Friday, November 30, 2007

Julliard Quits

Bruno Julliard has resigned as head of the student union UNEF, ostensibly for "personal reasons." Having led the anti-CPE movement of 2006, Julliard has found himself out of phase with leading elements of the current student protest against the Pécresse reforms, which he seems on the whole to favor. It seems likely that his "personal reasons" for resigning include ambition. I wouldn't be surprised to find him soon inside the government rather than outside.

ADDED Saturday morning: it seems that he will be a candidate on one of the PS lists in Paris, the arrondissement yet to be determined.

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For those who read French (and are curious about what I might sound like in that language), my review of Denis Lacorne's De la religion en Amérique has just gone up on nonfiction.fr. Not French politics, to be sure, but make of it what you will.

Did the Euro Cause Inflation?

Many people in France and elsewhere in Europe are absolutely convinced that businesses availed themselves of the introduction of the euro to raise prices, despite the prohibition of the practice. A new paper uses evidence from ATM withdrawals to test this hypothesis and finds it does not stand up.

Artus on Greenspan

Patrick Artus, one of the most influential economists in France, says that Alan Greenspan was "an arsonist and a fireman combined." For a review of Artus's book, see here. For a review of Greenspan (now out in French), see here.

Comments Blocked?

I've received a report that a reader could not post a comment because a Google account was required. I did not make this change, and my Blogger settings allow comments from anyone. Has anyone else encountered this problem?

Pigeonholed

Here is a comment on this blog from Free Republic:

"An interesting Blog,often way too Leftist, but nevertheless informed and intelligent commentary on France."


Free Republic describes itself this way:

Free Republic is the premier online gathering place for independent, grass-roots conservatism on the web. We're working to roll back decades of governmental largesse, to root out political fraud and corruption, and to champion causes which further conservatism in America. And we always have fun doing it. Hoo-yah!


Well, there you go. Quite a few readers of this blog find it too rightist for their taste--I'm one of those "social liberals" who have given up on le grand soir and am prepared to abandon the workers' defense of their acquis sociaux--so it's reassuring to know that to an honest-to-god dad-gum, down-home right-winger, it's obvious that my heart remains on the left, even if my head can't always follow. But we always have fun on this side of the spectrum as well, even if we're unlikely to express our delight with a hearty "hoo-yah!" Donnish humor and well-honed irony are more our style.

Encore de l'audace

Sarkozy had another one of his marathon chats with les tribunes du peuple, or what passes for such in the media age: telejournalists. It was an odd performance. The Élysée doesn't really suit its current incumbent. Its rococo excess makes a strange contrast with his blunt language. He cannot bring himself to sit up straight, despite chairs that would seem to require it. He slouches and squirms, and one keeps expecting to hear the voice of an admonishing parent: "Sit up straight, Nicolas!" His tie was not knotted comme il faut, leaving him looking slightly bedraggled, despite the dazzling white shirt (wrong for television), expensive if rather somber suit, and bling-bling timepiece (I think he may have bought the Breitling he was seen ogling in the pages of Yasmina Reza's book). Formality and tradition cannot repress his pugnacity. Ocassionally, a reaction shot seemed to catch the inevitable M. Poivre d'Arvor with a quizzical look on his face, as if to ask, Why are you pummeling me with aggressive words when all I did was ask a straightforward question? Sarko spoke as if he were still confronting the shop steward in the SNCF Maintenance Center at Saint-Denis. "Écoutez, Mme Chabot ..." This time, the poke in the chest was verbal rather than physical.

As for the substance, the audacity was a thing of wonder. The president had been expected to speak about le pouvoir d'achat, purchasing power, that marvelously elastic term that makes it unclear whether the subject is the price of goods, the wages to purchase them, or some supposed "consumer power" that is supposed to compensate for the diminished political influence of the putative popular sovereign, who has no purchase on central banks or global markets. And indeed he did speak about purchasing power, mainly to assure people that, unlike some others, he accepted that the problem was "real, not mere sentiment." This despite the fact that existing measures of inflation and wages indicate relatively little erosion of purchasing power over the past several years. "We need a new measure of inflation, which reflects what people actually consume," Sarko said. This crowd-pleasing jibe at the hard-working gnomes of the INSEE, whose inflation gauges he dismissed as "claptrap" (fariboles), served to introduce the red meat of the evening: a proposal that would allow firms, with the approval of a majority of workers, to jettison the 35-hour week in return for a wage increase. He also proposed "monetization" of RTT, or "comp time" awarded to workers under the 35-hour regime when required for administrative reasons to work longer hours in a given period. In plain English, workers could cash in their comp time for money rather than take days off. (This could be a huge problem for the state, which owes hospital workers billions of euros worth of comp time, but Sarko, who found time to denounce François Hollande for demagogy, did not address that issue.)

The real audacity here was to present these proposals, which are not without merit, as a solution to the perceived purchasing power problem. Any way you slice these measures, their intent is clear: to get people to work more by paying them to do so. Economics 101. What is mind-boggling is that such an idea should be portrayed as a veritable revolution. To be sure, Sarkozy said that his proposal was meant to overcome the "sluggishness" (atonie) of current wage bargaining. But what accounts for the lifelessness of the labor market? Why should the initiative have to come from the state?

And then there was another clever linkage of ideas: striking students are demanding greater state investment in the universities. All right, then, says Sarkozy: I'll sell off 3 percent of the state's stake in EDF to raise 5 billion euros for the universities. Students see the Pécresse Law as a step toward privatization of the university, do they? Well, I'll give them the étatisation they say they want, but in exchange they will have to accept a partial privatisation of EDF. The Trotskyists manning the remaining university barricades will therefore have to choose: is it really money for the universities they want, and will they swallow a denationalization to get it?

Of course the injection of an actual number into the debate over the universities makes clear the magnitude of the obstacle to be overcome. Sarkozy has said that he wants to make the French universities the equal of any in the world. He has put on the table an offer to sell 3 percent of the national electric company to increase university funding by 5 billion. There are 85 universities in France. Five billion is less than the amount of the increase in the endowment of just one American university, Harvard, in the past year.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What If?

OK, it's now official. Ségolène Royal proposed to François Bayrou between the first and second rounds of the presidential election that he become her prime minister. She believes that if he had accepted, she would have won. He confirms that she made the offer but says he refused because he was convinced she wouldn't win and because "such things aren't done."

It will remain, I suppose, one of those questions that will exercise the Political Hot Stove League for a few months. It's certainly true that quite a few people were looking for a way to "stop Sarko," but it's also true that the swelling of Bayrou's vote in the final weeks of the campaign was due in large part to disaffected center-left and center-right voters convinced either that Royal could not win or that Sarkozy should not win. Would a Ségo-Bayrou tandem have taken these votes? I put it to readers. What do you think?

Hazareesingh on Sarkozy

The historian Sudhir Hazareesingh reviews a handful of books about Sarkozy.

Student Strikes Heating Up

The opposition to the Pécressse Law seems to be heating up, despite the UNEF's call to recognize "advances" in the negotiation. Among other incidents, Oliver Ihl, the director of the Institut d'Études Politiques of Grenoble [corrected: I had originally written Lyon], was injured slightly in a confrontation with "anarchist" students. It's a little startling when a colleague's name figures in the dispatches from the front lines of social confrontation. When I last saw Prof. Ihl, it was in a seminar room at Harvard.

Voyoucratie


Sarko's gift to lexicographers: la voyoucratie, which is what he sees at work in Villiers-le-Bel.

«Je réfute toute forme d'angélisme qui vise à trouver en chaque délinquant une victime de la société, en chaque émeute un problème social» he also said.

Yet if the president is right, and Villiers-le-Bel really is ruled by une voyoucratie, operating with impunity just a few kilometers from the center of Paris, arming itself with shotguns loaded with buckshot, and going to ground only when faced with the superior firepower of a battalion of CRS and a dozen helicopters, then one might conclude that this in itself is un problème social. I'm not sure what else to call it.

The saddest post-riot scene was the conversation on France2 news last night between M. Pétillon, the owner of an auto dealership that was burned to the ground, and a young man from a neighboring town who had come to Villiers to assess the damage. "Don't they realize that the people who work here live in the zone?" M. Pétillon asked. "Where will they work now?" The young man said he was just as "disgusted" by the waste as the businessman who had invested 2 million euros 15 years ago to develop what had been a vacant lot and who employed 30 people, all devastated by the news that he will not reopen the business.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sarko Off the Record

An interesting recording of Sarkozy speaking off-the-record to a neighborhood association in Nanterre before the elections. Another view of the presidential style ...

Assouline Executes Badiou

When I wrote the other day about Alain Badiou's presentation of his new book, I was relying solely on the interview posted by Le Nouvel Obs. I have not read the book, nor had I heard anything about the seminar on which it was apparently based. Pierre Assouline, better informed, vehemently denounces both. I leave it to others to decide what it means that a seminar such as that described by Assouline can have been given at the École Normale Supérieure--assuming, of course, that Assouline's account is accurate.

Selection

An interesting exchange this morning in a chat published in Le Monde with Jean-Baptiste Prévost, the vice-president of the UNEF student union. A questioner asks why he, a student at the elite and selective Sciences-Po, opposes allowing universities to select students for admission. Here is the exchange:

Laurent W. : Pourquoi, alors que vous êtes étudiant à Sciences-Po, formation dont l'excellence repose bien évidemment sur la sélection (comme toutes les grandes écoles publiques), êtes-vous opposé à la sélection en université ? Vous empêchez par ce biais la création de filières d'excellence à l'université. C'est bien regrettable.


Jean-Baptiste Prévost : Je suis opposé à la sélection à l'entrée de l'université, parce que, notamment dans le cadre de mes études, je me suis rendu compte qu'elle maintenait la reproduction sociale à l'université. J'y suis également opposé parce que la France a besoin de plus d'étudiants qu'elle n'en a aujourd'hui. Nous sommes en retard sur ce plan par rapport aux autres pays de l'OCDE. Mais le vrai problème, effectivement, c'est de faire revenir l'excellence à l'université.


Now, what is so curious about this is its perfect and complete denial of reality. The argument goes as follows: "The status quo embodies a system of social reproduction. Extending the status quo would also embody a system of social reproduction. Social reproduction is bad. Hence we had better preserve the status quo, rather than make changes that would reproduce the negative elements of the status quo." Such is the syllogism, and as such impervious to the suggestion that change might also entail modifications attended to alleviate the unfortunate byproducts of selection. Nor does it occur to M. Prévost that competition for students among rival institutions might be a way to "bring excellence back to the university." And the fact that Sciences-Po has instituted a form of affirmative action to counter the social-reproductive aspects of selection seems to have made no impression. Prévost's protest against social reproduction would carry more weight if he were to propose effective ways of reducing its ills under the current two-tier system of higher education that he wants to preserve, and of which he is the protesting beneficiary.

PS Leadership Contest

Le Monde today passes in review six "outsiders" who might replace François Hollande at the head of the Socialist Party: Moscovici, Rebsamen, Valls, Peillon, Sapin, and Hamon. One might well quarrel with the label "outsider" for several members of this group, but all are no doubt possibilities. Of the lot I would prefer Moscovici and then Valls, perhaps Sapin. Hamon would be a step backward, Peillon (who opposed the European Constitution but rallied to the Lisbon Treaty) a disguised step backward, and Rebsamen a way of marking time and going nowhere. Moscovici is more seasoned than Valls and more polished, though the latter, more fiery and less "smooth" in the pejorative sense, might make a better candidate if it comes to that--though choosing a party leader is not necessarily choosing a candidate. I have less of a sense of what kind of leader Sapin would make. Moscovici is smart but can be snide, a characteristic acquired no doubt through too much service as porte-parole and political hatchet man. It doesn't always serve him well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Times Profiles Lauvergeon

The New York Times offers a profile of Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon.

Split in Student Movement Deepens

Bruno Julliard met with Valérie Pécresse and called on striking students to take into account the "advances" the minister was proposing. But students meeting at Nanterre were having none of it and called for Julliard's ouster.

Aux Grands Hommes, La Patrie Reconnaissante


It seems that a guerrilla band infiltrated one of Paris's most famous monuments ... in order to restore its clock.

The Centre of National Monuments, embarrassed by the way the group entered the building so easily, did not take to the news kindly, taking legal action and replacing the administrator.

Getting into the building was the easiest part, according to Klausmann. The squad allowed themselves to be locked into the Panthéon one night, and then identified a side entrance near some stairs leading up to their future hiding place. "Opening a lock is the easiest thing for a clockmaker," said Klausmann. From then on, they sneaked in day or night under the unsuspecting noses of the Panthéon's officials.

"I've been working here for years," said a ticket officer at the Panthéon who wished to remain anonymous. "I know every corner of the building. And I never noticed anything."


Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante ...

Pour la petite histoire:
in 1977 I lived à deux pas du Panthéon at 214, rue des Médicis, the very place where Jean Calvin lived when he was a young student in theology. I went every day to write in the Café Soufflot, just down the rue Soufflot from the Panthéon, not far from where this picture may have been taken. Michel Foucault frequently took his lunch in the same café.

Villiers-le-Bel

There has been no shortage of warning signs. Robert Castel, writing in Le Nouvel Obs a month and a half ago, said that "threats of an explosion are accumulating." Less than a month ago, the Cour des Comptes issued a report denouncing, among other things, "the inconsistency of policy," "delays in payments to associations," "cumbersome mechanisms," and in general neglect of the suburbs by the state. So there is no reason for surprise that what appears to have been an unfortunate traffic accident has erupted into two nights of violence reminiscent of the riots of 2005. Sarkozy, still in China, is monitoring the situation closely and has announced a meeting with the parents of the two dead adolescents upon his return. But thus far he has shown no sign of considering a reversal of the policy he initiated, to end the police de proximité and rely on riot police to maintain order in the suburbs. Fadela Amara is on the scene, but we really have no idea whether her talents include the bureaucratic skills needed to overcome inertia and get the suburbs what they need. Michèle Alliot-Marie, who occupies the position that Sarkozy held during the 2005 riots, has not helped matters by blaming the violence on "organized gangs."

Videos here.

Sauce Hollandaise

There was a time when I was writing nearly every day about the Socialist Party. In the wake of the electoral loss, l'ouverture sarkozyenne, the candidate's repudiation of part of the platform on which she had run for president, and the règlements de comptes among party leaders, it seemed essential to try to figure out whether and how the party would reconstitute itself. Yet the posts became increasingly repetitious. Sniping from this or that quarter, a meeting of quadragénaires seeking not so much to define a new program as to settle on an order of succession, or yet another "analysis" of defeat that amounted to no more than a reaffirmation of banalities such as "we accept the market"--none of this seemed worth saying more than once, if that. So the "renovation" of the party has proceeded without much comment from me or much discernible interest from anyone other than the participants, who rarely include even a decent quorum of surviving Socialist leaders. Meeting in Avignon this weekend, the Hollandaise rump of the party failed to attract Royal, Fabius, and who knows how many others ... it seemed not worth the effort to try to assemble a list of absentees.

So this morning's news that François Hollande, meeting with reporters aboard the train returning from Avignon, still regards himself as a présidentiable for 2012, seemed as good an occasion as any to advert to the virtual absence of the PS from the national scene. Perhaps the upcoming municipal elections will reveal that the party is less moribund than it appears. But if the PS was waiting for massive strikes to destabilize the new regime and inaugurate an era of cohabitation as in 1995, it would seem to have miscalculated. It will have to reconquer power with a program of its own, not wait for control to be ceded to it by default. Or else, if it concludes that its internal divisions are too deep to permit any such reconquest, it had better disband and allow its various factions to strike out on their own in quest of a new political philosophy, which may abandon the label "socialist" altogether (as Manuel Valls has proposed). Many who voted socialist out a sense of "family obligation" no longer identify with the party's current philosophy, if they can even articulate what it is or differentiate it convincingly from that of the parti en face. And countless "family members," from BHL to Julien Dray, from Jack Lang to Claude Allègre, have intimated in one way or another that they are as fascinated by Sarkozy's energy as a moth is by a candle flame, and more or less indifferent to the personalities of the left.

This is not a healthy situation. One cannot disguise rotting leftovers with dollops of sauce hollandaise, especially when the sauce has not entirely prise.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gender Equality

PSA and AXA have taken concrete steps and reached agreements with their unions that should allow both firms to move toward equality in pay between men and women doing comparable jobs.

Meanwhile, Laurence Parisot wants to "eliminate penalties" for failure to achieve salary equality.

Novel Harmonies

Nicolas Sarkozy placed his visit to China under the sign of "harmony," echoing one of the Chinese government's own themes. But he introduced a couple of interesting dissidences into his chord progression before returning to the principal theme, the signing of more than 20 billion euros worth of contracts. He told his Chinese hosts that, in his opinion, "a great country ought to have a strong currency." He might have found a better way to put it. This formulation seemed to hark back to the old French delusion that a country's exchange rate is something like an index of comparative virility. As Sarkozy well knows, however, France would be in a somewhat better position now if its currency were weaker, so that Airbus wouldn't have to contemplate outsourcing to the dollar zone. Still, the Chinese took the point well enough: "I understand that there is a problem," said Hu Jintao, "but it's not simple for us."

Sarko was equally blunt about Chinese pollution: "Chinese growth should not and cannot come at the price of a degradation of the global environment, exhaustion of natural resources, and accelerated warming of the planet." And one of the contracts signed in China was with Natixis, which will supply equipment to reduce CO2 emissions. Of course that contract was for only a few million euros, compared with the 12 billion to Airbus for aircraft that will add to emissions, but the symbolism is noteworthy. And the 8 billion to Areva for nuclear technology may be regarded as symbolic in its own right.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More Splits

The disunion that has afflicted the trade unions (see previous post) has also struck the anti-university reform movement. The national coordinating committee has asserted that it directs the movement, not the UNEF, which has agreed to negotiate with the government. The UNEF's effort to patch up the split, which was obvious from the beginning, appears to have failed.

Meanwhile, Jean-Marie Cavada, a MoDem European deputy, will head the UMP list in the 12th arrondissement, indicating a rift with François Bayrou, whose party appears to be disintegrating under him.

Disunion in the Union?

In Le Figaro Magazine, Véronique Grousset has an interesting piece on the dénouement of the strike. Her thesis is that a "reformist" current in the CGT, led by Bernard Thibault, vanquished its potential challengers, most notably Didier Le Reste, who replaced Thibault as head of CGT-Cheminots after the successful 1995 strike against the Juppé reforms. But that victory, which led to the formation of splinter unions such as SUD-Rail and the departure of about 1/4 of the membership of the CFDT, may have the same effect this time on the CGT. Discouraged radicals will reject Thibault's dominance and Le Reste's failure to mount an effective challenge and leave the union. This is the view of Bernard Vivier, the director of the Institut Supérieur du Travail, a consulting firm specializing in labor relations.

China Inc.

On Rue 89, Pierre Haski notes that when Sarkozy went to Washington, he took with him Rama Yade, the secretary of state for human rights, who looks striking indeed in a formal gown at a white-glove state dinner. Today he is in China, however, and has taken with him not Rama Yade, whose function might be thought to require her presence there, but Anne Lauvergeon, the head of Areva, who will sign a contract with China sealing a major deal for nuclear technology.

It is perhaps one of the many ironies of China's transformation from communist pariah into (still nominally communist) paragon of state capitalism and indispensable trading partner and banker to the nations of what used to be called the Free World that the human rights issues that used to bedevil Sino-Occidental relations must now be discussed sotto voce, at least when there is serious business to be transacted. Hypocrisy, Dr. Johnson said, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

Precedents


Yesterday, I mentioned that Alain Badiou had compared Sarkozy's regime to Giscard's and Pétain's. Today, Le Monde's proofreaders compare it to the Restoration and the July Monarchy. The former comparison derives not so much from historical analogies as from the person of Édouard Balladur, M. Sarkozy's factotum in charge of constitutional reform, who "always looks as though he has just stepped out of a sedan chair." Indeed he does. I congratulate my blogging colleagues on this marvelous description, which they believe "incarnates [the Restoration style] with panache." More conventionally, they view Sarkozy as "a self-avowed nouveau riche" who is always running.

As Ron Tiersky remarked the other day, the historical analogy game is always fun to play. Which past regime does the present one remind you of? I wonder if it wouldn't be more profitable in Sarkozy's case to extend the game outward rather than indulge in traditional hexagonal nombrilisme. I ask you, then, which foreign regime of any period does Sarkozy's remind you of, and why? I await your answers in comments.

In searching for the picture of Louis XVIII (above), I discover that he and I share a birthday.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Airbus Outsourcing

Now here's a sign of the times: Airbus is considering outsourcing to the dollar zone to cope with the competitive disadvantage imposed by the strong euro.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Marchais-Sarko, Même Combat


Jean Véronis notes similarities in the speech patterns of the late Communist leader Georges Marchais and Nicolas Sarkozy. Both tried to parler popu', as Véronis puts it, but only one became president of the Republic.

Badiou on Sarko

Alain Badiou, who has become something of a guru to an intellectual generation younger than mine, has published a new and topical book, Sarkozy, de quoi est-il le nom? He talks about it here. Despite a few provocative statements--sarkozysme is the new form of giscardisme, or is it the new form of pétainisme (in a "logical, formal sense," mind you, not in the sense of a moral judgment)--Badiou's diagnosis seems quite conventional: change in global economic configuration compelling a rightward turn of social democracies everywhere, hardening of rhetoric on the extreme left with no means of moving from words to action, conflict-avoidance by all opposition leaders, etc.

Consummate Oxymoron


Olivier Besancenot, the Trotskyite leader who won 4.9 percent of the vote in the presidential election and who has been enjoying a certain unaccustomed publicity during the strikes, has lost all sense of the meaning of words. Seeking to link himself to the great revolutionary tradition, he cast about for a phrase that would be reminiscent of Trotsky's "permanent revolution" yet applicable to the French situation. What he came up with was, "la rentrée sociale permanente." This raises the art of the oxymoron to new heights. Permanent revolution meant extending revolutionary influence outward in ever-widening circles, not marching around in circles in the streets of Paris or tying up the périphérique. La rentrée, before the metaphor became lexicalized, implied a return from vacation, which will hardly be possible if a fraction of the work force were to persist in keeping the majority from their jobs. If anything encapsulates the radicals' absence of an alternative, not only to the reforms but to the world as it is, it has to be this particularly inapt phrase.

But the owl of Minerva seems to have flown at night, as Hegel predicted. Besancenot uttered his oxymoron in the waning hours of the strike--a happy Thanksgiving gift for Sarko l'Américain.* In the end, he will have made the trains run on time. And yes, GB, I am aware that this gauge of good government has come to be associated with Mussolini. The lesson that should be drawn from this is not that trains running on time are a sign of fascist rule but rather that trains not running on time create the preconditions for a fascist takeover. With a little luck, the chaos in the stations will not become the hallmark of la rentrée sociale permanente that would indeed be remembered as the precursor of la répression vraiment permanente.

* For French readers: in the US yesterday we celebrated the annual Thanksgiving holiday.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Strike News

42 of 45 AGs at the SNCF have voted to suspend the strike. SUD-RATP, the most militant of the unions in the Paris Métro, has taken note of dwindling strike participation and may join the negotiations under way, from which it had stayed away yesterday.

Nasty Story

Steve Rendall asks:

What do you make of the flap aroused by Jean Quatremer's post on his blog concerning Sarko's comments about Muslims? Did the regular media ignore this because they thought Quatremer's information unreliable, or what?


Steve, I read the story and decided not to comment on it, because the sourcing seemed extremely flimsy. If you look back over the blog, you'll find that I've criticized Quatremer several times for what I thought were weak pieces in Libération. On the other hand, I've also praised him, and he was the reporter who broke the story about the private meeting Sarko had with the Euroland finance ministers, who criticized him sharply. His blog is quite widely read and has won awards, but he is more than willing to relay rumors and hearsay without substantiation, a habit that does not necessarily diminish the number of his readers.

The blogosphere has created an opportunity for reporters to publish material they could not get past their editors, and I believe that that is the case with this story. Of course there's no way to stop this sort of thing, but I don't think we're compelled to believe scurrilous reports just because they come from the pen of someone employed by a newspaper. And I see no reason to credit this story unless someone corroborates it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Miscellaneous Strike News

Libé pulls together some interesting pieces of strike news:

Participation is down at both the SNCF (22.8 %) and RATP (16.4 %).

Sarkozy has called for severe punishment of those responsible for burning of TGV switches.

Manuel Valls harshly criticized his own party, the Socialists, for failing to state clearly that they favored the alignment of the special regimes with the general civil service regime.

Talks have begun.

Per Capita GDP Decline

Per capita GDP, a widely used measure of economic well-being, declined in both France and Germany between 2002 and 2005, according to revised OECD figures.

Chirac


A bulletin from Le Monde informs me that Jacques Chirac has been mis en examen for his alleged role in the diversion of Paris city funds when he was mayor. There was a time when I would have greeted this as good news and murmured something about "the rule of law." But Chirac, who was once as pictured in the photo, a would-be Nouvelle Vague matinée idol, now looks so old and, as Jospin put it years ago in one of his many campaign errors, usé, I can't help feeling that the trial will be a sad waste of time. It's a new era. Why bother? Will it get the Métro running again? That, at the moment, seems so much more important than stale retribution.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thibault ...

... or not Thibault, that is the question. Bernard Thibault sounded a little desperate in an on-the-street interview that aired on tonight's JT. Without outright repudiating the AGs that keep renewing the strike, he reminded strikers that negotiations begin tomorrow, that they would likely "be long," and that it would be necessary to maintain the rapport des forces if necessary to win concessions. In other words, get back to work now, or we'll run out of steam; this is going to be a long slog.

Essentially, Thibault is caught between the more intransigent members of his and other unions' rank-and-file and the need to work out a compromise before the public loses patience. The point has been made, he's telling his men; let's not overplay our hand. He sounded like a nervous man, however.

C'est clair!

Ségolène Royal, speaking with all the clarity that characterized her campaign for the presidency, simultaneously endorsed the university reforms and backed the protest against the reforms. The reform is a good one, she said, but then she called on the government not to "spoil a good reform" by failing to provide the funds necessary to see it through. But the protesters are of course claiming that autonomy is merely a cover for eventual withdrawal of government funding, so SR would appear to be wanting to have it both ways. To be sure, her position is as sensible as John Kerry's famous for-as-well-as-against-the-war votes in the Senate, and it will do her as little good as Kerry's effort to split the difference and preserve his candidacy. One longs for a Mendès France among the Socialists, who would have the courage to say, as Royal does, the reform is a good one, but who would then go on to say, "So put an end to this unproductive and costly protest and we will fight like hell to ensure both an increase in funding and a reasonable allocation of the money available."

Suggestion: Autogestion

Jim Livesey comments:

On this point... might this not be a good moment to consider dusting off all the material on autogestion to interrogate if those ideas offer some route past the impediments to movement? As you rightly point out the current situation has now ceased to be about the reform of the special pension provision and turned into a more general crisis of legitimacy. Or alternatively the efforts at reform have uncovered a latent legitimation crisis..


Thanks for the suggestion, Jim. I would take it up more readily if I thought that there might be a happy end to the autogestionnaire impulse. But I was living in France through much of l'Affaire Lipp and came to feel that too many cooks spoil the soup. And autogestion in a firm with a relatively circumscribed market is child's play compared with autogestion of an economy or even a social security system. It is, moreover, late in the day, as it was also in the case of Lipp, to propose an alternative management plan. Self-management is at bottom an expression of deep suspicion of management's motives. If one doesn't believe that the diagnosis of the problem on offer by those in charge is an honest one, it is easy to assume that a better alternative is feasible. But the workers at Lipp faced a shift in the structure of the market for their wares, and it was never in the cards that worker-managers could reverse that stark fact, any more than the management they displaced. And they were of course far more unified and organized, and had a more clearly defined common interest, than the various categories of workers, students, and functionaries whose distrust of Sarkozy is creating the crisis of legitimacy you detect.

Pierre Rosanvallon, whose intellectual odyssey began with a book on autogestion, has more recently written another called La Contre-Démocratie: La politique à l'âge de défiance. I've just translated it, and CUP will bring it out next year. Rosanvallon emphasizes the utility of distrust as a means of democratic control, but he is also at pains to stress that distrust can be carried too far, to the point of paralysis.

La défiance, distrust, seems to be the theme of the season in France. As I reported a while back, there was recently a colloquium on the subject, organized around the paper of Yann Algan and Pierre Cahuc (Rosanvallon was in evidence there as well). Today, in La Vie des idées (the Web publication of Rosanvallon's think tank, La République des idées), there's an excellent critique of Robert Putnam's use of the idea of distrust by Éloi Laurent. The strikes have laid bare the distrust that social scientists have for some time seen as gnawing away at the social bond in France. Under such conditions, I don't see how a grass-roots movement, and by all signs a minority movement, can hope at this stage to impose an alternative that it has done so little to prepare despite abundant warning that in the absence of such an alternative it would face precisely what it now faces.

Chérèque Driven Off

In a comment yesterday, Ron Tiersky mentioned François Chérèque's lucid assessment of the situation as it stood last night. I was tempted to reply at the time that of course Chérèque was merely repeating what had been his and the CFDT's position for some years now, namely, that the move to 40 years of cotisations for all is inevitable and should become the framework for all further negotiation of retirement system reform. The problem is that, clear-eyed as this judgment may be, not everyone accepts it. This was made crystal-clear today, as Chérèque was driven from the streets by the jeers and threats of striking civil servants, whom he attempted to join. He had to be escorted from the scene by union marshals. This is not a good sign for anyone who hopes to see an early end to the strikes. The intransigents are certainly in the minority even among union members, but they are vociferous, and the increasing chaos, mounting economic losses, and frayed nerves have not persuaded them that they cannot get the government to reverse course. For inexplicable reasons, negotiations with the railway workers will not begin until tomorrow. In the meantime, the situation is growing more explosive by the minute. Thus far there has been no real violence. That could change at any moment.

Strike and Vélib'

Francisco asked yesterday how the Vélib' system was faring in the strike. Here's the answer. Usage has doubled. Tires are wearing out. But of course the traffic is so bad that some refuse to ride the bikes for fear of an accident.

Some months ago, I predicted that the strikes would end quickly and said that if they didn't, I would stake Éloi Laurent to one Vélib' ride. I was wrong, and I owe Éloi a ride, but he tells me that he won't ride in the streets as they are today, so I've agreed to buy him a coffee instead. Of course this will cost me more than a euro, and the euro has risen so much against the dollar since I made the bet that I'm afraid I may have to apply for a subsidy from the Ministry of Culture, which can of course be financed out of the additional income to be realized from all the reforms, reductions in size of the civil service, etc.

Bordélique. The adjective seems appropriate, though I suspect it's quite unfair to bordellos.

Power

As civil servants and teachers join railway workers and students, several opinion pieces in Le Monde suggest that, more than the content of the reforms themselves, the implicit redistribution of power must be acknowledged in order to understand why heels are being dug in so deeply.

In the universities the questions are these. What new powers are being awarded to university presidents? Who will control hiring of new researchers?

Civil servants want to know how freely they can be transferred from department to department, and who wields the power to transfer them?

Rank-and-file union members want more power at the base in exchange for any concessions on retirement. A settlement that suits the national leadership may not suit the locals.

And so on, and on, and on. There is of course nothing new about an explosion of particular resentments and revendications when the central power attempts a systemic reform in the name of the general interest. This is French history in a nutshell. And the next few days will no doubt remind us that French history has generally been a messy affair.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mistral on France's Image


Jacques Mistral writes at Telos about the way in which French criticism of the European Central Bank is seen outside France, especially in light of the judgment abroad that the French have been particularly lax about reducing government spending and applying necessary economic discipline.

Movement

There seems to be movement at last on the strike front. Even SUD-Rail, the most intransigent of the unions, is ready to come to the bargaining table. The economic cost of the strike thus far has been considerable: one estimate puts the loss to the economy at 100 million euros. Nevertheless, the government and the SNCF have made it clear that they stand ready to pay the unions to compromise. Xavier Bertrand announced an interesting ploy: he said the government would send a representative to the negotiations, as the unions are insisting, only if "service improves" today and tomorrow. The unions had insisted that negotiations not be conditioned on a resumption of work, so this is a compromise position: not all workers have to return, but service must improve. Since participation was dropping rapidly anyway, the condition will be met, most likely, without any actual concession by anyone. The wisdom of Solomon.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy's approval rating has dropped to 51 percent, the first time it has dipped below his election score. You can expect that to change quickly if the strike is successfully resolved by Wednesday. But "stop the strike" demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere turned out impressive numbers of marchers. Meanwhile, my friends in Paris ride the Vélib' or walk.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

It looks as though I was too optimistic when I predicted that the strikes would be over by Monday. Although participation is dwindling, rail and subway service is still seriously perturbed, and the remaining strikers, about 22 percent of the work force at SNCF, are nearly unanimous in approving continuation of the strike. One sees votes being taken in open-air assemblées générales, where there seem to be no rules about quorums or other procedures to ensure that the full membership is being heard. One would have to have far more knowledge of the internal politics of the unions than I do to say with confidence what is going on, but it does seem clear that leadership did not count on as much resistance from the rank-and-file as they appear to be encountering. The situation at the universities is even less clear, and it is difficult even to know how many universities have been affected. Estimates range from 20 to 45 of the 85, with varying degrees of disruption.

The government seems content to wait out the strikers, but there is a potential that the walkout of civil servants scheduled for next week will reignite the movement.

Special Regimes in the World of Culture


This post is especially for Gregory Brown, who mentioned that he had a professional interest in special retirement regimes in the theatrical world. The République des Lettres has some interesting information on offer today. The special regime at the Paris Opera dates back to 1698. Dancers get to retire at 40, singers at 50, stagehands at 55, and musicians at 60. Perhaps John Rawls has a theory of justice to explain this interesting gradation.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sarko in NYROB

William Pfaff has an article on Sarkozy in the New York Review of Books, but I think it's fair to say that readers of this blog won't learn anything they don't already know. There's also a review of Graham Robb's very interesting new book The Discovery of France, but it isn't readable on-line.

Patrice Gueniffey on Furet's Napoleon

Text here.

Troubles

I've had a computer crash, so the blog posts may slow down a bit. Have to get my life back in order.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

DNA, oui, statistics, non

The Conseil Constitutionnel has ruled that the DNA testing provisions of the Hortefeux Law are legal, provided that the law governing kinship is that of the mother's country of origin and that consular authorities demonstrate that they have verified or attempted to verify regular birth documents before requesting DNA evidence.

By contrast, the Sages ruled against the collection of racial and ethnic statistics on the grounds that Article I of the Constitution declares that France is a "republic, one and indivisible .... ensuring equality before the all for all citizens without distinction as to origin, race, or religion.

Giscard and Chirac sat together on the Council for the first time as ex officio members.

Lagarde en queue du peloton

The Financial Times has issued its annual ranking of European finance ministers, and Christine Lagarde comes in last, although the FT seems skeptical of its own methods:


At the other end of the scale trails Christine Lagarde of France - one of this year's debutantes - who is ranked as the worst performer. France's fiscal recalcitrance continues to raise eyebrows across the rest of Europe while the hyper-activity of Nicolas Sarkozy, the president, especially in economic affairs, creates confusion about who is really running the show.


The FT guide, by nature, uses crude yardsticks. Ms Lagarde could well ask just how should a finance minister be judged - and over what period? What is the appropriate size for a fiscal surplus or deficit or the appropriate tax rate on labour or capital? But benchmarking performances has become as popular among European policymakers as talent shows on television - and there seems no reason why finance ministers should be left behind by fashion.

NPNS Schism

Ni Putes Ni Soumises, the organization founded by Fadela Amara, has been in crisis since she joined the government. Now the movement has split, and a new group has announced itself with a manifesto in today's Le Monde.

Measures for Readers

Culture minister Christine Albanel announced a three-point plan yesterday en faveur du livre: subsidies and tax breaks for independent bookstores, 78 million euros for public libraries, and support for digitization efforts and on-line access via Europeana, the BNF's digital book project. A while back Albanel had announced the opening of negotiations with Google Books, which at the time struck me as an abandonment of the Europeana project on grounds of economy. This new initiative makes the picture less clear.

A New CGT?

Eric Dupin sees Bernard Thibault's actions thus far as I do: Thibault has maneuvered shrewdly to avoid the fate of Arthur Scargill under Thatcher. He has to placate his left-wing opposition, and he has a rank-and-file that does not always see things as the head office does, but he knows that compromise is the only way out of the current impasse. Dupin remarks that internal tensions will be running high in the CGT in coming days.

LATER: Le Monde follows suit.

Laurent on the Euro

Erstwhile "French Politics" contributor Éloi Laurent has many intelligent things to say about the euro in today's Le Monde.

Here are some related thoughts from Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw, in agreement for once. Tyler Cowen takes a contrarian view, however. Cowen, like Laurent, notes the unsatisfactory state of the models used to predict exchange rate variations, on which Krugman is relying. Brad DeLong nevertheless seems to agree with Krugman.

For a diverting take on the fall of the dollar from a rather different point of view, see again Paul Krugman.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pas de Deux Miliband-Sarkozy


David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, has proposed beefing up Europe's conventional defense forces and suggested the possibility of bringing North Africa and the Middle East into the EU single market by 2030. The first proposal is in some respects a response to Sarkozy's hints that France is ready to contemplate a role in a joint European military structure. The second would seem to be a counter or challenge to Sarkozy's idea of a Mediterranean Union separate from the EU. It will be interesting to see the French response.

The Extreme Right No Longer Exists

Well, the news isn't quite as good as the headline might make it appear, but the group "Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty" in the European Parliament ceased to exist when 5 Romanian members resigned, reducing the membership below the level of 20 required to maintain a designated parliamentary group. Bruno Gollnisch of the French Front National had been the group's leader.

Police Action at Nanterre

Video of yesterday's clearing of demonstrators at Nanterre by riot police:


Strike Participation Down at SNCF

Only 61.5 percent of SNCF employees are striking today, compared with 73.5 percent in October.

Last Ditch Ain't What It Used to Be

They shall not pass ... er, make that, They shall not pass without slowing down just a bit.

François Hollande said today that "they should end the strike tonight." If it continues, "users will have their lives disrupted. So I hope, and now I'm even demanding, that they start this morning on a round of negotiations firm-by-firm," as the CGT has insisted.

So much for the last-ditch stand. Anne-Marie Idrac, the head of the SNCF, says she wants firm-level negotiations. The CGT says it wants firm-level negotiations. The government says it wants firm-level negotiations. François Hollande "demands" firm-level negotiations. Faces have been saved. Now the concerned parties can get on with dotting the i's, which was probably completed weeks ago, long before the curtain went up on this street theater à l'ancienne. As Laurence Parisot said with inimitable tactlessness, "I can't stop thinking about all the people who love France and who are looking at us today and saying, 'What is it with all this outdated rigamarole (ringardisme)?'" Ma chère Laurence, one is allowed to think such thoughts but not to say them out loud. You need a counselor in public relations. Why not hire one from the Élysée, where they know how these things are done? Claude Guéant flattered Bernard Thibault by crediting him with "taking a step to resolve the crisis on the first day of conflict." When the enemy is about to surrender, the time is ripe to tell him how valiantly he fought.

Prediction: by Monday it will all be over, and we will know how much the government paid in concessions in order to rack up a victory on the principle, whatever the principle turns out to be. Because in the end it will all seem a little muddy: yes, everyone should work more, and the rules should be the same for all, except when they can't be, or aren't, or it isn't worth fighting over ...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Two Contributions to the Discussion

La Vie des idées has two useful articles.

The first, by Gaëtane Richard-Nihoul, analyzes the Lisbon Treaty.

The second, by Éric Maurin, discusses formulas for financing university educations in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, and suggests that France needs to consider a system of tuition loans with deferred repayments. Of course the very idea of tuition payment and rationing of university access by imposition of fees would be greeted in France with howls of protest, even if the payments were presented as a tax on future earnings to be borne by the beneficiaries of the proceeds. The idea that "free" public goods are not free when paid for out of national income is still greeted as radically Anglo-Saxon. Nor is the idea that returns to higher education are arguably a major source of inequality in today's world a familiar one in France. "Human capital" formation is nevertheless promoted, rightly, as a major comparative advantage of the developed world in its competition with the low-wage countries of the developing world. No industrialized country has yet to come up with a satisfactory way of dealing with this problem. In the United States, competition for access to "elite" private schools and universities has escalated to absurd levels, and tuitions keep rising. But in France, "free" access to higher education simply masks enormous failure rates and a de facto inegalitarian system of Grandes Écoles and ordinary universities. Maurin's article looks at policies that fall midway between these extremes. (The Stafford Loan system in the US bears some similarities to the systems discussed but has numerous shortcomings.)

Minority Rule?

We have no way of knowing, of course, how many students support the blockage of campuses, railway stations, etc., in the movement of protest against the Pécresse Law, but all signs are that it is a minority, even a small minority. There are strikes at only a dozen or so of the 80-odd French universities. At Rennes, where a vote on continuing the strike was held by secret ballot, the anti-strike vote was in the majority (with 62 percent, 3,280 voting out of 17,000 students total), but more radical elements are continuing the strike today anyway and insisting on an open vote in a general assembly. At Nanterre, a general assembly did vote in favor of the strike, but police were called in to remove protesters blocking the building, while other students demonstrated in favor of "freedom to study." The national strike leadership has called for students to block train stations, but the head of CGT-Cheminots advised against this move.

This site presents news from the protesters' side. And here is an anti-strike site. Archaisms are emerging on both sides, as is inevitable in this sort of conflict. For instance, the president of the University of Rennes claims that what is at stake here is nothing less than the viability of democracy in the face of a "totalitarian regime," while the student in the photo is wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt that was probably manufactured in one of the bustling mills of Chinese capitalism.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Steinmeier-Kouchner Rock Video

The German and French foreign ministers team up to make a music video extolling the virtues of integration. Has to be seen to be believed.

Controlling Violence

David Dufresne has just published a timely book on how the police maintain order and control violence in France. Maintien de l'ordre looks at the evolution of police tactics in dealing with demonstrations and "difficult neighborhoods." As interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy ordered that police in the cités be replaced by CRS specially trained in the control of violence and disorder. Helicopters and other military equipment were also brought in. Dufresne also details the elaborate negotiations between police and demonstrators and the means of communication used to control crowds in large demonstrations. And he considers police tactics for dealing with "uncooperative" demonstrators. In the video interview he suggests that the CRS have begun to tire of their new mission in the suburbs: routine policing was not the métier for which they thought they had trained. Finally, the author examines the 2005 riots as a contest between Villepin and Sarkozy, the latter haunted by fears of a police slip-up that might have discredited him (as the minister in charge of the police) and shifted the advantage to his arch-rival.

The Whirling Dervish

A map of Sarkozy's travels since his election. Whatever else you say about him, you have to admit that the man has incredible energy. Thanks to Scott Guye for the pointer.

Unemployment Down


The INSEE has revised its method of estimating unemployment to bring it into line with ILO and Eurostat norms. The figures just released show that unemployment by the new measure is 8.1 percent and has been declining for 7 quarters.

Message to Kouchner from Centcom

Admiral Fallon, the commander of the U. S. Central Command, had this to say (FT, registration req'd):

“None of this is helped by the continuing stories that just keep going around and around and around that any day now there will be another war which is just not where we want to go,” he said.

“Getting Iranian behaviour to change and finding ways to get them to come to their senses and do that is the real objective. Attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice in my book.”


One hopes that Bernard Kouchner reads the Financial Times.

The PS on the Strikes

Where does the PS stand on the strikes? In the shadows, one might say. The party does not oppose the reforms of the special retirement regimes but is critical of the way the government has handled the negotiations. François Hollande accuses the regime of seeking "a test of strength, a conflict," while Julien Dray says that "responsibility for the [social protest] movement rests with the government." It is, of course, a nice example of the bind in which the Socialists find themselves on any number of issues: more or less in favor of reform yet hoping somehow that it will all go disastrously wrong and redound to their benefit. The UNEF, which is close to the PS, is in the same position with respect to the university strikes. Bruno Julliard's group took the lead in negotiating changes to the Pécresse Law last summer, but now it has joined the CCAU's strike call though apparently not backing the threat to block railroad stations. Again, the hope seems to be that a homeopathic dose of chaos will aid the cause. The dosage of chaos is hard to control, however.

ADDENDUM: Ségolène Royal encapsulates the ambivalence of the PS to perfection by announcing her belief that "the students are right to strike" while ignoring the strikers' stated goal of having the Pécresse law rescinded. For Royal, the goal of the strike should be to ensure that "the reform is revised."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On Private Financing of Universities

One of the issues student protesters have raised in connection with the Pécresse reforms is that of private financing. This is a complex question, which deserves more careful attention than I can give it in a brief blog post. It may nevertheless be worth mentioning explicitly some distinctions that the protesters seem to be neglecting.

First, there is a distinction to be made between sponsored research and voluntary gifts by individuals. Consider this article from Rue89. It reproduces a letter from Richard Descoings, the head of Sciences-Po, to alumni of that institution, asking for contributions and informing them of available tax deductions. The lead to the article suggests that this letter is likely to "throw oil on the fire" of student protest. Why? Is accepting contributions from individuals likely to influence what is taught at Sciences-Po? Is M. Descoings, who has tried (with his program of discrimination positive) to bring more minorities into the upper echelons of French administration and business to which Sciences-Po grants its graduates access, accused of wanting to increase inequalities in French society or merely of attempting to improve his own institution? Will denying private funding to Sciences-Po make it less prestigious than it has become with state financing? Will it allow lesser institutions to "catch up," as they have failed to do under the existing formula? Is it realistic to hope for "equality" among 80-some different universities across France if all of them attempt to emulate the Sciences-Po curriculum? Can one assemble the critical mass of top-flight scholars and talented students at that many universities in every field?

Second, there is the question of a different kind of private financing: sponsored research by industry. This pertains mainly to the sciences, although one can imagine certain firms sponsoring work in the humanities for reasons of prestige rather than direct economic interest. Does this imply a "take-over of campuses" by the MEDEF, as one of the slogans reported by Le Monde appears to suggest? Whenever money is taken from private sources, there are of course concerns about strings being attached. For that reason, in the United States, where many universities, including state universities, do sponsored research, there are mechanisms in place to reduce conflicts of interest. Furthermore, it is not necessarily true that sponsored research limits scientific work to areas of greatest immediate interest to industry. Take the work of Albert Fert, the recent French Nobel prizewinner in physics. His work on giant magnetoresistance could not have been carried out without the cooperation and financial contribution of Thomson-CSF; his seminal idea would have remained stillborn and unproven without the industrial capacity to fabricate the device needed to demonstrate it in practice. In other words, there are fields of science in which the kinds of ideas that can prove fruitful are restricted more by refusing cooperation with industry than by accepting it.

Finally, it is worth considering whether industrial sponsorship is more or less distorting than state sponsorship, which often equates to military sponsorship. If the ideas that are valued are those with military rather than commercial applicability, is society necessarily better off?

These few remarks only scratch the surface of the issues involved, but perhaps they are worth throwing into the hopper along with:

"Medef, Medef,
la fac n'est pas ton fief"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Interactive Map of Striking Unis

An interactive map of universities on strike can be found here. Thanks to Scott Guye for the pointer. Related article here.

Comparison of Sarkozy and Thatcher

Eric Le Boucher compares the reformist tactics of Margaret Thatcher with those of Nicolas Sarkozy. As Le Boucher points out, Thatcher approached the unions quite differently from Sarkozy. She turned her back on them, whereas he has tried repeatedly to persuade them that their interest lies in collaborating with him. By contrast, when it came to substantive policy, she was cautious and moved slowly at first, while he has moved quickly to implement policies bound to lead to head-on confrontation.

Of course the two political cultures are very different, as is the economic conjuncture. And in a sense, Sarkozy is continuing the Gaullist tradition of conciliation of workers, whereas Thatcher consciously rejected the conciliatory aspects of Toryism.

A Worker Speaks

Rue89 has an interesting piece by a railway worker and CFDT member who tried to find out where various of his colleagues stood on the reform of the special regimes, as well as where their unions stood. By his account, most workers are willing to accept the increase from 37.5 to 40 years on condition that work time in the private sector is counted and the rules governing benefit reductions for those falling short of 40 years are changed.

As for the unions, SUD and FO want to keep the present system, period; the CGT is just "against" the reforms but hasn't distributed any outline of a counter-position to its members; UNSA is supposed to distribute a tract on Monday; he didn't meet anyone from CFTC and doesn't know the position of CFE-CGC; and FGAAC, the union of engineers and conductors, is out for its own membership only and has already reached a separate pact with the SNCF. Most workers, he says, are distressed that the situation has deteriorated to this point. He believes that the government could turn things around quickly with a decent offer and a willingness to negotiate in good faith.

Municipals

The site Ségolène2012 has a rundown of the situation for the upcoming municipal elections, including a list of cities that could swing from right to left and vice-versa.

Here is a directory of Web sites pertaining to the municipals.

Details on the modalities of the vote.

Wikipedia article on the 2008 municipals.

Wikipedia article on the 2001 municipals.

Socialists who approve of Sarkozy

A new IFOP poll investigating people who voted Socialist shows that he has the approval of 32 percent (doing slightly better with women than with men). Disapproval is strongest among managers, professionals, and under-24-year-olds, while approval runs higher among clerical and industrial workers and retirees.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Slogans

There is a kind of poetry to the slogans of street demonstrations, even if it's often the infantile poetry of the nursery rhyme. Here is a current sampling, as reported in Le Monde:

"Facs ouvertes aux enfants d'ouvriers,
facs fermées aux intérêts privés"
.

"Lutte sociale, grève générale,
derrière la réforme se cache le capital"
.

"Medef, Medef,
la fac n'est pas ton fief"


"Cécilia, on est comme toi,
on en a marre de Ni
colas".

"Ils privatisent,
on s'organise"
.

"Pécresse,
traîtresse"
.

"On veut étudier
pour pas finir policiers"
.

The insistent, if sometimes wrenched, oom-pah rhythms and moon-June rhymes are of course made for the megaphone and the synchronized heartbeats and footfalls of a crowd on the march. None of it yet rises to the level of the more surreal slogans of May '68: Sous le pavé, la plage ... Now there was a slogan à faire rêver. Of course it was wall art, not suitable for marching--the fruit of a mature manif, on its last legs, battle-weary, and ready for retirement to the dustbin of history.

France and NATO

Does France want to rejoin NATO? "Today you have the freedom to choose à la carte. If you join NATO's integrated command structure, you'll have to take the whole menu." These are the terms in which a NATO official sums up the new agenda raised by Sarkozy's Washington initiative, as reported in Le Monde.

What's in it for France? Sarkozy sees NATO as a force multiplier. Working through NATO, France will be able to project a greater military influence around the world. His assumption is that France, by setting conditions for its re-entry, will be able to re-orient the alliance toward the defense of Europe rather than the projection of American might. He thinks he is taking advantage of a moment of American weakness, or need, and to prove his bona fides, he has apparently told Bush that he will increase the French presence in Afghanistan.

But is Sarkozy perhaps overestimating the potential French influence in a revamped NATO military structure? Back in the heady days before "shock and awe," the story was that the American military didn't need or want help from anyone; working with allies just got in the way of a beautiful, pefectly-honed command-and-control structure. America's vastly superior military technology, predicated on vastly greater military spending, made it virtually impossible, technically speaking, to collaborate productively with antiquated forces that hadn't yet developed the capacity to fight on the "electronic battlefield."

Of course Iraq has shown that the dusty battlefield and, even more, the grubby back streets of ancient capitals, may still have some relevance after the electronic battlefield has been stored away in the closet for old video games. Still, it's not clear what Sarkozy is signing up for. He seems to be aiming to build a transnational military capacity before there is any agreement on, or even adumbration of, a transnational military policy. What is France willing to allow its troops to be used for? And what missions does the United States now envision for foreign boots on the ground, now that it has discovered that drones, sensors, and laser-guided bombs aren't a panacea for the world's ills?

Portrait in Contrasts

A brilliant portrait in contrasts of Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillon on the blog of Nicolas Véronis. Pay particular attention to the photos showing how each man looked circa 1980.

Death and Taxes

Écopublix has a terrific explanation of the bewildering maze of taxes and other deductions from French paychecks. In America we have a saying that "nothing is certain but death and taxes." In France, it seems, the tax system is so confusing that only death is certain.

Student Movement

The UNEF and PS both seem to be less than enthusiastic about the student movement that is currently blocking a dozen universities. Benoît Hamon, who just resigned from the PS Bureau National over the Europe issue, represents the left-wing of the party yet is skeptical that the students will accomplish anything: "A youth movement is hard to get going. It takes simplistic slogans." Razzye Hammadi, who used to head the Socialists' own youth movement, the MJS, recommended that the PS help the movement along by "moving it to a higher stage." "We should ask the government to reorient its policy." Not exactly the sort of ringing and simple slogan that Hamon had in mind, I imagine. Meanwhile, Bruno Julliard, the head of the UNEF (French national students' union), suggests that the government will not abandon the autonomy reform, so that the best strategy is to work on budgetary issues and try to get some concessions on student housing. And the minister in charge, Valérie Pécresse, is making none-too-subtle hints that the groups spearheading the movement are infiltrated by extreme leftists, which is probably true.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Debate at Nanterre

Le Monde reports on the debate in the student assembly at Nanterre preceding the strike vote.

After reviewing the passions on display here, turn, for a soberingly cold shower, to the OpinionWay poll that has 69 percent of the French in favor of maintaining the push for reforms and even moving faster.

Poverty in France

Excellent data on poverty in France in this report from the Secours Catholique. In particular, the number of foreigners seeking assistance has been declining in recent years.

France and Europe

An interesting institutionalist perspective on the evolution of French preferences in regard to the European Union, by Nicolas Jabko. Thanks to Science Politique en ligne for the pointer.

Student Protests

Web sites related to the growing student protests in France can be found here, here, here (Jeunesses Communistes Révolutionnaires), and here. I still don't know very much about the Collectif Contre l'Autonomie des Universités. How did it get mobilized, with whom is it affiliated, who are the leaders, what rivalries among student groups are involved, are faculty groups associated with the students, are they meeting with Pécresse, etc. I haven't found much in the papers. It would be great to hear from people in the affected universities (I know you're out there!), sociologists working on social movements in France, etc.

Some further information here, but still extremely sketchy.

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Alexis de Tocqueville recognized a certain vanity in Americans unlike any other:

Americans, in their relations with foreigners, seem impatient of the slightest censure and insatiable in their appetite for praise. They are pleased by the merest of commendations and seldom satisfied by the fullest. They pester you constantly for your praise, and if you hold out against their importuning, they will laud themselves. Doubtful perhaps of their own merit, they wish to have its portrait constantly before their eyes. Their vanity is not only greedy but also restless and envious. It gives nothing yet is always asking to receive. It is simultaneously grasping and argumentative.


I say to an American that he lives in a beautiful country. He replies, “Yes, indeed, there is none other like it in the world!” I admire the liberty that its inhabitants enjoy, and he responds, “Liberty is a precious gift, but very few peoples are worthy of it.” I remark on the purity of morals prevailing in the United States: “I can imagine,” he says, “that a foreigner struck by the corruption that is so glaringly apparent in all other nations might be surprised by such a sight.” Ultimately I leave him to contemplate himself, but he returns to my side and refuses to leave until he has made me repeat what I have just told him. A patriotism more trying or loquacious is impossible to imagine. It wearies even those who honor it.

Democracy in America, II.3.16


Nicolas Sarkozy seems instinctively to have recognized this American vanity and decided to flatter rather than mock it. So he told a joint session of Congress yesterday that France could not get enough of us: of our GIs, of Elvis, of Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne. And we loved it, or at any rate our duly elected representatives for reasons best known to themselves pretended to lap it up. Perhaps they were feeling repentant for the orgy of French-bashing that broke out in Washington and the rest of the country a few years ago, or perhaps they were just vain, as Tocqueville believed, and not particularly bright or wise in the ways of the world.

In a letter to his mother dated May 14, 1831, Tocqueville had this to say:

The absence of wine with our meals was quite disconcerting at first, and we still cannot quite conceive of the multitude of things that people put in their stomachs here. Did you know that in addition to breakfast, dinner, and tea, with which the Americans eat ham, they also serve a very copious supper and frequently a snack? Thus far, this is the only respect in which I am prepared to grant that they are incontestably superior to us. But they believe that there are many others: the people here strike me as stinking with national pride. It shows through all their politeness.


"Stinking with national pride": one wonders if Nicolas is writing as frankly to his mother about his day with the Bushes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bickerton on the Arche de Zoé Affair

Sometime "French Politics" contributor Christopher Bickerton has an interesting article on the Arche de Zoé Affair in Spiked.

The Recriminalization of Insanity

At the time of the "little Enis" case, Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear that he believed there ought to be some way of affording emotional satisfaction to the victims of crimes whose perpetrators were deemed "not responsible" for their acts by reason of insanity. Now Rachida Dati is ready to introduce a bill that would eliminate the insanity defense altogether, if I understand the purpose of the bill correctly. This is a step backward. The French are often critical, and rightly so, of the use of the death penalty in the United States. It is argued that the death penalty belongs to a lower stage of civilization. I am not sure that abolishing the insanity defense establishes the claim to have advanced to a higher level.

Universities

A little more information has begun to emerge about what university students are protesting in various places across France. The central grievance seems to be the principle of university budgetary autonomy, and in particular the possibility that individual universities will seek to raise private funds to augment whatever money they receive from the state. Students fear that this will ultimately lead to privatization of the universities and increased inequality. The concern is not unfounded, but the government thought it had won acceptance of this point in negotiations with the student unions several months ago. So Valérie Pécresse's consternation is comprehensible.

On the substance of the issue, I think there is good reason to be concerned about the possible distortion of educational priorities by the injection of private funds. Nevertheless, competition and choice can be useful stimuli. The goal should be to allow students of equal talent an equal opportunity to choose among competing universities. To insist on equality among universities is to ensure mediocrity, and the existence of Grandes Écoles belies the egalitarian discourse in any case.

Tactically, Bruno Julliard's UNEF seems to have been outmaneuvered by the Collectif Contre l'Autonomie des Universités (CCAU), a new group apparently influenced by the extreme left, which is also a force in the more militant union protests against the special retirement regime reforms. The UNEF apparently joined the CCAU-led university protest yesterday, fearful of being left behind though dubious about the mobilizing issue. In short, it appears that there is an effort afoot to bring student and worker discontent together over the next few weeks in the hope of derailing Sarkozy, just as Juppé was derailed in 1995. How Sarko handles this confrontation will be an important test. If he gets past these next few weeks without conceding too much, he will have consolidated his presidency.

I would be particularly interested in hearing from readers who know anything about the CCAU and its leadership, affiliation with other organizations and parties, etc.

"Let Them Ride Bikes"

When the price of bread rose, Marie-Antoinette said (aprocyphally), "Let them eat cake." When the price of gas rose, Christine Lagarde said, "Let them ride bikes." A farmers' union official from the FDSEA suggested that she try pulling a harrow or seeding machine with "a vélib' de Paris." Now we know why Sarko went out to face the fishermen in Guilvinec. He remembered the fate of le boulanger, la boulangère, et le mitron.

Sarko Kisses Hand, Bush Speaks French

As you can see from the picture, la rupture has not affected one ritual of Franco-American relations: the presidential kiss of the First Lady's hand. Someone will have to explain the protocol. As I recall, Sarko kisses Angela Merkel on the cheek but doesn't kiss her hand. Bush, in any case, doesn't look any more pleased than when Chirac kissed Laura's hand, though France is now our "staunchest ally," according to the briefing Nick Burns gave yesterday to L'Express--in French, for a while, until he ran out of clichés and switched to English, the language in which his unctuous mastery is more fully on display. Bush, too, spoke French, long enough to say Bienvenue à la Maison Blanche.

Meanwhile, Cécilia is also doing her part for Franco-American relations. The New York Post ran a photo of her emerging from a Manhattan restaurant named Orsay. Note, however, that the quai d'Orsay was conspicuously absent from the higher echelons of Sarko's entourage, unless you count Rama Yade, whose extraordinary beauty seems to bump her up a few protocol notches above the place her status as a junior minister would otherwise entitle her to. She, along with Christine Lagarde and Rachida Dati, accompanied Sarko to a state dinner, demonstrating to admiring Americans that the French have learned to manage "diversity" as glibly as their American hosts. Sarko also brought a chef with him, and the director of the Louvre. All of this connotes a "return to normalcy" in Franco-American relations: hand-kissing, elegant women, haute cuisine, haute couture, and high art--these are the things that represent "the good France," "our oldest ally," in the American psyche, and as long as the French content themselves with the finer things of life and don't meddle in the serious business of war and finance, we can get along just fine.

Sarko seems willing to play along. He is even finding time in his brief 26 hours in the US to meet with what The Times delicately describes as "American Jewish leaders"--and no doubt his advisor Jean-David Levitte has told him how heated things were with that group just a few short years ago. All is forgiven if not forgotten, and The Times even finds space to mention [I'm correcting an error in my original post here] that Sarkozy's mother is partly Jewish (for la petite histoire; la grande will remember only that "France is back").