A Conversation in Paris
As the Socialists take over.
Jul 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 40 • By ROGER KAPLAN
It was a grand election, and the Socialists swept the field. They won the presidency and the parliament, on top of which they already controlled most of the regional councils—in Burgundy and Poitou and Brittany and the other ancient provinces of France—along with the councils in the smaller “departments” created after the Revolution, which got quite a boost when Paris went on a decentralizing kick in the 1980s. That happened the last time the Socialists had it all, when François Mitterrand was president, and what a show it was!
Well (my interlocutor continued), you have to look at it this way, monsieur. I didn’t vote Socialist, never have, never will. I am a man of the right. But you have to hand it to them—they won. François Hollande is president. The National Assembly is untouchable for five years. They can do whatever they want, just as in Mitterrand’s day, way back when your Reagan was in the White House!
Actually, though, they cannot do much. They lack the means. They lack, especially, the money. They are not the absolute masters of France, for the simple reason that their predecessors, even as they turned over power to the regions and the departments, also turned over power to the technocrats in Brussels, those Dutchmen and Germans who count every pfennig, who ask what you did with every last centime! As to our francs, the Germans gave us euros in return, and now they tell us there are no more.
Well, monsieur, you point out it was Jacques Delors who created the euro, Mitterrand’s first finance minister, the president of the European Commission in Brussels. And you ask me if it was not Hollande and his friends who are now sitting so pretty in the National Assembly who insisted on the euro. More Europe, they intoned, one currency! And, I remind you, the Germans said it was a terrible idea. They were happy with their deutsche mark. They wish now they had listened to the Danes and the British. But they let us—our brilliant, elite-educated fatheads, first in their class and all that—convince them the common currency would be best for Europe. And now we have lost control of our money, and the Germans pull the strings.
I exaggerate. Democracy, federal institutions, fair play—that is what the Germans say we do not understand. They keep explaining that if we want to play our own game, we must obey our own rules. The money we need, the Greeks need, the Italians and the Spaniards need, the Portuguese—they will not allow the bonds to be issued unless these poor countries respect the Stability Pact. Monsieur, it is a scandal, and I say this as a man who did not vote for the Socialists, that the Germans should make everyone suffer for the sake of their account books.
Even so, the Socialists must be happy to have won it all. They fought a fine campaign, only a few hiccups. There was, of course, that unpleasantness with Ségolène Royal, their last presidential candidate, their once and never President Royal! The poor lady—far be it from me to feel sorry for so elegant and accomplished a lady, who is still president of the Regional Council of Poitou-Charentes, no small bag of beans, monsieur—and the notor-ious tweet, but what do you expect, monsieur, les femmes . . . Ah, what happened, exactly? Well, only the most daring papers have reported it, but François Hollande, father of Ségolène Royal’s four children, was embarrassed at the thought of having her not only in the assembly but even president of the assembly. He did not like it because, well, he still nurtured a grudge against her, for throwing him out of hearth and home.
She did that because, yes, I know, he was carrying on an affair with Valérie Trierweiler, a journalist at Paris Match, which always has pictures of celebrities in bikinis at Cannes and Monaco. Ségolène is not a woman to be scorned, monsieur, and I’m told she found solace with Jean-Marc Ayrault, the mayor of Nantes, who is now President Hollande’s prime minister! That was some years ago, you understand, but wounds of the heart . . .
So Valérie—the Trierweiler woman, whom your papers have dubbed the first girlfriend—thought it would not only be awkward, it would be intolerable. Inadmissible! Well, maybe we should have had her around when the Germans forced us to accept Balancing the Books as a condition of the euro. I ask you, monsieur, who balances books in Europe, outside the Germans? The Letts. The Estonians. The Swiss. And the Swiss are not even members of the European Union!