Monday, September 10, 2012

L'Europe, la grande absente

I mentioned the other day a certain nombrilisme in the French press, which devotes much less attention to European issues than, say, the German or Italian press. In this respect, François Hollande was representative of his countrymen in his TF1 interview last night. Although he claims Jacques Delors as his second mentor, after François Mitterrand, both of whom were committed "Europeans," and although he enjoys a reputation as a staunch European himself, there was not a word about the crisis of the euro, the Draghi plan, or the fiscal pact in Hollande's discussion with Claire Chazal. France's budgetary problems were presented in strictly Franco-French terms. The need for labor-market reform was discussed as a "competitiveness" measure, without describing the nature of the competition or the strategy for adapting the structure of French industry to meet it.

The avoidance of Europe is comprehensible, given the sourness of French public sentiment toward the EU at the moment. In every respect, the EU is seen as a fetter on French autonomy, so it is easy to understand why a "normal" president who wishes to enhance his reputation for "action" would avoid touching on anything that might inhibit his freedom to act. But this is no way to build support for Europe, which is badly needed and may become an explosive issue as the austerity measures implicit in the Hollande budget wreak their anticipated havoc. The French will ask why they must suffer this pain, and Hollande had better have answers. Those answers must include a robust defense of the EU as the vehicle for eventual French success in global competition. The argument can be made, but Hollande has been remarkably reticent about articulating it, creating an enormous opening for Europe's vociferous detractor J.-L. Mélenchon--and soon, presumably, Marine Le Pen, although she has been strangely silent since the election.

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