Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fish Story


The fishermen who have been blocking ports, fuel facilities, and autoroute exits have been urged by their leaders to get back to fishing after the government promised emergency aid of 110 million euros over two years to compensate for rising fuel prices. The details of this arrangement are a little murky at this point. On France2 tonight, Michel Barnier said that Brussels had approved the plan, but François Fillon said that the EU authorities had signed off only on a "restructuring plan" and that France had acted "unilaterally" to aid an industry that is an a "unique" structural position, squeezed by both rising fuel prices and intense price competition from imports. Demand for fish has increased by 50 percent over the past several years, but prices have fallen by 5 percent owing to foreign competition.

Fillon might well want to make this argument a little more forcefully, since truckers lost no time in demanding a government subsidy to help them cope with rising fuel costs; farmers are also grumbling; and then there are the airlines, etc. So the government had better come up with a principled argument to distinguish between the deserving beleaguered and the undeserving. Fillon, after detailing the structural weakness of the French fishing industry, fell back on sentimental arguments to distinguish fishermen from truckers: fuel costs hit fishermen directly, he said, because they share in the boat's expenses, and fishing is the most dangerous occupation in France and Navarre. Truckers are unlikely to be impressed by the first distinction and may well remark that fishing doesn't get any more dangerous when the price of fuel goes up, so why should danger be the criterion for who gets state aid.

"Compensate the losers" is a mantra that is often touted as a recipe for dealing with globalization's fallout, but compensation can be a politically tricky business.

Maneuvering


I said the other day that pretty much the whole Jospin wing of the PS had rallied behind Bertrand Delanoë. I forgot Michel Sapin, who served as a minister under Jospin but who has been a backer of Ségolène Royal. But now he has left her, disappointed that she ignored his advice not to "presidentialize" the party. That means he won't go to Delanoë either. Indeed, his statements suggest that he might support Pierre Moscovici.

Meanwhile, Delanoë is coming out with a book of interviews with Laurent Joffrin in which he describes himself as both "socialist" and "liberal" while insisting that the party "must choose" and asserting that "the time for owning up to differences has arrived." OK, we'll wait and see how that line develops. Of his rivale, he offers the familiar criticism that she was neither "credible" nor "coherent."

Dany 24/7

Can't get enough of Daniel Cohn-Bendit? He now has his own Web-based TV network. He chats with politicians, comments on the news, reviews books, etc. A video blog, in short--in French, German, and English. Some will be delighted, others no doubt irritated. But if it were otherwise it wouldn't be Cohn-Bendit, now, would it?

CNRS

Valérie Pécresse, after a long absence from the headlines, is back with a plan to reform the CNRS. A lot of attention is paid to the organization chart, rather less to the budget--in public, at least. In private, of course, who sits where has a lot to do with who gets what. And who gets what is the heart of the matter, as the watchdog group Sauvons la Recherche has begun to elucidate in a series of articles entitled "Le budget de la recherche raconté à Sarkozy." It would be hard to overstate how much is at stake in this reform. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that France's competitive position in the future will depend on the quality of its efforts in higher education and R&D. Society's self-knowledge, and therefore its ability to govern itself wisely, depends on the quality of its research in the historical and social sciences. This isn't a left-right issue, although Left and Right have different approaches and priorities, not to say instincts, about various subsidiary questions. Nevertheless, broad areas of compromise should be possible.