Austerity, unsurprisingly, has produced economic contraction across Europe. French unemployment is up sharply and, worse, long-term unemployment--the kind that permanently damages future employment and earning prospects--is up 22% in one year.
What does the Hollande government propose to do about this? It's very hard to say. Hollande, who many had hoped would lead anti-austerity forces, has rather meekly accepted continuation of the fiscal pact ("golden rule") concocted by Merkely and Sarkozy and has thus far seemed intent on realizing his (hopeless!) goal of reducing the budget deficit to under 3% by 2013. But these latest figures bring renewed pressure on the government to act decisively.
Decisiveness is not Jean-Marc Ayrault's long suit, however. He appeared tonight on France2 and offered a brief paean to "concertation," "deliberation," "discussion," and "dialog," as important, he said, to the whole of France as he had learned it was to collectivités locales--reminding viewers rather lamely of his long tenure as mayor of Nantes, as though to prove he was no amateur at this business by vaunting his long career in the bush leagues. It was a lamentable performance, not because there's anything wrong with concertation or deliberation but because Ayrault seems incapable of departing from the langue de bois he mastered in long years as the head of the Socialist group in an inhospitable National Assembly. To make matters worse, he was forced to put out a small brush fire started by Arnaud Montebourg, who announced that nuclear power was une filière d'avenir, when Hollande during the campaign had promised the Greens that he would begin to phase it out. It was a very poor beginning to la rentrée, which promises to be chaude, as workers, unions, left-wing voters, and some left-wing politicians lose patience with la force excessivement tranquille. Hollande's next move had better be carefully calculated.