Arnaud Montebourg has thrown down his gauntlet. You can read the content of his challenge here. And then you can imagine how Aubry and Hollande will try to finesse the differences tomorrow night. Regulating the financial system (par. 1) is the easy part: both will say they're for it without committing themselves to anything specific. Par. 2, "European protectionism," is harder. Montebourg here abandons the vagueness of "démondialisation" and calls a spade a spade. Protectionism is all his posturing comes down to, and if either candidate embraces the word, despite the European qualifier, some votes will be lost while others may be gained, if Montebourg's voters take the bait. What "European protectionism" actually means is of course as vague as what financial regulation actually means. And then comes, par. 3, a grab-bag of "Sixth Republic" reforms, some good (independent parliamentary investigations, vote for foreign residents), some bad (term limits, popular initiative).
Frankly, I think this is a softball, and the principal interest of the exercise will be to see how the candidates handle it, how adroit each of them proves to be in saying nothing seductively--an art at which Montebourg excels. He concludes with a curious statement that his program is feasible and not very costly and, what's more, if the Socialists don't propose it or something like it, Sarkozy will. Indeed, he's right. What we're likely to hear from Sarkozy is gestures in each of these directions: financial reform, protection of domestic industry, and modest changes in governance. And we'll hear the same thing from the Left. There is nothing radical in Montebourg's letter, and there will be nothing radical on offer from either party--unless financial collapse or social unrest comes sooner rather than letter.