Walking in the Tuileries on a Sunday evening. Sunshine at last but a blast of cold wind from the north means heavy sweaters and a jacket. Blue iris everywhere, colouring the light, scenting the wind; chestnut trees are cropped into disciplined box shapes. Ducklings are huddled under their mothers’ wings. Tranquility? Alas no.
On the other side of the river, near the Assembly Nationale, raucous voices raised, police whistles blowing. Sirens rend the air where at 7pm church bells should be heard.
This was a march by conservatives, many of them Catholics, against gay marriage. Two bills have been passed and were enacted this week. But that is not all. This week, also, Paris was the focus of European concerns about jobless youth and its consequences for political stability.
Gay marriage protests are just the tip of the iceberg. Daily life is now full of tensions and somber realities. And the man up top who carries the burden is barely up to the task. He stood at a lectern next to David Cameron, in Paris last week, as the latter spoke following the Woolwich attack. The cameras kept returning to shots of Françoise Hollande who could not keep still while his guest spoke. He was flapping papers and twitching, his facial expression that of someone who really needed to go to the lavatory. Perhaps that was his excuse? I think there are other reasons for his nervousness. The pressures on him are domestic, international and personal. And he is only a mediocrity, who fell into the job of Presidential candidate and fell into the job of President, unprepared. He is not capable of dealing with the challenges facing France.
So he has the IMF and Germany telling him what to do. He has an embarrassing legal position regarding his “First Lady”. He has difficult questions to answer concerning his own financial and fiscal declarations. Above all he has insuperable domestic problems, which, according to a book out this week could bring about a revolution in France.
The raucous voices raised over gay marriage would seem dulcet murmurings compared to what might happen if the population snaps out of its torpor and reacts against the failure of Hollande’s government to solve the country’s economic and political problems.
Jaques Attali, distinguished author; founder and first director of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, was Mitterand’s youthful advisor who suggested bringing Hollande into the President’s team and who much later played a role in Sarkhozy’s government. He voices the fears expressed for over a year among thinking French people in his new book “Urgences Francaises” (French Urgencies). He is not alone. Yesterday in Paris, (May 28th) the German Finance minister expressed the growing fears that pervade EU nations. Rising youth unemployment rates, 26 % in France but over 50% in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, are not only among the uneducated but also the qualified children of the executive class. Past failure to stimulate private enterprise, to support the growth of small and medium sized enterprises and the reliance on social benefits instead are the cause of political panic among Eurozone leaders.
Petty little bureaucrat that he is, Hollande’s answer is that the eurozone should work towards a joint economic government with its own budget that could take on specific projects including tackling youth unemployment. The ice age will have arrived before that notion get’s to first base.
Jaques Attali’s book encapsulates the entire frightful scenario with the brilliant logic of a man who has been watching from inside French government for so long that he knows better than anyone what grave problems and un-negotiable obstacles exist in France--a nation always socially and economically divided with few escalators for upward mobility: violent revolution has been the only means of reconstruction historically for a nation unable to gradually reform its rigid administrative and fiscal structures based on its irreconcilable class divide.
Youth unemployment across the eurozone threatens that ‘peace in our time’ that the EU’s idealistic creators imagined would prevent future conflicts on our continent. Even Hollande acknowledges that people are turning away from the European concept. Meanwhile, welfare is the opium of the people. Take it away and the psychological, fiscal and traditionally opposed class conflicts will bring catastrophic revolt. Pass me a parachute.