France

French Government Deploys Devilishly Clever Plan To Piss Off Everybody in the Country

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François Hollande
Jean-Marc Ayrault

France's economy has completely stalled—actually, it's shrinking—as a result of the country's burdensome taxes and regulations. The French people are furious and organizing against high taxes, prompting bureaucrats to issue panicked predictions of imminent revolt. And with a population scrambling to make a living or seek a little pleasure in which to temporarily forget their woes, lawmakers propose to criminalize prostitution and drive the trade underground. It's devilishly clever scheme, if only because it's hard to see any sane endgame to the political leadership's moves. Well…Maybe there isn't one.

Deutsche Welle reports:

France has repeatedly failed to meet EU deficit rules under which fresh borrowing must not exceed three percent of GDP. This year, it's expected to log a four percent deficit—despite tax hikes. As of 2015, public spending is to be cut in order to meet the three percent deficit target. S&P, however, has severe doubts about France being able to live up to its promise.

Growth, too, is sluggish, hampered by many companies' weak competitiveness, Uterwedde says. "Firms quite often produce rather low-key products—a Renault Twingo, for example, instead of a luxury car. With products like these, the cost pressures on markets are enormous." …

Unemployment in France stands at a record: just below 11 percent. Standard & Poor's believes it will stay above 10 percent until 2016. "Youth joblessness is twice as high," Frederic Schaeffer said. "And that's why most political measures are focused on that.

Not surprisingly, Standard & Poor's downgraded France's credit ratig a notch, on fears that the country is losing the ability to pay its bills.

As usual, the French government responds to its troubles balancing the books by trying to milk the population just a little bit more—a move against which even the European Union warned. The French, as a result, are feeling a little…drained. And angry.

Bloomberg reports, "Hollande's Socialist administration faces protests over taxes and burdensome regulation not just from business leaders, as you might expect, but also from farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, truck drivers and soccer players."

And they're not small or localized protests. A supposedly secret Ministry of the Interior report made its way to La Figaro newspaper. The Irish Times rounds it up for us English-speakers:

The monthly reports are usually couched in careful, and sanitised language, which makes the blatant warning to the interior minister and president all the more alarming. "The legitimacy of tax" is now widely questioned, it notes. "This mix of latent discontent and resignation erupts through sudden bouts of anger, almost spontaneous, and not within structured social movements."

The publication of excerpts of the report yesterday coincides with the rise of at least a dozen protest movements, many with animal names including chicks, turkeys, bees, sheep, dodos and storks. There are also red, green and orange bonnets, and "the sacrificed", who oppose a scheduled VAT increase next January 1st.

"Taxation has become the principal engine of opposition to the government," the report says. It speaks of the "painful" climate in France, of "a feeling of deep despondency that prevents people hoping for a better future". This is fertile ground for "a possible social explosion," the prefects warn, quoting the slogan of an artisans and building workers union: "Watch out; it's going to blow."

And this is the moment that the French government proposes to impose penalties on johns, prompting anger from prostitutes, organized through their union, STRASS, customers, and celebrities who worry that the country's famed sexual tolerance is under assault.

Foreign Policy's Hanna Kozlowska rounds up the breadth of anger as ministers set out to effectively blue-ball an entire nation.

The prostitutes have found many allies in their fight against the legislation, which currently only has the support of 20 percent of the country. The French entertainment industry has never shied away from l'amour physique—after all, what is a French film without some nudity?—and now they've come to the aid of sex workers. On Saturday, 70 French celebrities, including the actress Catherine Deneuve, who portrayed a prostitute in classic film "Belle de Jour," published a petition in which they argued the law would only force the industry underground.

"Without supporting or promoting prostitution, we reject the penalization of those who prostitute themselves and those who seek their services," the crème de la crème of the French entertainment industry argued in the petition, whose signatories also included the singers Charles Aznavour and Antoine and the director Claude Lelouch.

The French stars distanced themselves, however, from an earlier petition that protested the same law and which sparked outrage.  In a controversial October statement, "343 bastards," who "regarding prostitution, (are) believers, practitioners or agnostics" wrote that "everyone has the right to freely sell their charms—and even to like doing so," and that they "do not want lawmakers to adopt rules governing our desires and pleasures."

Hollande and company's machinations are brilliant, if by "brilliant," you mean welding down the regulator on a pressure cooker and turning up the heat, just to see what happens.

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