Political column by Julian Nundy
In Search of Substance
Two months after his election and to underline his new style, François Hollande, Sarkozy's Socialist successor, went back to basics and gave a 45-minute live interview on 14th July to France's two main TV channels.
Hollande marked himself out as someone less agitated than his predecessor and probably succeeded in convincing many citizens that life under his presidency would be calmer and more "normal" (for someone who had said that his ambition was to be a "normal" president) than before.
Apart from that, however, there was not much substance. The Peugeot carmaker's intention to close plants and lay off 8,000 workers was not acceptable, he said. But Hollande did not say what means the government had to rein in Peugeot. Nor would he be drawn on just what tax increases were planned to pay off France's debt.
Talking of taxes, one who did put the cat among the Gallic pigeons was David Cameron, the British Prime Minister. On the sidelines of an economic summit in Mexico in June, Cameron jovially suggested that Britain could roll out "a red carpet" for high-earning French citizens trying to avoid the new 75 per cent tax on annual incomes of more than one million euros a year that Hollande promised during his election campaign. Cameron even went so far as to suggest that U.K. taxes paid by the rich from France could fund British schools and hospitals.
If Cameron was just trying to be funny, he didn't amuse many French Socialists. Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, and Claude Bartolone, the new Parliament speaker, were among several to fall about in horror at Perfidious Albion's latest outrage. There were even suggestions that Cameron, talking after dinner, spoke after a glass too many.
A few days later, at a British Embassy reception in Paris, Interior Minister Manuel Valls sought to make light of Cameron's remark, noting that France, too, had its own red carpet for Britons buying second homes in France.
Another was Hollande himself who, on a one-day visit to London in July, said he loved "humour, especially British humour," hinting that he thought Cameron had been, well, just trying to be funny.
Then in jumped the Daily Telegraph, quoting high-end estate agents and Swiss tax lawyers, saying there were signs that France's wealthy really were planning to move to neighbouring countries to pay less in taxes.
In the meantime, for those who stay on, what happens next remains something of a mystery. No one doubts that big tax rises are on the way for everyone, and not just the rich, but Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault are so far giving very little away on where they will strike.