Dutch, French Socialists Demand More Left-Wing Policies

European center-left leaders have little choice but to defy their own parties’ wishes.

Dutch Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom speaks in Leiden, July 4, 2012
Dutch Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom speaks in Leiden, July 4, 2012 (PvdA/Wouter Zaalberg)

Socialist party leaders in France and the Netherlands can ill afford to respect their parties’ wishes and take a more leftist policy stand, either in Europe or in coalition.

France

France’s Socialists, who won both last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, have urged President François Hollande in a policy document that’s set to be adopted at a conference in June to resist the “self-centered intransigence” of Germany’s Angela Merkel and push for more stimulatory policies in Europe instead.

“The friendship between France and Germany is not a friendship between France and the European policy of Chancellor Merkel,” the paper argues.

Hollande was critical of Merkel’s insistence on budget consolidation during the election campaign, but he has adopted a more conciliatory tone — to the chagrin of many in his party.

“France must be able to fight against the European right’s point of view,” National Assembly speaker Claude Bartolone tells Le Monde newspaper. “Austerity alone could condemn the beautiful idea that is Europe rather than save it.”

Some in Hollande’s cabinet agree. Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, an anti-globalist who ran to Hollande’s left in the party’s 2011 primary, told Le Monde earlier this month that the president’s budget “rigor” was leading the country “collectively into a recessionary spiral.”

“What is the point of fiscal consolidation if the economy goes to the dogs?” Montebourg wondered. “Budget discipline is one thing. Cutting to death is another.”

Benoît Hamon, a junior social economy minister, complains to Le Parisien newspaper, “Germany is demanding we sprint at a time when France needs to get its breath back.”

France has asked the European Commission to give it one more year to bring its deficit under the 3-percent limit enshrined in European fiscal law.

Last year, its shortfall equaled 4.8 percent of economic output, in spite of “austerity” measures, which consisted largely of tax increases.

Netherlands

The Dutch social democrats, who joined Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s fiscally conservative liberal party in government last year, similarly favor more “breathing room” to reduce the Netherlands’ deficit, which is expected to reach 3.3 percent of GDP this year.

But even if both the party’s leader, Diederik Samsom, and its finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, argue against short-term spending cuts, they recognize that it would be “unwise” to let the deficit rise.

Their members rebel not so much against this lukewarm support for austerity but rather against the government’s planned criminalization of illegal aliens.

In opposition to Rutte’s previous, right-wing cabinet, the Labor Party vehemently criticized plans to criminalize illegal immigration. Samsom acquiesced in coalition talks last year, when the liberals offered a pardon for minors who were staying in the country illegally.

A majority of Labor Party members is nevertheless expected to call on the leadership on Saturday to block the government’s proposal.

Former party leader Job Cohen, also a former junior justice minister, argues that penalizing illegal aliens would “add nothing to existing law,” which he said is already “very strict.”

Samsom may agree but will have to defy his own party. He recognizes that many liberal voters are already fed up with the coalition. If he forces Rutte’s party to make another concession to the left, rightwingers may revolt while neither ruling party stands to benefit from new elections. Polls suggest that Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party could surpass the liberals while the far-left Socialists would prevent Samsom from winning a plurality of the seats in parliament.

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