Monday, February 18, 2013

Government Expects Constitutional Reform to Fail

Jean-Marc Ayrault has let it be known that his vote-counting has not gone well: the constitutional reform promised by candidate Hollande will not pass if put to a vote later this year. Hence it may be withdrawn.

What does this mean? The proposed reform has several major features. It would end one form of le cumul des mandats by making a ministerial position at the national level incompatible with an executive position at the local or regional level. This is strenuously opposed by some major PS barons. The reform would also grant resident aliens the right to vote in certain elections. This is strenuously opposed by the Right and by many on the Left. Ex-officio appointments to the Constitutional Council (of ex-presidents of the Republic, for example) would also end. The legal status of the president would be modified, and there would be major changes in the judicial system.

In short, this is the sort of reform that might accomplish a few worthy goals, likely to please any number of political scientists, but unlikely to arouse any great enthusiasm for or against among the people at large--except for granting foreigners the right to vote, which will spark tremendous opposition, and tampering with le cumul, which will be fought doggedly behind the scenes by those who would stand to lose an important source of power.

Hollande has no leverage over the Right, which has made it clear that it will oppose the reform on general principles of orneriness. And he has little leverage over his opponents on the Left, who see threats to their own job security. He may therefore decide that it is better to beat a hasty retreat than to risk an embarrassing public loss. Right now, the public is indifferent. Better to bow out now than to risk much political capital on a turkey.

France Signs Agreement with Google

France has signed an agreement with Google, under which the search firm will set up a development fund to aid French publishers in creating digital content, in exchange for which the publishers will not attempt to charge Google for links to their on-line offerings. Everybody is happy--except the rest of Europe, which for some reason doesn't like the deal. When cooperation fails, is vigorous independence the answer? It depends. The arrangement with Google is a good idea, I think. By contrast, a French-capitalized investment bank in lieu of a satisfactory European one would not be. EU member states can go it alone only where they retain sufficient power to achieve decent results on their own.