The world is alive with revolts, regime change and revolutions – but also presidential elections. Russia just had one, Egypt is trying to organize one, France will vote in a runoff this Sunday, May 6. As America finally joins the rest of the world in celebrating the workers’ holiday on May 1st, and the Occupy movement picks up steam again, the French presidential election in which a socialist is tipped to win provides a unique occasion for voters to become aware of the benefits they can only aspire to, but which have been available to the French and other Europeans since the end of World War II.
Before reviewing Hollande’s’ platform, readers need to know that there are twelve political parties represented in the French Parliament:
The existence of so many parties is considered a disadvantage. In the case of France has led to a sometimes dizzying succession of Prime Ministers, and half a dozen constitutions since the Revolution of 1789. But it can be argued that at any given moment, the political landscape is more in synch with society than one which is hemmed in by a 200 year old constitution that has been amended only 27 times.
This year, the French Socialist Party and the Radical Party of the Left jointly held the first ever open primary, in which participants were required donate at least one Euro and sign a pledge to the values of the Left to be eligible. The audacity of commitment!
Before we look at Francois Hollande’s platform, let me mention a few of the benefits that I have been familiar with living in France for a total of 28 years, beginning in 1947 and ending in 1999, (with extended periods in several other countries):
1) Near free health care: a modest co-payment for doctors’ visits, hospital, rehab (including medical massages. Reasonable co-pays for dental and eye care.
In 1981, I had emergency surgery. A social workers visited me in hospital to inquire whether my two teen-age children needed to be taken care of, and offered me a three week stay in a convalescent facility at no charge.
2) Workplace benefits: Did you ever wonder how there can be so many restaurants in France? This is partly thanks to the fact that companies which do not have a cafeteria must provide restaurant vouchers so that employees can eat out at low cost. The arrangement not only makes for a pleasant break in the daily routine, but keeps restaurants in business.
3) Family benefits: Regardless of income, all French families with school-age children receive a monthly benefit, depending on the number of children and their ages. This was instituted after the Second World War in order to boost the birthrate. The lack of an income ceiling has been the subject of fierce debate, but France’s upper classes are determined to hang on to this benefit, which allows them to increase the percentage of the population having the ‘right’ ideas.) Families receive an extra benefit before the start of the fall term to help with supplies. Francois Hollande promises to raise this amount by 25%.
Now to some of the highlights of the Socialist candidate’s platform:
With respect to health insurance, Hollande would again make hospitals public service institutions, reversing their assimilation to the private sector under Sarkozy. Hollande also intends to institute greater access to medical care in the provinces, with the goal of making travel to the nearest facility take no more than half an hour. Hollande promises to limit the amount doctors can charge for their services when operating outside the standard fee system, and to encourage lower prescription prices. He will also propose that terminally ill patients suffering physical or psychological pain that cannot be alleviated be allowed to die with dignity. These are good examples of the way alternations in power between left and right affect everyday life.
The Socialist candidate also promises to create a public investment bank, and a special savings account whose assets would be used to encourage small business.
In another move that would be unheard of in the United States, Hollande promises not to privatize the electric company, trains, or post office, and to call for a European directive to protect the public sector; he promises to protect small farmers vis a vis industrial food distribution channels, and to promote the modernization of the fishing industry.
France has a large pubic sector, and Hollande intends to protect it, reversing Sarkozy’s policy of not replacing every other retiree.
In terms of income and taxes, French revenues above 150 000 Euros (about 175,000 Dollars) will be taxed at 45%. Those who have accumulated 42 years of social security taxes will again be able to retire at 60, instead of 62, as under Sarkozy.
Hollande will also propose that companies limit remuneration disparities to 1-20. He promises to combat racial profiling, and to hire 60,000 people in the education sector, for which he proposes many reforms.
If they win the election, the socialists will reinstate rent control, and promote construction of low income housing, making state-owned land available to local communities.
With respect to finance, they will forbid banks to trade with customer money and create a tax on financial transactions. (This latter, known as the Toobin Tax, has been in discussion in France since the early nineteen eighties…) Hollande also proposes to review the value of the Euro vis a vis the dollar and the Yuan, and calls for a new international monetary policy.
The socialist presidential candidate wants to reduce French nuclear energy from 75% to 50% by 2025 and promote renewable energy solutions, as well as instituting progressive rates for electric gas and water consumption so that basic needs can be met without bankrupting low income families.
This is a typical social democratic platform, not unlike those of socialist candidates in other European countries, which come in way ahead of the United States on quality of life indices.
It’s true that most people work for the state for about half a year (as a self-employed translator I calculated that my earnings went to the state until about July 10th). And while it is not a good idea to get behind in one’s payments, when all is said and done, most French working people feel that the security they get for their taxes is well worth the burden. That security includes the knowledge that even when the 1% are in power, they can only nibble away at long accepted benefits for the many.