Analysis: France

French parliament to pass European fiscal pact ... thanks to François's fairweather friends

Reuters/Christian Hartmann

France’s Socialist-led government faces political embarrassment this month as it asks parliament to ratify the European fiscal pact, sure that it can rely on the votes of the right-wing opposition but not of those in its own ranks.


At least 40,000 people demonstrated against the European Fiscal Compact in Paris on Sunday, summoned by the Left Front of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and mobilised by the organisational skills of his Communist Party allies.

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They point out that the pact was negotiated by François Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and accuse the current president of breaking his election promise to renegotiate the package.

This is a right-wing, pro-austerity package, which commits countries to a structural deficit of 0.5 per cent of their GDP, or a general budget deficit, which allows for economic hard times, of three per cent, they argue.

Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, agrees with them but reaches a different conclusion … nearly all its MPs will be voting to ratify the deal, while mocking Hollande for making promises he couldn’t keep.

The Socialists argue that Hollande has won concessions, in the form of the European Growth Pact, which found 120 million euros at the bottom of several European Union (EU) drawers and pumped it into the economy, as well as promising to tax financial transactions and keep an EU eye on the banks.

But most commentators describe the deal as window-dressing and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault admitted last week that the pact has not been “renegotiated legally speaking”.

Elizabeth Guigou, who heads the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, and is supposed to be rallying the left around ratification, was even blunter.

The accord is “a Sarkozy legacy”, she told the Reuters news agency, “but you don't have to love a pact to ratify it".

All of which means that the government is going to part company with its supposed natural allies on the left, including, possibly, some ministers.

The Green party, EELV has called on – but not instructed – its members to vote against, even though two of its members, Cécile Duflot and Pascal Canfin, are ministers and some Socialist Party left-wingers, led by junior minister Benoît Hamon, have also got cold feet.

On Tuesday afternoon, just ahead of the debate opening in the National Assembly, 13 Socialists and members of former interior minister Jean-Pierre Chévènement’s MRC votes against the pact in the meeting of their joint parliamentary group.

They are expected to be joined by about half of EELV’s MPs and senators, the Left Front and some allies they may not really want – Marine Le Pen’s Front National’s two MPs and about 10 Europhobe members of the UMP, who regard the deal as an affront to France’s sovereignty.

Parliamentary elections 2012

“We’re not going to go, like the burghers of Calais, every year to ask is our budget is OK,” commented one, Philippe Meunier.

Ayrault argued on Tuesday that a vote against ratification would lead to "a political crisis and the collapse of monetary union" and that the growth pact guaranteed a "decisive reorientation of European construction".

The pact is certain to be ratified and, even if all of Hamon’s 22 supporters vote against, the government is likely to be spared the indignity of relying on the right.

But that won’t stop the UMP sneering or the hard left demonstrating.

And it won’t take the steam out of the growing resentment of workers, like those at ArcelorMittal’s Florange site, whose jobs are going or of residents of deprived urban areas and neglected rural ones, who will feel much of the brunt of austerity policies.

Many of them may well turn their backs on EU-friendly parties and, if the economy fails to pick up and the rigour just goes on and on, it could be the Front National that makes the most political gains from their disillusion with the mainstream.

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