Saturday, October 31, 2009

Risk of Electricity Shortage

France will have to import as much as 4 gigawatts of electricity this winter owing to a shortage of domestic production, possibly linked to strikes at EDF nuclear plants earlier this year, which delayed maintenance. If there is a prolonged cold snap, there may blackouts.

Red in Tooth and Claw

French politics this week has been reminiscent of a nature film featuring wounded jungle beasts baring their fangs and attacking one another:

"Je [Pasqua] suis un animal de combat. On m'a cherché, on va me trouver. J'estime que dans cette affaire (Angolagate) la justice n'a pas bien fait son travail. C'est grâce à Arcadi Gaydamak (également condamné dans le dossier de l'Angolagate), qui est un ancien du KGB, que nous avons pu faire libérer nos deux pilotes détenus par les Serbes. Le président de la République Jacques Chirac et ses collaborateurs le savent bien. Je le démontrerai en appel", affirme-t-il.

The Veil: Choice or Imposition?

For Djemila Benhabib's view, see here.

Hollande Regrets Not Being Sarko


"J'étais le PS, pas le leader", écrivez-vous. Cruel constat ! Au PS, la question du leadership a toujours été compliquée. Le leader apparaît comme provisoire, c'était déjà le cas sous Mitterrand. C'est sans doute lié à la méfiance intrinsèque des socialistes à l'égard de l'élection présidentielle. J'étais le premier secrétaire. Pas le candidat. Cette distinction, maintenant établie avec la primaire, est un affaiblissement du PS.


This strikes me as the supreme equivocation in the tissue of equivocations that is this interview with François Hollande in advance of his forthcoming book. Yes, the Socialists are suspicious of the presidency, but every political party is composed of ambitious people who would like to hold the top job. Rivals can be vanquished (or eliminated by events), as in Sarkozy's case, or conciliated, as in Hollande's. Hollande remained in his post for so long because he was a clever mediator whom potential rivals did not see as an insuperable threat to their own chances. Hollande's eventual candidacy probably loomed larger in his own mind than in theirs, so they made no effort to oust him, and he made no great effort to vanquish them. This is the meaning of his confession that he may have "sacrificed too much to unity." Indeed, he may have, but not because he truly valued unity; rather, because he thought that if he kept a lid on internal dissension, his mere longevity in the leadership post would make him the natural candidate, or the one who divided the party least. On that he was dead wrong.

Axis

The Paris-Berlin axis is back: Merkel and Sarkozy will back the same candidate for the EU presidency. They're just not saying which one. I suppose there's some grand strategy in this coyness. The axis will have greater bargaining power in the backrooms where the decision is made if they bargain jointly but keep their options open. But they're supposed to be agreed on the nature of the job and a short list of names.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Eolas on the Chirac Case ...

... and why the juge d'instruction should not be eliminated. If it were, this case would have ended with the decision of the parquet (which, of course, some will say is where it should have ended). Here.

Chirac to Stand Trial

I must admit I was stunned. Sure, Villepin has been tried, and Pasqua has been convicted. Juppé has purged his punishment. But I thought that presidents were different, that the symbolic status of the presidency, the function of incarnating the Republic, would somehow bestow immunity even where serious evidence existed. The parquet was evidently under the same impression: it recommended dismissal. But the judge--a woman, Xavière Simeoni--was not impressed. Jacques Chirac will stand trial for actions allegedly committed while he was mayor of Paris.

To be sure, the Fifth Republic presidency has been steadily descending from its quasi-otherworldly status from the beginning. But this is a new step, and I think a healthy one, whatever the outcome of the trial. The monarchical aura is gone. Only the autocratic instincts remain.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to Poach on the FN's Preserve

Nominate Thierry Mariani to head the UMP list for the regionals in PACA, where Mariani has attended only 10 of 155 meetings of the Conseil Régional.

Incredible

You have to watch the video to which Jean Véronis links here.

L'Enfance d'un Chef

Who says French journalism is on the decline? Read this.

Hope They Ate Well

More on that Cour des Comptes report on lavish expenditures on the French EU presidency:

Le dîner des chefs d'Etat de l'Union pour la Méditerranée, aménagements du Petit Palais compris, a bel et bien coûté "un total de 1 072 437 euros pour 200 personnes, soit 5 362 euros par invité". Par contre, les 245 000 euros incriminés n'ont pas servi à la seule douche destinée à Nicolas Sarkozy au Grand Palais, non plus qu'ils ont suffi à aménager l'ensemble du lieu comme l'a laissé entendre le ministre du budget Eric Woerth : ils ont servi à "une zone de rencontres", avec douches attenantes qu'il juge "absurdes". Selon M. Séguin, "l'essentiel c'est que la France a payé le fait qu'elle n'a plus de centre permanent de rencontres internationales" depuis la vente de l'immeuble Kléber, "dans le cadre d'une opération qui a été catastrophique".

Louis Chauvel at Harvard Today

For readers in the Boston area: sociologist Louis Chauvel of Sciences Po will be speaking at Harvard today at 4:15 on "The Future of French Youth." Center for European Studies, 27 Kirkland St., Cambridge.

A Foray Into Villepinie

Here. More than you probably want to know about Villepin's quixotic quest for resurrection.

Lawfare

Outsourced to Judah Grunstein.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Fear of Youth

A short history of la peur des jeunes in France. A good example of the kind of innovative mixed-media journalism at which Rue89 excels.

Chiche!

I'm from New Jersey, so I know how to translate Marine Le Pen's remarks on the national identity debate:

"Le président Sarkozy a lancé une proposition de débat, le FN dit chiche", a-t-elle déclaré. "À sa proposition loyale, le FN attend une réponse loyale" a poursuivi Marine Le Pen, en affirmant que son parti avait été "le premier à porter la question identitaire dans le débat politique".


In Jersey English:

"Ya think ya can muscle in on my territory, tough guy? Fuhgeddaboutit!"


She also wants un "Grenelle de l'identité nationale", estimant que le débat ne pouvait avoir lieu que "dans un cadre solennel à l'échelon national." I suppose Sarko could always assign Frédéric Mitterrand to take the meeting with Marine.

We can expect an endless round of this posturing right up to the regional elections.

Pasqua's Hole Card

Facing jail time, Charles Pasqua has now moved to have the defense secret classification lifted on items pertaining to Angolagate. "Blame it on the dead guy" is a time-honored stratagem when all other options fail and "honor among thieves" must be sacrificed in the interest of the living. And if Mitterrand knew? Would that make rake-offs and kickbacks less shady? It doesn't matter. At 82, Pasqua's interest is to drag out the procedure until it no longer matters.

It seems that the decision on defense secrecy will fall to Hervé Morin. This is not among the president's powers.

Douche Froide

I don't usually bother raising eyebrows over the money politicians spend on themselves. Even professors have been known at times to dine out or junket on the taxpayer's dime. But this item caught my eye:

René Dosière, qui a consulté le rapport, s'est penché plus spécialement sur cet aspect, en insistant sur "un dîner des chefs d'Etat pour un coût de 1.010.256 euros, soit 5.050 euros par personne", et "l'installation -pour 4 heures !- d'une douche à l'usage du président, pour un prix de 245.772 euros".

Oui ou Non?

Oui ou non? So difficult to tell them apart. After all, both have three letters. Perhaps the Assemblée Nationale should adopt English as its official language. This would aid the deputies, who could be told to push the button with the long word, YES, rather than the short one, NO.

Villepin's Game

Dominique de Villepin seems to enjoy the little game he's playing: pretending that he's a serious rival--a "republican alternative," as he puts it--to his nemesis Nicolas Sarkozy. Yesterday he tried to plant a dagger in the back of another ambitious dreamer, Jean-François Copé, by insisting that he and the UMP Assembly leader were hand-in-glove: "Je travaille avec lui et je pense que c'est quelqu'un qui a une capacité à agir, un pragmatisme tout à fait essentiel dans le jeu politique."

Pretty soon the UMP will start to resemble the PS.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rue89

In the wake of the failure of a partner Web news site in Spain, Rue89 today offers a glimpse of its own present financial situation:

Avec à peine deux ans et demi d'existence, Rue89 approche progressivement de l'équilibre économique. Celui-ci pourrait être ponctuellement atteint au quatrième trimestre 2009, mais pas encore en année pleine. Il faudra sans doute attendre encore trois ou quatre trimestres avant d'atteindre le point d'équilibre, clé de l'indépendance et de la pérennisation de l'entreprise.


That's good to know, even if the price of survival is selling T-shirts and coffee mugs:

Lancé un peu plus tôt, en mai 2007, Rue89 a développé un modèle économique mixte dans lequel la publicité sous toutes ses formes (bannières, mur, liens sponsorisés…) n'est pas la seule source de revenus, grâce aux activités de prestation de service (développement de sites pour d'autres clients), de formation continue, et de vente de T-shirts et de mugs.


I find this slightly sad, since I think Rue89 has a claim on being the best news source in France today. It's not as comprehensive as Le Monde, but on the subjects it treats it is consistently more interesting. I hope that a sustainable situation is not too far distant. Meanwhile, I encourage you to buy T-shirts and coffee mugs.

Tough Luck, God

An illuminating factoid from Roger Chartier:

Googlez "google" sur Google Recherche dans www.google.fr : l'écran indique la présence du mot et de la chose dans "environ 2 090 000 000" documents. Si vous n'êtes pas inquiet du sacrilège, renouvelez l'opération en googlant "dieu" : "environ 33 000 000" de documents vous seront alors proposés.


What follows this sensational opening gambit is a thoughtful consideration of the consequences of a transition from one "material support" of culture to another. Worth a look.

I have been pondering this transition lately because the Harvard libraries now offer the possibility of "scan and deliver": if the reader chooses, nearly any of the millions of books that Harvard owns can be scanned overnight and delivered the next day in .pdf form. In some ways this is a great convenience, in others a great sadness. Sadness fades quickly, though, whereas convenience boosts productivity, and as we are constantly reminded, the world--even in the groves of academe--is an increasingly competitive place, so productivity counts.

Pasqua Gets Hard Time

Charles Pasqua has been sentenced to a year in prison, hard time, for his role in "Angolagate." J.-C. Mitterrand got two years suspended. The case against Jacques Attali was dismissed.

Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin

President Sarkozy has a plan to "save French agriculture." It won't involve "subsidies contrary to EU regulations, which will have to be paid back ten years from now." It will involve "bank loans and exceptional state support" plus 200 billion "to alleviate interest charges and aid in the restructuring of farms." It will also involve "regulation," lots of it, which can only be envisioned at the international level.

I have yet to see details of this plan, but on its face it seems to offer an excellent example of what Sarkozy likes to call his "voluntarist" approach to government. "Subsidy" is a bad word, so by an act of will one eliminates it by redefinition: alleviating interest charges is somehow not a subsidy. If state money is laundered through banks, it's no longer a subsidy. If farms are "restructured," perhaps by offering farmers incentives to produce this rather than that, they are not subsidized. France can act unilaterally yet call itself a good citizen of the Union because it verbally acknowledges the international dimension of the problem and proposes "regulation," as yet uncoordinated with its partner-competitors, as a solution.

To be sure, hypocrisy is and always has been the norm in European agricultural policy. Large voter blocs are involved. Candor about long-term strategy can be politically fatal. But it's not convincing to propose mere "change" as a solution. "I won't continue the failed policies of the past." Fine. That's a beginning. But what is the long-term goal?

A few details here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Genetics According to Hortefeux

Speaking of traits that Jean Sarkozy shares with his father, Brice Hortefeux said:

« Il a à la fois la passion et en même temps, il a la raison. Et finalement ce sont des qualités génétiques. »


Pascal Riché observes that there are many other instances in which political figures on the right have perceived peculiar genetic influences.

Quand il n'y en a qu'un, ça va ...

The Brice Hortefeux Prize for Public Candor goes to the UMP official who said that Rama Yade would add "local color" to the Val-d'Oise:

Elle a surtout détesté qu'une dirigeante UMP déclare qu'elle ferait plus «couleur locale» dans le Val-d'Oise. «C'est insupportable d'entendre que je serai la candidate des Africains», s'exclame Yade, qui s'oppose à une «candidature ethnique».


Yade is not happy with the UMP, and the Elysée is not happy with Yade. How about a little ouverture on the left?

Defending the Indefensible

It is a profound embarrassment to champions of French literary humanism that Louis-Ferdinand Céline is at once a writer of undeniable amplitude, incontournable, as they say, and the author of three virulent anti-Semitic tracts, Bagatelles pour un massacre, L'Ecole des cadavres, and Les Beaux draps. But Céline has found a defender in a British critic of Polish Jewish descent, Karl Orend, who argues that Céline was merely reflecting the belief of millions of Europeans that war with Germany would be catastrophic and that a "Jewish conspiracy" lay behind the push for war. Indeed, many people did hold that belief, but it hardly excuses what Céline wrote. In any case, the polemic that erupted in the UK after Orend published his article has now spilled over into France.

Grunberg Compares French and German Lefts

Here. Nothing you haven't heard before, but backed by recent polling and electoral results. Some will like this analysis, which is based on a distinction between a party that aspires to govern and a party that aspires only to represent a segment of the population--devenir un tribun de la plèbe, in Grunberg's somewhat dismissive phrase. Some will think that it is profoundly wrong and mistakes what the left is fundamentally about.

When Chuck Berry Opened for Raymond Barre

Good story, about half-way through the article.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Spendthrift EU Presidency?

Did Nicolas Sarkozy spend too much on the French EU presidency? The Cour des Comptes has raised a collective eybrow. It seems a tad punctilious, however, given that the Parlement authorized 190 million euros for the purpose out of which 171 million were spent. The time to draw the line is before the checks are written, not after.

On Precocity

Hugh Brogan* on Tocqueville's precocity:

Many and many a talent has announced itself at the age of twenty-three. The vigour of manhood is suddenly at the flood, tutelage and self-doubt are shaken off, and a Byron, an Hugo, a Picasso appears. At twenty-four Pitt was Prime Minister; at twenty-five Bonaparte captured Toulon. Tocqueville's time had come ...


Too bad Jean Sarkozy's defenders didn't have this quote at their fingertips.

*Hugh Brogan, Alexis de Tocqueville: A Life, p. 89. (Ignore the error in the bibliography which attributes my work to someone else.)

Great Debate about French Identity

Eric Besson, minister of immigration and national identity, proposes a great debate on French identity, culminating in a symposium next January or February. I can hardly wait. So far there is one item on the agenda: "Resolved, French identity does not include wearing the burqa." Great start. Perhaps we can continue with "French identity does not include leaving one's own wedding to watch a Grand Prix on the telly with the guys" or refusing, earlier in the day, to promise "fidelity" to one's bride (Besson's ex accuses him of both infractions). Since French identity these days seems to place unprecedented value on respect for women, identity should start at home.

More seriously, when the Left railed against the addition of the "national identity" tag to the ministry of immigration, I thought the criticism was excessive. Now I'm not so sure.

Courtly Love

The troubadour-in-chief considers the phenomenon of the republican court that gathers around presidents.

Once More Into the Breach

Was the British victory over the French at Agincourt really that big a deal, or was Shakespeare simply the greatest propagandist of all time? You decide. And bear in mind that your decision may affect US military strategy now that our generals have become intellectuals:

But the most telling gauge of the respect being given to the new historians and their penchant for tearing down established wisdom is that it has now become almost routine for American commanders to call on them for advice on strategy and tactics in Afghanistan, Iraq and other present-day conflicts.

The most influential example is the “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” adopted in 2006 by the United States Army and Marines and smack in the middle of the debate over whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the head of the United States Central Command, drew on dozens of academic historians and other experts to create the manual. And he named Conrad Crane, director of the United States Army Military History Institute at the Army War College, as the lead writer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pierre Chaunu Is Dead

Pierre Chaunu is dead at the age of 86. Although he was one of the few great historians of his generation whom I did not have the honor to translate, I did see him once in debate and found him both impressive and charming.

On Jean Sarkozy's Decision

Polling commissioned by the Élysée showed that the EPAD controversy was a major irritant among voters on the Right. This was more trouble than the president had bargained on.

A politician never wants to become the butt of ridicule, but the Jean Sarkozy episode was fast becoming paradigmatic for every kind of political shadiness. Witness this episode from the Clearstream trial, of all places:

On ... a rapporté [à Jean Sarkozy] qu'au cœur même du procès Clearstream, l'avocat du jeune stagiaire Florian Bourges a fait rire la salle lâchant dans sa plaidoirie: "Il a 23 ans, il n'a pas fini ses études, il est immature… avez-vous dit, monsieur le procureur. Je trouve que c'est une conclusion audacieuse de votre part ! Enfin, pour ce qui est de Florian Bourges, c'est vrai!"


This comment on the future of both Jean Sarkozy and EPAD should also be read.

Astonishing

From Rue89:

Sa tentative de ravir la position de victime à Nicolas Sarkozy ne serait pas loin de porter ses fruits. Selon un récent sondage OpinionWay-Le Figaro, Dominique de Villepin est considéré comme le « meilleur opposant » à Nicolas Sarkozy devant Ségolène Royal, Martine Aubry et François Bayrou.

Un proche de Dominique de Villepin confie que ce procès a joué comme un « tremplin » pour son retour en politique :

« Il y a bien sûr eu l'occupation médiatique. Mais alors qu'il était présenté comme un coupable au début, il en sort davantage avec une image de victime. Je dirais presque que l'inverse est vrai pour Nicolas Sarkozy. »



Of course there remains the small problem of the verdict. Polling won't decide that.

Political Dynasties

Bernard Girard offers some very interesting reflections on political dynasties in democracies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jean Sans Peur

Jean Sarkozy will go far in politics. His withdrawal tonight from the race for the EPAD presidency was a sans faute. The young man may not be a rocket scientist or even a very promising law student, but he is a born communicator.

Compare his subdued demeanor tonight with his exuberant pugnacity when he pressed his candidacy on FR3 as an expression of the will of the people through universal suffrage. Tonight he said rather that success in politics is a matter of listening to what people are saying: even if you've got the votes, you don't have legitimacy if people believe that the process that gave them to you was biased.

He may have gotten only 11 in "history of political ideas," but this was right on the mark. So he's passed the first test in politics: knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. To be sure, he had the advice of an old hand: his father--not the president, he said, just my dad. Another masterful stroke: like any young man in a difficult situation, he consulted his dad. Who could possibly hold that against him? No nepotism there; no collusion; no circumvention of hierarchy. Just a boy and his dad, not a king and his heir plotting against envious courtiers.

It was beautifully done. And after the elder Sarkozy had put everyone's back up (including mine--see earlier comment) with his suggestion that all that counts in politics is action, and talk is cheap. Jean confirmed that talk is not so cheap after all: it can stop actors in their tracks. But it can't stop them from acting (in the theatrical sense), from turning defeat to advantage by framing it as "a decision of reason," a step toward maturity--which indeed it was.

Jean Sarkozy emerges from this episode a net winner. He has had all the national exposure a young and ambitious politician of 23 could wish for. He has shown himself capable of playing in prime time. He has mastered all the codes of communication. He is a consummate performer. He avoids the down side of the top job at EPAD: if there is corruption there, as there undoubtedly is, he won't bear prima facie responsibility for it. And yet he will still be elected tomorrow to the post of administrateur--a nice consolation prize.

Bien joué, jeune homme.

Whaddaya know?

Jean Sarkozy renonce à la présidence de l'EPAD

Après plusieurs jours de polémique, le fils du président de la République a annoncé jeudi sur France 2 qu'il renonçait à se présenter à la présidence de l'Etablissement public d'aménagement de la Défense.

Lecture Announcement

Readers in the Boston area will be interested in a lecture by French sociologist Louis Chauvel at the Center for European Studies, Harvard (27 Kirkland St., Cambridge, MA), on October 29:

"The Future of French Youth"
Louis Chauvel, Professor of Sociology at Sciences-Po, University of Paris

4:15 PM - 6:00 PM
Lower Level Conference Room

The Future of France Series co-sponsored by Sciences-Po, Seminar on French Politics, Culture and Society, The Study Group on Inclusion and Exclusion in an Expanded Europe
Discussant: Mary Brinton, Professor of Sociology, Harvard University

"The Future of France Series" is organized by Michèle Lamont and Eloi Laurent. I will be speaking on Nov. 23 on "The Future of French Culture" (actually more about the past, but "The past is prologue," as Shakespeare said).

Sarkozy's Style

I was struck by this little homily in which Sarkozy dismissed his detractors:

"Les commentateurs, ils commentent. Moi je suis du côté des acteurs, donc j'agis. Leur façon d'agir, c'est de commenter, c'est nécessaire. Ma façon d'agir, c'est d'agir, c'est indispensable, ce n'est pas le même travail."

"Naturellement, celui qui commente il est moins soumis à la critique que celui qui agit, moi, j'ai été élu pour agir je ne m'arrêterai pas, il en faut plus que ça pour m'arrêter."

"Je dois arrêter d'agir parce qu'il y en a un à gauche qui n'est pas content. Ils ne sont jamais contents. Et puis je dois arrêter d'agir aussi puisqu'il y en a un à droite qui n'est pas content."

"Si je dois attendre que tout le monde soit content pour agir, je repasserai à mon successeur le flambeau de tous les problèmes que j'ai trouvés et que j'aurais laissés dans le même état."

"Je vais continuer à me déplacer. Je dois aller sur le terrain voir ce qui se passe, je dois entendre ce que les gens disent, je dois expliquer ce qu'on fait, et je dois donner le moral aussi, comme si les seules nouvelles qui trouvaient gré aux yeux des commentateurs, c'est les mauvaises."

Actually, you have to hear him deliver these improvised remarks to get the full flavor. It's not so much the substance of what he says that irritates; it's the tone. It's the overt expression of contempt for anyone who gets in his way or even hesitates, questions, or expresses doubt. It's the certainty that there is no way but his way. It's the frankness of the distinction he draws between active force in government and mere "commentary." And since government as he conceives it has only one active center, indeed only one "actor," without whom nothing that is proposed, discussed, or merely "commented" upon by the "commentariat," which in Sarkozy's conception includes all the elected representatives of the people ("un à gauche qui n'est pas content ... un à droite qui n'est pas content"), has any reality. There is only one reality: the field on which the Actor acts.

Sarko's prepared speeches are rarely as revealing as his improvised sallies (which may in fact be quite carefully prepared in advance--there's something about his spontaneity that hints at premeditation--or perhaps he merely broods on his resentment, ruminates on his rancor until it is mature and can no longer be held back).

The Krombach Affair

I haven't yet heard Frédéric Mitterrand or Bernard Kouchner or Alain Finkielkraut speaking out in defense of Dr. Dieter Krombach, who was kidnapped in Germany and delivered bound hand and foot to French justice in Mulhouse. A French judge has now ordered him to be incarcerated. Why? Because Dr. Krombach was convicted in absentia in 1995 of the rape and murder of a 14-yr-old French girl, Kalinka Bamberski. It was her father who orchestrated the convicted man's abduction from Germany, where he has lived in freedom all these years, the German courts having refused to act in the case.

So we have here an interesting parallel to the Polanski case. Of course there are clear differences: Polanski did not murder his victim, the victim (or in this case her father) was not willing to let bygones be bygones, no monetary "damages" were paid, and no court outside the convicting country examined the case. Still, one might expect such outspoken civil libertarians as Mitterrand and Kouchner and Finkielkraut to protest the abduction of a free German citizen by a French paternal avenger. Of course the doctor is not an artist. And as M. Finkielkraut remarked a propos of Polanski's victim, who was even younger than Kalinka Bamberski, you can never tell about girls these days. We live in such a corrupt, decadent society (dixit Finkielkraut and the Taliban) that the presumption of innocence no longer applies even to those of tender age. (h/t Steve)

P.S. Polanski is considering a return to the US to face charges. It seems he's thinking that he might have an easier time of it in US courts, since the victim wants the case to go away.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

French Emigration to Britain

This explains it. It's not the money or the neoliberal business climate. It's desperation to escape the stultifying code du savoir-vivre au bureau. Geez. Can it really be that bad? Never struck me that way, but it's true that I hang out with intellectuals, not a typical group in any society.

On Jean Sarkozy's Political Talents

I agreed with Steve's comment that Jean Sarkozy has obvious political skills. He is gregarious, affable, withstands tough questioning with aplomb, and expresses himself reasonably well. But his electoral performance to date has been less than stellar:

Dans une circonscription acquise à la droite, le score de Jean Sarkozy n’a pas été bon : élu avec 51,91% des voix quand son prédécesseur avait obtenu 71% en 2001, la contre-performance est réelle, mais elle était passée inaperçue.
As for his performance as conseiller général and local party leader, I really can't say. Perhaps some reader has been following his work more closely than I. But if we're going to talk about political skills, perhaps we should cite some specific ones rather than sticking to generalities.

Summing Up the Past Few Weeks

Stéphane Guillon sums up the past few weeks in France, taking Frédéric Lefebvre's diatribe against the "anti-Sarkozy" media as his starting point. One of our regular commenters, Cincinna, seems to share Lefebvre's belief that France and the French media are in the grip of a Sarkozy Derangement Syndrome. No doubt Cincinna is right that Sarko does drive some people wild. Guillon, however, despite his manic style, seems perfectly lucid to me, and, as Tocqueville might have put it, "his fury is cold and calculated"--and all the more devastating for it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Vous pouvez vérifier."

Those were the words of Jean Sarkozy to an interviewer when questioned about his work at law school. He gave some grades, then said that journalists could check if they didn't believe him. Rue89 did. Here are the results.

Note that he's now doing his second year of law for the third time.

Discriminating Mayor

Story in the news:

Le tribunal correctionnel de Vienne (Isère) a condamné mardi à 18 mois d'emprisonnement avec sursis le maire de Pont-de-Chéruy dans l'Isère, Alain Tuduri, pour "discrimination raciale". L'élu était poursuivi pour avoir usé abusivement de son droit de préemption d'empêcher des acquéreurs potentiels de biens immobiliers portant un nom à consonance maghrébine de s'installer sur la commune...

Intellos Précaires

How does a journalist make ends meet? Are intellectuals the new proletarians?

Territorial Reform

This isn't the splashiest of dossiers, but it can potentially save the state a lot of money and improve the efficiency of government. I can't comment on the details: it would take weeks to sort them all out, and I'm afraid it's just too boring to try. Of course waste, inefficiency, and corruption thrive on boredom, which is why this type of reform is potentially so productive--though of course it has the potential to produce even more waste, inefficiency, and corruption if it's poorly designed. Perhaps someone out there has clearer thoughts than mine.

This is where Sarkozy demonstrates his indefatigable stamina. Another president might leave the nuts and bolts of governance reform to, say, his prime minister. Not Sarko. He's right there on the front lines himself. And by the way, who is his prime minister again?

PS Disintegrating?

My headline may be a trifle sensationalist, but this strikes me as an interesting, and possibly significant, development: Eric Loiselet, the first secretary of the PS Federation of Haute-Marne has quit the party and joined Europe Ecologie for the regionals. He will head the EE list.

So the Greens, who were nipping at the heels of the PS in the European elections, are now starting to pick off midlevel officials of the party. The handwriting is on the wall.

Contribution to Debate on Ethnic Statistics

An interesting contribution to the debate on ethnic statistics by Rahsaan Maxwell, with a preface by Patrick Weil (with thanks for the lead).

Monday, October 19, 2009

Suicide Epidemic? Not so fast ...

And what if there were no epidemic of suicides at France Telecom? Would the media apologize to Didier Lombard, who has looked on the verge of suicide himself lately? Poor fellow. Treated like a serial killer, when all he's trying to do is make a buck. (h/t Kirk)

Tel père, tel fils





Top: Jean at 22. Bottom: Nicolas at 21.

Orelsan v. Morsay

Culture minister Mitterrand now has more explaining to do: Why is it OK for a rapper to express violent and hateful sentiments toward women but not toward the police? Artistic freedom in the one case, incitement to violence in the other. The distinction is less than perspicuous.

Cool Graphic


How to represent panel data (via Arthur Charpentier): Life expectancy versus wealth over the course of two centuries. The blue dot is France.

French Publishers Resist US Domination

Read about it in the dominant US newspaper.

One Sarko Reform Undone

Nicolas Sarkozy's first major educational reform--the requirement that Guy Môquet's final letter be read annually to every lycée student in France--has been quietly undone by the Ministry of Education. Now how did that happen?

Whoops! Not so fast. The palace has spoken. The revolt is crushed.

"Garçon de qualité"

When Frédéric Mitterrand's sexual proclivities were in the news, there was some discussion of his use of the word "garçon" to describe his partners. Just how old were they? It was authoritatively (and correctly) stated that the word garçon is often applied to men in the prime of life by their seniors. And now we have proof:

"C'est un garçon de qualité, sympathique, que je connais depuis très longtemps", a-t-il dit.


That's the judgment of Jean Sarkozy, age 23, by Claude Leroi, head of the chamber of commerce of Hauts-de-Seine. And a good thing for young Sarko, too, because Leroi just happens to be the tie-breaking vote in the election of the head of EPAD, should the government representatives on the board abstain from voting, as Luc Chatel suggested yesterday they might.

There's no question that Jean Sarkozy is of legal age to do whatever he likes with whomever he likes. So that settles that.

Sciences Po

Jade Lingaard published a very good investigative piece (link is to the first of four parts) on Sciences Po in Mediapart last week. Now Richard Descoings refuses to answer Marianne's questions about the piece. I wish he would.

Blague du jour

Blague du jour : c'est Jean Sarkozy qui dit à son papa « Mais non, papa, je voulais pas un EPAD mais un iPod

(Thanks to Eric Tenin via Polly-Vous Français)

Bataille on TV

Not politics, but I found this interesting (h/t Scott McL):


retrouver ce média sur www.ina.fr


Bataille says "Écrire est tout de même faire le contraire de travailler." This, he says, is why writers feel an obscure sense of guilt. Au contraire, Georges. We feel guilty because we're always tempted to quit writing and "travailler plus pour gagner plus," to borrow a phrase.

Frédéric Mitterrand should watch this clip.

More on the Overvalued Euro

Creel, Laurent, and Le Cacheux add to yesterday's discussion of the overvalued Euro (h/t Eloi).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pétain's Desk

Pétain's admirers have paid 40,000 euros for the desk he used as head of state. It had belonged to a Jewish family from Alsace, was requisitioned by the government, and then returned to the family after the war.

Overvalued Euro?

Willem Buiter thinks that the euro is overvalued and that the ECB ought to do something about it. Why? Because, in Buiter's view, the ECB interprets its price stability mandate asymmetrically:

There is no doubt in my view that the ECB has an asymmetric interpretation of its price stability mandate. Excessive inflation is to be avoided at all cost. However, excessive deflation can be tolerated and rationalized.


Buiter doesn't link this observation to the demonstrations of farmers across France against falling producer prices for food and impending bankruptcy for many of them, but it's plausible to think that the strong euro is favoring imported over homegrown agricultural products. The demonstrations in France have been smoldering with rage against the government, but in this case the government and the demonstrators may have a common antagonist: the ECB.

Diam's Takes the Veil

A few women in burqas are nothing compared to 250,000 fans of Diam's following her conversion to Islam on the Match site. This is a sign worth noting.

The Supreme Leader Extolled

How is France like North Korea? Answer here.

Perhaps we should take nominations for the Sarkoflunky of the month award. Estrosi, featured in the link above, enjoys substantial competition this week, but he gets my nod because he flattered the chief directly rather than by way of his son. Still, just as the president noted that those who attacked his son were really attacking him, those who praise his son are really lauding him. For the record, they include Patrick Balkany ("Jean has more talent than his father had at the same age"), Isabelle Balkany ("he is the best among us"), Jean-François Copé ("he was elected!"), and, most remarkably, Eric Besson ("when a talent explodes on the football field at age 16 or 17, you don't ask how old he is").

I am grateful to Copé, however, for reminding me of Sarkozy's characterization of the French: "Ils sont monarchistes et régicides." Indeed. And Copé would be the first to voter la mort if he thought he could head le comité de salut public.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Renovation?

Like most renovations, the renovation of the PS seems to be moving awfully slowly. Here's a progress report from the pontifex maximus (maxima?):

[Martine Aubry] a jugé que "ce qui va", outre les ateliers du PCF, la journée sur l'emploi, et celle à venir des Verts sur le développement durable, c'est "la volonté de porter haut les valeurs de la gauche et d'être capables de construire un autre projet de société tout en étant près des Français aujourd'hui et notamment de tous ceux qui souffrent".


If I were an editor of the Dictionnaire Robert, I'd clip this for an illustration of the phrase langue de bois.

Friday, October 16, 2009

LaCooPol

The new Socialist Party Web site will be called LaCooPol. This is supposed to be a hip abbreviation of La Coopérative Politique, but to me it reads more like La Coupole. I think either of the chic café on bd. Montparnasse or sous la Coupole, neither of which strikes me as the right image for the workers' party. But of course that isn't what the Socialist Party is either. Still, they really shouldn't be playing up la gauche caviar image.

Or maybe we're supposed to think "cool pols."

The Designation of the Heir Apparent

Sometimes a president's biggest blunders are the decisions to which he devotes the least thought. Placing his son at the head of EPAD is unlikely to have occupied much of Nicolas Sarkozy's time. He could do it, so why not? Yet it has mobilized opposition like nothing else in recent months, including within his own party. Even the mayor of Neuilly, supported for his position by Jean Sarkozy, sees disaster in the move, enough to have challenged it in public twice. In Le Monde yesterday, two sociologists diagnose a nouveau riche syndrome: Sarko, forced by negative publicity to rein in his penchant for spending freely on lavish vacations and sumptuous galas, has compensated by attempting to found a dynasty in the classic manner of the parvenu (h/t Bruno). The crassness of the maneuver has become the butt of humor everywhere, a sure sign of a political misstep. Rama Yade goes so far as to link it to the Polanski and Mitterrand affairs, seeing yet another indication of a gap between "the people and the elite" (see the video clip; since that appearance, she has softened her tone somewhat).

Of course this is but a bump in the road. Sarkozy is too firmly in command to be thrown seriously off course by this alone. But it is a sign of vulnerability, of overreaching, of overconfidence and consequent imprudence. He may correct himself, as he did after the vacation in Luxor, the sojourn on Bolloré's yacht, and the dinner at Fouquet's. Or he may react, as he sometimes does and as he did in yesterday's interview in Le Figaro, with pugnacity. Rage may lead to further blunders. It's unlikely. Sarko is too canny a politician, and he'll probably find a way out of this dilemma, if necessary by sacrificing Jeannot, who, at 23, still has plenty of time to recover from the blow ...

Delanoë Reacts to Jean Sarkozy's EPAD "Election"

Here. (h/t Polly)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A carbon tax for France? Encore un effort !




BLOG ACTION DAY: This is a special guest post from Eloi Laurent, to mark International Blog Action Day, the theme of which this year is climate change. His book with Jean-Paul Fitoussi, La Nouvelle écologie politique: Économie et développement humain, is well worth your attention.



Eloi writes:




Early next year, France will introduce a carbon tax, becoming the largest economy in the world to do so. As the increasingly uncertain global negotiations prior to the Copenhagen summit draw to a close, and the nations of the world prepare to draft a successor to the fatally flawed Kyoto Protocol, this is an important commitment. First, because it somewhat eases the grave "crisis of credibility" that currently plague the UN talks among the developed countries (proposed mitigation efforts are obviously insufficient and offers of financial aid to assist developing countries in adapting are even more so, given the historical responsibility of the developed countries in causing climate change). Second, because carbon taxes are an efficient but underutilized economic instrument for curbing so-called "diffuse pollution", i.e. decentralized greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stemming from transport and housing. Because these emissions come from hundreds of millions of sources, they are very hard to monitor and reduce through cap-and-trade markets (which are much better suited to curbing centralized pollution by energy-producing and energy-intensive industrial sectors; for example, the EU Emission Trading Scheme, or ETS, comprises a mere 11 000 participating installations). The French initiative is thus to be commended.


Yet as we enter the nuts and bolts era of climate change policy, we have to go beyond good intentions and take a hard look at the details of proposed policies, in search of the proverbial devil.


The obvious question to be asked first is "why?". Why would France need a carbon tax, while it enjoys the lowest carbon-intensive economic growth in the developed world thanks to the massive investment it made some thirty years ago in nuclear power (see graph below from the latest UN WDR and data on carbon intensity from the EIA here)?

(see top figure, click to enlarge)


Source: WDR 2010.


The answer is legal: France has committed since 2007 to a new development strategy based on ecological sustainability. The so-called "Grenelle de l'environnement" has now been translated into law, with another law currently under debate in Parliament (for more on this and on French attitudes towards climate change, see Laurent, 2009). This law demands that France divide its GHG emissions by a factor 4 from 1990 to 2050, when it should emit less than 140 millions tons of CO2. But why would we need a carbon tax to do that? The answer here is empirical, and comes from the observation of GHG emissions dynamics in the French economy during the last four decades.




(see middle figure above)

French emissions of CO2, 1960-2008, in millions of tons

Source: Laurent and Le Cacheux, 2009.


What is clear from this graph is that the French economy suffers, ecologically speaking, from "nuclear fatigue" or "complacency": sins in diffuse pollution from housing and transportation have over time offset energy virtue (road transportation alone now accounts for a third of total emissions, as its share increased by an astonishing 490% since 1960). Hence, if French CO2 emissions went down 30% from 1980 to 2007, they only decreased by 10% from 1990 to 2007. If France is to respect its commitment and reach the "factor 4" target by 2050 (in line with the scientific consensus framed by the IPCC), it must control its diffuse emissions. If it is to control these emissions, it has to find an economic instrument able to do just that.

Carbon tax is the way to go. But doesn't France already heavily tax carbon through existing energy taxation? Well, not really, at least not by European standards: the latest data compiled by Eurostat show that energy taxation has, if anything, gone down in the last decade in France, the country now ranking at the very bottom of the EU both for energy taxes as % of GDP, with 1,4% in 2007 (23rd out of 27) and for energy taxes as % of total taxation, with 3,3% in 2007 (26th out of 27), see table below.


Evolution of energy taxation in the EU



Energy taxes as % of GDP


Energy taxes as % of total taxation


Difference

Ranking

Difference

Ranking


1995 to 2007

2000 to 2007

2007

1995 to 2007

2000 to 2007

2007

BE

-0,2

-0,1

25

-0,4

-0,1

27

BG

-

0,8

1

-

1,9

1

CZ

0,0

0,2

5

-0,1

-0,1

4

DK

0,1

-0,4

6

0,2

-0,7

18

DE

-0,1

-0,2

12

-0,2

-0,1

16

EE

1,3

0,7

11

4,2

1,8

8

IE

-0,5

-0,2

27

-1,4

-0,7

23

EL

-1,3

-0,4

26

-4,8

-0,8

25

ES

-0,4

-0,3

24

-1,7

-1,4

24

FR

-0,6

-0,4

23

-1,3

-0,8

26

IT

-1,1

-0,5

9

-3,1

-1,4

15

CY

1,3

1,1

17

2,3

2,0

20

LV

0,7

-0,1

19

2,5

-0,7

9

LT

0,5

-0,1

22

1,4

-0,4

11

LU

-0,4

-0,2

2

-1,0

-0,1

3

HU

-0,6

-0,3

8

-1,2

-1,0

12

MT

0,9

0,4

16

2,0

0,2

13

NL

0,2

0,0

15

0,5

0,1

17

AT

0,2

0,1

21

0,5

0,2

21

PL

1,2

0,6

3

3,6

1,5

2

PT

-0,6

0,4

10

-2,6

0,8

10

RO

-

-1,5

18

-

-4,9

7

SI

-0,8

-0,1

4

-1,8

-0,4

6

SK

-0,3

-0,1

13

1,0

0,4

5

FI

-0,5

-0,3

20

-0,8

-0,3

22

SE

-0,2

-0,1

7

-0,4

0,0

19

UK

-0,5

-0,5

14

-1,6

-1,4

14


Source: Eurostat.





The crucial question thus becomes "how?" Two issues are at stake here: how to choose the right "carbon price" and even more importantly the right carbon price trajectory so that the tax reform is a success in terms of ecological efficiency? How to compensate for social regressivity effects in order to improve political acceptability, given the fact that more modest French households pay, like households everywhere else, a higher share of their income on energy (2.5 times more for the bottom 20% compared to the top 20%)?

On these two fronts, alas, the political debate does not look good so far.

The first point has been a classical example of "idealist" experts v "realist" politicians (on the issue of climate change, adjectives should be inverted). In the end, President Sarkozy set the price tag at 17 euros per ton of CO2 for 2010. This level is substantially lower than the 32 euros per ton of CO2 advocated by the Rocard Commission, most members of which actually favored a launching level of 45 euros. But France could end up with a third of what is required by science, even lower. Worse still, there is no clear political indication to date about the price trajectory, experts setting the 2030 level at 100 euros (a level Sweden already surpasses) to eventually reach the "factor 4" target. Reading Sarkozy's September 10 speech of carefully, one realizes that it was the EU ETS (the European carbon market) that led the president to settle on the figure of 17 euros:


Cependant, sur le marché où s'échangent aujourd'hui les quotas d'émissions entre grandes entreprises, la valeur de la tonne de CO2 se situe en moyenne depuis sa création en février 2008 autour de 17 euros. Qui comprendrait que les ménages et les PME soient imposés sur une base deux fois plus élevée que celle des grandes entreprises soumises à quotas d'émissions ? En responsabilité, j'ai donc décidé que le niveau de départ de cette fiscalité nouvelle serait fixé par référence à la valeur des quotas d'émission de CO2 sur le marché du carbone.



« Stratégie de la France dans la lutte contre le réchauffement climatique »


Artemare (Ain) – Jeudi 10 septembre 2009



The French decision thus reveals that the flaws of the EU ETS not only are a problem for the sectors it covers, but also for the other sectors for which is serves as a benchmark (on the problems related to EU ETS, and more generally on the EU climate change policy, see my recent presentation at Art's seminar:


The second key issue is that of compensation. Contrary to a common belief, it is perfectly possible to preserve the ecological efficiency of carbon taxes by not allowing any exemption and yet compensate households financially to ease energy taxation social regressivity. In other words, it is perfectly possible to render compatible social justice and sustainability through intelligent policy design. The French case illustrates this nicely. Computations by ADEME, the French agency for environment and energy efficiency, show that, for instance, with transfers of 94 euros for people living in the country and 76 euros for people living in urban areas, the tax actually benefits French citizens up to the third decile of income distribution (see table).


(see bottom figure above)

Impact of a 17 euros/t carbon tax on the French income distribution, in euros/year

Source: adapted from ADEME/Alternatives Economiques.



Other economically sound compensation options exist, such as lowering social contributions to foster employment, not a bad idea in current economic times. Yet, the government wants to compensate households through tax credits on their income taxes, a strategy that will hurt one of the last bits of progressivity remaining in the French tax system.


Overall, debates surrounding the introduction of a carbon tax in France are quite a good example of the truth that ecologically efficient and socially fair solutions do exist to curb climate change, but that it takes pedagogy and above all political courage to bring them into being. We are left with the hope that the parliamentary debate that will begin in France in the next weeks can improve this crucial but imperfect reform. It is not at all clear that this is a hope we can believe in.




Éloi Laurent is an economist and scientific advisor at OFCE/Sciences-po (Paris)

and a visiting scholar at Harvard Center for European studies.




This post is based on a talk on "The Future of France climate and carbon policy" that will be given on Dec 1st at Harvard University Center for European Studies, 4-6pm, concluding the "Future of France" conference series (organized by Michèle Lamont and Éloi Laurent).