Saturday, November 29, 2008

French Public Debt

In preparation for next week's expected announcement of a major French stimulus package, Philippe Mills, who is in charge of managing France's public debt, launches a pre-emptive strike against critics who will worry about the cost of servicing a still larger debt (France pays a premium of 40 basis points over Germany, whose bonds are considered less risky) and about the increased flow of cash beyond France's borders to foreign creditors, who currently hold 62% of outstanding French bonds. Etienne Wasmer is less sanguine.

It should be noted, however, that French household debt is relatively low compared with other European countries, although it has risen sharply in recent years, owing mainly to rising housing prices.

Harassment of the Press

The details of this story are disturbing: a former CEO of Libération was arrested in a pre-dawn raid and subjected to various humiliations. The reason for the arrest was an allegation of slander against a commenter on the newspaper's Web site. It already seems bizarre that the CEO of a newspaper can be held responsible for something said by a person not in his employ or under his control and merely posted on a Web site. But that a journalist should be treated as if he were a criminal for such an offense is clearly harassment. If such an incident occurred in, say, Russia, President Sarkozy would be the first to condemn it as an abuse and an attempt to intimidate the press. Perhaps he will have the good grace to condemn the same kind of abuse in France, where his denunciation would actually have some force. After apologizing, maybe he could do something about changing the law that allows such apparent intimidation to be cloaked in legality.

ADDENDUM: Both the PS and the UMP have expressed indignation over the affair.

Mission Accomplished

Patrick Devedjian appears to be preparing his exit from the UMP's top post. His mission has been accomplished, he says. It might be more accurate to say that, having been cut off at the knees and stabbed in the back, he is now saving face. Xavier Bertrand, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, and Christian Estrosi have collectively surrounded Devedjian for months, second-guessing and overruling him when necessary. He hints that his job may go to Bertrand. No less interesting is the suggestion that Hortefeux will be promoted to a major "regalian" ministry. There is no shortage of possibilities. There's no particular reason to keep Morin on at Defense; Dati is wobbly at Justice, to put it mildly; MAM has not made herself indispensable at Interior; and Kouchner may be tiring of his role if Sarko is not tiring of Kouchner.

Hue and Cry

Robert Hue has quit the Communist Party's National Council. The former leader of the party promises a new initiative of his own, outside a party that has become "unreformable." Not that the PCF is any longer a major force on the left, but is there any left-wing party that is not fraying at the moment? The Socialists are divided in two and have suffered resignations (Mélenchon, for one, whose new Parti de Gauche launches this weekend). The Greens are permanently fissiparous. And now the PCF.

The NPA might seem to be an exception, but the party is still in the organizing stage, and the tension between the postmodern media savvy evident in the crafting of the Besancenot image that is the party's only public face and the paleo-soviet earnestness of its decentralized rank-and-file has yet to be tested.

Meanwhile, Besancenot told L'Express that Mélenchon is headed in the right direction but that differences remain between his effort to rally a new left and the NPA's: "Our objective is not to remake the left but to build a different left." Clear?