France: A troubled Republic

Protesters shout during Armistice event attended by French President Francois Hollande Catcalls have sounded out even at Armistice events

Watch France. Its mood is fractious. President Francois Hollande has the lowest approval rating of any president since the founding of the Fifth Republic 55 years ago.

There is an incipient taxpayer's revolt. There are 3.3 million people out of work. Growth is anaemic and France's credit rating has just been downgraded for the second time in two years. In Brussels and Berlin, it is the country which worries officials and politicians more than any other in Europe.

Yesterday President Hollande was booed on the Champs Elysees. The occasion was a solemn event to remember the fallen from World War One. That did not stop cries of "Hollande resign" and "Socialist dictatorship" from a small group of protestors.

The interruptions, which were resented by most in the crowd, reflect a rebellious mood in France. The protests have been widely condemned in France, but a former defence minister under the last President, Nicolas Sarkozy, whilst condemning the protests, added that "the anger of the French people is immense" and saying "there is a pre-insurrectional mood in the country".

Fiscal dilemma

The strain is showing. Francois Hollande twists and turns as he tries to reduce the budget deficit while resisting cutting public spending, which is the highest in Europe. Here is his dilemma: he fears that reducing spending, embracing far-reaching pension reforms or freeing up the labour market will bring his natural supporters onto the streets in anger. So he has favoured increasing taxes rather than spending cuts.

There are signs of a spreading taxpayer's revolt. Last month thousands of taxpayers in Brittany took to the streets wearing "bonnets rouges". They drew their inspiration from the famous Red Bonnet revolt in the 17th Century against tax rises.

What prompted this was opposition to a green tax on trucks from January. It provoked farmers, small businessmen and workers from the mass food production industry to take direct action against the technology to be used in the scheme.

The French farmers angry at rising haulage costs

Two dozen of the new motorway toll sensors have been destroyed and a gantry to monitor truck movements has been burned. The government has, for the time being, suspended the tax but it was intended to raise 1.5bn euros (£1.25bn) - a key element in trying to reduce France's budget.

The tax "revolt" has spread to cities like Lyon and Marseille. There are planned protests against a rise in VAT scheduled for January. Others are fighting paying a tax on overtime on which many workers depend. Even football clubs are threatening action because players object to paying 75% on earnings above a million euros.

France at 'limit'

President Hollande is also feeling the squeeze from Brussels. France has already been given an extra two years, until 2015, to reach a deficit of 3%. The EU Commission doubts France will meet that target.

The EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso is now openly outspoken in his message to France.

"The fiscal policy in France has reached its limit of acceptability," he said. "France is by far the country [in the EU] where companies pay the highest taxes and that's a problem for growth and employment."

The Commission president wants public spending reduced instead.

The Commission is predicting growth of 0.9% next year, but both France and the rest of the eurozone needs much higher growth than that. The government in Paris argues that it has implemented tax breaks for small businesses and that wage negotiations have become more flexible but the president, like never before, is under growing pressure to turn France around.

In these difficult times the far-right Front National of Marine Le Pen is gaining in the polls. One poll put the party on 28%, the same as the Socialists. Another poll puts the Front National out in front when voters are asked about the European elections next year.

From tomorrow, the European Commission begins delivering its annual verdict on the EU economies and their budget programmes. Particular attention will be focused on France.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    316 demo

    "You would do well to understand what teleological reasoning is, because the author's of your glorious EU declare that is crucial to their mandate"

    Sorry, can't help you there

    I'll have to ask my son who is a Doctor of Philosophy from Trinity College, Cambridge and an expert on Hegel and Kant who I believe both explored teleology (and incidentally a keen supporter of the EU

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    #325 Phffft

    -- I should be doing the thanking.

    Thank you.

    Already thinking about the next topic ? --no doubt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    Your anti-EU argument and reasoning is normally sound. As an EUphobe, I often agree with you

    Lately however, you have been writing your posts in a "Team America, World Police", "stoopid Briddish" delivery style.

    Amusing-ish, but no one will debate with you about what you say, when they are writing 400 chars on how you said it.

    Without intention to debate, its merely trolling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    324 quietoaktree, great debating with you,till next time,take care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    #323 Phffft

    "Links with Germany go way back,"

    --To the Empire days.

    I only quoted the ´Telegraph´-- not known for its anti- UK stance.

    The next blog has opened !

    --only a variation on Mr Hewitt´s perpetual one-sided theme......

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    319. quietoaktree

    British manufacturing does not bang its drum,but its still there

    Links with Germany go way back,Gottlieb Daimler who formulated the motto,at to days Mercedes Benz "Your best or nothing".He took this from a sign over the apprentices bench at Armstrong Whitworth whilst studying engineering there in 1861 to 1863

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.


    "the Germans are the biggest hypocrites on the planet"


    Even bigger hypocrites than the country which killed tens of thousands in Bhopal, then refused proper compensation, but which has sued BP for billions over lost business, when it was their contractors who messed up anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    "You would do well to understand what teleological reasoning is, because the author's of your glorious EU declare that is crucial to their mandate"


    Of course but so what? It means having a purposeful direction, so is as equally applicable to institution-building as it is to witch-hunting.

    It does not say anything about the method of reasoning itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    qot, all that is based on the scientific method of reason and informed opinion.

    The modern legal drive for human rights, which I consider our greatest achievement, is impossible without a whole bunch of ingredients that simply did not exist more than 500 years ago. Literacy and the scientific method are chief amongst all of them. Without these, we have nothing. With them, all cultures will rise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    #310 Phffft

    Thanks --was hoping for a longer list.

    The ´Telegraph´ article went on further--

    "Pailton Engineering ships precision-steering systems for cars and trucks from its small plant in Coventry, one of countless UK engineering firms linked into the Wirtschaftswunder."

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    290. democracythreat

    "Who do you propose then as the true founders of our human rights today?"



    New testament as interpreted by enlightened non conformist Evangelical Christian & Quakers

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    315There is no doubt that the European project is entirely irrational. It is in fact a political, not an economic project. The idea is to build a continental power of similar stature to the US, China, etc.In other words that the sum of European nations is greater than its parts. But social, economic, cultural inconsistencies that aren't reconcilable were ignored.Another Maginot Line that fails too

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    You do sir francis bacon a great disservice, in my view.

    When he published his "new method" of reason in 1620, he took great care to explain why teleological reasoning was the author of much evil and the perseverance of the dark ages in Europe.

    You would do well to understand what teleological reasoning is, because the author's of your glorious EU declare that is crucial to their mandate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    All true, but it doesn't address the fundamental question of delusional behaviour at the heart if the EU project.

    My point is not that Germany should do this or that. Rather, it doesn't matter what they do. It doesn't matter what anybody does.

    So long as the vast majority of unelected EU officials continue their delusional power mongering with public debt, Europe is going to get worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    290 demo

    "true founders of our human rights?"
    the engineers and scientists who allow humanity to reach it full spiritual potential. The rest of us are just watching"

    I don't agree. They built on the foundations of countless generations of ALL of our forefathers

    "Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants - one who discovers by building on previous discoveries"

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    309"anyone would be mad to lend them [Southern Europe] more money"

    Yes but Germany is caught on the horns of a dilemma. If they don't lend them money which any thoughtful person must doubt would ever be paid back, bonds they issued denominated in Euros will default. The fear is that as a result the entire Euro will come crashing down taking Germany out with it.So far this seems cheaper. So far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    300 Lucy

    "but USA willing to give+help Phillipines more than China"

    Since when has charitable giving been turned into a race? I believe it should be a private affair not to be boasted about

    Surely Christians should follow biblical advice:

    "When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men"

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    re. #292. LucyJ:
    "The feeling I get from EU's statements about Germany's surplus is
    that they want German manufacturers to move out of Germany and into other EU countries:

    And they do it in the mistaken belief that if Germany were weaker that the other members' economies would be the stronger for it in spite of crippling tax and labor regulations in places like France and Italy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    The point about southern Europe is that they are still spending vastly more than they can afford. They are going deeper and deeper into debt.

    As long as that is true, anyone would be mad to lend them more money. If a person or a government is still spending when they have no more to spend, they have not yet even faced the reality of their circumstance.

    Subsidizing delusional behavior is waste.


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