Thursday, May 31, 2007

On the Way to Extinction?

Ségolène Royal is in Digne to support the candidacy of her campaign director Jean-Louis Bianco. I know this town. Though short on charm itself, the surrounding hills are lovely. A few kilometers outside of town, off a small country road, is a trail that takes you, after a hike of an hour or two, to a site where a small dinosaur lies preserved in situ.

I wonder if les éléphants of the PS might now better be described as mammouths, on their way to extinction and a final resting place somewhere outside of Digne, or Indigne as the case may be.

The Long March to the Presidency

There is a book to be written about Nicolas Sarkozy's long march to the presidency. The meticulous planning of the campaign begins to emerge more fully in retrospect, and it's no wonder that he and Napoleon's biographer were drawn to each other (see previous post). It turns out that Max Gallo was not the only former comrade of Jean-Pierre Chevènement who joined Sarko. A forgotten Le Monde article published on June 22 of last year reported that several other participants in the Citizens' Movement (MRC) had their careers abetted by Sarko. Didier Leschi, the MRC's parliamentary advisor, was named head of the central office for religious worship when Sarko was interior minister. His deputy chief of staff, Michel Bart, became prefect of Hauts-de-Seine. Yannick Blanc joined the prefecture of police. And François Lucas, in charge of local government relations for the MRC, was appointed prefect delegate for security in Brittany.

One wonders what was left of the MRC after Sarkozy's serial seductions. Why Chevènement remained immune to the blandishments has yet to be explained. To have Chevènement so close to Ségolène while MRC co-founder Gallo and four lieutenants crossed over to Sarko must have created some interesting back channels in intercampaign communication.

Gallo: Sign of the Times

The election of Max Gallo to the Académie Française has just been announced. This is an interesting sign of the times. Gallo is yet another former Socialist who jumped ship to back Sarkozy. Of course the elective affinity here was irresistible. As a writer, Gallo's subject of predilection has always been French national identity. In this interview with John Vinocur, dating from 1998, he complains that Mitterrand, under whom he served for a time as government spokesman, had declared that France's future lay with "Europe," but "no one feels that in their heart." In 1992 he joined with another Socialist renegade, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, to found the Citizens' Movement, a left nationalist group. Although Chevènement returned to the fold sufficiently this year to become one of Ségolène Royal's closest advisors, Gallo turned instead to Sarkozy.

Now Sarko is president and Gallo is in the Académie, after handily defeating Claude Imbert, the journalist. Aamin Malouf had been a candidate for the same seat but withdrew (now his election would have been interesting). So France has a president who is reminiscent of Bonaparte, and not just for his small stature, and an Academician who is a biographer of Napoleon (Villepin, the former prime minister, was his rival in the marketplace with a book about "the Hundred Days"). Both are sons of immigrants.

Lawyers Good, Judges--Yawn

In an earlier post I remarked on Sarkozy's fondness for lawyers in his government. The good feeling doesn't extend to judges, apparently. For a deliciously ironic account of the "solemn inauguration" of the Cour de Cassation, which the writer compares to a royal lit de justice, see the blog of Pascale Robert-Diard, who chronicles every presidential yawn in response to the somniferic virtues of high judicial discourse.

The Mortgage Deduction

Ségolène Royal walked straight into a fist. She had accused Sarko of "lying" to the French because he had promised a tax deduction for mortgage interest, but his minister of the budget had announced that the deduction would apply only to mortgages incurred after the election date, May 6, and not to those for which applications were already under way.

She should have known better. Sarko promptly overruled his budget minister and turned the small contretemps into a ringing affirmation: "What I said, I will do." Did she think she was dealing with a political amateur or cheese-paring miser?

The cost to the treasury was hardly uppermost in Sarkozy's mind. A study has shown that 85 to 90 percent of the French who don't own property want to, and the home ownership rate in France is lower than in other European countries (52 percent in France compared with 80 in Spain, for example).

The Socialists opposed this measure on grounds of cost and justice: they claimed that the benefit would go mainly to the better off. But that depends in part on how it is formulated, as a tax credit or a tax deduction. In any case, the demand exists. In pure Keynesian terms, the proposal makes sense: it's likely to stimulate aggregate demand while contributing more to social welfare than, say, digging holes and filling them up again or building a nuclear aircraft carrier.

One wonders if the opposition to the measure doesn't have more to do with its symbolic than with its fiscal and distributive implications. Ownership equals bourgeoisification, and bourgeoisification equals a rightward shift in the electorate. Doesn't Karl Rove make the same calculation: in the current New Yorker (June 4, p. 42) he says "more market-oriented ... equals making you more center-right in your politics." But more home ownership also equals more expenditure on home maintenance, more employment in services and construction, more entry-level jobs for the currently unemployed. The symbolic interpretation may be looking at things the wrong way round.

The idea that a propertied citizen is a conservative citizen has a long pedigree in political theory, and the struggle to assert the rights of citizenship for the unpropertied was long a hallmark of progressive politics. But social democrats can't go on thinking this way.

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Politics?

With apologies to Raymond Carver for the title ...

A CEVIPOF survey concludes, unsurprisingly, that executives, managers, professionals, and the self-employed take a greater interest in politics, by a considerable margin, than do workers and clerks. More interesting, perhaps, are the findings on what political subjects different categories of people discuss. The authors of the report say that "we find that Politics with a capital P does arouse the interest of workers when it appears to have some direct bearing on their daily life and reality rather than being part of traditional political debate, which seems to have lost its audience, especially in this segment of the population."

How many working-class voters responded to the debate about whether supplementary hours should be exempt from payroll taxes, and how many to appeals to "the France that rises early and works hard, obeys the law, and is proud to be French?"

School Zones

School zones? Haven't we been talking about high politics, a presidential election, national issues? Why bring up school zones?

Well, incredible as it may seem to American readers, school zones were a major issue in this presidential election. Or, rather, eliminating them was a major issue. This was Sarkozy's idea. His reason: ostensibly to promote "social mixing." In cities where residential patterns are determined by class and race, the character of school districts is determined by class and race. That certainly won't surprise Americans. But the idea that free school choice is going to solve the problem without additional changes will appear shockingly naive--or astonishingly disingenuous.

Of course the free choice won't really be free, at least not immediately. Education minister Xavier Darcos acknowledges that enrollments for next fall are in the main already set. Only a small percentage of places will be set aside for new applicants in the short term. Parents may apply to place a child outside their present zone. And naturally all the complaints about the current system--favoritism, use of fake addresses, insider advantages (schoolteachers are said to be among the chief abusers of the current system)--will remain after the reform.

The "republican school" figures at the center of the debate about "French identity" that was so central to this election. If equality is a fundamental value of the Republic, then the school is the agent of equality, the vector of social mobility, the place where citizens are equal not just before the law but before such opportunities as the society has to offer. But the myth--powerfully reinforced by the institution of a "national education" in which, as everyone thinks he knows, a minister in Paris can look at his watch on any given day and say precisely what every child in France is studying at that moment--hinges not just on equal citizenship but on equal schools. As French cities have ceased to be socially mixed, French schools have ceased to be equal, and today's minister is less likely to look at his watch than at his map if he wants to know how things are going in a particular school. Hence the great fuss over la carte scolaire, the map of school zones. Its "suppression," as the French call the move to open choice, will not resolve the problem, any more than similar reforms have solved the problem in the United States, because deep social wounds cannot be healed by "teachers without borders." But the issue is fraught with raw emotion, as anyone who has dealt with local school politics in the US knows, so it is not surprising that in a country where education is national, school zones come in for presidential attention.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Answering Questions

A number of readers have posed questions about one post or another, and in most cases I've tried to answer, either in the comments section or in a new post. I should say, though, that, much as I would like to, I won't be able to answer all questions, in many cases because I don't have ready answers, in some because I can't take the time that would be required. I'll try to be as forthcoming as I can, but please be forbearing: this isn't the only thing I do! Thanks for your understanding.

Incidentally, I've received several e-mails from people who would like to comment but don't know how. Beneath each post there is a link to "comments." Just click on the link, and you can read other comments and/or post your own. You can also see each post with its comments on a separate page by clicking on the title of a post on the main page. You can then navigate through the site by clicking on links for previous and next posts.

Some readers of this blog are new to the blogosphere and aren't aware of such things as news aggregators, RSS feeds, and the like. One convenient way to read this and other blogs is to use Google Reader (see the Google site). This allows you to consolidate all the blogs you read in one place, informs you of new posts, and provides easy navigation. There are many other options as well.

Memory Politics: Le Cas Klarsfeld

In a previous post, I considered Pres. Sarkozy's memory politics and noted that he had chosen to repudiate his predecessor's apology for French complicity in the deportation of Jews and to reinstate the "resistantialist myth." In that connection it's interesting to note that the UMP candidate for deputy from the 12th arrondissement of Paris is Arno Klarsfeld. Klarsfeld, the son of famed Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld, served as lawyer to the parties civiles in the trials of milice killer Paul Touvier and collaborator Maurice Papon. The publicity surrounding these two cases was surely among the most important factors in Chirac's decision to issue an apology in the name of France. Historian Henry Rousso called Klarsfeld the "attorney for the truth."

So it's interesting that Klarsfeld, who was so deeply involved in both cases, chose to support Sarkozy despite his retrogression on the memory of Vichy, and that Sarkozy apparently approved the parachutage of Klarsfeld as candidate in the 12th, where he had not been a resident. To explain this rapprochement would require a lengthy essay on the politics of immigration, French Middle East policy, and the sequelae of the Vichy syndrome. It's also worth noting that Klarsfeld, like Kouchner, was a strong supporter of the invasion of Iraq.

The State in the Bedroom?

This post may be in questionable taste, but every blog needs to sex up the news once in a while. A Le Monde piece on "sarkomania on eBay" reports (picture included) that one can buy condoms stamped "UMP-Nicolas Sarkozy" for 3 to 7 euros. Does this foray of the state into the bedroom portend an imminent end to the SNCF's policy of reduced fares for large families?

The Next Labor Front

Sarkozy's proposal to exempt so-called supplementary hours (above the legal 35 hours per week) from the usual payroll taxes has been analyzed by three leading labor economists, Patrick Artus, Pierre Cahuc, and André Sylberger. Libé reports that they warn of possible perverse effects: substitution of hours for workers, cheating by firms (a "moral hazard" created by the incentive to misrepresent ordinary hours as supplementary hours), and costs to the public treasury.

Of course there is a metatheorem of economics, often attributed to Larry Summers, according to which a clever economist can come up with a model to support or oppose any public policy.

Nevertheless, I find Cahuc's work thought-provoking. At the time of the CPE controversy he produced a widely-cited report purporting to show that the effects of the CPE on job creation would be minimal. There's also this interesting paper (with Yann Algann) on why different countries adopt the job protection systems they do: "Job Protection: The Macho Hypothesis." For a very different and to my mind more persuasive view, see Torben Iversen's book Capitalism, Democracy, and Welfare (Cambridge, 2005).

The Uses of Contempt

Contempt was on display left and right yesterday. In Nice François Fillon brought out the long knives: "No longer will there be on one side a President of the Republic who expresses himself on Bastille Day and New Year's Eve and on the other a prime minister who governs from day to day." He and Sarko would stand, or rather jog, shoulder to shoulder. "We not only run together, we work together." The contempt for Chirac was unnecessary, if comprehensible from a politician still smarting at having been sacked by the dying old regime.

Meanwhile, in Paris, François Hollande poured his scorn on the very tandem of which Fillon was so proud: the president, he said, had wanted "an aide-de-camp, an orderly, a flunky, and he found one. He's there to bow, to obey, and when the time comes to resign."

"The perfect contempt," said Henry de Montherlant, "craves the scorn of what it scorns, in order to justify itself."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Uses of Ambiguity

The other day I cited one of my favorite maxims on politics: "To govern is to choose" (Pierre Mendès France). Sometimes, though, ambiguity, or the refusal to choose, is the safer course, as Cardinal de Retz knew: "One abandons ambiguity only at one's peril." See the previous post on Turkey for several contemporary examples of the Retzian dictum. On the whole I'd prefer to take PMF as my model statesman, but one of Retz's mots may have relevance to the plight of the Socialist Party today: "Distrust makes one a dupe more often than trust" (cf. Nietzsche's "Better to be deceived than distrustful"). Kouchner, Jouyet, and Hirsch may have been studying Retz.

As for Besson, I suspect he had darker motives for his decision to trust the enemy and betray his own. Retz had considered his case as well: "After ten days' reflection, I made up my mind deliberately to do wrong, which was surely the more criminal course before God but no doubt the wiser course in the eyes of the world."

Mild Turkey

During the campaign, the candidates seemed to differ on the question of EU membership for Turkey, but perhaps the difference was not as great as it appeared. Sarko said no on unimpeachable geographic if perhaps dubious political grounds: Turkey is in Asia Minor, he noted, not Europe. Ségo said that her position was clear: she would want whatever the French people turned out to want when the time came, but that time was not now. Since at the moment a substantial majority of the French do not want Turkey, Ségo evidently hoped that time would do its part to bring the French around to a position different from that of Sarko, whom she accused of "frightening" people with anti-Turkish talk. Muddying the waters further, she added that she thought it was a good time to "pause" EU enlargement. Clear? If not, read a Turkish take on the debate here.

Now that Sarkozy is in office, however, his resolute Roman no has given way to a more nuanced approach. It emerges (articles here and here) that Jean-David Levitte, former ambassador to the US and not notably Sarkozyste (he was a Giscard protégé), has been invited home from Washington to be a special representative on European matters, and his first mission was to the Turks, to reassure them that Sarko the Hungarian was not the reincarnation of Vlad the Impaler. He wants to put EU negotiations on Turkey on hold for at least six months while he tries to persuade the Turks that a Mediterranean Union would be a better idea (and indeed it might--there are good reasons to be cautious about expanding an EU that is having a hard enough time managing itself as it is).

For this exercise in diplomatic subtlety Royal has vilified him: if France were the United States, we would no doubt be seeing television ads of Sarko on a windsurfer tacking left and right with a pair of flip-flops superimposed on the azure of the Mediterranean. Fortunately some decorum remains in the land of Racine, so she said merely that "he was forced to backtrack because the realities are there, and the previous president had made certain promises." A more indulgent observer might conclude that the choice of the artful Levitte as emissary signals Sarko's awareness that governing is a more delicate matter than campaigning.

The Legislative Campaign

sushi105 wrote (of Ségolène Royal's appearance on a news broadcast):

"shellshocked, indeed. did you see her on the news de la 2 being nailed by francoise laborde? yikes."
Yes, I did see her. What struck me was the odd disparity between her radiant, serene, refreshed appearance and the rather mechanical and hurried recitation of the series of bullet points she intended to get across to viewers come hell or high water in the scant few minutes allotted to her.

Among those bullet points was an attack on the deductible or co-pay that Sarkozy has promised to attach to reimbursements for medical care. Royal's general theme was that the government should get on with implementing its promises before the legislative elections, so that voters could see just how much they were going to be hurt. And her particular complaint against the co-pay was that it would deprive the least well-off of medical care.

Now, this response struck me as unfortunate in a number of ways. First, the least well-off are to be exempted from the co-pays, but the details have yet to be worked out, which is the reason for the implementation delay. Second, and more important, the candidate completely ignored the underlying issue, the social security deficit. She also avoided the debate about the purposes of the co-pay and the likelihood of realizing the intended goals: to reduce wasteful uses of the medical system by imposing a cost on patients and to reduce the deficit.

One can argue about these points, but Royal chose instead to claim the "monopoly of the heart." When Giscard famously attacked Mitterrand on this point ("vous n'avez pas le monopole du coeur, M. Mitterrand" was the winning zinger in a presidential debate), he won an election. The Socialists still haven't learned this lesson, even though their electorate--and more importantly, the swing electorate in the center--claims an even smaller proportion of "the least well off" than in the past. This is a losing strategy.

More Electoral Geography

IFOP has produced a most interesting analysis of the electoral geography of the presidential election. The main point is that, while Sarkozy picked up votes in areas where Le Pen had previously been strong, his gains were greater in some regions than others. In particular, Le Pen retained more votes in départements where his support had a strong working-class component, chiefly in the north and northeast. Sarkozy did better among former Le Pen voters along the Mediterranean and the Garonne, where Le Pen had attracted more professionals and merchants.

Et tu, Brute?

In Le Monde, Laurent Greilsamer notes that for the new president le tutoiement, the use of the informal second person pronoun tu, is ubiquitous, natural, almost irresistible. Before any other rupture is accomplished, this one seems complete. One cannot imagine de Gaulle saying to one of his ministers, "Tu as quelque chose à ajouter, Alain?" Or Giscard. Or Mitterrand (who sealed his victory over Chirac in a televised debate by responding "Vous avez parfaitement raison, Monsieur le Premier Ministre," after Chirac attempted to establish republican equality with the President of the Republic by suggesting that for the duration of the debate they refer to each other simply as Monsieur rather than Monsieur le Premier Ministre and Monsieur le Président).

One is reminded of Renoir's Rules of the Game, where the marquis de La Chesnaye says, "Je dis vous à mon père, je dis vous à ma mère."

This change is more than merely anecdotal. Like every aspect of Sarkozy's style, it seems at once wholly natural and cunningly calculated. "Culture is a second nature," said Pascal, and Sarkozy's culture, eschewing the ostentatiously literary, fits him like a glove, or perhaps one should say a Spandex cycling outfit. He has been explicit about his desire to bring the presidency down to earth. On the FR2 news last night he disparaged the notion that the president should be "out there floating somewhere above the problems of the government." His would be an involved presidency, he said, and he would be a president who "governs."

He didn't try to define what he meant by "govern" by setting it in opposition with another verb, but it's not hard to imagine which one he had in mind: "reign." And of course he meant to skewer Chirac's preternatural detachment from governing of the last few years. The Gaullist conception of the presidency, to which Mitterrand readily adapted himself, had much in common with kingship. The President, as the incarnation of the Republic, could to a degree isolate himself from the flaws of his government. A jogging President, on the other hand, sweats like an ordinary mortal, so he can address the individuals in the pack running behind him as tu. But he's got to keep running all the time or they may catch up with him. "Don't look back, Monsieur le Président, they may be gaining on you."

Greilsamer concludes his piece by noting that Xavier Darcos, the new education minister, has proposed (but not ordered) that respect for authority be restored in the classroom by requiring students and teachers to address one another as vous. A curious state of affairs: young people in France will vouvoyer their teachers but tutoyer their president and their deity.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Why am I doing this?

Francisco wrote:
Anyway, I'm not really sure who your blog's intended audience is - though my first impression was that you were writing very much for people like me: interested, curious, but frustrated by the superficiality of what we see in the English language press.
The blog was suggested to me by someone very much like you, a graduate student in politics who was not a specialist in France. I had been corresponding with a small group of people during the election campaign, and some found my comments useful. My friend, who had had some experience with a blog of his own, suggested that I try this new medium, and since, along with my other obsessions, I'm a bit of a computer nut, I thought I'd give it a try. France seems to be headed for important changes, and I want to follow developments as closely as I can, given my other commitments.

So this is an experiment. If the time invested seems incommensurate with the interest aroused or the quality of the dialogue with readers, I'll abandon it. I hope to hear more from those who find it useful. Without encouragement I'm likely to flag before too long.

Government structure

To an American observer, an interesting feature of the French polity is the fluidity of government structure. To create a new department of government in the United States is a major gambit: witness the politics around the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In France, by contrast, ministries come and go from regime to regime and government to government.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers come and go. The administration (in the French sense) remains, and bureaucrats go on doing what they do in the great fixed establishments of the government on the Quai Bercy, the Quai d'Orsay, and elsewhere around town. But the facility to create, destroy, combine, and reorder portfolios is one of the tools of the French president and prime minister. And a useful tool it is. It can be used to reward loyalty and punish misbehavior, signal priorities, accelerate or retard action in certain policy areas, reach out to the opposition and social actors, and alter relations between the government and civil society.

Hence the structure of government at any given moment is a clue to the thinking of its leaders, a point on which I was questioned the other day. So what does the structure of the first Fillon cabinet tell us?

First, it's much smaller than the last Villepin government. Instead of more than 30 ministers and minister-delegates, there are only 15 ministers and a handful of lesser cabinet members.

Second, the most significant restructuring affects the economic pole of the government's action. The vast area of economy, finance, industry, budget, and civil service has been broken up. Under Villepin, budget was a lesser function, assigned to J.-F. Copé, who doubled as government spokesman; he is now out. In his place, Eric Woerth is in charge of the budget and civil service (the two are closely related, since civil service salaries consume so much of the French budget) and has full ministerial rank. But the more important job goes to J.-L. Borloo, who is in charge of economy, finance, and employment. Note the change from the previous government, when this post covered economy, finance, and industry. The intention, I think, is to indicate that the government will take a more hands-off attitude toward industry, focusing on reform of labor contracts and stimulating job growth. The personnel change is also significant: Thierry Breton, who held the comparable job under Villepin, was an engineer and industrialist, former CEO of Thomson. Borloo is a lawyer and had responsibility for "social cohesion" under Villepin. Along with Xavier Bertrand, he will be responsible for selling the new labor contract to the unions.

Kouchner has already been commented on in other posts. Joining him in the core cabinet, I believe, are two of Sarkozy/Fillon's more interesting appointments, Rachida Dati (also commented on in previous posts) and Valerie Pécresse, who is in charge of higher education and research. She is the daughter of Dominique Roux, the head of Bolloré Telecom, and one of the relatively rare énarques and Grande Ecole graduates in the Fillon cabinet (she did HEC); she also served the Sarkozy campaign as an able debater. I look for higher education and research to be an important policy area over the next few years.

Then we have the outer circle, where bones are thrown to various elements of the majority coalition. The pairing of Christine Boutin, minister of housing and the city, and Roselyne Bachelot, minister of health and sports, can be understood in this light. Boutin distinguished herself by opposing the PACS, the civil union law, tear in eye and Bible in hand, while Bachelot was the only deputy of the right to vote for the PACS. Sarkozy thus covers both le pair et l'impair in the next spin of the electoral roulette wheel. Health under Villepin was combined with "solidarities" and handled by Bertrand, who has now been promoted to the inner circle of the cabinet, while health has been combined with sports and I think decreased in priority.

That's enough for now on the composition of the government. Although it's Pentecôte in France--a so-called "day of solidarity" in which people can choose to work for no pay to support the welfare of others--here in the US it is Memorial Day and time for a picnic.

Minimum service

Francisco asks for links regarding the attitudes of the unions after their meeting with Sarkozy. Here's one.

A more recent article suggests new rumblings on minimum service from the CGT Railway Workers Union, however. The head of that group sees an attack on the right to strike. It may be that there is internal disagreement within the CGT leadership about how best to confront the government on the range of issues currently up for negotiation. (Some readers undoubtedly know more than I do about the internal politics of the unions.) Francisco, you mention the popularity of "two-stage games" among your fellow graduate students. Far be it from me to denigrate rigorous models in political science, but let me suggest that the game you're witnessing here has far more than two stages and who knows how many dimensions.

Reply to Francisco on Unions

Francisco wrote (for full comment see previous post):

I wanted first to thank you for the blog. It's so clearly and stylishly written, and it really fills a niche for accessible, sophisticated commentary about France in English.

I'm a bit perplexed that more of a commenting community hasn't grown up around it. I think there's a kind of blogospheric Gresham's Law at work here: it's hard for a blog to attract an audience unless it's dominated by 2-line posts full of snark and irony. It's sad, but it's the way it is.


Many thanks, Francisco. I, too, am hoping to read more comments. I know from the logs that many people are reading, more than 1,500 to date, and quite a few are returning. So perhaps the replies will start coming.

Francisco continued:

One aspect I'm hoping you'll have lots more to say about is the Labor Union's dilemma between negotiating and manifesting. If I'm understanding correctly, Sarko/Fillon's whole plan is to guarantee minimum service during strikes precisely in order to declaw the unions and tilt their incentive structure away from the street and into the negotiating room. (Right?) The goal here is to avoid getting Juppéd, I think.

Now there's a lot to go over here, a whole complex of questions I'm unsure about. The first seems to be about identity: labor's self-image in France seems to be so strongly centered on the mythology of the street, it's difficult for me to imagine they'll forego that route entirely. And Sarko himself seems to want some sort of "baptism of fire" - he seems to cherish a win in a symbolically charged battle with an epic opponent in order to mark a break with the past. So isn't this "minimum service" skirmish ultimately more about ensuring the government's eventual success in a perfectly foretold confrontation than about avoiding that confrontation in the first place? Would Sarko/Fillon really be gratified by a kind of bureaucratic path to the reforms that doesn't even throw up any usable street footage for the TV cameras?
I'm not sure that any of these premises is correct, except that Sarkozy certainly doesn't want to be Juppéd. He already has a tough-guy image, so he doesn't need to break the Air Traffic Controllers as Reagan did or demonstrate that he's an Iron Gentleman in the Thatcher image. I think he'd rather demonstrate that, having arrived at the Elysée, he has other dimensions as well. The unions went into their meeting the other day loaded for bear, having been miffed, or pretending to be miffed, by Fillon's deadlines, but they emerged in a far more docile mood, suggesting they liked what they heard. You mention the mythology of the streets, but the unions by themselves haven't achieved much in the streets in decades, and on minimum service I'm not sure they want to count on others to go to the mat for them. The single labor contract is a another matter, and a far more complex negotiation.

Le Pen conceded the other day that he had underestimated Sarkozy. I think one way to underestimate him is to assume that "usable street footage" is what he's after. Confrontation suited his purposes when he was minister of the interior, but a president has many ways to keep his image before the public and doesn't need to appear with his jaw jutting on every occasion lest he be mistaken for weak. Sarkozy shed a tear at the Resistance memorial. He's seized any number of opportunities to soften his image. And I think he's a crafty enough commander to know that you win battles by engaging the enemy where he doesn't expect to find you.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Lawyers' Republic

David Bell wrote:

Have you noticed just how many of the cabinet are either avocats or magistrats, or have some sort of formal training in droit. Far larger than the number of Enarques. I wonder if this has something to do with the preference for more direct, legislative sovereignty. It is reminiscent of that great "republique des avocats," the Third.
Yes, indeed, I had noticed, though it's good to have this point made by the author of Lawyers and Citizens: The Making of a Political Elite in Old Regime France.

Take, for example, the new defense minister, Hervé Morin. Like Sarkozy, he was trained as a lawyer but had little if any practical legal experience before obtaining his first electoral post. By contrast, Rachida Dati, the new justice minister, served as a magistrate and actually took her oath of office in the judicial robes of her mentor Simone Weil, so the affinity among magistrates would seem to have played a part in her rise.

The return of the lawyer might well prove to be, as David suggests, a fruitful avenue for research in the contemporary history of France. A few thoughts. One might want to consider changes in the methods of selection for advanced education in France. Once upon a time, excellence in literary studies was the royal road to the Grandes Ecoles, the select group of elite institutions from which national leaders in both business and politics were drawn. But some years ago, mathematics replaced literature as the crucial discipline, and economics replaced literature and history as the queen of sciences in the Grandes Ecoles. Specialists--those who know everything about nothing, as the wag said--replaced generalists, masters of la culture générale--who conversely know nothing about everything.

Might we see the return of the lawyers as the revenge of the generalists, the non-matheux, the excluded from the new system of elite recruitment? Curiously, these non-nerds (as a lapsed mathematician, I license myself to use the pejorative) have knitted close alliances with some of the more successful nerds in the French business community: Jean-Luc Lagardère, one of Dati's patrons, started out as an engineer, as did Francis Bouygues, the founder of the Bouygues Group and father of its current head Martin Bouygues, who was witness to Sarkozy's second marriage and godfather to one of his sons. By contrast, Vincent Bolloré, the financier who paid for Sarkozy's post-election sojourn on the yacht Christina (which rents for 193,000 euros a week), began with a law degree from Nanterre.

"Crony capitalism," a descriptive epithet that has been applied to France for some decades now, and which has persisted through the eras of alternance and cohabitation, is not likely to end anytime soon, but the relations among the cronies will be different, since the tycoons no longer owe their positions to their relations with the governors, and the governors have trained as "advocates," specialists of the word only and supple in adapting language as needed to the case at hand.

Which Republic Is This Again?

As I mentioned in a previous post, François Fillon hopes to bolster the legitimacy of his government and reinforce its mandate by inviting ministers who fail to win election as deputies to leave their posts. His latest remarks evidence a certain confusion about the nature of the Fifth Republic, however. He says that "but for rare exceptions, members of the government should be elected by the people. ... That's how democracy functions in all modern countries."

That's certainly an odd statement coming from the head of a government of the Fifth Republic, whose core principle has been that governments should enjoy a considerable measure of autonomy from politics. One wonders if Fillon has a particular faiblesse for Britain's cabinet government (his wife is English); whether he knows anything about the government of the United States (perhaps he doesn't count it as one of the "modern countries"); or if what seems to be an error of appreciation is actually an adumbration of constitutional reform.

Fillon, like Sarkozy, is not a graduate of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration. Perhaps his rather hasty remarks on the nature of the regime have a deeper significance. Might he share with Sarkozy a sense that French governments of the recent past, along with political parties, have been too dominated by technocrats, whose narrow education and structural isolation from the swirling eddies at the base of the political edifice increased distrust of the political class and made France, always difficult to govern, as "ungovernable" as critics have alleged? Might they think that what the ministries need most is a more direct comprehension of the needs and wants of the base? Might he be proposing to ministers that they alight occasionally from their ministerial limousines to offer themselves, as the French say, un bain de foule, a crowd bath?

In old France, one purchased an office as une savonnette à vilain, a cleanser of commonness. In the Fifth Republic Bis, will holders of high office be required rather to scrap a bit in the democratic dirt (la poussière was Tocqueville's metaphor for the atomized people)?

Soul Savor

Jean-Marie Le Pen believes that Nicolas Sarkozy breathed soul into the right: "On the right there were successful politicians, networks, and money, but there was no soul. Clearly ... Sarkozy figured out how to be an animator. ... He was fairly inventive and performed well. He ran an exemplary American-style campaign. It was even a model that they'll be able to study at Sciences-Po some day. ... What's more, in personal contacts I can attest that the man has charm. And develops it naturally."

Rubbing One's Eyes

Every presidency begins in a "state of grace," but Sarkozy must be feeling--to use a word lately become all too common in American political parlance--positively blessed. His approval rating after 3 weeks stands at 65 percent, a level topped among Fifth Republic presidents only by de Gaulle's 67 in 1958.

In the circumstances, Ségolène Royal's comments seem less than artful. With another election looming, she tells the French that they've been dupes, that they're not clever enough to recognize Sarkozy's "lies," that he's already reneging on his promise to end EU negotiations with Turkey because "he has no power," and that the public sector minimum service reform he's promised has already turned out to be "impossible." Yesterday I credited Royal with being a better politician than Strauss-Kahn, another contestant for party leadership. Yet these comments evoke adjectives that might equally well apply to Strauss-Kahn's post-election remarks about Royal: petulant, whining, and unhelpful. As for the art of politics, Strauss-Kahn's wet firecrackers were tossed at a candidate who had just lost, whereas Royal's are aimed at a president who, for the moment, is walking on water. The best one can say is that the strategy is ill-chosen.

Is there any Socialist who isn't shell-shocked? It's time to stop muttering and start thinking.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Quelle coïncidence!

According to CEVIPOF's barometer of French opinion, in February 2007, 53 percent of the French were in agreement with the statement "There are too many immigrants in France." 47 percent were in disagreement.

The score in the second round of the presidential election was 53.06-46.94 in favor of Sarkozy.

See CEVIPOF report, "Baromètre Politique Français (2006-2007) CEVIPOF-Ministère de
l'Intérieur
," p. 47 (p. 51 of pdf).

A Challenge for the Kouchner-Sarko Duo

Ali Larijani, Iran's national security chief, has a suave way with flattery: "France under the new president Nicolas Sarkozy could play the role of an 'honest broker' [in the nuclear impasse], because France enjoys a very good image in Iran." Sarkozy earlier this week called for tightened sanctions if Iran did not comply with western demands, but there has to be a temptation to take up the challenge and play the beau rôle in breaking the impasse. Might Kouchner or Sarkozy be tempted? Will they see eye to eye? And what attitude will Washington take? The chess game may get interesting in the next few days.

Experts and Pols

The previous post, about Claude Allègre's comments on the failure of the PS to make use of the experts in its ranks, raises the question of the relation between expertise and politics. Ségolène Royal's leading rival for the presidential nomination was probably Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK, who would have been my choice if I'd had a vote, is no doubt more of an expert on economic matters than SR, but he isn't half the politician she is. Is there an art of politics, a specific form of expertise that might be termed political? Plato thought so, and so, in a different way, did Tocqueville, who was characteristically ambivalent about its uses.

If Allègre and DSK qualify as experts, then one might take their impetuous and embittered comments in the wake of the Socialist defeat as typical of the impolitic temperament of expertise. Experts expect deference to their expertise, and when they don't get it, they're rather too likely to péter les plombs*, as they say in French.

One might also say that the Socialists' turn to SR rather than DSK reflected the instinctive sense of the rank-and-file that no current was going to pass between the economic expert and the public at large. France abounds with expert experts, but political experts are a rarer breed. In that respect, ordinary party militants may have a clearer sense of what they face in Sarkozy than Allègre has. Allègre thinks an end to "frontal opposition" between the parties is in order, because the right is not without reasonable ideas. It's becoming of a scientist to acknowledge truth where he finds it, but an expert in the art of politics would probably urge a more subtle execution of the tactical retreat.

* blow a fuse

With Friends Like This ...

Claude Allègre, in an interview with Libération, describes François Hollande as a former friend but says that he's "really angry with him." So it seems. His chief complaint is that under Hollande's leadership the PS failed to tap the experts in its ranks. Mitterrand and Jospin knew how to make use of experts, he says, but Hollande preferred to surround himself with "incompetent schemers." He alleges that Hollande intended Royal to be a stalking horse for his own candidacy. "She lacked the necessary talent but was unbelievably pugnacious." Under Hollande, the party "made incompetence the proof of democracy." Nevertheless, he hopes the Socialists will not come to grief in the legislatives, because "Sarkozy needs a genuine opposition" in order to avoid "problems with extremists in his majority." As if that were not enough, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Hollande's closest friend, has gone over to Sarkozy (he is secretary of state for European affairs)--"symbolic," says Allègre.

A pretty picture of France from a former Socialist minister of education--who was, it must be said, always something of a bull in a china shop.

"An Example Not of the Past but for the Future"

In a long, thoughtful e-mail, reader Roland Hsu of Stanford invites me to reflect on President Sarkozy's "mode of analysis and understanding of the republic and society." In particular he draws attention to the way in which two previous presidents, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, sought to define themselves in relation to the French past by way of symbolic gestures early in their presidencies. Mitterrand went to the Pantheon to lay roses on the tombs of Victor Schoelcher (an abolitionist), Jean Jaurès (a martyred socialist), and Jean Moulin (a martyred hero of the Resistance). Chirac, in a speech delivered on July 16, 1995, acknowledged the complicity of the French police in the arrest of Jews 53 years earlier, on July 16, 1942 (the date of the notorious "Vel' d'Hiv' roundup").

By contrast, Roland notes, Sarkozy made "one small gesture" to national memory by visiting, shortly after his inauguration, a monument to Resistance martyrs and ordering that a letter written on the eve of his death by Communist Resistance hero Guy Môquet be read annually to lycéens.

Now, I agree with Roland that when a president takes pains to orchestrate a moment of commemoration, we learn something about his "mode of analysis and understanding of the republic and society," but I differ on one point of appreciation: the magnitude of Sarkozy's gesture. I do not think it was "small." It was certainly prepared with every bit as much care as Mitterrand's minutely mediatized visit to the Pantheon or Chirac's public repudiation of the founding myth of his own political family, that of "la France résistante."

Look a little more closely at Sarkozy's gesture and I think you see a "strategy of memory" quite as calculated as his predecessors'. What he said at the Grande Cascade of the Bois de Boulogne was that "a young man of 17 who gives his life for France is an example not of the past but for the future. For me, this reading [of Môquet's letter] is a great symbol." A great deal of mythopoeic work is accomplished here. To begin with, Sarkozy is reinstating what Henry Rousso has called the "resistantialist myth." What actually happened in the past, history wie es eigentlich gewesen ist, does not interest him. What does interest him is mining the past for examples "for the future." Atonement, though it pleases historians who know the past to be an alloy of noble and base metals, is divisive; the resistantialist myth, like the Republic, is what divides the French least, and in that respect Sarkozy finds it eminently useful, as Gaullists (but not only Gaullists) always have.

Furthermore, the particular exemplum in this case is well chosen to illustrate Sarkozyan values. First, "action": "The time for colloquia is over," he said in describing his approach to environmental policy. "It is time to act." Second, "energy," here associated with "youthfulness." Sarkozy is 52, but iconically he would like to identify himself, if not quite with a Resistance hero of 17, then at least with John F. Kennedy, who was 43 at the time of his inauguration. Instead of touch football, the media serve up images of jogging, bicycling, and blue jeans. Fillon describes huissiers at the Elysée disconcerted to find the president and prime minister in shorts, T-shirts, and sneakers. In the French pronunciation of la vigueur one can almost hear the broad Bostonian pronunciation of vigor. And vigor has been the most conspicuous trait of the Sarkozyan presidency thus far, especially in contrast with the senescent torpor of the waning years of Chirac, whom Jospin famously described in 2002 as usé, worn out. Third, "openness": in choosing a Communist martyr, in choosing to say that what counts as exemplary is not the past, with its partisan allegiances, but "the future," defined by a common project in which, so it is suggested, past ideological commitments can be overlooked, Sarkozy signaled that he expects to be judged not by the ideology he espouses but by the results he achieves.

But from all of this how much can one deduce about what Roland would like more insight into: the working of the presidential mind, the nature of Sarkozy's understanding of France and its dilemmas, the thinking that will shape his vigorous action? I think not much. These presidential stagings of made-for-TV lieux de mémoire partake of the society of the spectacle, the gimcrackery of up-to-the-minute image engineering. Which was the more essential part of the furniture of Mitterrand's mind: the rose bestowed by Mitterrand on Jean Moulin or the francisque bestowed by Pétain on Mitterrand? The former was displayed, the latter concealed, yet Mitterrand made no secret of his admiration for writers Jacques Chardonne and Ernst Jünger, whose wartime attitudes were hardly those of Jean Moulin. Chirac pleased historians by laying the resistantialist myth to rest for a time, but in another phase of his presidency he took to quoting Friedrich Hayek, who was himself no slouch at historical mythmaking.

Historians are a little like psychoanalysts in their belief that the truth about the past can set us free. I'm not so sure. The political uses of the past are always instrumental, and fibbing about history isn't necessarily the greatest of political sins. I'm not unhappy to know that lycéens will learn about Communist Resistance martyrs, and if harm is done by propagating the myth of a universally resisting France, perhaps good is done by reviving the image of a young man who dedicated himself to the fight not because he was a dupe of the Comintern or a commissar of the Gulag in the making but because he was young and vigorous and eager to transcend the limitations of the self.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Political language

Langue sauce piquante
is a blog maintained by the proofreaders of Le Monde. Students of political language will be interested in today's post regarding nicknames for the new justice minister, Rachida Dati, that have already gained some currency: "sarkozette" and "sarcosette." Both, the commentators note, have a somewhat condescending, not to say misogynist, ring, the first being a reference to the so-called "Juppettes," or ministresses (not my word) who served Alain Juppé until they were unceremoniously fired, and the latter an allusion to Victor Hugo's Cosette. The proofreaders go on to compare Mme Dati to "Condi," whom they seem to find sympa. For that judgment I leave them full responsibility. More interestingly, they speculate that Dati might some day become a rival to Sarko, just as Sarko turned on his benefactor Chirac (and Chirac on his patrons before him). On peut rêver.

Party Realignment

After May 6 one expected fissures in the Socialist Party and the UDF to widen. Chaos among the Greens is more surprising--or perhaps not, if the words of one disaffected Green are true: "The Green Party is a hornet's nest, violent in its treatment of members, and any head that stands out is likely to be lopped off." Another disaffected Green claimed to be "one who tried to renovate the party. In vain. It's paralyzed. Structurally, the way it works is to resist reform."

If there is drift at the moment from Green to MoDem, Bayrou's new centrist party, it seems unlikely to survive the legislative elections, where MoDem will probably not do well, owing to the scalp-saving defection of too many UDF deputies to the UMP.

The Voice of the Voiceless

In the final days of the presidential campaign, Ségolène Royal remarked that if Sarkozy won, there might be trouble in the suburbs. The remark drew criticism, but it no doubt voiced a fear shared by many. What trouble there was proved minimal, however, and soon dissipated.

When serious social violence erupts unexpectedly, it is common to look back and note the missed signs that an explosion was imminent. Perhaps unexpected calm deserves the same scrutiny.

On the FR2 evening news on May 23, David Pujadas interviewed the rapper Diam's. The name Diam's is probably unfamiliar to many readers of this blog, but she is currently the most popular singer in France. Her raps are sometimes political. One was aimed at Sarkozy, another at Marine Le Pen. She also appeared at a rally for Royal, but later expressed regret about this, saying that her political engagement was directed against certain candidates but not intended to be for anyone (a rapper's version, perhaps, of Pierre Rosanvallon's idea of "Counter-Democracy," the subject of his latest book, "Counter-Democracy: Politics in the Age of Distrust," which I'm currently translating). Pujadas reminded the entertainer of her attack on the new president and asked what she thought of his election. The people have spoken, she said, it's time to move on, adding, "It's not over yet, everything remains to be done." Pujadas then asked what she thought of the nomination of Rachida Dati. That was a good thing, she said with a look of surprise, but still ... it was time to move on.

What to make of this? Not too much, surely, but if the unexpected calm holds, perhaps I'll remember that moment on the evening of May 23 as a sign that the voiceless people for whom Diam's speaks were ready to move on and resigned to working with what they have while "doing what remains to be done." On the other hand, if it doesn't hold, I'll remind myself that hindsight always knows better than foresight which signs were worth attending to.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Is Flexicurity Importable?

If "flexicurity" is indeed to be the basis of the proposed single employment contract, there is good reason to ask whether a model that has worked well in Sweden and Denmark can be imported to France. Some differences are obvious: size of the economy (France much larger), openness to international trade (smaller for France), mix of job types in the economy, relative importance of various sectors, tradition of solidarity, homogeneity of population (less for France), etc. There is a large literature exploring the effects of these and other factors. For one take, see:
New Economist: Denmark's flexicurity model: ready for export?

Ancelovici on Flexicurity

Marcos Ancelovici has some interesting comments on flexicurity and the attitudes of the various unions on his blog.

Response to a reader: the Vital Center

Gregory takes me to task for neglecting what he regards as

"a more marked development, with the potential for a more enduring impact, is the continuation of a trend that began at least in 1995, of urban, professional middle-class voters who are not civil servants, voting for the left (especially if one inclues first-round Bayrou, second-round Royal voters)."
I agree that this is a key and volatile segment of the electorate, which the PS must figure out how to target. My impression, however, is that, while Sarkozy alienated some of this group, particularly with his "coded" appeals to the extreme-right electorate, he attracted others with the logic of his economic program, which, for all its flaws, nevertheless struck many as a more coherent package than the opposition's. Perhaps as a rough proxy for "urban, professional middle-class voters who are not civil servants," we can take economists, many of whom publicly expressed themselves before the elections. Compare, for example, the endorsement of Sarkozy by Olivier Blanchard with the denunciation of him by Thomas Piketty and others:

http://www.telos-eu.com/2007/03/pourquoi_je_voterai_sarkozy.php
http://www.lesechos.fr/info/analyses/4559836.htm
http://abonnes.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-823448,36-891778,0.html

Perhaps we can agree that the large Bayrou vote on the first round came at least in part from urban professionals disaffected from both Sarkozy and Royal. Much of what Sarkozy has done since his election will likely have reassured this group that he isn't as dangerous as they had feared. If the Socialists are not to lose further ground in this segment of the electorate, their "renovation" must speak to people of this sort.

In Memoriam

This post has to do with French politics only in the most indirect way, but I did want to take a moment to remember four men who died recently and whose work intersected mine in one way or another:

Christian Delacampagne, philosopher, writer, diplomat, traveler, and friend, was an indispensable resource for many students of France. We became friends when he was cultural attaché in Boston and remained in touch over the years.

Pierre-Gilles de Gennes was a French physicist and Nobel prizewinner. My first love was physics, my Ph. D. is in mathematics, and I occasionally cheat on my current loves to follow what's happening in these fields, so I have some appreciation of the elegance of Gennes' work on the solid and liquid states and the marchland of liquid crystals that divides them. He was also an impressive teacher, with a gift for the pregnant example.

René Rémond was noted especially as a historian of the French right, but he died a few days too soon to witness the reunification of the Bonapartist, moral order, and Orleanist rights in the person of Nicolas Sarkozy. One would like to have heard his comments on the event. I also recall his exemplary service as chair of a panel investigating the assistance provided by the Church to the fleeing milicien Paul Touvier. Rémond was a model of probity in that controversial affair.

Eugen Weber was an exemplary historian and an inspiration to many of us who study France in the United States. A prolific reviewer, he was always careful to notice the qualities of a translation and generous to a fault, as I can abundantly attest.

Electoral Geography

No student of French politics can fail to have been struck by the electoral geography of the presidential election. Eastern France is a sea of blue (French electoral colorimetery is the reverse of the US: blue is right, red is left), while the Socialists have been pushed back largely into redoubts in the west and southwest (some of them with a traditional Catholic heritage and therefore formerly likely to vote for the right). It would be interesting to overlay the map of votes with the map of density of immigration, but it is clear from simple examination that many areas in which Sarkozy ran particularly well were areas where the proportion of immigrants and descendants of immigrants is quite high. If anyone knows of a good comparative map, please let me know.

In the meantime, there is this intersting article by Pascal Perrineau of CEVIPOF, which discusses, among other things, Sarkozy's breathrough in traditional working class areas.

Light at the end of the Hollande Tunnel

François Hollande has announced that he will not be a candidate to succeed himself as secretary general of the Socialist Party. His was a tenure of bad omens, inaugurated by Jospin's failed candidacy and sudden withdrawal from politics in 2002, leaving a vacuum that Hollande, the least controversial of the heirs apparent, more or less ably filled (Hollande actually assumed his post in 1997, but until Jospin was eliminated, it was Jospin who was really the party leader). The 2005 referendum on the European Constitution saddled him with the unenviable task of leading a deeply divided party into a battle it did not choose and could not win, no matter what the outcome. Then came the presidential election and the rapid eclipse of whatever presidential hopes he may have harbored, as his companion and the mother of his children stepped forward, imposed herself on the party with the enthusiastic support of much of the rank and file and many new recruits, and proceeded to run a campaign in large measure independent of the party nominally headed by Hollande. When Arnaud Montebourg was asked during the campaign what the candidate's greatest liability was, he promptly replied, François Hollande.

And another of the candidate's closest advisors, Julien Dray, has been cited as the source of a particularly nasty rumor about the Royal couple. It isn't my intention to use this blog as a gossip column, but gossip sometimes acquires a political dimension. Two Le Monde journalists, Ariane Chemin and Raphaëlle Bacqué, have published a book, Femme Fatale, in which they attribute to Dray the story that Royal became a candidate only after learning that Hollande was having an affair with another woman. Allegedly she told him that if he tried to mobilize a Jospin candidacy to block her bid for the nomination, he would never see his children again. True or not, the circulation of such stories in Socialist circles during the campaign is a sign that the party's public disarray was but a pale reflection of its internal chaos. Hence Hollande's succession, coming at a time of defeat and ideological turmoil, will be further compounded by the bitter personal animosities lingering from these long years in the desert.

Hollande is undoubtedly a man of intelligence and wit, but he could not subdue the party éléphants, nor was he able to inspire an ideological renewal sufficient to counter Sarkozy's transformation of the image of the right.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Response to a Reader: Labor

Reader Marcos Ancelovici wrote (full comment here):

"Prime Minister Fillon's announcement this morning that unions had until the end of the summer to make propositions on the reform of the right to strike in public services shows that the room for social dialogue is pretty small. The fact that the first negative reaction came from the CFDT, a union that has become quite open to dialogue with employers in the last twenty years, shows that unions will categorically refuse to legitimate Sarkozy's strategy. It remains to be seen whether the public will believe Sarkozy when he will blame it on unions and corporatism."
I've responded to some previous comments in the comments section, but from time to time I'll bring a particularly interesting comment up into the main section in order to make the dialog more readily accessible.

Marcos puts his finger on what will surely be a key area of conflict, but I would be a little more cautious in interpreting these early skirmishes (more details here). The unions will come to an agreement on the limitation of the right to strike in public services (or, to put it from the government's point of view, the assurance of minimum service during strikes), because they know that complete shutdowns create ill will in the public at large. But they'll want a quid pro quo, and making a fuss about Fillon's dates is a way of putting the government on notice that they're not going to roll over.

The real conflict will come over the "single labor contract." Since this has been in the background for quite some time, it hardly seems unreasonable of Fillon to propose a discussion of the issue in the fall and to suggest the Scandinavian "flexicurity" regime as a basis for negotiation. The current multiplicity of labor contracts--the CDI, or indeterminate duration contract, the CDD, or determinate duration contract, and all the rest--merely institutionalizes the dual labor market in France. The furor over Villepin's proposed CPE (first hire contract) served only to hide the ways in which the inferior contract, the CDD, is used as a signal for legal discrimination in non-work-related areas: with a CDD it's harder to rent an apartment, obtain a loan, buy on time, etc. The dual labor market thus extends to a dual social market. A single contract might help to remedy this and to narrow the gap between insiders and outsiders. The mission of the unions is to secure compensation for concessions on eased dismissal conditions. This compensation might come in the form of increased government investment in job retraining, continuing education, and job search assistance. From this distance it's difficult to see where the real maneuvering is going on, but I'm quite sure it isn't that the unions are miffed, as they pretend to be, that Fillon set his deadlines before their scheduled meeting with Sarkozy next week.




Visceral Democracy

Students of democratic theory (of whom I am one--I'm currently writing a book about democracy [small d] in America since Tocqueville) often exaggerate the rational element in democracy. Taken to an extreme, this exaggeration leads to the suggestion, put forward by proponents of the theory of so-called deliberative democracy, that the way to improve democratic outcomes is to promote better communication and debate, as though politics were a debating society that might be improved by banning sophism and substituting for Socratic cunning some sort of procedural elenchus to ensure that the best argument wins. The problem with this notion, as my colleague Glyn Morgan points out, is that what sometimes happens when you encourage people to talk with one another is that they discover they really, really have no use for those who think differently.

Working politicians are less susceptible to the philosopher's error. They know that democratic debate is a visceral thing, as much a matter of inuendo as of reason, of body language as of rhetorical finish, of feint and suggestion as of detailed fourteen-point program. In this light it's interesting to ponder the results of the latest beauty-contest poll of French public figures. Respondents were given a list of names and asked to state whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion. Topping the list as usual was Bernard Kouchner at 70 percent, up 9 points in a month (why? perhaps because he seemed rather less mean-spirited than, say, Dominique Strauss-Kahn in his election-night TV commentary, or perhaps because he's been elevated to a ministry). Borloo has shot up to no. 2 on the hit parade, perhaps because he's been on television a lot lately. The very chic Michèle Alliot-Marie finishes third at 65 (up 17). Are respondents pleased that this stern mother figure will be punishing criminals at Interior rather than ordering generals about at Defense? And the surprise of the latest poll is the breakthrough of Rachida Dati, who comes in fifth (after Bayrou at 64) at 61% in her first listing on the charts, aided no doubt by her inspiring biographical confirmation that the republican school still functions and upward mobility still is possible in France.

The Fillon government starts out with quite a good score, then. Compare the poor Socialists: Delanoë 54, DSK 51, Lang 50, Royal 49. Sure, everyone loves a winner, but I think that at the visceral level on which many voters operate, the Socialists have lost the power to seduce. Perhaps readers will want to speculate as to the reasons for this.

Thanks, Mary

Thanks to Mary Lewis, who publicized this blog on the Internet group H-France. Readers will be interested in Mary's new book, The Boundaries of Republic: Migrant Rights and the Limits of Universalism in France, 1918-1940.

Incidentally, publicity is indeed useful. This blog attracted over 400 readers on its second day of existence thanks to David Bell's mention in The New Republic. One begins to understand why politicians are so keen to control the media, whose usefulness, as Tocqueville remarked, is to "plant a thought in a thousand minds at one time."

Improvised Legitimacy

The Fifth Republic is what political scientist Cindy Skach has called a "semi-presidential regime," offering a "third way" between parliamentarism and presidentialism. The president is supposed to stand above the parties and derive his legitimacy from elsewhere. The myth may on occasion graze reality when the president is a world-historical figure of the stature of de Gaulle or able to claim legitimacy as the incarnation of an historical alternative to the status quo (Mitterrand).

A transcendent presidency like France's really requires a source of legitimacy beyond a mere electoral majority. During the campaign there was talk that a Socialist victory might be the first step toward a Sixth Republic, an idea championed by Arnaud Montebourg. This would have bestowed greater importance on the legislative branch and increased checks on the power of the head of state.

With the election of Sarkozy, that obviously is not going to happen, nor are the upcoming legislative elections likely to check the power of the presidency in any way. With unchecked one-party rule, the problem of legitimacy becomes acute, since a majority of 53 percent, though substantial, is hardly an overwhelming mandate. The inclusion of a prominent though notably independent opposition figure such as Kouchner in the new government can be seen in this light. It is a bid for super-legitimacy, a wooing of that will-o'-the-wisp, the general will.

On a less metaphysical plane, Fillon, too, has recognized the need for a legitimacy inoculation by announcing that any minister who is defeated in the upcoming legislative elections will be obliged to resign. He does not except himself, knowing, of course, that his seat is quite safe: "I would not have sufficient legitimacy to lead the government of France if I did not have the support of my own voters." (His opponent, incidentally, is François Hollande's chief of staff, Stéphane Le Foll, who doesn't stand a chance.)

This, it must be said, is a rather improvised notion of legitimacy, a constitutional reform by bricolage, as it were. Not only is it a meaningless gesture toward popular sovereignty, since a circumscription in the Sarthe is hardly France, but it is quite arbitrary in another sense as well, since no minister is required to stand for election, and some will not.

Yet such is the Fifth Republic: a regime created for a figure larger than life to which a diminutive successor must now try to accommodate himself. And it seems that the new president, while glad to assume the Gaullian mantle and even to express regret at the "duty" imposed on him by his election to resign from the leadership of the party that served him so well as the carefully crafted vehicle of his ambition, nevertheless does not feel that duty precludes his campaigning as president on behalf of the party from which duty obliged him to resign.

The Media

No sooner does Sarko's deputy campaign manager move into a top job at TF1 (previous post) than Béatrice Schönberg resigns as anchor of FR2's weekend news. Schönberg, who is the wife of economy, finance, and employment minister Jean-Louis Borloo, had taken a leave of absence during the campaign, although she had previously presented the news while her husband sat as a minister in the Villepin government. The unions and editorial staff of the public network had protested the appearance of partiality.

Christine Ockrent, the wife of foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, remains for the time being as host of a news magazine on the same network. (Late breaking news: Ockrent will move to a new program when the current season ends in June. She will cover "the economy," rather than "politics"--a distinction of analytical precision whose precise practical contours remain to be defined.)

Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Colombani, the director of Le Monde and head of the Monde Groupe, was rejected yesterday by the paper's Society of Journalists. He needed more than 60 percent of the votes to continue in his job for another six years but got only 48. This creates a crisis at the paper, since Alain Minc, who heads the board and represents the paper's financial backers, has said that it would be "Colombani or nothing." Minc's influence and open partisanship (he backed Sarkozy) were among the issues in the internal election. Le Monde endorsed Royal in the final days of the presidential campaign in an editorial signed by Colombani that can only be described as tepid.

Clearly, relations between the government and the media will be an item to watch in the Sarkozy regime. But what else is new? The Fifth Republic is a creation of Charles de Gaulle, whose ascendancy began with a radio speech that few people heard when it was broadcast (the famous "appel du 18 juin") and who, knowing the power of the broadcast media, maintained tight control of the state television and radio network throughout his tenure.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"A Berlusconian Stench"

Laurent Solly, Sarko's deputy campaign manager, is to become deputy general manager of the French television network TF1. The Communist Party detects in this move the stratagem of "a totally uninhibited presidency with a strong Berlusconian stench." Here in America we might think not of Berlusconi but of Roger Ailes, who served as consultant to Reagan and Bush I before becoming the founder of Fox News. Tocqueville wrote long ago that "in America as in France, the press constitutes an extraordinary power, so peculiarly compounded of goods and evils that without it liberty cannot survive and with it order can scarcely be maintained." Perhaps he underestimated the power of the Party of Order to subvert the media.

Thanks, David

Traffic on this site has taken off since David Bell mentioned it on The New Republic's Open University blog. One good turn deserves another. Readers interested in France will certainly enjoy David's excellent new book, The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It.

To Govern Is to Choose

"To govern is to choose": Pierre Mendès France's dictum has long been one of my favorite statements of what politics is about. The Socialist Party, facing devastation in the upcoming legislative elections, is proving no more capable of making difficult choices after May 6 than before. Despite much talk of the need for "renovation" of the party, of "openings" to the center or the extreme left, and even of eschewing both the "socialist" and "social democratic" labels in favor of the presumably less fraught "radical reformist," one longs for a prominent socialist to take a concrete stand on something of substance. The future of Airbus, say. Sarko, fresh from conversations with Merkel on the issue, went to Toulouse to lay his cards on the table before the unions (Le Monde article here; subscription required) He didn't mince words: "I would rather invest in [a new plant to manufacture] composite materials at Meaulte than in a plan for early retirements at age 56."

Composites are the future of aviation. If there are to be jobs at Airbus for the next generation of workers, this generation may need to rearrange its priorities. Is there an alternative to the stark choice the president proposes between necessary modernization and desirable benefits? A true "radical reformist" party would have an answer to this question. Does the PS?

Which Way Is Left?

Ségolène Royal returned from vacation yesterday to discover that she is still the leader of the Left, according to a Libération poll. Yet the Left has been deprived of its most potent argument: that it was the party of not-Sarkozy. As Bernard Kouchner put it, Sarko was a "singularly dangerous, indeed completely irresponsible" candidate for proposing a ministry of immigration and national identity and speculating about the genes of pedophiles (quote here). But that was before Kouchner agreed to become foreign minister under Sarkozy. One can understand Kouchner's rationale for accepting the post, but the fact remains that in doing so he removed the stigma that his words, and countless like them, were meant to place on Sarkozy. Whatever the rationale, one does not join a government if one truly believes that its head is singularly dangerous and completely irresponsible.

The Left must now find its own identity, and as both the Libé poll cited above and this Libé article make clear, that won't be an easy task in its current state of ideological disarray.

Monday, May 21, 2007

La Parvenue et l'Héritier

If a latter-day Plutarch were to chronicle the lives of the new generation that has acceded to power with the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, he might be tempted by the contrasting careers of Rachida Dati and Martin Hirsch.

Dati, 41 years old, is the second of twelve children of a Moroccan father, employed as a mason, and an illiterate Algerian mother. She grew up in a housing project in Chalon-sur-Saône and eventually earned degrees in law and ecological science and certification as a magistrate, supporting herself while in school by working as a nurse’s aide. Ambitious, she attached herself early on to a series of mentors well-connected in right-wing political circles: Albin Chalandon, Marceau Long, Simone Weil, Jean-Luc Lagardère. Sarkozy chose her as one of two spokespersons for his presidential campaign. With his election she became minister of justice.

Martin Hirsch, 43, is the son of Bernard Hirsch, former director of the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, and the grandson of Etienne Hirsch, former commissioner of planning. Martin, a graduate of the elite Ecole Normale Supérieure, holds an advanced degree in neurobiology. He is also a graduate of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, although the Fillon government, breaking with the habits of the recent past, draws a relatively small proportion of its members from among ENA alumni. Hirsch made his political debut in 1997 as staff director for then health minister Bernard Kouchner, who, like Hirsch, is among the Socialists who have joined Sarkozy. A classic héritier (heir), Hirsch reportedly declined the title of minister, preferring that of “high commissioner for solidarity,” as a mark of his independence from the political orientations of the government he serves. In his first day on the job, he further asserted his independence by dismissing candidate Sarkozy’s proposed deductible on health insurance as a “bad idea.”

Two Frances, then: the one struggling to rise, keen for recognition, and now charged with the administration of justice; the other long since arrived yet responsible for healing what Jacques Chirac called “the social fracture,” which remains unreduced after twelve years of Chiraquien rule.

Perfidious Albion's Mole at Matignon

It turns out that Mme François Fillon, the wife of the prime minister, is just a simple "country peasant," as she describes herself, from the Welsh village of Llanover. A guileless woman, to judge by this videotaped interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Mme Fillon contrasts her simple tastes with those of the very Parisian Mme Sarkozy. She also confesses that she had a "son who cried when I spoke English."

Kouchner, Sarko, and the Memory of May '68

In the final days of the presidential campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy launched an attack on the memory of May '68. He asserted that "the heirs of May '68 accredited the idea ... that there is no difference between good and evil." The result: astonishment and consternation on the left.

A few days later, Sarko made Bernard Kouchner his Minister of Foreign Affairs. The result: astonishment and consternation in some quarters of the left, astonishment and jubilation in others.

The connection: In May '68 Bernard Kouchner was a militant in the Union des Etudiants Communistes. But in 1988 he, too, arraigned the memory of May '68 in a television program entitled "Le procès de Mai" (The Trial of May), which, as the title suggests, was cast in the form of a trial, with none other than Bernard Kouchner as host. As Kristin Ross has pointed out in her book "May '68 and Its Afterlives," Kouchner appeared as witness for both the prosecution and the defense. Ross writes (p. 156) that Kouchner, having just

"praised the '68 generation's 'daring to dream' ... switches abruptly to a posture of self-criticism. 'But we were navel-gazing, we forgot the outside world, we didn't see what was happening in the rest of the world, we were folded in on our ourselves.' He continues ... 'We didn't know what we would discover only in the following years: the third world misery.' In one fell swoop, Kouchner assumes the power to clear away an entire dimension of the movement: its relation to anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles in places like Vietnam, Algeria, Palestine, and Cuba."

Ross's analysis of the convergence of the humanitarian left and the neoliberal right, which I confess struck me as hyperbolic when I first read it in 2002, begins to look prophetic. Kouchner, who would no doubt reject the charge of having failed to distinguish between good and evil, nevertheless pleaded guilty to several counts of having waged war against the wrong evil. Bear this in mind in watching him develop his approach to foreign policy.

The Return of Alain Juppé

Much of the commentary on the composition of François Fillon's cabinet has understandably concentrated on the appointment of Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister. This "divine surprise" has diverted attention from the other cabinet heavyweight, Alain Juppé. Like the Kouchner nomination, Juppé's appointment suggests that Fillon and the whirling dervish of a president under whom he serves suffer from no lack of self-confidence. Juppé, as the only "minister of state" in the new government, might well be regarded as not merely the government's Number Two but almost a co-prime minister. His portfolio, "l'Ecologie, le Développement et l'Aménagement Durables," may in retrospect come to be seen as a marvel of linguistic concision, for it is a title that hints at both a policy and a stratagem.

The promotion of ecology to a place of such prominence in the Sarkozy regime comes as something of a second divine surprise, since this did not figure among Sarko's themes of predilection during the campaign. Although he signed Nicolas Hulot's "ecology pact," he did so with little enthusiasm, and in an ecological rating of the candidates by one Green organization, he scored only 8.5/20, compared with Sego's 16/20. Yet one of his first moves as president was to put ecology on the front burner with his appointment of a former prime minister who, during a long Canadian exile in the wake of a felony conviction for official corruption, viewed "An Inconvenient Truth," experienced a blinding conversion on the road back to Bordeaux's city hall, and has now reinvented himself as "the Al Gore of France."

Green fundamentalists may view the coupling of "ecology" with "development" in Juppé's title as an ominous sign, but Juppé has never suffered from a deficiency of realism. The only question is whether he has learned something about the need for tact and compromise since 1995, when he attempted to push through a dramatic and arguably necessary reform of "special retirement regimes," only to frighten the countless beneficiaries of privilèges of one sort or another with the thought that the next reform might be aimed at them. Le Monde today reports that he will meet with Green NGOs to try to work out a "Grenelle for the environment." The allusion of course is to the "Grenelle accords" between the government and the unions after May '68. When the ebullition of the enthusiasts of the streets had subsided, hardheaded men dealt with the nitty-gritty of the workplace in private negotiations. If Juppé can make progress on some of the many dossiers the NGOs have said they want to lay on the table--nuclear power, genetically modified organisms, agricultural and industrial pollution, transportation policy, construction, etc.--he may set an example for other governments, even as Angela Merkel is using Germany's EU presidency to put ecological issues at the center of the European agenda.

It remains to be seen what will emerge from the attempt by conservative governors to achieve a workable compromise with a powerful social movement represented by a diversity of well-organized and well-informed single-interest advocacy groups. Nevertheless, the promise of movement on this front is a welcome change in what had settled into a war of position, not to say a war of postures.