Seeing as how they elected an honest-to-goodness Socialist parliamentary majority and president last year, I’m not exactly sure what it is that France thought they were in for — but these days, it isn’t merely French soccer teams publicly displaying their displeasure with the ultra-high tax policies of Francois Hollande and his ministers. Hollande is deeply, historically unpopular, and the government needs to still more cash in their coffers to have any hope of meeting their deficit-reduction targets — but the new taxes they’ve been cooking up recently combined with other scheduled tax increases are not going over well.
The Financial Times reports on the latest:
Mounting protests over France’s heavy tax burden forced President François Hollande’s struggling socialist government into an embarrassing new climbdown on Monday when it suspended the introduction of a new “ecotax” on large vehicles. …
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced the suspension of the ecotax after a series of demonstrations by hard-pressed farmers, food industry, transport and other businesses in Brittany culminated in angry clashes with police at the weekend, with more protests promised. …
Mr Hollande weeks ago acknowledged public intolerance of some €60bn in new taxes brought in over the past three years, heavily augmented by his own administration, to help close the budget deficit. At 46 per cent of gross domestic product, France has one of the highest tax burdens among advanced economies.
But his promise of a “tax pause” was belied by a series of new measures already due to come into effect in 2014 that will raise a further €12bn from households. …
Evidently, the protests included both rubber bullets and cauliflower blockades.
The government has had to back off on several other ideas for business taxes, levies on individual savings products, and etcetera after flurries of protest, and neither the proposals nor the retreats are doing much to help Hollande’s image. Agnes Poirier at the Guardian lists some of the perceived reasons for his troubles:
4. He is indecisive
Conciliation often leads to indecision, or the appearance of indecision. His advisers confide that they never know what he really thinks and that his answers to questions are either “oui” or “oui oui”. In a country where the favourite three letter word is “non”, the presidential habit sounds more than hesitant, it sounds ominous.
5. He doesn’t seem able to rein in his party factions
That the Left party’s pitbull, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, keeps insulting the head of state on prime-time television and on the airwaves is bad enough, but you could argue that not being a member of the government, he doesn’t have to show any deference. However, the Greens holding ministerial positions, calling for French youngsters to take to the streets, is a step too far that even a conciliatory president shouldn’t accept.
And Hollande still has three years left in office. I bet he even envies President Obama’s approval rating right now.