Monday, September 22, 2008
The economics team at one (surviving) US investment bank recently concluded that France now boasted the most pro-reform government of the G7. Even if he is opposed to “liberal” trade and competition policies at a European Union level, Mr Sarkozy supports further market liberalisation within France.
Christian de Boissieu, chairman of the Council of Economic Analysis, the government’s economic think-tank, argues the EU should press for the redesigning of the global financial institutions established by the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944. In particular, he suggests the International Monetary Fund should switch its focus from dealing with monetary issues to global financial market challenges.
“My personal view is that France – and the EU – should push forward the idea of a financial Bretton Woods,” Mr de Boissieu says. “The IMF has no more customers today and we should reinvent its role.”
This repurposed IMF, he says, could develop smarter rules governing the transparency and operation of credit ratings agencies, accounting standards, and liquidity requirements for global financial institutions. “But to be fully credible on the global stage the EU must make better progress in improving our own economic and political governance,” he says.
Why, then, did this election attract so little attention? For one thing, the UMP's control of the institution was never in doubt, owing to the (unfair) way in which Senators are chosen. For another, the legislative branch in France, of which the Senate is the less significant part, is not really a legislative branch but a sort of electoral college and glorified watchdog agency. It doesn't really legislate: projets de loi begin with the government and ministries. It rather influences the choice of government and tinkers with the legislation laid before it. Ambitious men become députés, a job with so little responsibility that they have plenty of time to pursue their ambitions by becoming mayors, presidents of regions, or even working as lawyers: Jean-François Copé, whose middle name is I-Want-to-be-President, practices law on the weekends. Men who used to have ambitions become senators, a job with even less responsibility than the député's, which leaves them plenty of time to write their memoirs or entertain their constituents with blogs.
Why are things done this way in France? Many learned tomes have been written about the subject, but I would single out several factors. Things were different in the Third and Fourth Republics, and the legislative branch did not cover itself with glory. Corruption was rampant, much as it is in the U. S. Congress. The parliament of the Third Republic voted les pleins pouvoirs to Pétain. To be sure, the parliament of the Fourth Republic muddled through the early stages of postwar recovery, largely by abdicating much power to a superbly competent civil service, but it could not cope with war in Algeria. When de Gaulle returned to power, he brought with him a contempt for quotidian politics, bickering parties, and the horse-trading that is the stuff of legislative business. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic expresses this contempt, and the Senate suffers not only from it but also from the distrust of an "upper house" or "aristocratic chamber" that has run through all French history since the Revolution.