Margo MacDonald: French revolution is not greatest concern

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Were the “sans culottes” and petit bourgeois who thronged the streets of Paris when the results of the French presidential run-off were known demonstrating their unbounded joy that socialist candidate Francois Hollande had been elected, or that the right-winger formerly known as President Sarkozy had been voted out of office?

Probably both, in about equal measure. What’s not to love about Hollande? He’s promised to tax the rich with a “filthy rich” rate for those earning ¤200,000 a year, and perhaps an “obscenely rich” rate for those earning more than ¤1 million.

He’s also promised to renegotiate the financial treaty with Germany, which saw Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sarkozy pull out all the stops in trying to agree on common principles for the mutual help needed to tackle some of their economic problems.

In his acceptance speech, the new president made much of his intention to “change” things. I was listening hard to hear exactly what he was going to change and how he was going to get round France’s tightrope finances.

My French is pretty rusty these days but, had they been mentioned, I think I could have picked out some specifics about the 60,000 or 70,000 new jobs he has pledged to create. However, let’s wish him well because, apart from everything else, if his followers become impatient, he may be forced into some showy demonstration of his left-wing credentials in defiance of the force that is Merkel.

I’d bet quite a few euros that her heart didn’t leap with joy at Hollande’s choice of words to get the crowd going – “Moi, je suis un Socialiste” – and she probably made a note to find out exactly what he meant by that.

The president-elect has promised a programme for work, and has said that in France everyone will be treated equally.

Let’s hope that this simple declaration of the principles of the revolution will not cause him grief from the 20 per cent of French citizens who voted for the party of Jean Marie Le Pen, now led by his daughter, Marine.

Amongst the usual demands from the far right, her followers want to exclude incomers from the eastern countries of the European Union and Africa from government job creation schemes.

It’s very difficult to see how the new president’s promise of “change” will be realised, given France’s need to avoid the perils of being downgraded in the estimation of the money markets. Stocks fell in the immediate aftermath of French and Greek voters supporting “change”.

While it’s true that the International Monetary Fund and others will be concerned at the implication of the president-elect’s first comments – that the deal is off with Germany – they will be more concerned about the fall-out of the Greek election. If Antonio Samaras can’t cobble together a group of MPs and call it a “government” there will be another election in about a month, after which the smart money is on “no change” emerging as winner.

And that’s the difference between France and Greece – whoever is elected to lead the government of France will, perhaps reluctantly, have to accept that France and Germany need each other and that, for the moment, Germany is the lead partner. Thus, the austerity favoured by Merkel forms the basis of any pacts between the two.

Theoretically, there should have been no difficulty in reaching agreement on how best to tackle the financial crisis in the eurozone. Merkel and the former president both headed right-of-centre governments. But difficulty there was. And not simply because of the different economies of the two, but because France will always try to be at least equal to Germany. Although Hollande is a socialist, he’ll be just as careful as Sarkozy to sustain France’s identity in the wheeling and dealing of eurozone politics.

So if realpolitik dictates that a deal will be agreed between Hollande and Merkel, where does that leave Greece? What does it say about EU democracy if the same electorate votes for the same action by government as it did in the previous election four weeks’ earlier and Greece’s partners in the EU look the other way?

Some Greeks are starving because they can’t afford to buy food. What right have we or any other country to tell them there is no alternative to the austerity visited on their country by the European Central Bank and the men from the money markets?

Listening to the street interviews with some Greeks, the impression conveyed was of stoicism and, in spite their bail-out having to be paid for, determination that the management of their economy will not have the effects of austerity foisted on them. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride.