French riot police fired water cannons and tear gas at 30,000 truckers, farmers, fishermen, and food industry workers waving banners of “Right to Work” and hurling rocks and iron bars at police to protest a new “ecotax” on commercial trucking over the weekend.
The controversial $1.4 billion tax for rail and river expansion is causing layoffs across the French trucking industry. While the Socialist government of French President François Hollande is attempting to avoid a “spiral of violence,” former French Prime Minister François Fillon shocked the media by saying that voting for the far-right National Front that wants to dump the euro common currency may now be “acceptable.”
“Acceptable” is a code-word for acknowledging that Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Front party that opposes immigration and euro common currency has such a strong lead in the polls and that French welfare-state politicians better get on board with the rebellious conservatives or be wiped-out in the next election. With one in four voters supporting the National Front in France, Ms. Le Pen is forming a coalition with nationalists in the United Kingdom, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Nordic states. With momentum now on their side, the National Front and its allies seem positioned to win control of the 766 seat European Parliament next year.
François Charles Armand Fillon is far from a hard right conservative; he was the chief architect of expanding the French welfare state over the last decade. As Minister of Labour in 2002, he pushed through the controversial French 35-hour work week law and lowered the age of full retirement in France to 55 years old. In 2005 as Minister of National Education, he led the adoption of the first “common core” Fillon law on Education. He was politically rewarded by French President Nicolas Sarkozy with appointment as Prime Minister of France from 2007 to 2012.
But five years of economic crisis and rising unemployment has caused anti-European rhetoric and calls for greater economic protectionism across France. During this period, support for the National Front rose from less than 5% in 2008 to 17.9% in the 2012 Presidential elections, and possibly up to 30% today. Before the last election, former President Sarkozy tried to reach out to the Nation Front by calling for curbs on Muslim immigrants and protection of European industry from “unfair” Asian competition. But the National Front rejected the overtures because Sarkozy refused to abandon the euro.
President Francois Hollande’s hard-core socialist policies of attacking business and the rich have thrilled the Left. But according to the Heritage Foundation, France’s score for the Index of Economic Freedom has plunged to 64.1, the lowest of any major country in Europe. Even before the ecotax, the socialist policies had hurt the economy and infuriated the vast majority of French with a witch’s brew of new tax increases, including:
1) Doubling one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world with a “surtax”;
2) Increase reporting of income and tax obligations subject to VAT tax;
3) Increased pension tax contribution;
4) Energy drink tax of $1.37 per can;
5) Financial transaction tax on all investments;
5) Raising assessed value of all French real estate to collect higher property taxes; and
6) Data tax on all transfers of all information outside the European Union.
The French Socialists under Hollande also increased deficit spending for “investments” to such an extent that the country’s national debt is expected to reach a dangerous record level of 95.1% of GDP next year. But while failing to stimulate growth and employment, Socialist massive spending violated the European Commission’s 3% deficit rule. Consequently, France, for the first time since WWII, is being forced to make an “unprecedented” $20 billion in public spending cuts for 2014. The Left is screaming that the cuts will bring “suffering to the people,” while the National Front is screaming that the higher taxes are “anti-growth”.
All of this has stimulated the growth of the National Front in France and their nationalist allies from across the continent to run for 2014 European Union Parliamentary elections as a common slate of candidates. The election rules are unique, because European Parliamentary members are elected directly by the general population. Europeans have traditionally been so apathetic about elections that in the last election in 2009 turnout was only 40%. This low participation rate will magnify the nationalist parties who are highly motivated to end what they believe is undemocratic domination by liberal elites.
The Parliament after 2009 was given enhanced powers in nearly all areas of setting EU policy, including oversight of the EU budget and the ability to appoint the President of the EU Commission. Consequently, the European Parliament now has equal status with the European Council, which directly represents the governments of EU members. A nationalist takeover of Parliament in 2014 would usher in revolutionary change. They reject most aspects of EU integration, such as the free movement of people within the bloc and the use of the euro currency. Nationalists believe the European Union undermines member sovereignty and they are demanding restoration of states’ rights.
With the National Front and their allies on the verge of seizing control of the European Parliament and potentially naming its President, such a stunning victory over the Left would be unprecedented since the collapse of communism in the 1990s. The member states strengthened the power of the European Parliament to win the hearts and the minds of all European voters, but what Europeans seem to want in those hearts and minds is to dump the euro and end the European Union.