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Henri Guaino: "In France, we have entered a spiral that can get out of hand"

MAJOR MAINTENANCE – There is no indulgence to be had with professional thugs and violent activists who want to overthrow the social order, believes the former special adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy at the Élysée. Read more
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Henri Guaino, however, calls for not prolonging and increasing the tension because, he recalls, to violence is an epidemic and mimetic phenomenon that can take everything away. It is urgent, according to him, to take into account the extent of the opposition to the draft pension reform. Opposition which, in his eyes, goes well beyond the demonstrators and testifies to the revolt of working France, confronted today with inflation and since the end of the Thirty glorious to the deterioration of his situation. To this social frustration is added, for Henri Guaino, a democratic frustration linked to root causes and aggravated by the conditions of the presidential election of 2022, where many French people voted in the second round by default. To get out of the crisis from the top, he proposes to let the Assembly decide during a second reading or to let the people decide by referendum.


LE FIGARO. – How far can the social conflict around the pension reform go?

Henry Guaino. – No one can predict how far this conflict will go, which in itself is worrying. It must be said that from the beginning, this conflict is not an ordinary social conflict in which a category of the population would fight to defend its interests, but a revolt which crosses the whole of society. A society which is on the verge of breaking up, at the end of its tether, which has not ceased since the end of the Glorious Thirties to take violent shocks, which we demand from those who work always more sacrifices without anything happening. is improving, quite the contrary and which has just suffered the pandemic and now inflation without wages following. This pension reform was, in these circumstances, the sacrifice of too much and the company, in its depths, at least for two thirds, if not three quarters of it, and even more for the assets, does not had only one cry: "Enough!" Most French people needed this cry to be heard and understood. They had the feeling that they were being answered "Talk always", or "Scream as much as you want, you will get tired before us". Nothing like giving the feeling of playing the politics of attrition to transform a protest into a showdown between the people and the power. We must be aware that it is a psychological gear that can become uncontrollable.

Are we entering a political crisis and even a democratic crisis?

There has long been a crisis in politics that has been analyzed from every angle, but which in the end no one seems to take seriously as it undermines representative democracy by disqualifying those who are supposed to represent the sovereign people. It must be said that in forty years, everyone has done their part to the point that most of the world does not believe that elections are still useful and that the people are still sovereign. The political crisis itself, that is to say the moment when the crisis of legitimacy of the political forces present becomes such that it paralyzes the institutions by making it impossible to form a government capable of governing, we are entering it. It has root causes, but which are aggravated by the conditions of the 2022 presidential election, where many French people voted in the second round even more reluctantly. than in 2017 without this being taken into account in the way of governing. Since then, whether we like it or not, the question of legitimacy has arisen in a haunting way, which was expressed from the outset in the results of the legislative elections. The truth is that most people consider that the president has no mandate to carry out his program.

But retirement at 65 was in his program and he was elected. Isn't his democratic legitimacy indisputable?

This idea that a president would have an indisputable legitimacy because he was elected always makes me think of the remark of this character played by Michel Blanc in the film The Bronzed"on a misunderstanding, it can do it". And here it doesn't. You remember Renan's definition of the nation: “the nation is a daily plebiscite”. Well, legitimacy, authority, they are won, they are deserved every day, they are daily plebiscites, and this is what makes the art of governing so difficult, like that of commanding obliges seek all the time where is the limit of the consent which it is necessary to avoid crossing. It is not a question of seeking unanimity or consensus by indexing all policies to the lowest common denominator, but of not going too far. It is, again and again, the word of Camus that every head of state and government should repeat to himself over and over again: “the rebellious man is a man who says no” And what is in this “no!”? In this "no!" There's "You've crossed a line!" Everyone feels that with this pension reform, the stifling of parliamentary debate, the 49.3then the televised intervention of the Head of State on the theme "move on, there is nothing more to see", or the statements of the government which present the adoption of the text as a victory or a success, which have been received as provocations, a limit has been crossed. Everyone feels it, except apparently the government and the head of state. Therein lies the greatest risk: not being aware that a limit has been crossed.

There is an urgent need to take seriously the scale and stiffening of the opposition to the project before it becomes a radical opposition to the person of the president and that of the prime minister

But was the president not in his role by recalling that the crowd was not legitimate in the face of elected officials?

To say that the crowd of demonstrators has no legitimacy is to say that once the elections are over, the people no longer have anything to say at the very moment when an overwhelming majority of French people are demanding to be heard by those who exercise power in their name. It is to run the risk of hearing the answer "who made you king?" And this is still throwing oil on the fire. It seems to me that it is urgent to take seriously the scale and the stiffening of the opposition to the project before it becomes a radical opposition to the person of the president and that of the prime minister.

Should we then give in to the violence of the thugs and the ultra-left?

There is no indulgence to be had with the professional thugs, from the black blocs to the zadists and the militants who want to overthrow the social order by violence, who don't care much about pensions and who are rarely recruited from the proletariat. One of the reasons why social tension should not be prolonged and increased is that it provides fertile ground for those who want to set off a spiral of violence. Everyone should remember that violence is an epidemic, mimetic phenomenon that can drive even the most peaceful and reasonable people into a collective fury and can overcome even the cold blood of the police. Those who aim to create chaos know this very well. And no democratic power should ever forget either that stirring up violence to weld around itself the eternal party of order is to play with fire.

But how could the head of state back down after being so committed?

The first duty of head of state it is to preserve the unity of the nation. All the presidents of the Ve Republic which found themselves confronted with situations where it seemed to them to be threatened assumed to put it before all the rest even if it meant sometimes disavowing their government. De Gaulle and Pompidou on the requisition of minors in 1963, Mitterrand in 1984 on the free school, Chirac in 1995 with the Juppé reform, Chirac again in 2006 on the CPE. Holland in 2013 on the ecotax against the movement of "red caps", Emmanuel Macron, ended up doing it on the carbon tax on gasoline in 2018 in the face of protest fromyellow vests". Admittedly, the five-year term has scrambled everything by making it much more difficult for the president to overhang the government and the limitation to two successive terms by lifting the constraint of re-election can give the head of state the feeling that he can do anything regardless of opinion. Having missed the exit door that the vote of the National Assembly could have constituted, there remains the possibility of letting the Assembly decide during a second reading or the Gaullist solution of letting the people decide by referendum.

But won't that weaken the function and the institutions?

Staying “right in your boots” would weaken him much more, as in 1996, when the “right in your boots of 1995”, had worn down the authority of the government and made the country ungovernable. And even if the government won the bet of attrition because the demonstrators and the strikers at the end of their resources would resign themselves, there would remain resentment, suppressed anger, a delegitimization of institutions and power. And what would the authority of the state gain, after having weakened the authority of Parliament to bend the unions, to weaken them even more than they already are? With whom will the government negotiate in an increasingly fractured and radicalized society if it only has to deal with movements of the "red caps" or "yellow vests" type? This was understood by Pompidou in 1968 when he did everything not to weaken the unions.

There is no macroeconomic problem with pensions and if there is something to discuss today it is the level of wages on which contributions are deducted.

What do you say to those who believe that this is a modest reform based on a common sense demographic observation?

If the effects are modest why be stubborn. But since the beginning the tendency is rather to the dramatization. The government began by saying that without the reform, our pension system would run into bankruptcy and now it is France that must be saved from bankruptcy and the sanction of the markets. But what frightens the markets the most is the political chaos.

Where is the truth?

The little parliamentary debate that took place showed that no one was able to say where the figures that served as the justification for this project came from. It became clear that not even ministers knew this when the Minister of Labor found nothing else to reply to an MP: "I don't have to report to you on my figures". This is unfortunately often the case, but it has perhaps never been so eye-catching, and the reluctance around the €1200 minimum pension has given the French the feeling that they are being told nonsense. The truth is that the only somewhat serious data we have are those of the report of the Pensions Orientation Council created in 2000 in order to establish a shared diagnosis. From his work, it does not appear anywhere that there is a risk of bankruptcy on the horizon. The central message is that with constant purchasing power of pensions, and taking into account the reforms already undertaken before 2023, the share of pension expenditure in national income is destined at worst to stabilize and at best to reduce in the decades to come. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that there is no macroeconomic problem with pensions and that if there is something to be discussed today it is the level of wages on which contributions are deducted and, in the future, of the base of the financing taking into account in particular the changes of work. This forecast will perhaps be contradicted by the facts, but, for the moment, it is the only working basis available.

Isn't the pension reform with the decline of age in the DNA of the right which has always supported it, shouldn't it support this reform?

In the DNA of my political family, if we stick to this formula, there is not a retirement age or a VAT rate, but things like national independence, the sovereignty of the people , assimilation, the desire to transmit a French culture, the Ve Republic, the legacy of the National Council of Resistance, Séguin's “Social Munich” about mass unemployment. My family is that of Malraux declaring "we are not the right because we have implemented the most ambitious social program since the Popular Front". We will still have to end up asking ourselves the question of what a political family is in the end.

Nicolas Sarkozy, whose adviser you were, had pushed back the legal age. Have you changed your mind?

I have always been opposed to age measures and in favor of abolishing the legal retirement age, which is a source of many injustices, which confuses everything, to stick to the contribution period. As for Nicolas Sarkozy, he had the merit of having resisted the strong pressure of all those in his government, in his majority, who wanted to go up to 65 years of age, and of having kept to the limit beyond which he sensed that consent would no longer be guaranteed.

Not voting for censure means giving confidence to the government

As a supporter of rationalized parliamentarism, don't you think that the use of 49.3 was legitimate?

Its use was constitutional but totally inappropriate in the present case. It dealt a severe blow to the rationalized parliamentarism of the Fifth Republic. Let's hope it won't kill him.

Should we change the Republic?

I am in favor, as much as possible, of going back to the 1962 version, which in the light of our constitutional history, was the best constitution that France has given itself. It has since been damaged a lot. But throwing it away would be to return to the mistakes of the past that we seem to have forgotten. We must stop thinking that each time we break something we necessarily make progress.

Should we vote censorship?

Not to vote for censure is to grant confidence to the government. But in this case, we are no longer in opposition. This is parliamentary logic.


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