Pierre Moscovici When Criticism Hits Too Close to Home

Pierre Moscovici, the E.U.'s economics commissioner, has alienated his own countrymen by calling on France to exercise greater fiscal discipline.
Smooth, but lacking definition: Pierre Moscovici.

A lack of respect can be expressed in many ways. Silence is one of them.

When French President François Hollande was asked recently what he thought of Pierre Moscovici’s calls for stronger reforms to cut France's deficit, he didn’t answer, indicating it wasn’t worth discussing.

The leader didn’t waste even half a sentence on the man he pushed through as European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, a top role in the executive arm of the European Union. Only a few months beforehand, Mr. Hollande had relieved him of his post as French economics and finance minister, arguing Mr. Moscovici wasn’t assertive enough.

The snubbed man got his revenge earlier this week by threatening the French government with sanctions for violating European budgetary rules on deficits. The Commission has told France it must reduce its deficit by 0.5 percent of gross domestic product to conform with E.U. rules and avoid sanctions, and claims its current reform plans will only cut it by 0.3 percent.

Mr. Moscovici wouldn’t be the smooth politician he is if he hadn’t already warned Paris.

“A good deal is always better than bad sanctions, but sanctions may be necessary,” he said.

But Mr. Moscovici wouldn’t be the smooth politician he is if he hadn’t already warned Paris not to worry. Internally, he let it be known he could hardly imagine calling for sanctions against France.

In Germany, the socialist Mr. Moscovici is viewed as the extended arm of France within the Commission, yet that view is too simple. Mr. Hollande is not alone in having a strained relationship with him.

Mr. Moscovici has few friends at home, where he is seen as a politician who lacks defining characteristics.

The left finds him to too much of a friend to the market economy. The right believes he didn’t lead the finance ministry with enough energy. Euroskeptics consider him a lackey of the bureaucrats in Brussels. Pro-Europeans accuse him of lacking commitment to the European cause, even though he was a member of the European parliament and a European minister.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the radical Left Front party and his most vociferous critic, describes Mr. Moscovici as a man who “doesn't think French, but thinks like the world of international finances.”

An accusation right from the dregs of anti-Semitism and, as everyone in France knows, Mr. Moscovici is a Jew. His father survived the Holocaust and died only last year as a respected social psychologist, but the Nazis murdered a large part of his family.

 

Observers in Brussels agree Mr. Moscovici has yet to face an acid test in office, but the first may arrive next week when the commissioner announces whether and under what conditions France, Italy and Belgium will be given more time to consolidate their runaway budgets.

This will require Mr. Moscovici to coordinate every step with Valdis Dombrovskis, the Latvian who was assigned to work with him in his role as vice-president of the Commission.

But he comes from a small country while Mr. Moscovici represents the second-largest E.U. member state and gets along well with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Mr. Dombrovskis has a reputation for avoiding confrontation. “He is simply nice,” said an E.U. diplomat.

The second test Mr. Moscovici must pass comes in March, when the Commission presents a plan of action to counter legal tax avoidance by European companies. He’s in charge and must prove he can achieve tax fairness in Europe, which the European Parliament expects.

“We will then measure Mr. Moscovici on whether he seriously takes up the battle against tax evasion,” says Sven Giegold, a Green Party member of the European Parliament. Like many others in the parliament, he doesn’t have much good to say about Mr. Moscovici.

 

Thomas Hanke is Handelsblatt's Paris correspondent, Ruth Berschens runs the paper's Brussels bureau. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected]