President Hollande’s private life continues to fascinate the whole world (other than the French press pack, obviously); but it is worth noting that the embattled president signalled a major shift in economic policy yesterday. France is a couple of years late to the austerity party; but it will experience €50 billion worth of cuts in 2015 – 2017, on top of the €15bn scheduled for this year. When Hollande won the Élysée, he promised ‘another way’. But he’s been mugged by reality. Austerity est arrivé.
All of which is a little embarrassing for Ed Miliband, who told ITV in May 2012:
‘I congratulate Francois Hollande. I know from our conversations in London earlier this year and from his victory speech tonight of his determination to help create a Europe of growth and jobs, in a way that is responsible and sustainable. This new leadership is sorely needed as Europe seeks to escape from austerity. And it matters to Britain.’
It was quite a honeymoon, while it lasted. Hollande broke Élysée Palace protocol in July 2012 by allowing the Labour leader to greet him on the steps of the palace before the new president had even met David Cameron. Labour spinners loved it and briefed the Telegraph with some lovely colour:
‘French officials were insisting there would be no meeting on the steps as protocol said that was usually reserved for leaders of government. But Mr Hollande was keen to come down and show his support.’
Ed, of course, was deliriously happy:
‘The points of agreement we have were around the fact that the tide is turning against an austerity approach, that there needs to be a different way forward found. What President Hollande is seeking to do in France and what he is seeking to do in leading the debate in Europe is find that different way forward.’
It seems that there was not a different way forward after all. Hollande said yesterday: ‘we have to reduce spending to reduce deficits’. What will Ed make of this infidelity to the cause?