Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hollande Will Meet with Miliband

François Hollande will meet with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and members of his shadow cabinet:
The discussions are likely to focus on how to pull Europe away from recession and Hollande's promise of a contract between the generations, a concept that has similarities with Miliband's own reflections on a British Promise, a commitment that the older generaiton have a responsibility to leave a sustainable economic and environmental legacy to the next generation.
(Full disclosure: Ed is a former colleague of mine at Harvard's Center for European Studies.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hollande: Too Timid?

Médiapart finds Hollande's tax reform proposal, even with the new 75% levy on incomes over €1 million, too timid by far. Thomas Piketty doesn't go quite that far but is fairly critical of Hollande, even while judging him "infinitely superior" to Sarkozy:
Beaucoup ont donc dit leur déception. Cela a notamment été le cas de l’économiste Thomas Piketty qui, dans un long entretien en vidéo sur Mediapart le 10 février dernier (lire Piketty à Hollande : davantage d’audace !) a regretté que la fusion soit renvoyée à plus tard et que les taux d’impositions soient si peu relevés. L’économiste faisait ainsi ces constats : quand la gauche a quitté le pouvoir en 2002, le taux supérieur de l’impôt sur le revenu était de 52,75 % ; la droite l’a ensuite fait passer à 41 %. Or, puisque François Hollande veut maintenant remonter ce taux à 45 %, « cela revient à valider les deux tiers de la baisse » de la droite, remarquait-il. « Dix ans d’opposition pour en arriver là dans la réflexion fiscale, avouez que ce n’est pas terrible… », déplorait-il.

The Conseil Constitutionnel Defends Free Speech

Le Conseil constitutionnel rejette la loi pénalisant la négation des génocides

Le Conseil constitutionnel a déclaré inconstitutionnelle, mardi 28 février, la loi réprimant la contestation des génocides, dont le génocide arménien. Le Conseil a estimé que le législateur a porté une "atteinte inconstitutionnelle à l'exercice de la liberté d'expression et de communication". (Le Monde)

Another well-deserved slap in the face to Sarkozy and the UMP.

"Le Mou" contre "le Vulgaire"

The tone of the campaign has been set: Sarkozy and his minions have called Hollande "soft," a "liar," "captain of a pedalo," etc., and Hollande has now struck back, deploring the "vulgarity" of "the incumbent candidate" (a subtle way of dethroning the "incumbent president"). Or, as Le Point cheekily puts it:

Son truc, c'est plutôt le décalage : il préfère prendre le risque de passer pour un Bisounours qui s'offusque de la "vulgarité" et de l'inélégance des attaques du méchant Sarkozy que de s'abaisser à lui répondre. Ce qu'il perd en virilité, il le gagne en sérieux, pense-t-il. Il a voulu montrer qu'il connaissait ses dossiers - et il les connaît. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Elie Cohen Analyzes the Veolia Imbroglio

Here.

Competitiveness

A discussion of the relative "competitiveness" of various EU economies. This post also calls attention to an interesting new data source, Eurostat's "macro imbalances scorecard."

What Won't Change If Hollande Wins?

Le Monde passes in review a list of Sarkozy-inspired measures of the past five years and asks which of them the Socialists will seek to abrogate or repeal. The answer is: surprisingly few. One can look at this in a variety of ways. First, there are certain objective constraints on policy. Second, there is more consensus than one might think between the two major parties. Third, Sarkozy's program was not as radical or décomplexé as is sometimes said, except in regard to certain symbolic measures, which the Socialists will undo, in order to pave the way for counter-symbolic measures of their own.

In regard to two Sarkozy-era reforms that are perhaps the most significant for the long run, the reform of the retirement system and the reform of the universities, the Socialists have been very quiet and will in fact retain the substance of both while introducing cosmetic changes. In the realm of foreign policy, France will remain in NATO, although the left criticized the decision to return to the organization when it was made.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Will Austerity Empower the Extreme Right?

Our major interest is the impact of the Depression on voting patterns and hence how voting shares changed after 1929. Our statistical results (see Annex for details) show that that the Depression was good for fascists. It was especially good for fascists in countries that had not enjoyed democracy before 1914; where fascist parties already had a parliamentary base; in countries on the losing side in WWI; and in countries that experienced boundary changes after 1918.
Since Germany ticks each of these boxes and saw a particularly large increase in the fascist vote, one may ask whether these interaction effects are driven by the German experience alone. The answer is that they are not.
Importantly, it shows that what mattered was not the current growth of the economy but cumulative growth or, more to the point, the depth of the cumulative recession. One year of contraction was not enough to significantly boost extremism, in other words, but a depression that persisted for years was.

Jean-Marie Le Pen Defends His Daughter

Marine Le Pen refused to debate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, but her father wants to take on the blackguard:
Le président d'honneur du Front national Jean-Marie Le Pen a traité dimanche Jean-Luc Mélenchon de "voyou" pour avoir pris "à partie une femme", Marine Le Pen jeudi sur France 2, et proposé un débat au candidat du Front de gauche à la présidentielle.
"Je trouve scandaleux qu'un voyou comme M. Mélenchon se croit autorisé à prendre à partie une femme", a déclaré M. Le Pen, commentant à l'émission Radio France Politique le face-à-face télévisé entre sa fille et le dirigeant du FG jeudi dernier. "Parce que ce sont des méthodes de voyou", a-t-il insisté.
Le dirigeant du FN a dit, semblant le regretter, que Mme Le Pen "n'a pas voulu, pour des raisons que je respecte, discuter avec Mélenchon". "Moi, j'offre un débat à M. Mélenchon et je vais lui retirer son caleçon, et je vais montrer ce qu'il est: le candidat des communistes, qui ont du sang sur les mains jusqu'aux coudes".

Why not a duel? Pistols at 30 paces. This sounds more like an affair of honor than a political discussion.

Why Follow Modell Deutschland?

Simon Tilford compares the French and German economies (h/t Arun Kapil):

France actually has a decent economic record relative to Germany’s. Between 1992 and 2001, France managed annual GDP growth of 2.1 per cent compared to Germany’s 1.6 per cent. Over the subsequent ten years – 2002 to 2011 – both countries grew by (an admittedly poor) 1.1 per cent per year. Although the German economy performed better in 2010 and 2011 than its French counterpart, the two countries’ growth prospects are very similar, at least according to the European Commission, the IMF and the OECD. All three forecast growth of around 0.5 per cent in 2013 and 1.5 per cent in 2013. Perhaps the best measure of economic performance is productivity. Productivity per French worker is somewhat higher than in Germany, while productivity growth averaged 0.7 per year in both countries between 2002 and 2011.

Guéant: FN Is a "Nationalist and Socialist" Party

Claude Guéant can be a puzzling individual. He seemed really pleased with himself when he came up with the two words "nationalist" and "socialist" to characterize the Front National. Of course he's not as clever as he appears to think he is. Most observers associate him with the "FN-ization" of the UMP in service of his master the president, so if the FN is a "Nazi" party, not to put too fine a point on it, then Guéant would appear to be "un collabo." Thierry Desjardins, anti-Sarkozyste de droite, puts it down to panic in the palace:

Cette campagne présidentielle a mal commencé avec des protagonistes se traitant de « sale mec » et de « menteur ». Elle se met à dégénérer dangereusement. Même Guaino commence à perdre ses nerfs. Mais si maintenant ils en arrivent à se traiter de nazis, de cocos, de fascistes et bolchéviques, ça va très mal finir.
Une chose est sûre, ce n’est pas la peine d’être un nazi pour avoir envie d’être débarrassé au plus tôt et à tout jamais de personnages comme Guéant qui font honte à la République.

Hollande Makes Headway with Workers

Bernard Girard analyzes a new TNS-Sofres poll:
Ce qui fait penser que les commentateurs qui nous expliquent depuis des années, derrière les analystes du Cevipof et de Pascal Perrineau, que le vote ouvrier est devenu propriété du Front National se trompent. Le tournant ouvriériste de Nicolas Sarkozy et de Marine Le Pen n'a pas convaincu les premiers intéressés. Bien au contraire, semble-t-il, puisque 75% des ouvriers interrogés choisissent, dans ce sondage un candidat de gauche lorsqu'il s'agit de choisir le candidat qui défend le mieux les ouvriers. Ce qui ne veut évidemment pas dire qu'ils voteront pour eux : on peut penser que François Hollande défend mieux les ouvriers et cependant voter pour Nicolas Sarkozy parce qu'on le pense plus énergique ou pour Marine Le Pen par détestation des immigrés. Mais tout de même, cela fait penser que les lignes ne sont pas si nettes qu'on dit.




Autre surprise, les candidats protectionnistes (Le Pen et Mélenchon, 37% à eux deux) arrivent loin derrière les candidats du libre-échange (Hollande, Bayrou, Joly, Sarkozy, 65%), ce qui fait penser que cette thématique n'est pas aussi puissante qu'on a pu le penser.

Cohn-Bendit All But Breaks with EELV over ESM

Daniel Cohn-Bendit finds the evolution of the Greens "disappointing":
Pour commencer, je ne peux m'empêcher de dire que l'évolution d'Europe Ecologie est franchement décevante et qu'elle n'offre aucune perspective exaltante. Les positions récentes contre le Mécanisme européen de stabilité (MES) permettant, pour la première fois, d'aider concrètement les pays de la zone euro qui ne peuvent plus emprunter m'ont consterné.
En 1945, je naissais apatride. Nous sommes en 2012 et me voici politiquement apatride. Intéressant ! Au fond, c'est peut-être simplement une version de la liberté..

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Worry For Hollande

OK, a majority of the French don't like Nicolas Sarkozy, but they don't think Hollande can do better:

Friday, February 24, 2012

"Fiscal Devaluation"

Gavyn Davies notes in the FT that an increased VAT offset by a cut in payroll taxes in effect gives you a devaluation by increasing the price of imports and decreasing the price of exports. This is what Sarkozy has proposed, and it's a good idea. Davies also advocates a temporary cut in corporate taxes, which Obama has proposed in the US.


Le Pen's Flabbergasting Behavior

For a candidate who still (allegedly) does not have the parrainages she needs to appear on the ballot, Marine Le Pen last night seemed intent on giving those who wish to keep her out all the ammunition they need. It is hard to argue on principle that democracy requires her inclusion when she excludes herself from debate and ostentatiously reads her newspaper when given the opportunity to defend her political position against attacks from the left. Jean-Luc Mélenchon demonstrated that it is possible to be as angry and contemptuous as one wishes while still advancing an argument. Le Pen's intransigence may be taken as a sign of the intransigence she would display if she ever achieved power over anything. Her performance may have pleased the hard core of FN voters, those who are truly contemptuous of democracy, but she may lose some more recent converts as clips of her outrages are played over and over on TV.


Marine Le Pen refuse le débat avec Jean-Luc... by lemondefr

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sarkozy: Trous de mémoire?

Chirac had a bit of a cerebral commotion in 2007, so he had an excuse for not remembering things. Sarkozy, who one of my regular commenters thinks is more "focused" this year than he was in 2007, seems to be having trouble remembering things without any physiological alibi.


Nicoals Sarkozy aurait-il des problèmes de mémoire ? Selon le JDD.fr, M. Sarkozy n'était pas député au moment du vote de l'Acte unique en 1986 et n'a donc pas pu soutenir le projet de François Mitterrand. Pas plus qu'il n'a voté la création de la monnaie unique en 1992 : il n'a pas pris part au vote.
Lors de son entretien sur le JT de France 2, mercredi 22 février, le président-candidat a assuré qu'il avait "voté des textes de François Mitterrand sur l'Acte unique, sur la monnaie unique" pour mieux critiquer les socialistes qui se sont abstenus sur le Mécanisme de stabilité financière.

This wouldn't be the first time that he just made things up. He does frequently in regard to German economic policy, where he simply attributes to Germany whatever he would like to do in France and then ascribes German economic success to whatever imaginary policy he has invented. It's the sort of argumentative style that works well in the Café du Commerce but tends to run into trouble at the level of presidential politics, where facts are inevitably checked.

Le Pen Progresses in Nord-Pas de Calais

The poll suggests that the party is gradually gaining genuine adherents and not just protest voters, but some of the questions seem vaguely worded, so there is reason to wonder about the quality of the data.

Pas très Joly

I don't understand Eva Joly. Her claim to be a legitimate presidential candidate is a reputation for integrity as a judge. To capitalize on such a reputation, one would think that she would conduct herself with measure, decorum, reason, and a certain "judicial temperament," as we say in the States. Instead, she responds to criticism with invective worthy of a fishwife:
"Et Corinne Lepage qui dit que vous désertez la promesse écologique, vous lui dites quoi à Corinne Lepage ?", demande-t-il à l'ex-juge d'instruction et eurodéputée, après l'avoir relancée à maintes reprises sur les sondages. Réponse d'Eva Joly : "Je l'emmerde." Invitée en direct de Canal +, Corinne Lepage a réagi en souriant : "C'est très élégant !" "Je ne commente pas les grossièretés." Pourquoi cette agressivité ? "Peut-être parce que je ne suis pas à 0,5 % dans les sondages mais plutôt à 1,5 et qu'elle n'arrête pas de descendre."
It's almost enough to make you wish the Greens had gone with Hulot. Almost. Actually, they should have listened to Cohn-Bendit and negotiated a decent agreement with the PS, one less obsessed with nuclear power and more concerned with molding the power of the majority on a broad range of issues.

Problems of the French Health Care System

Analyzed by the OFCE.

Santorum Demotes Sarkozy

President Barack Obama, Santorum said, "actually went to France a year or so ago and was with Nicolas Sarkozy and said that, 'Here I am with the French Prime Minister, our best ally in the world.' Now think about this. Name one time in the last 20 years that the French stood by us with anything. But in Barack Obama's eyes, that makes them our best ally, because they fought what was in the best interest of our country."
Sarkozy l'Américain will no doubt be disappointed to learn that he has been demoted to the level of his collaborateur, François Fillon. More serious, as Justin Vaïsse notes,
Santorum’s "clock stopped in 2003," added Justin Vaïsse, senior fellow and director of research at the Center on the U.S. and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

...
In fact, France has sometimes sought more stringent sanctions against Iran than some of its allies. "On Iran sanctions, the French are actually on a tougher line than the Obama administration -- a hard line that would be closer to Republican candidates like Santorum and Romney, and Congress in general," Vaïsse said.
Well, yes. Of course a cynic might respond that France would like nothing more than to halt Iran's nuclear program in order to sell Iran a few EPRs from Areva, but cynicism is not always the best guide to analyzing foreign policy. Suffice it to say that Santorum is out to lunch--but that's news of "dog bites man" dullness.

This Time the Charm?

A note about that ill-fated poster, the one with the Aegean Sea in the background and the slogan "la France forte""


#PRESIDENTIELLE "La France forte", C'est le slogan de Nicolas Sarkozy. Notre journaliste Bastien Hugues vient de remarquer que cette formule a également été utilisée en 2002 par Lionel Jospin, comme le montre cette photo prise à Paris le 3 avril 2002.
Slate.fr avait déjà souligné que le slogan avait été utilisé en 1981 par Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, et repris en 1988 par deux autres candidats, Raymond Barre et Jacques Chirac. Point commun entre tous ces candidats ? Ils ont été battus. Nicolas Sarkozy n'est visiblement pas superstitieux…

More seriously, it seems more than a little careless for Sarkozy's campaign staff to have chosen a slogan already used so many times. I take this as yet another sign that they're just not putting in the maximal effort that they demonstrated in 2007. Speculating wildly, one might even wonder if there isn't an element of sabotage at work: Copé now controls the party apparatus, and Copé has good reasons to hope that Sarkozy will not be re-elected. And revenge may be too sweet to resist: Copé expected a ministry in 2007, never got it, even after several remaniements, and had to claw his way to the party leadership--just like Sarkozy--in the face of a hostile president. So he may well be thinking, "Casse-toi, pauvr' con!"

Nora Berra, UMP Minister, Accuses the UMP of "Discrimination"

Now, here's an item you don't see every day. Nora Berra, secretary of state for health, and one of the last examples of Sarkozyan "ouverture" to visible minorities after the ouster of Fadela Amara and Rachida Dati, says that party bosses won't give her the seat she wants in the 4th district of Lyon because of her "Algerian origins."

Double Whammy

As if austerity were not enough, Europe is now suffering a second trauma, a "regional oil shock" due to the combination of rising oil prices on the global market and a falling euro. The price of crude on the continent has surpassed its historic peak, set in the pre-crisis commodity price runup. World markets are not as tight now as they were then, but the euro is almost 20% lower.

This should be setting off alarm bells across Europe, which still remembers previous oil shocks that sent unemployment to levels from which the European economies still have not recovered. And that was in a time when there was more fiscal headroom for cushioning job losses and easing the transition to a higher rate of structural unemployment. There is not much "give" in European economies at the moment, hence this oil shock may be even more difficult to absorb than previous ones. And what are Europe's two biggest economies, France and Germany, doing? They are dismantling--or in the case of France, proposing to dismantle--nuclear generating capacity in the wake of the "Fukushima shock." This is a terrible, terrible mistake. Whatever one thinks of nuclear power, this is not the time to make this move. It is simply astonishing to me that the German Iron Lady about whom I wrote in the previous post, who will hang tough in the face of withering criticism of her economic policy, was so quick to concede on nuclear retrenchment.

Merkel Nixes the Big Bazooka

Meryl Streep is playing the Iron Lady on the big screen, but the real Iron Lady (Eisenfrau?) is living in Berlin. Frau Merkel has denied the need for a larger European Stability Mechanism. In case you can no longer distinguish your ESMs from your EFSFs and LTROs and TARGETs and what not, suffice it to say that this particular pot of imaginary cash was to sit in readiness to ward off any speculation against troubled sovereign debt in the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain), who have become wards of the FANGs (France, Austria, Netherlands, Germany). What Merkel is saying is that the PIGS may owe trillions, but their defense fund will have to content itself with half a trillion to ward off any rambunctious speculators. The IMF, US Treasury, Nicolas Sarkozy, and other interested parties would like to see a bigger bazooka in readiness just in case, but Merkel, for whom moral hazard is more than just twelve letters, is willing to play chicken with the markets.

Merkel was reportedly furious when she heard that François Hollande wanted to renegotiate the treaty if he is elected president. His first days in office will no doubt be made memorable by an icy blast from Berlin, even though Merkel knows full well that this "renegotiation," should it take place, will merely add a few pious wishes about "growth" and "employment" to the clauses about budgetary oversight. The real clash will come when the budgetary rules are violated, as they will inevitably be. What recourse will there be then?

On this point the agreement is vague, and the retaliatory wherewithal of states is limited. Markets, on the other hand, can react, but would-be enforcers will run risks that could stay their hand. For now, however, Frau Merkel is hanging tough, and Schaüble tougher. Peer Steinbruck, who could be the next chancellor, was apparently more optimistic and conciliatory when he spoke at Harvard the other day (I didn't hear him). So when the French elections are over and the German campaign gears up, we can expect President Hollande to lend his support to Steinbruck, just as Merkel and Cameron have lent theirs to Sarkozy (despite the latter's ostentatious snub of Cameron a few weeks back). We thus see the beginnings of a transnational politicking among European heads of state and government, a necessary prelude to the emergence of a fiscal superstate, which, I believe, is the ultimate way out of the present crisis.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sarkozy on France2

Once again I had the impression that Candidate Sarkozy 2012 is but a pale shadow of Candidate Sarkozy 2007. David Pujadas started things off by asking about the aggressive tone of his first major speeches. "I don't know what you're talking about," replied the president. Pujadas reminded him that he had called Hollande a liar, and Sarkozy then launched into one of his standard litanies of high principle and low self-pity: A campaign is a confrontation of ideas, M. Pujadas, how can the French judge our ideas if I don't point out my opponent's contradictions, I've been president for 5 years, M. Pujadas, do you think I haven't taken any heat in all that time? Didn't another candidate call me un sale mec, and, mind you, I'm quoting. This is what you call aggressive, M. Pujadas? From one day to the next, I had to take the weight of the world's fifth largest economy on my shoulders, M. Pujadas, do you think a man is ready to shoulder that responsibility if he can't stand up to a little criticism, if he says one thing in one place and another in another?

The rhetorical trick of turning every question back on the questioner--Who hasn't made mistakes in his life, M. Pujadas? Do you think for a moment I don't reflect on my mistakes?--has worn thin over the years. Worse, Sarkozy looks tired, or, better, as though he's boring himself with an old song-and-dance number that he's performed too many times. He knows it isn't working, but he's not going to stop singing until the fat lady begins.

Or President Obama--Sarkozy's one lively moment came when Pujadas asked him to comment on Obama's rendition of "Sweet Home Chicago" with B. B. King and Mick Jagger. Would French mores permit a French president to do such a thing? "It's not a French-American matter, M. Pujadas. It's that he sings well, and I sing badly." If only, he seemed to be thinking, if only I had what that guy has.

Poll Comparator

Thanks to an anonymous commenter for the link.

Fais gaffe, François!

The polls are tightening. More here.

France Mourns!

Yes, all of France is in mourning: Frédéric Nihous of Chasse, pêche, nature et traditions has decided to withdraw from the presidential race and has thrown his support to Sarkozy. It's a pity, because I love explaining to Americans that France has a Hunters, Fishermen, Nature and Traditions Party that actually puts up a presidential candidate. Unlike the US, which just forces its presidential candidates to pretend that they love nothing better than gutting deer and making their own shot from molten lead.


Frédéric Nihous, président de Chasse, pêche, nature et traditions, renonce à se présenter à la présidentielle et soutient Nicolas Sarkozy

Candidat en 2007, Frédéric Nihous avait recueilli 1,15 % des suffrages exprimés. CPNT, allié à l'UMP depuis 2009, avait fait liste commune avec le parti majoritaire aux élections régionales de 2010.

Is There a "Jewish Vote" in France?

Robert Zaretsky tackles the question, with differing input from me and Pierre Haski.

Le Pen Loses Her Case

The Conseil Constitutionnel has ruled against Marine Le Pen in her bid to have parrainages made anonymous. So the question now arises: Is she bluffing about not being able to obtain the signatures? In an analysis to which I linked previously, Arun Kapil suggested that this time the difficulty might be real, because Sarkozy is so afraid of losing in the first round that he has discouraged UMP mayors and other eligible parrains from signing. But this begs the question of why the Socialists aren't stepping in to replace reluctant UMP officials. After all, they presumably have an interest in seeing MLP on the ballot, since she will drain votes from Sarkozy. And the Socialists, who are much stronger on the local than on the national level, influence many potential parrains.

Of course the PS will not want to be seen as encouraging an MLP candidacy. The cynicism of such a move would remind voters of Mitterrand's cynicism in instrumentalizing the FN in the first place. But there is also a principle to be defended, namely, that there is no democracy in a country if a party representing 16-20% of the electorate is excluded from the race, however distasteful one might find that party's ideology. So the Socialists might have their cake and eat it too, helping Le Pen on principle while helping themselves in practice. But would they dare?

In any case, I think someone must dare, because I think it sets a very bad precedent for those in power to decide who may or may not bid to replace them. It reeks of le suffrage censitaire to allow an elite consisting of those already in place to decide whose ideologies are acceptable and whose are not. No one is less enamored of Ms. Le Pen than I, but she is a reality that must be faced and a force that must be defeated, not sidelined by chicanery to fester in darkness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Book of Interest

Are the French, as some would have it, a particularly radical people, drawn to political extremes, prone to violence, and apt to erupt unpredictably? Aurelian Craiutu offers a different reading of the French political culture as one informed by a strong current of moderation running through several centuries. His new book should be of considerable interest. He describes his argument as follows:


Moderation, I argue, resembles a "lost archipelago" that has curiously been undertheorized or even overlooked by political theorists. I end the book with an immoderate "decalogue" of moderation in which I try to defend this virtue and highlight its limitations. The book uses an eclectic methodology, that draws from the Begriffsgeschichte school (Koselleck), the Cambridge School (Skinner), and the approach to intellectual history used by Francois Furet and his disciples in France. The book contains chapters on Montesquieu, Mounier and the French monarchiens, Necker, Mme de Stael and Constant.

DSK en garde à vue

Affaire du Carlton : DSK mis en garde à vue

Dominique Strauss-Kahn a été placé en garde à vue mardi 21 février pour complicité de proxénétisme et recel d'abus de biens sociaux. Il était arrivé ce matin à la caserne de gendarmerie de Lille pour être entendu par la police judiciaire dans le cadre de l'affaire du Carlton. (AFP)

So now the French, whose press has been filled for days with lurid accounts of leaked testimony by prostitutes, johns, and pimps, will be able to test the view of Pascal Bruckner and others that sexual crimes are judged with unseemly haste and ferocity in the United States because we remain a "Puritanical" society. Will putatively libertine France be any less titillated and scandalized and more forbearing in its treatment of the man who might have been president? Asked and answered. Will his friends BHL, Badinter, and Cambadélis insist that French justice has run amok? Will DSK publicly repeat his reported statement that, while he is a libertine, prostitution "horrifies" him? On verra.

As Hollande plods tranquilly toward the Élysée, DSK must now drain his bitter cup.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Sarkozy Campaign Poster Gaffe

In the Age of the Internet, you just can't get away with anything. It seems that the Sarkozy campaign purchased a background image for its campaign poster, "La France Forte," showing Sarko posed against an azure sky. But an alert viewer checked out the digital version posted by Le Figaro and discovered that the sea in the background is the Aegean. Since the whole theme of Sarkozy's campaign is to present himself as the one man tough enough to administer the dose of austerity allegedly capable of saving France from becoming Greece, the selection of this particular background is indeed unfortunate.

Crony Capitalists in Musical Chairs

It's almost as French as going gaga over un feuilleton américain chez les riches, a Dallas or a Dynasty. The plot twists are dizzying. You see, Henri Proglio, National Order of Merit, Legion, of Honor, and head of EDF, used to be head of Veolia, the water and waste management conglomerate. He was also, shall we say, close to Rachida Dati, the glamorous ex-justice minister. She and Henri accompanied the president and the then first lady to their first, not-so-idyllic vacation in New Hampshire, back when Nicolas was still Sarkozy l'Américain, yearning for nothing more than a hot dog and a cold swim with the Bushes.

But so much has changed since then. Rachida had a baby, by whom no one knows, and in the end fell out with Nicolas, perhaps because she and the new Mme Sarkozy didn't get on. Henri managed to get his nemesis Anne Lauvergeon ousted as head of Areva after himself taking over at EDF. Meanwhile, Jean-Louis Borloo, who was to have replaced François Fillon as prime minister, got shafted when the UMP rebelled and forced Sarko to stick with the stolid but predictable Fillon. Then, in a fit of pique, Borloo went about Paris giving interviews, holding meetings, and pretending to organize a political party that would have been his vehicle to mount a challenge to Sarkozy.

Got all that? It's an overstuffed plot, I know, but it's so hard to keep the drama alive over five years of daily soap opera that the plots inevitably seem a bit cheesy. Then, however, in the penultimate show leading up to the fifth-season finale of Dynastie-sur-Seine, Borloo abruptly canceled any plans he had to become president, and now it seems he may instead be parachuted in as top man at Veolia, Proglio's old firm, where apparently Henri maintains close ties to certain henchmen and is in the process of orchestrating a coup to topple his own handpicked successor.

Whew, what a surprise! Any connection between Borloo's dropping out of the presidential race and the sudden buzz about his taking over Veolia? It would be crass to suggest such a thing. Meanwhile, what about Henri's ex, Rachida? Why, she's bucking the party stalwarts for a place in Paris that has been reserved for Fillon, Borloo's vanquisher, as a golden parachute when he at last gives up the reins of France, Inc., in May, after the Chairman of the Board is either sacked or decides to bring in a new CEO. Every soap opera needs a woman scorned and capable of filling the role of vindictive villainess, and Mme Dati appears to relish the part.

It would make for a good TV show--better TV than government, I suspect.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Has the HADOPI Law Been Effective?

Yes, according to the Times.

Sarkopopu

Nicolas Sarkozy is going all-in on presenting himself as a reborn populist rather than le président du Fouquet's. And why not? It's his only chance. But as the contradictions mount, it should become easier for Hollande to cut him to ribbons in debate. For instance:

Nicolas Sarkozy a ouvert la voie à une dose de proportionnelle aux élections législatives, revendication de longue date des "petits" partis : "Je suis convaincu qu'un mode de scrutin doit d'abord avoir pour objectif de dégager une majortié capable de gouverner. Je suis attaché au mode de scrutin uninominal à deux tours. Mais réfléchissons ensemble.
Une majorité capable de gouverner? Really? For that he needs to bring in the FN, the Boutins, the Borloos, the Morins? He has had five years to govern with a reasonably cohesive, disciplined, and ideologically unified single-party majority à sa botte. Diversifying will not make governing any easier. Clearly, the pitch here is to pick up a few votes around the edges. It's not likely to have much effect.
Rappelant son slogan de campagne en 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy a affirmé que"travailler davantage, c'est la seule façon de préserver notre niveau de vie, notre pouvoir d'achat, et de sortir par le haut de cette crise qui traîne tant d'autres pays vers le bas".
The problem with this sentence is that it all too irresistibly recalls--indeed, is meant to recall--the famous traviller plus pour gagner plus of 2007. The transposition from lusty promises of gain to whimpering defenses of tenuous production can only remind voters of the unkept promises.

"Cette campagne doit être une campagne de vérité. Où est la vérité quand on explique en même temps qu'on veut punir les voyous et abroger la loi sur la récidive ? Où est la vérité quand on fait semblant d'être Thatcher à Londres et Mitterrand à Paris ?, s'est-il interrogé, en référence aux propos de François Hollande au GuardianCe n'est pas comme ça que l'on dirige un pays qui est la cinquième puissance mondiale !"
Presumably the intention here is to portray the president as Ulysses navigating the narrow passage between the Scylla and Charybdis of neoliberalism and socialism. But Sarkozy has hardly been a model of ideological consistency, and voters might prefer a course between Mitterrand and Thatcher to one between Le Pen and Buisson.

Whatever one can say about Sarkozy (or is it Guaino speaking through his mouthpiece?), he always seemed to have a fairly good ear for the populist melodies of the moment. This speech just seems off to me.
 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Allègre Supports Sarkozy

Claude Allègre, never one to go with the flow, will support Sarkozy. If the candidate had been DSK, he says, he would have gone with the left, but Hollande, in his opinion, is not up to the job:
Mais pourquoi pas Hollande?Il est un politicien, très intelligent et très sympathique, d’ailleurs j’ai prévenu Sarkozy que les débats contre lui seraient durs. Mais s’il est élu, on aura Chirac II au pouvoir! Chirac a cédé à tout, Hollande, c’est la même chose. Il fait des compromis tout le temps! Je ne le vois pas du tout dans le rôle. Si Dominique Strauss-Kahn avait été candidat, je l’aurais en revanche soutenu.
Of course this estimate of Hollande's character may be as wrong as Allègre's judgment of France's economic situation and Sarkozy's relation to Merkel:
Mais mon choix est guidé par une seule chose essentielle : je considère qu’en Europe nous sommes dans une crise très profonde. Nous ne sommes pas loin de la Grèce ou de l’Italie. Or je considère que les parts de réussite de Nicolas Sarkozy, qu’on l’aime ou qu’on ne l’aime pas, résident justement dans sa politique extérieure. Il a une énergie formidable. Tous les Allemands savent bien qu’au fond, c’est lui qui tire Angela Merkel, qui la pousse à agir. 
Bizarre judgments. But perhaps Allègre is angling for un ministère d'ouverture, as he was in 2007, when he was again advertising his sympathy for Sarkozy.

Le Pen Rehabilitates Brasillach

Jean-Marie Le Pen seems unwilling--and not for the first time--to let his daughter try to cleanse the Front National of its fascist odor:

En tout cas, le vieux leader de 83 ans se dit persuadé que cette sortie n'embarrassera pas sa fille, Marine Le Pen. "Nous acceptons bien la Révolution française et Robespierre dans notre passé. Je ne vois pas pourquoi nous accepterions Robespierre et pas Brasillach !"
Brasillach--of whom de Gaulle, when asked what ought to be done with him at the end of the war, said "Douze balles dans la peau!" --is not a "poet" chosen at random, you can be sure. Le Pen, past master in the art of provocation, knew exactly what he was doing. Chapeau!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

PS Will Reject the European Stability Mechanism

The political pushback against the Merkel-Sarkozy-IMF-ECB plan to save the euro has begun. The PS will either abstain or vote against the European Stability Mechanism, because it is linked to the compulsory budget balance provision known as "the golden rule." And apparently the PS was prodded to take this action by criticism from its left in the person of J.-L. Mélenchon.

With doubts about the ESM already multiplying rapidly in Germany, this new blow may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Will Sarko Block Marine?

Arun Kapil thinks that Sarkozy is desperate enough to risk attempting to prevent Marine Le Pen from obtaining her 500 parrainages. I think Arun might be right, but I hope he isn't: the potential for a real eruption of anger is not to be underestimated.

The Campaigns Hit the Web

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France Clings to Growth

One could make a case for Nicolas Sarkozy's management of the French economy over the past five years. Indeed, I will make such a case in a series of talks on the elections that I have to give over the next couple of months. An additional data point arrived yesterday: France clings to (very modest) growth even as most of her European partners, including Germany, have slipped into recession.

Of course the numbers game is in many ways a mug's game. +0.2 is not very different from -0.2. France's current account remains in the red, and loss of competitiveness remains a problem, as does the painful bite of austerity. There has been no consistent vision behind Sarkozy's management since the vision he brought into office--one of very mild neoliberal reforms--was smashed by the crisis. But the French economy retains a certain dogged solidity. To be sure, its banks are an Achilles' heel, although BNP yesterday announced record profits of 6 billion €. For this the ECB is to be thanked. Banks are in the enviable position of being able to obtain funds for virtually nothing and then to lend them out again at a respectable premium. To the charge that they are lending only to sovereigns enjoying an implicit guarantee against default, BNP replies that its loan book to the private sector has expanded by 5.1% over the year.

So things may be improving on the banking side, as BNP plows 3/4 of its profits back into equity to shore up its position. Perhaps this news will comfort Moody's, which has been threatening, after S&P, to downgrade France. The possibility of a bank failure remains the French government's largest implicit contingent liability. It would have to step in if a big bank went down. So taxpayers must take a certain comfort in the big bank's windfall, even though they might smile more broadly if they had been allowed to share more fully in the boon.

I expect that Sarkozy will make a great deal of this modest success in his campaign, while Hollande, who isn't likely to change course very much if he wins, will accentuate the negative. It will be more important, however, to listen for proposals from either man likely to shift France's long-term outlook. The recent fluctuations are mere noise. And the German model, which Sarkozy has temporarily swallowed hook, line, and sinker, will soon begin to crumble, as German demographics begin to weigh, German workers grow restive under wage restraints, and competition in German export markets increases. Will France prove to be the successful rival, or will new competitors emerge?

Cécilia's With Him

As you may have heard, Nicolas Sarkozy will indeed be a candidate to succeed himself. And throughout France and Navarre a great sigh could be heard ... whether of relief or exasperation no one could say. Among the reactions we have this:
Mr. Sarkozy also introduced a new Twitter account on Wednesday, clearly designed for the campaign (@NicolasSarkozy), and got a good-luck message from his ex-wife, Cécilia Attias, who was a vital part of his successful 2007 presidential campaign. On Thursday, he will visit a cheese factory in the French Alps near Annecy.
I'm sure it's comforting to the president to know that his ex-wife, who didn't vote for him in 2007, is nevertheless behind him now. Perhaps he will invite her to the victory party, if there is one, at Fouquet's. Some might see it as a mistake to repeat this first error of the first term, but if there is a second term, one has to assume that Sarkozy will be more décomplexé than ever, since he will have beaten all the odds and demonstrated that the French are indeed, as the General opined in a moment of pique, des veaux. Meanwhile, there are cheese factories to be visited. To the victor belong the spoils, but first there are muddy battlefields to be slogged through.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Time Line of Sarkozy Presidency

Le Monde has a nice interactive map showing the decline of Sarkozy's popularity against the major events of his presidency.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Is Facebook Assisting the Sarkozy Campaign?

Frédéric Martel presents evidence that it is. The Elysée denies the allegations.

"There are no more Communists in France"

So says François Hollande. This has riled up the rump of party faithful, but few would deny the truth of the observation. More interesting is Hollande's praise of Tony Blair, which The Guardian, somewhat excessively, describes as "lavish":
But Hollande's lavish praise of Tony Blair was revealing about his own political orientation and his potential style of running France. For years, Blair, New Labour and the third way were heresy to most French Socialists. Hollande said Blair was pleasant "and so intelligent he didn't need to be arrogant". He added: "The first lesson to take from Blair is how long he lasted ... Second, he was able, after a long period of Thatcherism, to reinstate education, health and the public sector ... Then he succumbed to the dominant idea that the markets could regulate themselves and the notion that the markets and [economic] liberalism in themselves could be a factor for growth ... We saw the consequences."

In fact, as you can see, his praise of Blair is mixed and demonstrates good political sense. It's important for a party to do what it takes to remain in power if it wants to accomplish anything, and he praises Blair mainly for his mastery of the power equation and for using his power in productive ways, to "reinstate education, health, and the public sector." But he also criticizes Blair for ... "Blairism," that is, the tolerance of too many neoliberal nostrums. To be sure, he has the benefit of hindisght, and he is no doubt underestimating the role of Blairism in maintaining Blair in power. But he is more lucid in his appreciation of Blair than The Guardian gives him credit for.

Hollande Criticizes Greek Austerity Plan

François Hollande, buoyed by his success thus far in establishing himself as the frontrunner, has shed a bit of his caution and taken an important stand on a major issue, which is likely to become a defining focus of the campaign. He says that the austerity measures imposed on Greece by "the Troika" are too severe, and that, in addition to Greek governance failures, there was also a "failure of European governance."

This is a somewhat risky but important move. Risky, because it opens the Socialist candidate up to attacks that he is undermining a complex and delicate European consensus on this vital issue. Important, because it is not only the right position on the merits--Greek austerity will prove counterproductive in the coming months as it already has--but also reinforces Hollande's previous cautious statements about "renegotiating" the European agreement if he is elected. It will serve to alleviate French fears that draconian austerity will next be coming to France, along with the attendant disorders that have been much in evidence in televised scenes of the Athens riots. And this is an important move for Hollande, too, because it comes on the heels of a Moody's announcement that France is on its watch list and may soon be downgraded. Hollande is refusing to be cowed and is not saying that "le gouvernement ne peut pas tout," even though it can't: he is a candidate, after all, not yet an élu. The cold shower is for later. For now, it's time to fire up the troops and show some backbone.

It will be interesting to see the candidates debate this issue face-to-face.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hollande Rallies the Left

François Hollande is apparently doing something right: doubts about his presidentiability among left-wing voters have all but vanished.
A gauche, François Hollande voit sa cote de popularité reculer de 4 points. Il pâtit notamment de la baisse des jugements favorables à son égard des sympathisants UMP (16% ; -4) mais fait en revanche le plein dans son propre camp. Il demeure ainsi la personnalité préférée des sympathisants PS, à un niveau qu’il n’avait encore jamais atteint (89% ; +2). (h/t Anonymous)

Candidate Platform Comparison Tool

Want to know where the various candidates stand on particular issues? Try this on-line tool.

French Banking Risk

NYU Stern School of Business ranks banks for systemic risk. Of the ten banks in the world with the greatest systemic risk, three are French: BNP Paribas, SocGen, and Crédit Agricole.


TOP 10SRISK%MESLVG
BNP Paribas3.710.2948.79
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group3.44.9538.78
Barclays PLC3.39.9452.68
Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC3.26.6050.37
Credit Agricole SA3.212.65128.31
HSBC Holdings PLC2.75.7017.00
Mizuho Financial Group Inc2.63.8353.27
Bank Of America2.46.9724.22
ING Groep NV2.411.3851.67
Societe Generale2.316.4768.40

Harvard and MIT Aid Hollande

Three young Frenchmen who studied American electoral sociology and mobilization techniques at MIT and the Harvard Kennedy School have brought what they learned home to France and put it at the service of Hollande's campaign:

Quant à l’investissement militant, là aussi, l’idée est simple : «Tout le monde peut participer, mais tout le monde doit être reconnu et encadré, afin d’optimiser scientifiquement l’effort de campagne. Il faut rationaliser les implications individuelles, pour toucher un maximum de gens qui se sont peu à peu désintéressés de la politique.» Pour Guillaume, Vincent et Arthur, l’abstention des quartiers populaires ne s’explique pas prioritairement par le rejet de la classe politique, mais surtout parce qu'«il n’y a plus dans leur entourage de présence politique. La télé et quelques tracts sur un marché ou dans une boîte aux lettres, ça ne représente rien…».
These young men aim not just to re-energize the base but also to get out the vote. The vital importance of the effort is underscored by one of them, who notes that "en 2002, il aurait suffi de 5 voix par bureau de vote en plus pour Jospin."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How Sarkozy Grates on Certain Sensibilities

Via Frédéric Martel, a "celebrated cultural figure of the right" reveals why Sarkozy rubs him the wrong way:


Cela dit, je suis aujourd’hui au nombre de ceux qui ne peuvent plus le supporter : sa vulgarité, sa versatilité, son caractère imprévisible, son omniprésence m’exaspèrent. Quant à son attitude par rapport à la culture, elle le condamne à mes yeux. Vous avez vous-même noté tous ses manques, ses défaillances, mais en même temps, vous faites preuve sur ce plan d’une certaine indulgence que je ne partage pas. Non seulement, il est le moins « cultivé » des Présidents de la Vème République, mais il n’a pas compris que « la culture » n’était pas seulement un secteur de l’action gouvernementale mais une dimension de l’action publique dans son ensemble et que, dans notre République, elle impliquait un engagement personnel du chef de l’État. J’ai eu la chance d’avoir un rapport personnel avec chacun de ses prédécesseurs, à l’exception du Général ; et j’ai pu voir, surtout avec Pompidou et Mitterrand, mais même avec Giscard et Chirac, qu’au-delà de leurs « grands projets », la culture était pour eux, non seulement une délectation intime, mais un domaine où ils avaient une impulsion à donner et un rôle actif à jouer. Tel n’est absolument pas le cas de Sarkozy ; et le choix même du sympathique Frédéric [Mitterrand] le montre bien car son absence totale de poids politique affecte gravement ce qui reste de politique culturelle. Quant à la culture de bachotage que lui offre Carla et qu’il étale [avec une] complaisance de parvenu, elle ne trompe personne sur son sérieux.Je vais même plus loin. Ce que je reproche le plus à Sarkozy, c’est l’absence totale chez lui d’une « culture d’État ». Cet homme est incontestablement un virtuose dans l’art du Pouvoir, de sa conquête et, à bien des égards, de son exercice, mais il est complètement dépourvu du sens de l’État. La manière dont il discrédite, court-circuite et désavoue ses ministres, à commencer par le Premier d’entre eux, son zèle ostentatoire à s’occuper de tout en sont autant de preuves. A cela s’ajoute son absence totale de culture historique ; il semble ne pas savoir que si composite dans son peuplement et sa géographie qui la fait, seule en Europe, participer à la fois à l’Europe du Nord et à l’Europe du Sud, la nation française n’a pu se constituer, depuis au moins Philippe Le Bel, que par la volonté de l’État. 

La République des Idées

Mediapart (paywall, alas) has two interesting articles on "La République des Idées," the publishing house founded by Pierre Rosanvallon, professor of political theory and history at the Collège de France. To call RepId a publishing house is a bit of a misnomer. It's both less than that and far more, a gathering place for political intellectuals and a force for attracting an audience to their ideas. It also favors a particular style of intellectual intervention, one more grounded in empirical research and less dependent on brilliant rhetoric than is often the case in France. (At this point, I should show my true colors: I have translated four books by Pierre Rosanvallon, I consider him a friend, he has invited me to speak at the Collège and at the Grenoble colloqium that he organized a few years ago, and I greatly admire the influence that he has had in reshaping French intellectual debate). I was struck by the way that Pierre characterizes the difference between the Fondation Saint-Simon, which he also headed for a time, and RepId:

Elles sont à la fois structurelles, puisque Saint-Simon était d'abord un think tank, et la République des idées avant tout une collection de livres. Mais aussi idéologiques. «Il fallait faire quelque chose de nouveau. Les années 1980 et 1990 étaient des années de grand flottement politique et intellectuel. On pouvait encore penser que la politique de Reagan ou Thatcher constituait seulement l’émergence d’une nouvelle droite, d’une nouvelle idéologie. Nous avons mis du temps à comprendre que nous rentrions dans un nouveau régime de la société capitaliste, que nous avions affaire à une révolution du mode de production, à une révolution presque anthropologique. Au début des années 2000, on pouvait voir que nous vivions l’équivalent de la grande transformation décrite en son temps par Karl Polanyi.»

Of course, any intellectual, any school of thought, and any publishing venture with such influence will not remain for long without critics, and the Mediapart articles quote several of them. The underlying theme goes back to Daniel Lindenberg's book, Les nouveaux réactionnaires, which painted "the social liberal" current of the ex-Second Left as a group compromised by links to business circles, insufficiently militant in regard to growing inequalities in French society, and generally too soft on "third way" politics of vaguely Blairesque derivation. J'assume. La Révolution est depuis longtemps terminée. But the "great transformation" that Rosanvallon describes above deserves to be confronted in thought and not merely denounced, and I see no one more committed to that project than the people of RepId. I'm glad that Mediapart has brought the group to the attention of its readers.

Check out La vie des idées Web site, which is the Web arm of RepId.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Françoise Héritier Demolishes Claude Guéant

The anthropologist ends her remarkably lucid interview with this useful admonition:

C'est assurément le goût des autres oui, qui ne m'a jamais quitté. Pour le transmettre, je crois qu'une éducation à la différence à l'école, au collège et au lycée s'avère nécessaire. Car les sciences humaines n'y sont guère enseignées. Alors que mondialisation provoque un brassage des cultures inédit qui engendre parfois des incompréhensions, il est urgent d'enseigner l'anthropologie dans les établissements scolaires.

Kapil Counts Out Le Pen

Arun Kapil explains why, in his view, Marine Le Pen will not repeat her father's success of 2002.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Les valeurs"

In a novel, Stendhal wrote, "La politique, c'est un coup de pistolet au milieu d'un concert. ... Cette politique va offenser mortellement une moitié des lecteurs, et ennuyer l'autre." But the same Stendhal also wrote: "Si vos personnages ne parlent pas politique ... votre livre n'est plus un miroir."

I was reminded of this dilemma when I read this morning Sarkozy's remarks about the presidential campaign now in full swing:
"Rien n'est plus important que de promettre des idées neuves aux Français", explique M. Sarkozy dans son interview. Ce nouveau positionnement, le chef de l'Etat le justifie en expliquant qu'il faut quitter le terrain économique, qui enlise les candidats dans des discours très techniques dont aucun ne sort vraiment vainqueur. Quant à la méthode, celle du référendum, elle répondrait "au problème de la pratique démocratique", selon un responsable de la majorité. "Les Français veulent reprendre le pouvoir d'une façon ou d'une autre", dit-il.
Stendhal's law applies with "economics" substituted for "politics": apparently Team Sarkozy's strategy is based on the assumption that any discussion of his (failed) economic policies will "mortally offend" half of the electorate and "bore" the other half. Hence he has settled on the less soporific choice of introducing "new ideas" about the "values" that he, Claude Guéant, Patrick Buisson, Brice Hortefeux, and the other deep thinkers in his entourage think define "French civilization" and demonstrate its "superiority" ... to the rest. Mind you, not to any other "civilization" in specific--to name names would be to "offend mortally." It's more profitable, electorally speaking, to compare oneself advantageously to a generalized "Other," who in all respects does not measure up. And it beats talking about unemployment.

Indeed, when it comes to unemployment, it is far, far more flattering to the superior values of the French to shift the discussion from the "mortally boring" terrain of economics to that of French civilization's disdain of "l'assistanat." This term was introduced into political discourse most recently by Laurent Wauquiez, the most brilliant of the younger generation of the Right, who tried it out on recipients of the RSA. The opposition's outcry was muted, so Sarkozy has taken the defense of this French value one step farther, applying it to les chômeurs, whom he proposes to send to mandatory retraining schools in exchange for their dole of relief. To treat the working poor as spongers was bad enough, but to extend the contempt to the involuntarily unemployed in the depths of a recession is a sign of genuine audace.

So there can be no doubt: Sarkozy has decided to fight the first round of the election on the far right end of the battlefield. The tactic seems to have been effective, in that Marine Le Pen's poll numbers have been decreasing, but that may simply reflect the fact that as election day approaches, those who were previously willing to express a protest against the status quo by registering support for its most extreme opponent have now decided to voter utile. But the PS nevertheless seems delighted that the race is narrowing into a two-person contest, which it is confident of winning:
"Même pas peur!", glisse Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, député de Paris, soulignant là un choix stratégique. Alors que le chef de l'Etat tente de rééditer le coup de 2007 et de faire tourner le débat autour de ses idées, les socialistes entendent "ne pas lemettre au centre de la séquence", explique M.Cambadélis. D'autant que le terrain choisi à l'Elysée laisserait à M. Hollande, selon un intime, "le rôle du rassembleur, bien plus que celui du seul candidat de la gauche". "Contre l'ostracisme et la mise au pilori des chômeurs, il parlera de la République à tous les Français", dit ce proche du candidat.
Indeed, not only will Hollande appear to be the rassembleur, he will be the only candidate speaking to the concerns of the majority of the French, who, according to polls, are far more interested in economic issues in this election than in so-called "values." Sarkozy could have played rope-a-dope by engaging Hollande on the economic terrain, where the contradictions inherent in the Socialist program are most manifest, and where the conservative case could be made with a certain logic (in comparative terms, France's economic performance in the crisis has not been terrible compared with any number of its neighbors).

In the end, the "values" discussion will have been a mere diversion, and Stendhal's more sober point will seem more prescient than his dubious concert simile: to paraphrase, "if a candidate in a campaign does not talk economics in the midst of a recession, he will no longer appear as a mirror in which voters can see themselves," and they will reject him and his attempt to divert the debate onto the roiling terrain of values.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Second Mise en Examen for Eric Woerth

Eric Woerth, former budget minister and Sarkozy's 2007 campaign treasurer, has been mis en examen a second time. The first was for "passive influence trafficking" in connection with the sale of a race track in Compiègne. The second cuts closer to the president himself, because the charge is "concealment of illicit financing of a political party."

After letting Woerth twist in the wind for an extended period in 2010, Sarkozy finally cut him loose without so much as a farewell, and now it is clear why.

Back to the Workhouse

President Sarkozy appears to be launching his campaign with an interview granted to Figaro Magazine, to appear this Saturday. Le Monde outlines the major points. I can only describe the tenor of this program as Bonapartist. Apparently, Sarkozy has taken the comparisons with Napoléon le Petit to heart and is proposing to become Napoléon encore plus petit.

His conception of reform in his second term is predicated upon a series of great referenda, in which proposals for fundamental change will be submitted to the people, whom the Prince-President assumes will back him, bolstering his legitimacy and autocratic power through a series of plebiscitary confirmations. The first of these fundamental changes is an overhaul of the system of unemployment compensation. After a few months out of work, recipients of unemployment benefits will be required to sign up for job retraining in exchange for further benefits. The unemployed will be required to choose from a menu of "qualifying employments" to be defined by a national committee. Training may indeed be a useful thing to offer to the unemployed, but what purpose is served by making it compulsory? The idea seems to be to transform unemployment compensation from an insurance program offering protection against the vagaries of the economy to a disciplinary tool. Many so-called job retraining programs exist already, and often they are useless and misguided. The reform will make submission to the useless and misguided compulsory and deny the unemployed the freedom to choose how they wish to adapt to changing market conditions.

The second major reform concerns immigration: Sarkozy wants to transfer all competence in matters of immigration to administrative bureaus and to subject applicants for residence permits on the grounds of marriage to housing and means tests.

The third major reform will be in the area of education. Details are scanty, but it seems that he wants to tighten the "working conditions" of teachers, whose vacation time he may be seeking to shorten.

Curiously, after five years in power, Sarkozy seems to be saying that the major problems that France faces are best addressed by discharging responsibility onto scapegoats: the unemployed, the immigrants, and teachers. In 2007 he came into office promising to evaluate the performance of government and to fetch "growth with his teeth." Now, he says nothing about whether government has passed or failed its test, and the problem of unemployment due to lack of growth is to be dealt with by cracking down on unemployed workers and immigrants.

It is hard to see what constituency he thinks will respond to this appeal.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Estrosi, "gugusse"

I already nominated Christian Estrosi for the position of le roi des cons, but he has taught me a new word to characterize him:

Gugusse: Clown qui joue les naïfs, les imbéciles. Pour les Français les comiques sont des gugusses (La Croix,19 mars 1972, p. 10, col. 3).Faire le gugusse (fam.). Se faire passer pour un idiot.

It seems that Estrosi applied this word to Le Pen and Bayrou, but as Frédéric Lefebvre-Naré notes, he got his facts a bit mixed up:
Selon Christian Estrosi, la France a gagné 10% d'emplois industriels entre 2009 et maintenant. Sur le site de l'INSEE, les derniers chiffres que je trouve sont ceux de 2010 : -1 à -6% selon les branches, cette année-là.
I guess the campaign is on, and "truthiness" is off.

The "Renegotiation" Gambit

On France2 last night and in Le Monde this morning, François Hollande lays out his position on "renegotiating" the European agreement on budgetary discipline that will be signed on March 1. In President Sarkozy's joint press interview with Chancellor Merkel, the president made it clear that he will attack Hollande on this plank in his platform. A treaty is a pledge made in the name of France and cannot be honorably "renegotiated": this, in sum, is Sarkozy's position, and he will maneuver to make Hollande seem weak, vacillating, unreliable, and dishonorable for saying that he will refuse to be bound by the will of his predecessor, who, like another well-remembered French head of state, seems to believe that  "l'État, c'est moi."

Hollande's deconstruction of Sarkozy's royalist interpretation of the nation's word is understated but no less deft for that. He makes it clear that renegotiation does not mean repudiation, and he recognizes the need for budgetary discipline as an important principle. Nevertheless, he feels that the treaty, negotiated in haste, lacks precision as to the conditions under which parties would be subject to scrutiny of their budgetary decisions as well as to the penalties that might be imposed. These are certainly reasonable clarifications to ask for, and it would be irresponsible of the legislature to ratify the treaty without having them.

But the substance of Hollande's position is not the most important thing. What is impressive is that he has managed to stake out a position distinct from Sarkozy's without recourse to demagogic attacks and with the articulation of additional principles beyond budgetary discipline--concerning growth and employment--that ought to be included in any European stability agreement. Indeed, he puts his finger on the weakness of the German position and of the German economy: the insistence on internal budgetary balance and wage restraint does not help to redress structural imbalances within the eurozone. If Germany were to share its productivity gains with its work force, boosting domestic demand, this would help, and it makes sense for France to lead the group of nations in trade deficit with Germany in making this point.

In short, Hollande has at last articulated a statesmanlike position on the central issue of the European crisis. In his quiet way, he has exposed the hollowness of Sarkozy's dramatization of the situation and demonization of his opponent. The Socialist candidate has thus taken a major step toward transforming himself into a figure whom voters can plausibly imagine as president of the Republic. This is a sine qua non of electability.

Meanwhile, the UMP, behind Claude Guéant, has taken a giant step in the other direction, laying bare its panicky desperation and readiness to cross previously taboo lines to preserve its power. Guéant's disdainful grin and dismissive demeanor in yesterday's Assembly confrontation demonstrated a haughty contempt for the sensibilities of the many Frenchmen offended by his remarks about a supposed hierarchy of civilizations.

Thus a President Hollande has clearly become a more plausible figure for many more people than was the case a few weeks ago. The polls reflect this, with one recent sounding giving Hollande a 59-41 victory in the second round. Such a lopsided vote would mark an extraordinary repudiation of Sarkozysme.

The Superiority of Civilizations

Yesterday's extraordinary ruckus in the Assembly was a good deal less "civilized," to choose a word out of the air, than this exchange between Ferry and Clemenceau, in which I think Clemenceau makes a point that should have given Guéant, his successor as le premier flic de France, pause:
Races supérieures ! Races inférieures ! C’est bientôt dit. Pour ma part, j’en rabats singulièrement depuis que j’ai vu des savants allemands démontrer scientifiquement que la France devait être vaincue dans la guerre franco-allemande, parce que le Français est d’une race inférieure à l’Allemand. Depuis ce temps, je l’avoue, j’y regarde à deux fois avant de me retourner vers un homme et vers une civilisation et de prononcer : homme ou civilisation inférieure ! [...]

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Picture Is Worth a Lot of Bla-bla-bla


Sarkozy le Fridolin

Frankly, I find Sarkozy's frequent allusions to past Franco-German bloodletting in order to justify current acquiescence in the German view of the financial crisis in rather poor taste. If there is an economic case to be made, let him make it. The Thatcheresque insistence that there is no alternative short of renewed trench warfare is risible.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Claude Guéant Unleashes a Furor

Claude Guéant unleashed a furor yesterday by appearing to establish a hierarchy of "civilizations" in which those that allegedly value "liberty, equality, and fraternity" (three innocently chosen words, I'm sure) are ranked above the rest, which he stigmatized as favoring "tyranny, the subordination of women, and social or ethnic hatred." Condemnations were swift:
Dans un communiqué, le Mouvement des jeunes socialistes (MJS) a "condamné les propos" de M. Guéant en lui "demandant "ce qu'il cherchait en s'enfermant dans son discours xénophobe et raciste. Le ministre "se range dans la catégorie de ceux qui différencient et hiérarchisent les hommes, permettant le basculement vers un véritable racisme culturel", ont-ils ajouté.


SOS Racisme a dit, dans un communiqué, "espérer un démenti urgent" de ces propos. "Si ces derniers, très graves, avaient été bel et bien tenus par le ministre de l'Intérieur en fonction, ils marqueraient une nouvelle étape dans une dérive vers des extrêmes inacceptables, structurés notamment par des logiques d'infériorisation de l'Autre".
Guéant, once a faceless bureaucrat, has emerged as Sarkozy's frontman in playing the xenophobia card. I think it is a card that Sarkozy has played once too often, however, and this time the ploy won't work. For one thing, it can't be done by proxy. It was one thing when Sarkozy himself stood on the dalle in Argenteuil and promised to clean out the racaille. He fit the tough guy part, and voters disposed to go for this sort of thing found him believable. Guéant, who doesn't look like a man ready for a fight despite his proven readiness to serve the bureaucratic needs of the tough guy's policies, lacks beauf appeal. He's no match for Marine Le Pen in this arena, whereas Sarkozy was once a plausible replacement for her father.

Furthermore, Sarkozy has tried throughout his presidency to raise "the defense of civilization" as a code word for "rejection of the other." It didn't work when, in Rome, he said that schoolteachers could never replace priests; it didn't work when he cribbed from Edgar Morin a supposed "politics of civilization" as a substitute for the relentless pursuit of a larger GDP. It didn't work when he tried to launch a great debate on national identity built on the idea of a "European"or "Christian" civilization from which Muslims who refused to assimilate would be excluded. And this last, pathetic attempt to borrow from the American Christian right the anathema upon "secular relativism" that Guéant pronounced yesterday before the right-wing student group Uni is similarly doomed to the failure it so richly deserves.

"Sarko l'Américain" seems to want to import "dogwhistle politics" from the United States. France should definitively reject this contribution of American "civilization" to the French debate.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The French Political Blogosphere

Check out this interactive map.  Inexplicably, I don't seem to be on it. Although there is an "observer" category, foreign observers don't seem to make the cut.

Bayrou Voters in Round 2

According to a recent poll, most Bayrou voters will go to Hollande in the second round rather than to Sarkozy--assuming that Sarkozy makes it to the second round!

Selon ce sondage, 46 % des électeurs de M. Bayrou se reporteraient au second tour sur M. Hollande, contre seulement 32 % sur M. Sarkozy.
Perhaps even more interesting, 31% of Le Pen voters will go to Hollande versus only 35 to Sarkozy! Of course this can be read 2 ways: Le Pen has made major inroads into the pool of voters who normally vote for the left, or Sarkozy has lost his appeal to the xenophobic right. Probably both are true.