Tea Time, Will France Have a Party?
With President Obama hobbled by his country’s Tea Party revolt, are there any signs of equivalent rage in Europe? Might voter anger at fiscal irresponsibility, cross the Atlantic to shores where 24 million Europeans are out of work, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and the UK are garbed in austerity hairshirts and bankers are once more pocketing obscene bonuses?
The 2008 global crisis provoked by unrestrained investment banking excesses (much more chilling stuff to come if this blog is right), supine financial regulation and political connivance, has left taxpayers facing unimaginable bills. The gigantic debts run up by the gangsters who brought down the global banking system, have left the “little man” facing penury, fear and uncertainty. With recession clouds building across Europe these avaricious casino financiers are again sinking their paws into the bonus honey pots that are now filled by taxpayer-funded bailouts and partial bank nationalisations.
“Balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility” are some core issues in the revolt that has set the Obama welfare wagon awobble. Similar concerns over here have prompted Germany – the EU’s paymaster – to insist on tough austerity where financial probity has failed in Europe.
Signs of any mainstream Tea Party-type revolt are hardly visible but there are plenty of ginger groups and lobbies out there demanding a cleanup.
Since February 2010 for instance the European-Tea-Party-Movement has been on Facebook and some 2363 people are currently signed up as supporters. The ETPM says: “Europe lacks a strong voice for reducing public-sector spending and debt. A voice against bailouts for banks or countries. We rally around the principle of individual rights and liberties against the burden of big government.” Those on board presently mainly appear to be Germans, Nordics and Brits but there is also a link to mises.org, the home of the “time-to-live-within-our-means “Austrian School of Economics.” (The Ludwig von Mises Institute’s mission as classically liberal and libertarian, is the “defence of the market economy, private property, sound money, and peaceful international relations, while being opposed to government intervention as economically and socially destructive.”)
While French media has given wide coverage to the Tea Party phenomenon, almost exclusively from a US perspective, consideration about its impact on French politics has been limited. The view seems to be: shrug it off as its “not gonna happen here”. Bloggers and others on the Internet however take a different view.
Grassroots activism as per its Internet presence anyway, is diverse, ranging from ultra-conservative Roman Catholic members of the ruling UMP party though to François Hollande the former socialist party secretary general, and a Taxpayer’s Alliance fighting over taxation and waste together with libertarian groups opposing big government.
None has mass popular support but thanks to the transformative power of electronic networks, their voices are extensively amplified in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.
Top of the list are two associated taxpayer alliances opposed to high taxation and big government. One is a forum for taxpayer action – contribuables.org . The other is a pressure group: Le Cri du Contribuable , or the Voice of the Taxpayer whose website complains that: “French politicians do not listen to taxpayers who believe taxes are excessive and misused”
This 20-year-old alliance says France’s national debt currently exceeds 1500 billion euros because for 30 years the country has run deficit budgets. It wants government to curb spending and cut debt. Its web site runs a number of petitions including: “Not a penny of public money to unions that take France hostage”(a reference to the current national petrol blockades and escargot actions) another urges President Nicolas Sarkozy not to succumb “to the blackmail of public service unions”, a third opposes any “new taxes to pay for eco-lunacy” while the last one demands “transparency about all expenses and benefits claimed by parliamentary deputies and senators”
The Voice of the Taxpayer says its 20-year battle has been necessary because politicians do not protect taxpayers, unless there is organized pressure group holding them to account.
The Voice of the Taxpayer says it has 146 000 active members committed to pressuring elected officials to exercise sound management of public money and cut taxes.
There is a whiff of “Poujadisme” in these efforts and indeed the parallel was drawn by Régis Soubrouillard – writing late September in Marianne magazine.
Soubrouillard noted that the Tea Party “is not a political party. It is a strong and mysterious movement of popular protest, mysterious in terms of its makeup and aims and whose structure is largely rudimentary and leaderless. The attention of most of its supporters is focused on being against big government, the size of America’s debt, tax protest and the constitutionality of federal law.”
These aspects were also remarked on by Robert Zaretsky, a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College who in an oped piece in the New York Times wrote: “French observers of our country may be forgiven if they feel a certain déjà vu when they see a movement that brings nothing to the ballot box except anger.
“MORE than 100,000 angry citizens united in the nation’s capital to take their country back: back from the tax collector and the political and financial elites, back from bureaucrats and backroom wheelers and dealers and, more elusively and alarmingly, back from those who, well, were not like them…these protesters were gathered in France a half-century ago: Last week was the 55th anniversary of the mass demonstration in Paris of the Poujadist movement, a phenomenon that bears a close resemblance to our own Tea Party. For a brief moment, the movement threatened the very foundations of the French Republic.”
(Brief history: Pierre Poujade born December 1920 in Saint-Cere (Lot) and died in August 2003 in Aveyron gave his name to Poujadism, a movement set up in defence of merchants and craftsmen and opposed to the inefficiency of the parliamentary system of France’s IVth Republic. Poujadism was mainly a revolt against the big state, the tax authorities, community leaders and intellectuals.)
Tax revolting in France though is nothing new. Poujade had been preceded by the Bloc du Petit commerce, in 1934 and before that anger and anti-parliamentarianism was channelled by the deeply conservative right in France.
Alain Dumait, a blogger and leader of the taxpayers revolt says on his Le Journal d’Alain Dumait: the US Tea Party phenomenon is clearly anti-tax, anti-Washington, and anti-establishment while on this side of the Atlantic Teabagging sympathizers are simply demanding a return to common sense in economics – namely public spending cuts and balanced budgets and beyond that over social choices, recognition of the superiority of private enterprise over public intervention, primacy of the family and community in social organisation.
“…I have to tell you… that in France the equivalent of the Tea Party is alive and well it was formed as an association twenty years ago it has a newspaper called the Cry of the Taxpayer its program is simple: too much public spending and too many taxes. It has some 200,000 members and supporters it has a voice and a face and while it is not a political party it is endorsing candidates in the 2012 elections that support its aims.”
Paul Parant on tetu.com writes about what he calls the “Catholic ultras of the (ruling) UMP gearing up for a battle royal in the race for 2012. Gathered around Christian Vanneste, UMP deputy for the North, a group of very conservative UMP members has established a movement known as “Audacity 2012” to influence the presidential candidates. “Audacity 2012” aims to unite Christian groups to ensure their presidential candidates back basic French conservative values including family founded on marriage, and opposition to abortion. Founders of the group include Christian Vanneste (top left above). Xavier Lemoine (bottom left), UMP mayor of Montfermeil , Jean-Frédéric Poisson (bottom right), former UMP MP for Rambouillet, and Bishop Philippe Barbarin (top right), Archbishop of Lyon. The movement is chaired by François Billot Lochner, president of a group of wealthy UMP deputies and apostle of the “decline” of France, author of a 2008 book: The Vanneste Case – death of freedom of opinion.
And lastly there is François Hollande, former Socialist party first secretary and MP for Corrèze, who is positioning himself as the candidate of the left in 2010. Hollande also attacks taxation but from a different perspective naturally.
In an article in Tribune, co-signed by Michel Sapin, François Hollande unveils his angle of attack. His report does not mince words. He believes the tax system has become unequal, unstable and unreadable, and that it discourages the creation of wealth… The remedy he offers is radical: eliminate all deductions, all allowances, all exemptions, all tax loopholes make the rules of taxation common and comprehensible , tax all income regardless of origin, whether from capital or labour, whether derived from business activity or from rents.
On paper, his ideas are seductive: by establishing a broad tax base with moderate progressive rates there would be enough funding for the State, Social Security and local authorities.
So no Tea Party around the corner then, just plenty of malcontents.
Story: Ken Pottinger