Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Class Act to the End

Crédit Agricole Hit by Greece

Crédit Agricole may have pulled its TV ad featuring Les Bleus just in time to avoid further embarrassment, but its Greek subsidiary is losing more money than it previously thought on bad Greek loans.

Retirement Reform

A review of the issues by Pierre Concialdi.

The Guillon Affair

Sarkozy may be running into trouble on retirement reform as a result of the Bettencourt affair (see previous post), but in another long-running affair he seems to be coming out on top. The humorist Stéphane Guillon has been a thorn in his side for some time, and it appears that Guillon is about to lose his morning slot on France Inter. But the wounded beast will be free to roam the media jungle, and one can only imagine the ferocity of the attacks to which this foolish and inconclusive skirmish will entitle the presidential hunter and his native guide Philippe Val during the 2012 campaign.

The Bettencourt Affair

But for Les Bleus, the Bettencourt affair would be the top story of the past few days, and I've not yet said anything about it. Why not? Perhaps because the unsavory behavior of everyone involved prevents me from adopting the posture of outraged virtue that has suddenly become so popular. In the end, yes, it's clear that it's wrong to cheat the treasury by hiding untold sums in Swiss bank accounts and concealing ownership of an island in the Seychelles. The matter-of-fact tone in which Mme Bettencourt's financial advisor tells her--orders her--to contribute to the campaign of Valérie Pécresse speaks volumes: she will lose, he says, but you must contribute anyway, because these days one needs friends in high places. The resignation of Eric Woerth's wife from the company that handles Mme Bettencourt's finances will not, alas, and despite Woerth's confidence, restore belief that Caesar's wife is beyond reproach. "They're trying to destabilize me," Woerth sagely observes, without identifying his nemeses.

Still, one shouldn't forget that we know about all this unsavoriness only thanks to the violation of privacy by a butler whose motives are unlikely to have been unalloyed, and to the complicity of Mme Bettencourt's daughter--sharper than a serpent's tooth--who is involved in litigation to secure her portion of the Oréal fortune from Mme Bettencourt's companion, a man of  "extravagant fantasies," by Mme Bettencourt's own description.

All this should be good for half a dozen made-for-TV docufictions, but in the meantime it should not be forgotten that Eric Woerth is indeed the point man for the last remaining straw among Sarkozy's original sheaf of reforms. It is he who is negotiating with the social partners over the parameters of retirement reform. And he has indeed been "destabilized." Sarkozy would probably do better to replace him at once rather than allow him to "twist slowly, slowly in the wind" as what some are now calling Woerth-gate unfolds. The problem, I imagine, is that no one else knows the dossiers as well as Woerth. That is why he was shifted from budget to labor to serve as point man in these negotiations. After all, Sarkozy can't put a fellow like Christian Estrosi into a job like this. Mme Lagarde has the requisite intelligence but still isn't right for the job. There is perhaps François Baroin, but he can't be trusted: he is close to Chirac and in any case has that lean and hungry look of a Cassius in the making (sleek and hungry might be more like it). The front bench of the UMP is short on talent--a point that is not noticed often enough.

So Sarkozy's last reform might be in jeopardy as a result of this imbroglio out of "Dallas" by way of "Dynasty." How fitting, if things go this way, that he will have been done in by his own kind: the glitzy nouveaux riches. And what ingratitude: despite his broadening of the tax shield and offer of amnesty to cheats with funds in tax havens abroad, Mme Bettencourt never until yesterday thought of repatriating her fortune, despite--or was it because of?--advice from Mme Woerth.