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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: "Règle d’or": Fillon tend un piège au PS

by Sébastien Crépel

The French Government’s “Golden Rule”: Will the Socialist Party Fall into the Trap?

Translated Saturday 27 August 2011, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Prime Minister François Fillon invokes national unity in order to force Parliament to vote the president’s plan to make budgetary deficit unconstitutional.

With the government and Parliament now back at work, the Right has decided on its line: it is essential to keep a tight rein on the Socialist Party at a time when the sovereign debt crisis opens an un-hoped-for opportunity to impose perpetual austerity on the country. Even as the measures François Fillon is expected to make public next Wednesday after the weekly cabinet meeting “are bound to have a bitter taste”, according to the daily le Figaro, the prime minister has spun out an address in the opinion column of the daily’s last week-end issue in which, in the name of “national unity”, he explicitly urges the Socialist Party to vote the “golden rule”, which will consist in adding an article to the Constitution that will make it compulsory to eliminate the budgetary deficit.

François Fillon does not beat about the bush: “I call on all political parties to behave responsibly and rally in support”, he declares, and feigns regret at the Socialist Party’s “apparent foible for multiplying public posts and state-funded jobs for the unemployed”, and its “not having yet fully realized how much it will take for us to meet our commitment to reduce the public deficit and debt.”

In short, the Right intends to take advantage of public opinion’s fears over the euro crisis to call the Socialist Party’s bluff. For the arithmetic of parliamentary votes is clear enough: without the support of at least part of the Socialist deputies and senators the reform just cannot rally the three-fifths of the votes needed to modify the Constitution. Consequently, if a convention of the National Assembly and the Senate is called, the Right means to place the Socialist Party in the horns of a dilemma: either vote for a reform that would make all Leftist policy impossible, or defeat the bill and incur the risk of being accused throughout the 2012 presidential campaign of being inclined to let the deficits run.

François Hollande shares "the same objective"

For the time being the Socialist Party stands firm on its refusal of the Right’s plan. Harlem Désir, the party’s spokesman, turned down the president’s request point-blank last Friday, and accused him of calling for “national union in order to pay the bill of his chaotic fiscal policies” in favour of “the richest”.

Still, everyone will remember how, when Parliament (the National Assembly and the Senate) convened in 2008, a few dissenting voices in the party had been enough to tip the scales in favour of Sarkozy’s constitutional reform, which was passed with a majority of two votes only, one of them cast by Jack Lang [1].Some lend a willing ear, if not to Sarkozy’s plan, at least to his rhetoric. Even though François Hollande [2] refuses to back the “golden rule”, he proposes “a financial planning bill – for after the 2012 election – that would meet our European objectives with respect to the reduction of deficits”, he declared yesterday in le Journal du dimanche, adding that he also “thought it necessary to curb the public debt”.

Outside the socialist party, the public statements of Daniel Cohn-Bendit [3] in favour of a “golden rule” that would include social “compensations”, and above all the declarations of the movement’s spokesperson Laurence Vichnievsky that retirement at the age of sixty was a ‘”mad idea” and her plea for cuts in public posts have spread confusion among ecologist ranks.

[1A socialist senator.

[2A former general secretary of the socialist party, François Hollande is one of the candidates in the on-coming socialist presidential primaries.

[3A leader of the Ecology-Green movement (EELV).

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