Saturday, May 18, 2013

EU politics: economic government for the eurozone

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It should not pass without comment that, the day after the House of Commons tortured itself on the question of reducing the power of the EU, François Hollande was addressing 400 journalists in the Elysee Palace, to announce that he wanted to establish an economic government for the eurozone.

It almost goes without saying that British coverage of this has been slight and, with French media guarded by paywalls, one of the better reports comes from Die Welt. Hollande is under pressure, it says, the economy is limping, and the poll numbers are bad. And now he dares to rush forward and announce a Europe-wide campaign. 

This, incidentally, was the second major press conference of his term and it took two hours forty minutes for Hollande to entertain his audience of 400, plus his entire cabinet. 

Given continuously declining popularity ratings and depressing economic data, the expectations from Hollande's encounter was not just limited to the press, says DW. The unemployment rate has exceeded the previous record of three million, the European Commission has granted a two-year delay, so that France's budgetary objectives may be met by 2015 and, since the beginning of the week, the country has been officially in recession. 

This was confirmed after a meeting with the Commission last Wednesday, when Hollande admitted that growth in France would probably be zero. That would mean that he is not going to fulfil his most important promise - to reverse the trend in the labour market by the end of the year. Nevertheless, Hollande promised at his press conference that he would try everything to achieve a turnaround. 

It is against this background that, in the manner of a magician pulling a king-sized lapin out of le chapeau, Hollande decided to embark on his European adventure. 

Enter now Reuters which tells us that "European officials" gave a lukewarm response to president'slapin. Proposals for an "economic government" for the eurozone, complete with its own budget and a full-time president were, they say, not exactly nouveau, having been in circulation for some time. 

Since Hollande's "sweeping vision" also encompasses "a harmonised tax system" and "eurobonds", two ideas roundly rejected by the other half of the motor of integration, there is something of a suggestion that il se fout de ta gueule.

In two hours forty minutes, however, the president did manage a few soundbites of his own. "It is my responsibility as the leader of a founder member of the European Union ... to pull Europe out of this torpor that has gripped it, and to reduce people's disenchantment with it", he said. 

"If Europe stays in the state it is now, it could be the end of the project", he then said, before then dealing with the troublesome rosbifs. "Europe existed before Britain joined it", Hollande purred, only then to remark that, "I hope Britain stays in the European Union but I don't want to decide for the British".

That sounds suspiciously like, cela nous est complètement égal, but – to judge from the British coverage - we don't give a damn either. The grand gesture lives, says the BBC

But at least Hollande got one thing right. Opening the proceedings, he referred to his own unpopularity and told journalists that this, "was not a goal I set myself". One wonders what the French president might have achieved had he been really trying.