular, in order not to sink with him.

On 6 April 2016 he founded a new movement "En Marche" or "EM" with all those of the right and left who supported his ideas on the renewal of the politics and economics. EM became the LREM party "La République En Marche" for the legislative elections. It should be noted that "EM" or "En Marche" would have been based on the initials of Emmanuel Macron which could also reveal his personality. Emmanuel Macron finally left the government on 30 August 2016 in order to devote himself freely to his candidacy for the 2017 presidential elections. He would normally have had no chance of winning the elections but he was also the beneficiary of a combination of circumstances (such as François Hollande in 2012) that are the sudden disqualification "in fact" of François Fillon and "The disappearance "of the sympathizers of the PS because of the catastrophic mandate of François Hollande. One cannot thus speak of clear victory of Emmanuel Macron because he won due to the lack of real challengers and thus revealed the weakness of the traditional French political system. The 2nd round of the Presidential elections opposed Emmanuel Macron to Marine Le Pen (far rightist) beneficiary of protest votes and permitted Emmanuel Macron to appear as a great economist by contrast with her. The proposal of Marine Le Pen to leave the Euro was regarded as inconceivable by a very substantial majority of the population.

There was, therefore, no other alternative but to vote useful, that is to say for Emmanuel Macron either by conviction or by spite or abstain. Indeed, this disappearance of the democratic choice was accompanied by a record of abstention and white and null ballots.

A similar result was obtained during the election of Georges Pompidou in 1969 following the sudden resignation of General de Gaulle; this 1969 election was like that of 2017 due to a combination of unexpected circumstances. The lack of choice during the elections thus allowed Emmanuel Macron not to suffer negative effects of the vagueness of his program (including right and left ideas with a predominance of rightist ones), his age, his lack of experience and his unconventional choices about his private life. However, this lack of experience might lead Emmanuel Macron as President to a counterproductive authoritarianism to assert him. The fact that Emmanuel Macron was imposed by chance and not truly by clear popular support of his project does not mean that he is not a satisfactory candidate but does not mean either that he was the Ideal candidate to meet all the challenges regarding the future of France; however none of the other candidates appeared to be this ideal candidate.

Emmanuel Macron could perhaps be intellectually outside the IEP-ENA monolithic sphere, which is a favorable point, because it would have had as its basic vocation literature and philosophy and (according to certain media) would have adopted only by spite the IEP-ENA scheme. His link with literature and philosophy was noticeable in his brilliant speech of 15 July 2017 commemorating the 75th anniversary of the “Vel d'Hiv” Round up (arrest of Jews by the French authorities in 1942, gathered in the winter velodrome called Vel d’Hiv). As a matter of fact his speech combined the elegance of the words with an analytical and interpretative willingness.

Fifth Republic - Presidential elections

In %

1965

1969

1974

1981

1988

1995

2002

2007

2012

2017

Abstentions

15.69

31.15

12.67

14.15

15.94

20.34

20.29

16.03

19.65

25.44

White and nil

2.31

4.42

1.17

2.47

3.04

4.76

4.28

3.53

4.68

8.59

Total

18

35.57

13.84

16.62

18.98

25.1

24.57

19.56

24.33

33.99

Emmanuel Macron could bring to France positive elements by his relative youth, but this one does not protect him from awkwardness as, for example, and in our opinion, his precipitous visit to Algeria during which his accusing statement regarding the French presence "was too simplified” to define a particularly long historical link (132 years). He made also a mistake regarding French Guyana which reflected the contemptuous perception of this area in France where it seems mainly considered as a launch base for rockets. Far from being an island (as it seems that Emmanuel Macron thought) Guyana includes the longest land border of France (730 km) and this separates France from Brazil which is "by this length" France’s main neighbor. Moreover, our administration of the indigenous tribes in Guyana could allow us to protest against that of Brazil where the indigenous tribes are considered as composed of second class citizens.

2-Election of MP’s

The 2017 presidential and legislative elections were marked by the profound disgust of many French people towards their politicians, which led to a massive "dégagisme" movement (dégagisme is a French word created in North Africa during the Arab spring and meaning that the people want to get rid of their politicians). This movement largely favored Emmanuel Macron's new Party "La République en Marche" (LREM) perceived as different from the former aging parties.

The bad acting way of many politicians was perceived from the moral standpoint without consideration of its legal aspect when its main target was the improvement of the private life of these politicians and their families.

A substantial proportion of MPs had, in fact, considered their mandate as a simple job and acted in order to be re-elected in their respective district with the support of their respective parties in order to stabilize their career and increase their revenues.

From 1958 to 1981 the average of abstentions in the second round of the legislative elections was on average 21.8%; from 1986 to 2012 this average increased to 33.9% including 40% in 2007 and 44.6% in 2012. This figure increased to 57.36% in 2017 and with the white and nil votes it reached 61.5% questioning the democratic expression in France because of the disappointment of many politicians. Only 42.6% of French registered voters, voted in 2017 for the legislative elections thus weakening the meaning of electoral results.

In 2017 the PS (initial Party of François Hollande) almost completely disappeared from the National Assembly (House of Representatives) because of the great dissatisfaction accumulated during the mandate of François Hollande. The PS has now only 30 seats in the National Assembly as compared to 295 previously. The fall of the Republicans (LR) is also significant from 196 deputies to 112 but much less because they were in the comfortable position of opponents. The fall of the Republicans (LR) must be considered as a collapse because they were undoubtedly forecasted to be the big winners of the elections. This collapse was mainly due to the inappropriate behavior of François Fillon and of the LR party towards him.

LREM obtained 306 seats out of 577 whereas this movement which became a political party only existed for little more than one year.

With 7,826,245 votes out of 47,293,103 registered, that is to say 16.55% of the registered voters, the LREM party obtained 53.4% ​​of the seats in the National Assembly.

The electoral system by district and not proportional by list had traditionally eliminated the extremist parties and gave a sufficient majority to the main party to prevent the small parties from asking too much for their support. The electoral system is not questioned, but the disgust of voters for many politicians was the basis of the problem.

With 29 117 037  non-voting electors, the abstentionists become by far the leading party in France and what the abstentionists have meant must be very seriously taken into account in respect of the democratic spirit.

Over a very short period that really began when the election of Emmanuel Macron was no longer in doubt EM which became LREM had to appoint more than 500 candidates to cover most of the electoral districts. Therefore the choice of candidates for a mandate of MP started from the presidential election in order to get future MP’s who would fit the presidential line with the risk of preferring malleable candidates who will thus not constitute a counter-power coming from the legislative body. A legislative counter-power is nevertheless necessary to moderate the executive power as this can be seen in the United States. To become LREM MP, the candidates had to sign "the contract with the nation" of Emmanuel Macron. The previous system did not guarantee either the existence of a legislative counter-power as this has been shown.

Many of the new MP’s were taken from the private sector and from now MP’s cannot accumulate more than two successive parliamentary mandates or more than one other public mandate at the same. However, the aim of LREM was also to find future MP’s who were not marked either on the left or on the right wing and this was difficult since this difference continues to exist even under other names being in principle based on the predominance given either the economy, or the citizens. Out of 308 LREM MP’s, 109 came from the left wing and 38 from the right and so we do not know clearly the basic political opinion of 161 of them (52%) who may not have clear political references other than their systematic support of Emmanuel Macron.

3-Future Government policy

It seem that despite the announcements of a new leadership based on the rejuvenation of the executive and legislative bodies, the presidential and governmental choices expressed respectively during the Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) and at the National Assembly (House of Representatives) are quite similar to those of the previous mandate.

Indeed, the generous guidelines seem to be postponed and priority is given to the austerity and equilibrium of the state budget. The steps that are intended to be taken are not based on an economic policy but on the elementary arithmetic, that is to say on the mere reduction of public expenditures without taking into account the consequences in the medium run. Decisions taken on elementary arithmetic might have counterproductive effects such as for example an economic downturn and the increase in unemployment, with, as a corollary, the decrease in government revenues and the increase in expenditures  and thus in the budget deficit. The first victims of this simplified approach and austerity are planned to be the most vulnerable who have neither trade unions nor the right to strike: "the pensioners”. It is therefore questionable whether a precipitous rejuvenation of the politicians might not lead to the contempt of the seniors.

Another part of the policy of elementary arithmetic is the intention to sell the state's holdings in strategic companies, which will bring new funds punctually as by window-dressing and would drive the State to lose direct means of pressure and access to direct information. This will emphasize the role of the state as a spectator on the economic stage.

It should also be noted that part of the French budget deficit could be covered by the other members of the EU and in particular by Germany because by its military action France acts in the universal interest and for the prestige of the EU.

Since the next departure of the United Kingdom from the EU, France provides the sole “real” armed force to the EU. The other members including Germany have only a marginal or symbolic role regarding military operations out of the EU. From 2012 to 2015 the German military budget was reduced from 1.31% to 1.19% of GDP. The horrors of the Third Reich cannot justify the military inaction of Germany especially to avoid other horrors out of the EU.

Gargling words about new technologies is not enough to escape the reality of a sclerotic policy. The new policy could be costly incentives with no real impact on the business world. The government intends to add a new incentive, which would be the precariousness of employment in France and consequently that of the majority of French people. This precariousness might reduce the demand for durable goods and could lead to a slowdown in the economy.

On the basis on fragile work contracts making layoffs simpler and cheaper (in particular by limiting the powers of the Courts dealing with work disputes), banks could tighten their mortgage and consumer loan conditions (including vehicles financing); consumers could themselves no longer ask for credits that they would not be sure of being able to repay in the event of loss of employment. All this could therefore have a detrimental effect on production and consequently on employment, that is to say the opposite of what was expected. Precariousness has led to social disasters, in the United States that has not resolved the basic problems. Decisions in economics should be better understood before taking action. Two modes of reasoning are often used:

A- Complex and dynamic reasoning in macroeconomics:

The economic decision drives the dynamics of a growing number of parameters that make simple arithmetic reasoning utterly inadequate to reality. As we have seen, the arithmetic decision can have the opposite effect of the expected one because a set of parameters act in different directions.

Economic policy must be complex and cannot be based on promises of companies that are non-human entities and therefore amoral and make their decisions according out of the human context.

B- Primary and mechanical reactions of enterprises

The influence of investment or pension funds of different nationalities has reduced microeconomic thinking to the growth of short-term return on investment and at all expenses. The market mechanism creates a contagion of this dehumanization of the enterprises and the impoverishment of the financial reasoning. A policy of incentives has thus little influence on primal entities.

Germany's reaction of 12 July 2017 to protect its assets could lead other State members to understand that a European country could protect its strategic assets against hostile take-up, for the benefit of the citizens of this country.

IV-POSSIBLE SOLUTION AND CONCLUSION

We saw that within the framework of the EU it was possible to protect national interests (recent German initiative) and that it would be possible to make the other members contribute to an action of common interest (military action) . The EU treaties do not include only incentives for the development of the wild capitalism creating unemployment but they include a text whose references are humanitarian and social and which is put aside by the member States. This is the “Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU” signed in Nice on 7 December 2000. This text is so little followed that the EU now has dictatorships in its midst.  Although this Charter is little applied the EU has pushed the cynicism until exempting two member States to apply it which is nevertheless compulsory for each; the exempted countries are the United Kingdom leaving EU and Poland which has become a dictatorship like Hungary. This Charter goes beyond the Declaration of Human Rights by including a social dimension that should balance the importance of social and economic progress. Below are some extracts of articles of this Charter and comments on them:

PREAMBLE OF THE CHARTER: The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values. Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice. The Union contributes to the preservation and to the development of these common values while respecting the diversity of the cultures and traditions of the peoples of Europe as well as the national identities of the Member States and the organization of their public authorities at national, regional and local levels; it seeks to promote balanced and sustainable development and ensures free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, and the freedom of establishment. To this end, it is necessary to strengthen the protection of fundamental rights in the light of changes in society, social progress and scientific and technological developments by making those rights more visible in a Charter…

Comment: The Charter places the individual at the heart of the EU's activities and not the economy; the economy is at the service of human being and not the opposite.

Paradoxically, the actions of the European authorities have been permanently reversed and this is why European administrative policy is felt to be burdensome, constraining or even impoverishing. Despite this, citizens who have often a better perception of EU than their leaders believe that the EU and the Euro are necessary but poorly managed. The choice of wild capitalism sought by the Commission, the European Parliament and many Member States has, as a corollary, the weakening of each member State in front of economic domination which does not allow them to implement adequately the basic principles of the Charter.

Article 1: Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.

Comment: If the EU is not "directly involved" in defending purchasing power, full employment and labor protection and thus Article 1 might be a wishful thinking.

Article 14: …Everyone has the right to education and to have access to vocational and continuing training…

Comment: Access to education is gradually restricted because of the budgetary conditions imposed on the most generous Member States in this field and which are in line with the terms of the Charter. Vocational and continuing training depends too much on companies for whom it is lacking of immediate return on investment.

Article 15:.Everyone has the right to engage in work and to pursue a freely chosen or accepted occupation…

Comment: Article 15 questions the obligation that will be made in France to jobless people, to accept any employment after a first rejection; Economic activity is important but the dignity of human beings is also important.

Article 25: The Union recognizes and respects the rights of the elderly to lead a life of dignity and independence and to participate in social and cultural life. 

Comment: The planned financial aggressions against the vulnerable pensioners in France in 2018 despite pensions have been frozen for many years is not in line with the spirit of Article 25.

Article 27: Workers or their representatives must, at the appropriate levels, be guaranteed information and consultation in good time in the cases and under the conditions provided for by Community law and national laws and practices. 

Article 28: Workers and employers, or their respective organizations, have, in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action.

Commentary: Articles 27 and 28 call into question the destruction of labor laws which will be introduced in France by ordinances; Such an essential and even identity issue requires the agreement of the employees' representatives or even a referendum.

Article 30: Every worker has the right to protection against unjustified dismissal, in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices.

Comment: The reform of labor law in France which aims to facilitate the dismissal, notably by restricting the rights of industrial tribunals, is contrary to Article 30.

Article 31: Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity. Every worker has the right to limitation of maximum working hours, to daily and weekly rest periods and to an annual period of paid leave. 

Comment: The necessary adaptation of work to commercial constraints should not prevent a weekly rest of two days of workers with their family. In order to protect the right of workers in the western countries of the EU, it is necessary to ensure that Article 31 is also applied in the countries of the eastern part of the EU. Moreover it is also essential not to allow in some EU countries that the median wage is lower than the averaged EU poverty line.

Article 32: Prohibition of child labor and protection of young people at work
Comment: Unsightly EU distribution companies have supplied themselves at low prices in countries which do not comply with Article 32 and consequently have imported into the EU the disrespect of this article.

Article 33: The family shall enjoy legal, economic and social protection.

Article 34: The Union recognizes and respects the entitlement to social security benefits and social services providing protection in cases such as maternity, illness, industrial accidents, dependency or old age, and in the case of loss of employment, in accordance with the rules laid down by Community law and National laws and practices…..In order to combat social exclusion and poverty, the Union recognizes and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources, in accordance with the rules laid down by Community law and national laws and practices.

Article 35: Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices. A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities.

Comment: Measures aiming to jeopardize social, family, housing (case of France) and health benefits would be contrary to Articles 33, 34 and 35.

Article 36: The Union recognizes and respects access to services of general economic interest as provided for in national laws and practices, in accordance with the Treaty establishing the European Community, in order to promote the social and territorial cohesion of the Union.

Comment: The deprivations of large public service companies often call into question, for economic reasons, the very notion of public service and in this case these privatizations are contrary to Article 36.