Sunday, 5 January 2014

Don't Shoot The President--yet!

François Holland is a frightened man. After the mass hissing and booing he received in Place de La Concorde on November 11th 2013 he privately admitted he fears France is pre-revolutionary. Indeed, the danger of Revolution is a source of fear. A friend I accidentally encountered a few weeks before I transferred myself back to the uk said “There is terror: people are terrified of what may happen.”
Over drinks or dinners in the bars, brasseries and private apartments of central Paris people are likening the situation in France to that existing shortly before the Revolution of 1789. As then, the economy is in poor shape and taxes are rising. In 1789 anger was focused on the king and recipients of royal sinecures. In 2014 there is anger against those who are enriched by Presidential patronage, and by a President who has failed utterly to deliver his promises of May 2012. The quality of French life is declining fast. Unemployment rises. So do taxes: the next to go up is VAT. But still Hollande’s government fails to dent the deficit that alarms even the European Union’s control freak rule makers. The President’s popularity has dropped to 15% in a recent poll—a record low for an incumbent.
Is this why the roads outside the Élysée Palace, Hollande’s office were closed by police one recent night when my Paris based amour was driving home at “Are we really so frightening?” my friend asked. Perhaps, yes. This was not the only night on which those roads were closed. A few days later a car driven by the director of a small theatre forced to close by Holland’s cuts in subsidies was rammed against the high iron gates at the back entrance to the Elysee. The man was injured but he made his point. Hollande is destroying French enterprise and also the arts, recipients of State benefits and exemptions. Artists operating on small margins, suffer first. For instance, recent changes to French film labour laws have driven award winning art movie producers such as Francois Ozone and Abdellatif Kechiche (Blue is the warmest Colour) to protest. Other producers claim they cannot afford to produce in France.
At the sharp end of business, Breton lorry drivers are also furious about taxes on heavy transporters that threaten the hitherto successful competitiveness of Breton food producers. Hollande has softened the employment taxes for SME’s but they are still struggling as frightened consumers hold onto their cash in an economy where faith in the future of keeping one’s job has plummeted. Across the board from left to right, Hollande is loathed and despised and seen as the cause of French decline: no wonder Paris seethes with talk of revolution. But it’s not the Underclass, the multi-ethnic denizens of no go suburbs who this time are ready to revolt: it is the middle and professional classes, white collar employers and employees who are most challenged and who worry how to weather three more years of Hollande as President.
Nor is it the Right who hiss and boo wherever he appears. The Bonnets Rouges, historically a Breton anti tax group against Louis 14th later active in the French Revolution, are prominent protesters.  Freelance footage on November 11th 2013 showed the Bonnets Rouge were also instigators of disturbances at Place de La Concorde and on the Champs Elysees. Their recorded street protests were not shown on the national TV channels. Nor was the booing Hollande received as he was sped with unseemly haste up the Champs Elysees to the Etoile to lay the wreath for the Unknown Soldier.
I said from the start that Holland was a goof and a dunce. But, no I was told, he is an Enarque, trained in the elite administrative school the Ecole Nationale d’Administration from which many top French state industry leaders have graduated. Alas, trained in orthodoxy but lacking the imagination to create the innovation needed to transform an economy in crisis. Can this dunce be removed from office?
Yes. His failure to declare his own considerable wealth at the outset of his Presidency offers good reason to start proceedings. As I wrote in my blog of November 9th 2012, Hollande did not declare apartments he owns in London to the tax authorities. In 2012 on his election, he declared capital wealth of €3m. Of this he forsook some €900,000 in his separation settlement with Ségolène Royale, mother of his four children. When elected, he claimed to be living in a rented apartment in the dowdy 15th Arrondissement. Later, photos of two blocks where he owned flats in London were shown on the Internet and discussion of his deception became rife during autumn 2012. He was later shown to be managing his several properties and other wealth via a company: legal avoidance, but evidence of his dishonest claims to being a modest man. It was not widely known to the public that François and his brother inherited millions from their property developer father.
Meanwhile Hollande’s tax hikes drove many rich and some companies to leave France taking €50billion with them in October/November 2012.
Failure to report the true figure for his wealth should have resulted in his dismissal from office. However, during the spring of 2013 the published figure was corrected from €3m to €17m. Was this the result of arm-twisting by officials who would otherwise have forced his resignation? We may never know: much that should appear in the media does not.
So, the dunce Hollande continues to mismanage France and bring about the flight of capital, of talent and of wealth to a wider world. His predecessor, Sarkozy has yet to answer charges against him for misuse of public funds and other law breaking concerning election funding. Copé, leader of the main opposition party has yet to prove himself. But this spring’s elections for local and European seats will offer French voters the opportunity to express their disgust with the incompetent President. But he will remain President, unless...
Under the Fifth Republic constitution brought in by General de Gaulle on October 6th 1958 the French President was the most powerful in the world and could only be removed from office by high treason or death. But on 19th February 2007 a Constitutional amendment enacted by the French Parliament made Impeachment of the French President possible. According to the 2007 rules, in case of a "neglect of his duties manifestly incompatible with the exercise of his mandate," a two-thirds majority of either house of Parliament can authorize impeachment proceedings.
The failure to declare his true wealth is one such neglect of duties. The other is failure to govern in a way compatible with the exercise of his mandate.
It would be destructive for the country to go through the President’s dismissal or forced resignation.
But it could be worse still if someone decides to end his tenure by assassination.
No wonder Hollande is a frightened man. 

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