The French Presidentials: Hobson’s choice or Morton’s fork?

Myth has it that as an Englishman living in France life can be turbulent, ancestral rivalry oblige, but it’s a myth and apart from the traditional six nations England/France rugby match or the occasional tales of Anglo-French turf protecting sabre rattling that appear in the news after the latest Brussels summit, and even then, the average person in France has other things to think about.
Take for example the looming French Presidential elections, due to be held in 2 rounds in April and May of this year, which I will, as an outsider (sic Englishman) be watching with growing enjoyment, albeit from the touch-line.

Although lacking the same punch and veneer as the US presidentials and lacking that impression of being a foregone conclusion, as is the case with the Russian presidentials, the French elections are, I would say, somewhere between the two.
Entertaining to watch, in a Gallic, almost “Clochemerle-esque” way, especially when the incumbent President’s, ever inventive, Praetorian guard1 – or snipers2 as they have been called3 – take swipes at the opponents, to the left and the right!, the French elections will, never the less, hold all the promise of a healthy example of democracy at work, complete with skullduggery and conspiracy.

The Golden Shot

For a more unbiased opinion of the current political scene in France there’s nothing better than “Zapping” the TV news channels – although I must admit I prefer watching the 02nd degree satirical “News” shows in France, or reading the e-press, rather than watching some of the pseudo high brow French news shows themselves.

I suppose it’s pretty much the same the world over but watching French politicians as they riposte, with dexterity and  sometimes blatant cheek, to the latest “below the belt” thrown at them by some rival or pundit is just as entertaining as watching any prime time reality show.

Having said that, and if my French friends and colleagues are anything to go by, politicians tend to leave the average person in street dubitative at the apparent cock-eyed logic of some of the ideas and assertions they can come out with next.

For example. The incumbent President, Nicolas Sarkozy, in a recent speech, warned the French electorate against voting for candidates with absolutely no experience in the management of the greatest “International” financial crisis since 1929. He then went on to say, with a typical shrug of the shoulders, first the left, then the right, that only one reasonable solution to the problem was his!…(hum, OK!)

Another example. The Prime minister, a man of respect and political worth, in his recent New year’s speech said: “…Listening to Mr. Hollande (the Socialist candidate) everything is failure, injustice and desolation, in short our country is in an abyss…” before going on to depict the very same picture, with the very same terms, he was criticizing the Socialist candidate for using…(doom and despondency!)
(NB. Satirists often depict the Prime Minister as a Droopy/Addams family type character, always (relishing in) announcing the bad news, recession, austerity, rise in unemployment, budget deficit etc…)

Yet another example. The President of the “Assemblée Nationale” (the French Lower house) recently said that the economic and social consequences of a “missed” appointment in 2012 (read: if Nicolas Sarkozy isn’t elected) would be comparable to those caused by a war. Not only did he refuse to retract what he said he even accused the media of distorting his words! (…Nothing less!!!)

Now this is coming from 3 out of 4 of the most important figures in French politics (the 4th figure being the relatively discreet Socialist president of the Senate) and not the assigned “Snipers”. Things are, without a doubt, hotting up and there’s more to come. All in all it should be a fun campaign.

Mind you the opposition also have their own stars of the communication. Take for example the Ecology and Green party’s presidential candidate, a lady with an unmistakable image, epitomized by red framed oval glasses, an unruly mop of blond hair and a pronounced Nordic accent. She speaks in such an unabashed way the pundits jokingly suggest taking her along next time they go to the mother-in-law’s to say the unimaginable and live through it, i.e. tell her she’s a bore and the Sunday roast unfit for human consumption!

OK, that’s exaggerating but this is a candidate who, without beating about the bush, is promising 1) to disengage (France) from nuclear energy by 2030; 2) the creation of a 6th French Republic, 3) a moratorium on GMOs, 4) retirement at 60, 5) a reduction of the French working week, from 35 to 32 hours, and 6) a Public holiday for Jews and Muslims to celebrate Yom Kippur and Aid al-kabir.

Not to be left out the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, suggested abolishing the “Family Quotient”4 and replacing it with a tax credit whatever the level of income. The importance of this may not strike someone who doesn’t live in France but in a country where ±60% of the population don’t pay income tax it amounts to saying that whether you have to pay income tax – and could previously claim a deduction for your children but can’t anymore – or not you will systematically get a check per child back from the government! (…now that is cock-eyed!)

Hobson’s choice and Morton’s fork!

As you can see candidates are currently coming up all kinds of ideas and propositions to get themselves elected or reelected. Most of the propositions are inexorably short-term, media orientated measures, some not so. Some could work, others not5.
I could go on but I think I’ve made my point, which is: France has a budget deficit of 5.5%; an unemployment rate at a 12-year high; consumer prices up by 2.5% in 2011 and a recession in sight so who ever is the next French President they will have no choice but to apply the reforms they’re proposing and the French will not forgive their president or politicians at the first signs of any side-stepping.

Why Praetorian Guard? Because as with the illustrious Romans several members of the president’s inner circle have fallen out with the president, or lost their worth, and have been, if not disposed of, then neutralized, i.e. Packed off to Strasbourg
2 Snipers may not actually be the right name for them, “Boot boys” would be more appropriate
3 You’d almost think the French president hired these people specifically for the job, giving them secondary ministerial or secretary of state roles in an effort to legitimize their presence. It looks as though the French president has taken a leaf out of someone’s book and I would say it’s more likely to be from Vladimir Putin’s book than Barack Obama’s
4 A dispositive that allows tax payers to pay less tax according to the number of children or dependents they declare
5 The right-wing government are trying to push a series of laws through parliament before the elections, i.e. Social VAT and a French version of the Tobin “q” theory – now known in France as the Tobin tax, to show they’re seriously working on tackling the financial crisis in France, in spite of what the notation agencies may “note”.
NB, if the Swedish experience is anything to go by the “Tobin tax” will end up a wet squib because totally in-appropriate. But then doesn’t France have a rich history of go-it-alone actions? i.e. leaving NATO in 1966, when others were joining; re-initiating nuclear bomb tests in 1995…or adopting a 35 hour working week, in 2000, thinking it would reduce production costs and boost productivity (work less, do more?) But there you go, that’s the Englishman, I’m proud to be, rattling his sabre again.


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