Monday, February 4, 2008

Ségo at Harvard: Recasting the European Left

This afternoon Ségolène Royal gave a seminar for Harvard undergraduates on the theme of "Recasting the European Left." She gave a 15-minute presentation in English, then took questions from students in both English and French, responding in French, which I then paraphrased in English.

To summarize her basic theme, she argued that while the Socialist Party must remain faithful to the traditional values of the left, it cannot hope to regain power unless it drastically reorganizes itself as a broad-based party disciplined and united behind a candidate chosen well in advance of the election, in order to allow time for adequate preparation of a campaign. She said that it was important to draw on successful reforms implemented elsewhere, including the UK and the US. In response to a question about the relation of the PS to MoDem, she said that she envisioned a party of the left extending all the way from altermondialistes to MoDem, and in response to a question about Europe, she said that the Socialist Party must make up its mind once and for all where it stands on Europe and then rally behind a candidate who espouses that view. She made it clear that she herself is strongly pro-European and that any other choice would be harmful to economic growth. Yet she wants "not just any Europe" but a Europe consistent with the values she believes define the Socialist Party. Making her own the slogan "she who wants peace must prepare for war," she said that politics inevitably meant struggle and combat and declared herself ready to fight. She envisions a Socialist Party much larger than its current membership of 180,000 and invoked the million-member Italian party as a model. The candidate should be chosen in a primary election in which large numbers of people would be encouraged to vote.

She was poised, confident, and articulate. Unfortunately the format did not allow for probing or follow-up questions of the sort that would normally be expected in an academic setting. To the students' credit, the questions were serious and well-prepared and avoided the issues of personality and private life that journalists claim to deplore but can't seem to stay away from. There will be another session on Wednesday on the theme of women in politics.

Economic Nationalism: The French Exception

I remarked on French economic nationalism in a previous post. Nicolas Véron makes a similar point in a Tribune article:

"Economic nationalism exists everywhere, but its intensity is a true French exception."

Lagarde Report

The full report on the SocGen affair can be read here.

The inadequacy of this report is glaring and no doubt will add to Sarkozy's list of grievances against finance minister Christine Lagarde. Although there is brief discussion of certain control failures, such as the failure to follow up Eurex warnings that I discussed in a previous post and the failure to monitor the total volume of Kerviel's trading, there is no discussion whatsoever of a key question: How did he hide or explain the profits he made prior to the debacle, profits which by his account were considerable and in fact justified his request to his superiors for a huge bonus. So they knew that large profits were being made, despite the trader's limited trading authorization. It must have occurred to someone to ask how, but the finance ministry investigators have not seen fit to pursue that question.

Supermodel Reads French Politics

Sarko isn't the only politically-minded who has attracted the attention of a supermodel. Check out the blogroll here. Thanks for the link, Jenna.

Imagine the surprise of a friend of mine, a professor at the University of Iowa, who Googled for my blog and came up with a graduate of his own university who is now a model in Paris. The blogosphere certainly makes for interesting connections.

Traub on Kouchner

James Traub attempts to penetrate the Kouchner mystery in the NY Times Magazine but comes away mystified instead by the Kouchner mystique. The piece is punctuated by allusions to the good life of l'ouverture caviare: "an extremely beautiful civil-society something" who is seated next to Kouchner at a meeting with "civil society, meaning Kouchner's friends," in Lebanon; a contretemps involving a shortage of Kouchner's favorite wine (Batailley) on the plane back from Islamabad; cafés and women; and Kouchner sticking his tongue out at Richard Holbrooke to the consternation of Felix Rohatyn. On policy we see national security advisor Jean-David Levitte and Élysée chief of staff Claude Guéant maneuvering around or massaging Kouchner, while Kouchner persuades himself that his distinctive and free-wheeling methods are getting the better of his rivals. The Kouchnerian ego is abundantly displayed, as is his readiness to describe French foreign policy in terms of "Sarkozy and I" rather than the national interest. One has the impression that Traub is at once fascinated by the phenomenon and unable to fit it into his scheme for deciphering the foreign policies of other nations. It's certainly a change, he suggests, but to what end. This judgment might be applied at this point in time to the Sarkozy presidency in general.

The appearance of the piece is timely, because I suspect that Kouchner's days as foreign minister are numbered. There will very likely be a ministerial shakeup after the municipal elections. I expect Kouchner and Lagarde to be on the chopping block. Of course if Fillon continues to outstrip Sarko in the approval ratings (the president lost 13 points in yesterday's LHS poll), it may be too much for Sarko to bear, or, alternatively, he may decide that he needs to keep the steady and calm Fillon on the bridge while he continues to cavort below decks. The French press seems not to have noticed that the man they dubbed the "hyperpresident" has ceased to be ubiquitous. In fact, he's made himself downright scarce.

Government Blames Business

With Sarkozy's popularity declining in part because he has failed to increase purchasing power as promised, the government has issued a report pointing the finger at various branches of commerce as particularly culpable. Wages are too low, and the whole wage structure is skewed toward the bottom end. The food industry, hotels, clothing, department stores, and wood products were singled out as notable offenders.

Readers of this blog will recall that I have alluded several times to the skew of the French wage distribution toward the bottom end of the scale.

Lagarde Report on SocGen

The first indications of the content of Christine Lagarde's report on the SocGen affair, due today, have leaked. I've already covered in earlier posts the main point: warnings from Eurex on Kerviel's activity were not properly followed up by the bank's controllers. But there are three additional points worth noting. First, the report will say that there was an "abnormal" delay in notifying the government about what had happened. Second, more than a quarter of the bank's capital has changed hands since the crisis broke. And third, SocGen is attempting to raise additional capital without appealing to sovereign wealth funds, which are not on its "preferred subscribers list." This last is particularly interesting. It does not mean that foreign capital is not being solicited. Daniel Bouton has already been to London and New York in search of funds. But of course bankers in London and New York have been to the emirates, China, India, Mexico, and Russia in recent months in search of capital to shore up their own sagging finances. What sort of shell game is being played here? And one wonders if it's really possible to prevent sovereign wealth funds from investing if they so desire, since it's perfectly possible for them to avail themselves of willing fronts. So I'm wondering why this assertion is in the report. Is this the latest version of French economic patriotism? Or does Lagarde have evidence that sovereign wealth funds have designs on SocGen?