Friday, July 6, 2007

Tonnerre de Brest!

And now, le dernier coup de maître: Sarko has announced his intention to support Dominique Strauss-Kahn to head the International Monetary Fund. Fabius had been mentioned as a possible candidate in earlier reports, but Sarko dismissed that possibility with an acid observation: "He voted 'no' [on the European referendum] without thinking through the consequences." True enough. And now the Socialist Party, shattered already by dissension over Europe, the loss of the election, the candidate's repudiation of her platform, the Hollande-Royal split, and endless internal bickering, faces the potential loss of its most popular leader (according to the last TNS-Sofres poll) to another Sarko overture. Will he accept? Or will he choose to make resistance to this blandishment a mark of his stature? Undoubtedly we'll know soon. I can see good arguments for either choice but have no idea what DSK will do.

Court Decision on Labor Contract


An appeals court in Paris has found that the Contrat Nouvelle Embauche, introduced in August 2005 by Dominique de Villepin, violates international norms because it allows firms too much time in which to dismiss employees without explicit cause. The law applies to firms employing fewer than 20 people, and as many as 400,000 workers had been hired under the CNE. A survey of employers indicated, however, that, contrary to government claims, 70 to 80 percent of these hires would have occurred anyway, even without the relaxation of employment protections allowed by the CNE. This decision will no doubt figure in the upcoming debate on Sarkozy's promise to move France toward a single labor contract.

A Figaro story on the case quotes the decision: "It is to say the least paradoxical to encourage hiring by facilitating dismissals." The rhetorical antithesis in this sentence may be impeccable, but it makes short shrift of a serious economic discussion. Perhaps the deputies will do better.

LATE ADDENDUM: Laurence Parisot, the head of the MEDEF, echoes my last point: "The analysis that furnishes one of the principal grounds for the decision seems to me an economic analysis, which I do not share, and not a legal analysis." She proposes a debate with the judges! So, here I am, agreeing with the MEDEF--at least as to the difference between economic and legal reasoning, if not necessarily as to the ultimate resolution of the economic debate--and disagreeing with the cheering unions. An uncomfortable position for a man of the left, but I call 'em as I see 'em.

The Minimum Sentence Law


The government has secured passage of its minimum sentence law for recidivists. Socialist former justice minister Robert Badinter spoke eloquently against the law in the Senate. He called it "useless, vexing, dangerous, and wicked."* And it is that. Minimum sentencing laws are a bad idea in general, and wherever they are in force cases of flagrant injustice are legion. But Sarkozy promised such a law in his campaign, and it was passed in short order by a UMP majority not very different from the UMP majority that rejected a similar law in December 2005 on the grounds that it wasn't a real solution to the problem. The law was severely criticized by magistrates and social workers. It nevertheless won the support of the UMP and the UDF; the PS, PCF, and UDF opposed it.

And that's the trouble with an energetic, resolute, and influential president: he can get things done, but they're not always good things.

* Does the rhythm here put anyone else in mind of Hobbes' "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short?"

Housing, Dreux, ... and Boutin


François Fillon went to Dreux yesterday to demonstrate his approval of a program run by the city to assist residents in purchasing apartments in buildings that were once subsidized public housing. He hopes to lift ownership levels in France, currently much lower than in neighboring countries, to the European mean of about 70 percent.

It's interesting that the Dreux projects also piloted another French fledgling, the Front National, to national prominence, as detailed in Françoise Gaspard's book Une petite ville en France (Gaspard was mayor of the city from 1977 to 1983, during the period of intense FN recruitment there). Le Pen and his local organizers capitalized on discontent among native occupants of HLMs as apartments began to fill with immigrants and children of immigrants who had been brought in to work in nearby auto plants. It would be interesting to know the racial composition of the group of current purchasers of former HLM units.

It's also worth noting that Fillon was accompanied on this highly publicized trip by Christine Boutin on the very day that the story of her remarks on Bush's possible complicity in 9/11 broke in the press. I rashly predicted that Sarkozy would be forced to fire her. Instead, Fillon seems to have pushed her onto the front lines. Puzzling. And unless I've missed it, the reaction to Boutin's Internet video has been muted. A few articles in the papers but no calls from her comrades or the opposition that she resign. In fact, the reaction has been a good deal more muted than the reaction to Patrick Devedjian's use of the word salope. I find this curious.