Marina Yannakoudakis is a Member of the European Parliament for London. Follow Marina on Twitter.
I recently took part in a debate on the French TV channel France 24. The subject was austerity and the French Presidential election. I suggested, as much as a joke as anything, that as a London MEP I was looking forward to welcoming those French who wished to avoid François Hollande’s 75% millionaire tax. The socialist economist who was participating in the debate practically jumped out her chair. “The French people are not going to leave France because of a small increase in tax,” she rasped gallically.
While upsetting a French socialist is the mark of a job well done for a Conservative MEP, I wonder whether the economist might ultimately be proven right. Not because I believe that punitive taxes won’t lead to an exodus of Frenchmen to London, but because I don’t believe that the European Union will allow Hollande to divert from its austerity agenda.
I understand why the French, the Dutch and the Greeks (about which more later) are opposed to austerity. France’s deficit is smaller than the UK’s with the Netherlands even enjoying a small surplus. France has not been forced to take quite the same drastic action as the UK government to shore up its economy. However, Sarkozy tried to manage the crisis by lowering the cost of employment: making it easier to fire workers and introducing pension reform. The unions who backed Hollande will demand a volte face on labour reforms and France’s spiralling pension costs can only see the country’s deficit rise.