Friday, June 1, 2007

The Center Has Not Held

François Bayrou, meeting the press in a tavern outside Bordeaux, said that "he approves the direction Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to take with his European policy ... though I'm not sure it will be easy to get where he wants to go."

The tone is strikingly different from that of Ségolène Royal (previous post), though this is the man she says she would have made prime minister if only he'd shown a little Dantonian audace. If it was audace she wanted, she shouldn't have counted on Bayrou. His broad if bland approval of Sarkozy's first 3 weeks will no doubt add to the howls against Royal on the left once the legislatives are over. One can already hear the shouts of "we told you so--once a rightist, always a rightist."

In any event, Sarko's "simplified European treaty" seems to be making headway, though it's hard to see it as anything other than a way of "getting to yes" without actually having to submit anything to a vote, at the risk of another "no." Sarko, creature of action that he is, wants to get "Europe moving again." But there is a long tradition of French governments using Europe as an instrument when it suits their interests and ignoring it when it doesn't. The fulfillment of his campaign promises may well push France over the 3 percent GDP debt limit, and if that happens, of course he will ignore it, whether the simplified treaty is in effect or not. "Political Europe" will remain a ghostly presence until engagements taken in its name cannot be ignored with impunity.

"He would have had Matignon"

Ségolène Royal now says that if François Bayrou had agreed to throw his support to her between the first and second rounds, "he would have had Matignon." "I don't know how the Socialist Party would have reacted, but public opinion would have fallen into line, the French would have signed on, this was the renovation they wanted. ... When history happens, you have to seize the moment. He wasn't bold enough."

One doesn't know quite how to take this. Is this judgment supposed to be a reflection on events or a programmatic statement in service of her newly proclaimed ambition to found a "mass party?" And what precisely is a parti de masse in 2007? The vocabulary calls to mind an image: masses of workers in blue coveralls, fists in the air. But the missed fusion with Bayrou conjures up a very different image: a party of the center, un blairisme à la française, a republic of consumers, and Aristotelian moderation in all things.

SR seems to be suffering from what Gaston Bachelard called an "epistemological obstacle." She cannot quite conceive what her instincts tell her she needs to do. A midwife is needed to deliver the Socialist Party of the child it has borne within it for far too long.

Myth-Swatting

A few statistics for use with friends besotted by the Wall Street Journal, Nicolas Baverez, and other proponents of the thesis that la Grande Nation is the sick man of Europe, the French don't work and vacation at Saint-Tropez while their elderly die of heat stroke in cramped attic apartments, etc.:

Productivity per worker (=GDP in purchasing power standards / number employed), 2005 (relative EU-25):
US 135.7
Ireland 129.2
France 119.2
UK 105.1
Germany 102.5
Turkey 42.5

Productivity per hour (relative EU-15)
Ireland 121.2
France 118.1
US 116.9
Germany 109.5
UK 99.8
Turkey n/a

In 2003, France took in 111 billion euros of foreign direct investment, including 55 billion from the US (in GDP of 1.8 trillion euros).

Sources: Eurostat, INSEE (thanks to Martha for the suggestion)

Barnyard Politics

Prime Minister François Fillon, campaigning in Loué* in his Sarthois district, had nothing but praise for his constituents, who returned it in kind: "With Fillon, a little of the dirt our chickens walk on will enter Matignon," said one of the region's chicken farmers.

"What you're doing here" with your chickens, the prime minister told the rural audience, "I want to do for France."

Fatten it up, twist its neck, pluck it, cut it to pieces, and wrap it in plastic? One suspects he meant the analogy to refer only to the farmers' entrepreneurial success, not to the nature of their business, but he no doubt would have chosen his words more carefully had he not been intoxicated by the bucolic fragrance of his home soil, which he will now carry back to Paris.

There were also more harsh words for Chirac and Villepin. It seems that the transport of dirt runs two ways. The chickens of the Sarthe can now walk on some well-trodden Parisian soil, even as the carpets of Matignon are made redolent with emanations of the Sarthe.

* For the benefit of non-francophones, "loué" means "praised."