Part 1: French voters never wanted this
By Pam Barker | TLB staff writer
Today, May 17, street demonstrations and other forms of protest continue apace across the country, with reports of these events occupying most of the rolling news. Public protest around France has been taking place for weeks now in opposition to the government’s recently legislated changes to the country’s famous red tome, the Code du Travail or Labor Code. A new protest movement called Nuit Debout or Up All Night has even been spawned.
To understand the weeks of civil unrest in France and why groups are so opposed to the French government, a so-called socialist one, it’s important to know how President Francois Hollande campaigned to get elected and whose direction he has been following since.
In essence, what voters explicitly wanted back in 2012 is exactly what they are not getting. So in true French fashion, prolonged public protest is well underway. There is an agenda at play, and it’s not of Hollande’s making.
Hollande, the anti-austerity candidate
A largely lackluster, unpopular man, Hollande still won against the even more unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, reducing Sarkozy’s presidential tenure to just one term when French presidents usually get two back-to-back. But more importantly, Hollande campaigned against the neoliberal austerity policies that were being enacted in Europe at the behest of Germany and the IMF, as well as elsewhere.
Austerity policies are a form of neoliberalist thinking where, simply put, taxes are raised and spending cuts are made. Ideologically, it usually entails privatization of public services, which means that citizens end up paying privately, and more, for that on which taxes have already been raised, and that profits go into a few private hands. But taxes don’t go down, on the contrary.
Any type of organized labor is targeted as well as worker and environmental protections. It is deeply destructive of the fabric of society and works against the average person because it values profit-making above all else, especially for the big corporations. The financial crisis of 2008 can be attributed to this ideology, as well as the situation exemplified in the Panama Papers and the so-called free trade agreements – the TPP and TTIP – which will override national laws and sovereignty in favor of multinational profit-making. This ideology has been advanced relentlessly by governments and Washington-based globalist institutions such as the IMF since the crisis of 2008. For more about this, I can highly recommend George Monbiot’s excellent article entitled ‘Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems.’
According to Bloomberg in 2012, at the time Hollande was elected,
‘[he] inherits an economy that is barely growing, with jobless claims at their highest in 12 years and a rising debt load that makes France vulnerable to the financial crisis that has rocked the euro region the past two years. Sarkozy became the ninth euro leader to fall in that time and the first French president in more than 30 years to fail to win re-election.
In response to the austerity measures being advocated by Germany back then, Hollande’s reply on the night of his election was to say:
Austerity isn’t inevitable. My mission now is to give European construction a growth dimension.
Hollande was endorsing a stimulus approach.
The economic argument that austerity measures actually shrink economic growth is by now well-established. Paul Krugman, writing in the Guardian a year ago, argues that any notion that austerity economics actually work to boost economic growth has long been discredited. Raising taxes and cutting spending simply don’t work in weak economies, except to make people suffer. Stimulus spending under such circumstances is standard textbook economics teaching. He writes,
In May 2010, as Britain headed into its last general election, elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well.
People holding these beliefs came to be widely known in economic circles as “austerians” – a term coined by the economist Rob Parenteau – and for a while the austerian ideology swept all before it.
Greek voters in sync with the French
Bloomberg identifies the political and economic concerns of the Greek people, who elected the anti-austerity Syriza party in early 2015, with those of the French, as well as the policy opposition by Germany [emphasis mine]:
Hollande’s comments were echoed in Greece, where voters flocked to anti-bailout groups, leaving the two main parties, New Democracy and Pasok, a seat short of a majority if they govern together, an Interior Ministry projection showed. His victory may sharpen tensions with key allies with Hollande advocating a more aggressive European Central Bank role in spurring growth — a measure opposed by Germany.
Indeed, when Hollande was elected in 2012, division between France and Germany was a reportable issue in the mainstream media here in France, one which French electors well understood and had no objection to. In this country, rightly or wrongly, there is simply no desire to emulate Germany with its entirely different history and temperament.
Greeks had been suffering under austerity economics since 2010 and voted in the Syriza party in early 2015 explicitly to put a democratic end to economic policies that made ordinary people suffer to an extraordinary degree, and which were being imposed on the country from the troika comprising the three globalist, neoliberal institutions of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the unelected body of the European Commission. The Greeks at this time naturally believed democracy could turn things around for them.
Greek Prime Minister, Alex Tsipras
When Tsipras was elected in 2015, he told his supporters at a public rally:
“You are an example of history which is changing… Your mandate is undoubtedly cancelling the bailouts of austerity and destruction.
“The troika for Greece is the thing of the past,” he added, referring to the country’s biggest international lenders – the European Union, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB).
He also promised to negotiate a fair and mutually beneficial financial solution.
Mr Tsipras earlier vowed to reverse many of the austerity measures adopted by Greece since a series of bailouts began in 2010.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what has NOT happened for both Greece, as it receives its 3rd IMF-imposed bailout of which the Greek people will be lucky see a penny, and France.
END OF PART 1
Next: Brussels opposes France’s democratic mandate
About the author
Pam Barker is a TLB staff writer/analyst based in France. She has an extensive background in the educational systems of several countries at the college and university level as a teacher and administrator.