Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Les voeux de Hollande

The New Year's voeux of the président de la République have become a tradition as tedious as it is inescapable, like the American president's State of the Union address. It is difficult for any president to live up to expectations. I've grown tired of criticizing Hollande: on substance the criticisms are predictable and should be directed more at the constraints of the situation than the will of the individual, whereas on style the inevitable complaints about absence of charisma, failure to incarnate the function, want of gravitas, whininess of voice, and sing-song phrasé are no less tiresome for being accurate and, in their way, devastatingly unanswerable. But there's a boorishness in going on about these things that Hollande is powerless to alter: it's like attacking someone's physical impairment. Surely there's something more spirituel to say.

One could of course concentrate on the production values. Le président normal has, on the no doubt sage advice of his media consultants, reinstalled himself in the gilt precincts of the Elysée, in the hope that the majesty of the place will reflect from his earnest forehead and imploring eyes. The gestures were impeccably rehearsed and timed to coincide with the savant switches of perspective from close to medium to wide shots, from high angle to reveal the rich red of the uncluttered desktop to eye-level when sincerity has to be driven home, reinforced by the discreetly pointed index finger of the right hand, hovering just above the surface of the desk. The words were delivered as flawlessly as they can be by a speaker said to be more comfortable with the sarcastic one-liner than with the Ciceronian period.

The familiar presidential anaphora, common to both Sarkozy and Hollande, was of course unmistakable, this time falling heavily on the syllables "la France," repeated in a crescendo of platitudes meant to evoke the themes of the remaining years of the Hollande presidency rather than the disappointments of the years already elapsed to no good purpose.




By contrast, Sarkozy, in his voeux, all slick and commercial, struck again and again the theme of rassemblement, as well he might. He was jaunty and relaxed, whereas the incumbent was all esprit du sérieux.

Montebourg and Filippetti: What Passes for a Left Critique in France

Quel beau couple! Arnaud Montebourg and Aurélie Filippetti, anciens ministres et amoureux actuels, ended their year by tweeting nearly identical jabs at Hollande, who in their view lacks the courage displayed by Matteo Renzi in Italy. What courage? Renzi nationalized the Ilva steel mill. In the view of Montebourg and Filipetti, he thereby "saved" 5,000 Italian jobs. On another view, however, he saddled the Italian state with an obsolete plant that makes losses of €80 million a month--nearly a billion euros a year--and is such a polluter that it causes 10-15% excess deaths in the neighboring towns. For Montebourg and Filippetti, this solution--subsidizing 5,000 jobs at a cost of €200,000 per job per year (!!) while polluting the environment in a Europe already saddled with steel production overcapacity--is the progressive answer to Italy's problems, one that France ought to emulate. And as in the case of Florange in France, Arcelor-Mittal is hovering overhead, ready to swoop in to pick up whatever bargain it can persuade desperate politicians to offer. The politicians aren't yet desperate enough, however, to offer the steel magnate a sufficient enticement to part with any actual cash, so thus far the burden is entirely on the taxpayers.

This is what passes for opposition from the left. They do make a glam' couple, though.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Brown Is the New Green

The Front National is going green as well as gay. It launched its "New Ecology" movement this week. Of course its idea of ecology introduces a few interesting "nationalist" twists: it favors nuclear power "in defense of the French worker" and opposes international climate talks because they are, well, international. It also considers halal and kosher butchers guilty of cruelty to animals. 

Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was a climate sceptic who once cut open a watermelon to illustrate how environmentalists were supposedly red communists underneath. But the issue of whether human activity caused global warming was “a very technical question,” d’Ornano said.
“We have to find a balanced position and we don’t have to be politically correct or ideologically biased about it. There are pros and cons to the scientific evidence. We have to find out what really comes from human activity, or doesn’t.”
The FN's spokesperson on climate change also denounced the international climate talks as a "communist project."

Yannick Jadot, a French Green MEP, said that the new FN grouping was a sham.
“They never talk about biodiversity because that means respecting diversity,” he told the Guardian. “They oppose animal cruelty, but they also defend hunters and big agricultural industries. They pretend to defend fish but vote in favour of deep sea fisheries. Again today [Wednesday] they voted in favour of allowing Canadian tar sands in EU fuel.” 
The FN's program finds echoes in the "ecology agenda" of other extreme right parties:

New Ecology’s launch closely follows a spectacular, if unsuccessful, campaign by ‘eco-nationalists’ in Switzerland to cap immigration levels at 0.2% of the resident population.
In Hungary, the neo-Nazi Jobbik party has campaigned against invasive flora from abroad which they say is destroying Hungarian plants and animals as it spreads unchecked.
The far-right Danish People’s Party is virulently opposed to immigration, multi-culturalism and multi-ethnicity. But it also pledges “to ensure that the way in which the earth’s resources are used bears the stamp of consideration, care and a sense of responsibility for the natural world and all its living creatures.” 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Extreme Right and "Entrisme"

"Entrisme," or "entryism" in English, is a political strategy in which an organization encourages its members to join another organization in order to influence its actions and gain power. In the French context, the term usually calls to mind Trotskyists or Lambertists making their way among the Socialists (older heads will remember the flap around Lambertist entrisme when Lionel Jospin, an alleged entriste, was prime minister). But suddenly entrisme is in vogue on the extreme right. Not only do we see the head of a prominent gay organization joining the FN (see previous post). We also learn that the extreme nationalist group SIEL has placed one of its members, Fatima Allaoui, in a high position in the UMP (the story was broken by Libération). And the FN itself has been attempting entrisme with the union Force Ouvrière. Actually, there's nothing new about FN entrisme, but with the party's fortunes on the rise, there's more reason to take notice.

FN, LGBT, même combat?

The "pinkwashing" (h/t Karim Batar) of the FN was the talk of the town last week, but I wonder if this article is for real or just lazy journalism. Didier Lestrade takes the outing of Florian Philippot, Marine Le Pen's strategist, and the rallying of GayLib founder Sébastien Chenu as evidence that gays in general are turning to the FN out of frustration and disappointment with both the PS and the UMP, the latter because it supported the anti-gay Manif pour Tous and the former because its response was muted. Is there any substance to this? I find it hard if not impossible to credit.

Immigration in France

Le Monde publishes the hard facts about immigration in France in advance of François Hollande's speech on the subject today. The numbers are interesting even to one aware that the hysteria that often surrounds the subject has no basis in reality. For example, in 30 years, the percentage of immigrants in the population has risen from 7.2 to just 8.4. Hardly a "flood" or a "deliberate and strategic replacement of the native population." And France is not more affected by immigration than other, comparable countries: Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK all receive more immigrants annually.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Decline of Saint Lundi and the Rise of Saint Dimanche

A new poll suggests that a majority (59%) of the French favor allowing more shop openings on Sundays. Sunday work is to be "voluntary" under the new law and compensated by an amount to be negotiated branch by branch.

It's interesting to compare the apparent new tolerance for Sunday work with the decline of another old French institution, "Saint Lundi," the widespread practice among workers of taking Mondays off to compensate themselves for Sunday work:
Avant 1830, le chômage du lundi est en général étroitement lié à celui du dimanche, formant ainsi une unité temporelle. Or le repos dominical entre, après les Trois Glorieuses, dans une sphère de grandes turbulences. Notamment à Paris, mais aussi dans les centres industriels du Nord et de l’Est de la France, où artisans, compagnons et ouvriers travaillent de plus en plus dans la matinée du dimanche, pour consacrer le reste de la journée à leur famille 24 et pour fêter, le lendemain, le lundi. Le travail du dimanche se développe donc, et avec lui le chômage du lundi : « La plupart des ouvriers qui travaillent le dimanche, se reposent ensuite le lundi… » écrit Théodore-Henri Barrau en 1850 25. En 1872, 63 cas de chômage du lundi, sur les 98 relevés par l’Enquête sur la situation des classes ouvrières 26, sont liés au travail du dimanche. La combinaison repos du dimanche et repos du lundi ne se retrouve plus que dans les régions catholiques respectueuses du repos du dimanche.
The Macron Law is, as many observers have commented, a small-bore affair that is unlikely to do much to improve the French economy. Its "divide-and-conquer" design may serve as a blueprint for further legislation, however: the law goes after the ever unpopular professions réglementées (huissiers, notaires, etc.); it opens up the market for intercity bus travel, offering a lower-cost alternative to expensive trains; it promises consumers more time to shop on a day of leisure; it offers shop workers the prospect of better remuneration for a part of the work week; and there may be new jobs for the currently unemployed to staff the stores during Sunday openings. The aggrieved groups do not share common interests. Small shop owners who may now feel compelled to open on Sunday to compete with big-box stores have nothing in common with huissiers threatened with lower fees, etc.

Opponents of the law worry that Sunday work won't be truly "voluntary" for some workers and point to existing abuses in big-box stores. It's a legitimate concern, but remedies exist. Some critics also believe that the law will disrupt un repos dominical that has assumed in their minds the eternal tranquility of a landscape by Poussin, with maidens clad in white dipping toes in an unrippled pond shaded by mighty oaks--a far cry from, say, the Place Danton when the movie theaters let out on a Sunday afternoon and crowds gather in the cafés for a preprandial apéritif. The diversity of modern life has people spending their Sundays in enough different ways that already, without the Loi Macron, 30 percent of the French are employed on the supposed day of rest to keep the restaurants, trains, buses, museums, airports, theaters, etc. running. The Republic will therefore survive the Loi Macron, though you might not know it to hear the cris d'orfraie that currently fill the airwaves, as though all of France still dressed in its Sunday best to troop off to mass before consuming la poule au pot at grandma's house.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gay Liberation Leader Joins Marine Le Pen

Here.

Sébastien Chenu, le fondateur de GayLib, "mouvement associé à l'UDI, regroupant les LGBT de droite et de centre droit", rejoint le Rassemblement Bleu Marine.


"Son ralliement est la preuve de l'ouverture du RBM et que de plus en plus d'anciens adhérents UMP nous rejoignent", explique Gilbert Collard, député RBM, au Point.fr. Tout s'est passé il y a cinq mois "autour d'une bonne table via Gilbert Collard" selon le site, qui précise que ce dernier devrait par ailleurs annoncer "dans les prochains mois plusieurs ralliements importants" au mouvement associé au FN.


An Interesting Juxtaposition

Sometimes, the hazards of the news juxtapose interesting articles. Thus we read in Le Nouvel Obs today of NKM's dismay at finding one of Patrick Buisson's disciples limiting her room for maneuver in the party and aiding her rival Laurent Wauquiez:

Après avoir bataillé ferme pour élargir son périmètre d'action face à Laurent Wauquiez, la nouvelle de la future nomination de Guillaume Peltier a fait bondir Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, la nouvelle vice-présidente du parti qui incarne plutôt la frange modérée du mouvement. Elle aurait même menacé de claquer la porte. L'animosité entre eux ne date pas d'hier : "Peltier, c'est le Buisson qui cache la forêt", avait dit l'ancienne ministre pendant la campagne des municipales.


And then we learn from Le Monde that Peltier is under investigation in the Bygmalion affair and will probably have to resign his UMP post:

L'ex-vice-président de l'UMP Guillaume Peltier et le cofondateur de la société Bygmalion, Guy Alvès, ont été placés en garde à vue, jeudi 11 décembre, à Nice, selon la police.
Score one for NKM, minus one for Laurent Wauquiez.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

"Let's not reduce existence to consumption," says Martine Aubry. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has declared "war" on Sunday work. It's rather odd to see the left of the left, les bouffeurs de curé d'autrefois, today defending la paix dominicale. But economy minister Emmanuel Macron wants to "free" retailers to throw open their doors on Sundays, so self-declared "enemies of neoliberalism" must fight him tooth and nail. Yet Macron claims that his famous law will not only put more clerks to work but also drain more euros from the wallets of free-spending Chinese tourists.

It's hardly the stuff of an epic battle of the working class against the capitalist oppressor, this. First time tragedy, second time farce, third time sitcom. But, as Marx also reminds us, if man makes his own history, he does not do so under conditions of his own choosing, and Sunday hours seems to be all the Left has to work with these days. From my perspective in the Land of the Shopping Mall and 24x7 online consumerism, the capacity of French commentators to work themselves into a lather over whether stores should be allowed to open 7 Sundays a year or 12 or 15 seems rather ... quaint, although I would certainly go to the barricades on behalf of a law that would malls from blaring Katy Perry songs through their PA systems at 120 decibels.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Une 6e République naissante?


Des paroles et des actes - Mélenchon, Duflot... by lepartidegauche

Macroneconomics

Emmanuel Macron has been minister of the economy for a relatively short time, but he's been ubiquitous in the media for almost all of it. He has a knack for attracting attention in every possible way--effet d'annonce, interview, controversial statements, even gaffes--that is reminiscent of the young Nicolas Sarkozy. And like Sarkozy, all his abundant energy and obvious ambition are spurring opposition--and most notably, opposition within his own party. His latest proposal--for a "growth and activity" law--may even fail to win a majority, which would force the government to invoke Article 49-3, making passage an issue of confidence.

What is striking about Macron's approach to governing through notoriety is his apparent eagerness to use small-bore measures to declare his ideological colors. Extending Sunday working hours and deregulating the notarial profession aren't measures likely to invert the unemployment curve or meet Brussels' demands for deficit reduction, but they do place Macron--and the government of which he is a part--on the ideological map, and that seems to be his main goal. In this he is no different from his predecessor, Montebourg, who also "talked his book" without accomplishing much. The difference was that Montebourg's book was at odds with that of his prime minister (first Ayrault and then, even more, Valls) and president (although the president largely avoided making his position clear, allowing him to straddle the gap, whereas Hollande seems prepared to embrace Macron's line openly).

The new macroneconomics is a lot like the old sarkoeconomics. It is long on symbolism and short on deep reforms. It signals a direction but doesn't actually move very far. This doesn't come as a surprise. Macron was after all the rapporteur of the Attali Commission, which Sarkozy purported to support, and now he is the spokesman for the Gallois report, which Hollande purports to favor.With such persistent policy orientations across changes of regime, one might expect to see some actual change occurring. But France is an old country, and venerable old things change slowly.

My Foreign Affairs Article on Sarkozy's Comeback

Here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Contre mauvaise fortune, bon coeur

You have to hand it to the UMP. They know how to put a good face on things. Sarko is back, and the knives, if not buried, have been kept out of sight of the cameras. Sarkozy and Fillon were caught on camera, by carefully calculated chance, shaking hands and slapping backs. Juppé and Sarkozy sat side by side, the Bordeaux catcalls already gone if not forgotten. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, hardly a friend of Sarko's droitisation strategy, has been named a VP of the party. Laurent Wauquiez is mentioned as a possible secretary general (sweet revenge against his frère ennemi Bruno Le Maire). Jean-Pierre Raffarin sounded the only sour note, when he announced that he supports the Juppé line--meaning the anti-Sarko line, the only reminder that the UMP remains as disunited as ever.

All this sweetness and light reminds me of nothing so much as the heady first days of the Sarkozy presidency back in 2007, when all the talk was about ouverture and about Sarkozy's supposed transmogrification from canny political infighter to wise statesman and president of tous les Français. We know how long that lasted.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Useful Antagonism, Une Guerre Picrocholine

Emmanuel Macron blames Pierre Gattaz, the head of the employers association MEDEF, for what he terms the failure of the pacte de responsabilité. What dizzying speed! The pact is not even a year old, and already it's a failure. Let's recall the terms. Hollande promised to reduce payroll taxes, and in return firms promised to "negotiate" new hires branch by branch. But after a year, negotiations have led to agreements in only 2 of 50 branches and haven't even begun in 23 others.

But the negotiations were always a bit of a sham. A firm that wants to hire will do so; a firm that doesn't see a prospect of increased demand for its product isn't going to commit itself at the negotiating table to hire new workers just because its payroll tax has been reduced. MEDEF wanted a measure to reduce unit labor costs, and it got one; the government famously wanted to "bend the unemployment curve," and it got a bend, but, alas, in an upward direction. The likelihood of such a failure was noted at the pact's inception.

So what's really going on? It's simple. The government has been in trouble with its voter base ever since Manuel Valls announced that he "loved" business and Emmanuel Macron replaced Arnaud Montebourg, who professed not to be such a lover of business while in office but promptly enrolled in a prominent business school upon leaving it and who declares now that is fondest dream in life is to become an entrepreneur (which may make him feel more warmly about the two pro-enterprise Mannies). If the prime minister could be cheered by CEOs for declaring his love, then who was looking out for the workers? If the minister of the economy felt that French competitiveness was lagging because, as he put it, too many French workers were illettrés, it would probably be a mistake to look to him as a champion of the working class.

What the government needed was an enemy. So it chose one: the MEDEF. The lumbering Gattaz responded to provocation with his customary clumsiness, and the deed was done. The Socialists can now say that, while they still love business, business doesn't love them back, or at any rate not enough. A simulacrum of the old left-right conflict has been put in place, but of course nothing in the way of an actual policy change has occurred. It would be too absurd to, say, rescind the payroll tax reduction, which was and remains a sensible measure, even if it has yet to produce results and may never amount to much. There are no arrows left in the quiver. The government's policy has always been "Wait, something will turn up." It still is. And undoubtedly something will turn up. Eventually. In the meantime it's useful to have an enemy again, even if la guerre reste tout à fait picrocholine.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

He's baaaaaack!

Nicolas Sarkozy is once again the head of the UMP. Le Monde and many other commentators would nevertheless like to see a victory here for Bruno Le Maire, who scored a respectable 29+ % on a turnout of 57% and kept Sarko below the 70% threshold that would have allowed him to claim a resounding plebiscite (he was elected head of the party 10 years with a majority of 85%). But still, this was a badly wounded Sarkozy, saddled with a dozen investigations, widely perceived to have botched his comeback campaign in a number of respects, yet he scored nearly 70% among the party faithful, despite polls showing that the electorate at large preferred Juppé as a 2017 presidential candidate. This was also a Sarkozy who is up to his eyeballs in the Bygmalion affair, where all signs are that his campaign looted the party coffers in its desperate bid not to lose the 2012 presidential election. And this was a Sarkozy who is probably going to rebrand the party with a new name and conceivably set the rules of the presidential primary to favor himself. He is, as I've often said, a gifted politician, so it's not surprising to find that he still has strong support, but he is also a politician who has proven that his gifts were not sufficient to ensure a successful presidency, so it's not easy to explain why his support remains as strong as it is. Since the UMP powers-that-be have decided not to release details about the voting, we will probably never have a full demographic-political analysis of the vote. But at least we are sure that the always-entertaining Sarkozy will make the next couple of years interesting. Unless the courts sideline him, of course.

How Le Maire plays his cards from here will also be interesting to watch. At first he said he would not participate in the leadership of a Sarko-headed UMP. Then he seemed to backtrack a bit. I wouldn't be surprised to see him emerge as a strong backer of Juppé's candidacy, perhaps with a prominent role in the campaign. The Le Maire-Wauquiez battle will be interesting to watch. Wauquiez surely resents the way Le Maire's bid for the UMP leadership pushed his rival forward as the next-generation candidate of the Right. He now needs Sarkozy's support to reposition himself, and Sarkozy could use Wauquiez's support in rebuilding the party.

I'm supposed to be writing an article on all this, so I'd better save something for later.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hell hath no fury ... which is a bad thing when your phone has been tapped

Gilbert Azibert, pauvre con ... He thought he could wangle a nice post in Monaco for his retirement by lending a helping hand to a former president of the Republic in trouble with the law. His wife warned him not "to get mixed up in any shady dealings with that Sarko fellow." But did he listen? No! So now not only the cops and "les petites jugettes" are after him, but he's got to listen to his wife telling him what a jerk he's been as well--and that line is tapped too, so we know just how much marital hot water he was in:
A cette époque, cela fait trois mois qu’il subit la pression. Depuis le 4 mars, jour où les perquisitions se sont succédé à ses domiciles, puis à son bureau. Désemparé, alors que les policiers viennent de quitter son bureau, il joint sa femme, sur son portable. Cette dernière le rembarre : « T’es au trentième dessous. Mais enfin… aussi… qu’est-ce que tu veux, t’es allé te magouiller avec Sarkozy et tout… T’aurais mieux fait de pas aller discuter avec ce Sarko, toi ! Je te l’avais dit à l’époque !!! Si tu t’en étais pas mêlé non plus hein… » Sursaut de Gilbert Azibert : « Oui mais attends. Je pense que je suis sur écoute téléphonique, hein… »
One almost feels sorry for the fellow.

Friday, November 21, 2014

France's New Regions

The new "aménagement du territoire" won't accomplish much, in my opinion, but it is an occasion for comparisons that may or may not be significant.

Monday, November 17, 2014

François Dubet Discusses French Schools with the Minister of Education

Interesting discussion in an interesting new online journal, Alter Eco Plus.

Putin's French Supporters

From the "Politics makes strange bedfellows department." Putin has some staunch supporters in France, including Thierry Mariani, leader of la Droite populaire, the ultra-rightist faction of the UMP; François Fillon; the right sovereignist Philippe de Villiers and left sovereignist Jean-Pierre Chevènement; the gauchiste Jean-Luc Mélenchon; and his nemesis on the extreme right, Marine Le Pen. Ce qui fait déjà beaucoup.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Right and la Loi Taubira

The UMP is in a tizzy about gay marriage, medically assisted pregnancies, and surrogate mothers. The linking of these three issues may seem strange in American eyes, but that is because our right wing has abortion as its hobby horse, whereas the French Right, thanks to the centrist Simone Veil, made its peace with abortion long ago, considers its tolerance a mark of enlightenment and progress, and is not about to reopen the issue. But since it is useful to a political party to "increase the dimensionality of the political choice set," as political scientists (some of whom are my best friends) like to say, we have this potpourri of hot-button issues surprisingly in the forefront of the UMP party leadership race. After all, it would hardly do to get exercised about corruption at the very heart of the party (the Bygmalion scandal has already taken down the former leader J.-F. Copé and threatens to take down the once and future leader N. Sarkozy as well), so it makes much more sense to argue about who can appear to be most vicious on the sexuality-and-reproduction front.

It's a bit of a shock to those of us who thought that France was beyond all this nonsense. The opposition to gay marriage came out of nowhere. Hollande no doubt thought it was safe ground to venture onto compared with budget cutting, tax hikes, and labor market reforms. But somehow a "Christian" right, hitherto politically dormant, emerged out of nowhere, and young people who had previously marched in the streets only on the way to their first communions suddenly appeared in parades of the bon chic bon genre led by one Frigide Barjot, who was anything but chic and not of the usual genre. The extreme right chimed in with an attack on "the theory of gender," which was supposedly being foisted on French schoolchildren to turn them all into transgendered zombies, and a bridge was established between Français de souche and anxious Muslim mothers via Farida Belghoul.

Hence striking a pose on these issues has become an essential order of business for any right-wing politician, and as usual, the most striking pose was struck yesterday by Nicolas Sarkozy, who outdid himself in impassioned ambiguity. He promised, in stentorian tones, to "rewrite the loi Taubira"--or did he say he would "abrogate" it? Well, actually, he said both and refused to distinguish between the two: "rewriting," he said, meant "abrogating the old law and writing a new one." Well, did that mean no more gay marriage? Did it mean unmarrying gays already married, which Bruno Le Maire said would be "unthinkable" and Alain Juppé advanced as a reason why it was impossible to abrogate the loi Taubira? He didn't actually say he would get rid of gay marriage, but he didn't have to, because he already had the crowd on his side, while the same crowd jeered Bruno Le Maire when he said that "we of the republican right will not revisit the issue of gay marriage." When you pare away the posturing, Sarkozy said the same thing, even if he said there would be one "marriage" for homosexuals and another "marriage" for gays, because, after all, "there is a difference." Exactly how this difference would affect the issue of "filiation," to which the French attach a great deal of importance because of the way jus sanguinis is peculiarly woven into the legal codes of inheritance and citizenship, Sarkozy didn't say, leaving him plenty of wiggle room should he, by some special pardon of a perverse Etre Suprême or Haute Cour de la République, return to the presidency.

In short, the loi Taubira has opened a can of worms on which the UMP is desperately trying to feast. Unappetizing though it may be, it is certainly more digestible than the numerous more urgent issues it faces. Being tough on gays and surrogate moms seems to be the Right's menu du jour, and they're trying to pretend to enjoy it so that no one will ask what they intend to do about unemployment or the deficit or Ukraine or the sale of the Mistral to Russia or taxes or ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Question of Authority

If you haven't been following the Sivens affair, it can be summed up fairly quickly. There is a small stream in the Tarn on which a few dozen farmers depend to water their crops. For 20 years the regional authorities have been dickering with various interested groups about how to ensure an adequate supply of water through the summer months. A project was finally approved, and work began. Environmental activists mounted a protest, however, because in their view the damage to the environment would be excessive. What began as a peaceful protest was joined by an organized group of casseurs, apparently experienced in violent combat with the police from another long-running battle over Notre-Dame-des-Landes farther to the north. Gendarmes were attacked with rocks, bottles, iron bars, and Molotov cocktails. As things degenerated, the gendarmes were authorized to use so-called "offensive grenades," a stun weapon used as a last resort in these kinds of confrontations. A demonstrator, Rémi Fraisse, who belonged to the "peaceful" group and not the casseurs, was killed. The resulting outcry led to a review of the project by environment minister Ségolène Royal, who may or may not intervene to block or scale down what local authorities had finally agreed on.

In reacting to this affair, some commentators have spoken as though the tragic death of the young demonstrator forecloses all questions about the value of the project itself. It serves no purpose, they say, and will damage the environment, hence it should be ended. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the proposed dam does indeed serve a useful purpose, as local farmers attest. Whether that purpose outweighs actual and potential environmental damage is of course a question for debate, but it's not as if that debate hasn't occurred. It has been going on for twenty years, and the process ended in a decision whose conformity to the law no one disputes. There is, nevertheless, dispute about the influence exerted by various interests as the process unfolded. I'm not naive enough to think that these kinds of environmental reviews proceed in pristine purity. But still, the proper forms seem to have been observed, whatever one thinks of the process and its outcome.

The larger issue raised by this affair is the question of the authority of the state. If the national authorities overrule the local authorities in this instance, it will be a second major retreat in the face of violent opposition, the first being the withdrawal of the ecotax, which was initially approved by an overwhelming majority of deputies of all parties, resulting in a substantial expenditure of funds for highway monitoring equipment. But the Bonnets Rouges took care of all that in a few weeks by destroying several monitoring stations and confronting police. That was a loss for the environmental constituency, whose more violent adherents appear to have taken their vengeance in Sivens. If the state retreats again, which group might next be encouraged to try its hand at reversing by violence the result of due democratic deliberation? There has been a good deal of emotion around the death of Rémi Fraisse, but it's time for sober heads to reflect on how the general interest is best served.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ayrault at Harvard

For Boston area readers, ex-PM Jean-Marc Ayrault will be at Harvard this Wednesday. If you want to grill him about what's going on in France, this is your chance. Center for European Studies, 27 Kirkland St., Cambridge, 4:15-6 PM.

The Current State of France and Europe

A Public Address by H.E. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister of the Republic of France (2012-2014)
Jean-Marc Ayrault H.E Prime Minister of the Republic of France (2012-2014)
Commentary by Michael Ignatieff Former leader, of the Liberal Party of Canada; Professor of Practice, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
France today is under heavy pressure from its European partners to reform its social model and reduce its long-standing budget deficit. At the same time, many French citizens doubt that France can achieve sustainable growth by following an austerity program prescribed by what is perceived to be a German-led European Union. At this event, two former political leaders will discuss the politics of reform in France where social change has traditionally come about through crisis or revolution. This event is open to the public. (Note: Jean-Marc Ayrault will speak in French accompanied by an English translator.) With the support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States.

Jouyet Twisting Slowly in the Wind

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, after previously denying that Fillon had asked him to "strike quickly" at Sarkozy in the Bygmalion Affair (see previous post), has now admitted that this is indeed what he told reporters Fillon had said. He could hardly do otherwise, since the reporters had recorded his remarks, with his knowledge and consent. This simple fact makes his previous denial seem incredibly foolish, but of course having had this conversation with reporters in the first place was folly enough.

Jouyet is a seasoned public official, not a debutant. He is one of France's best and brightest, an alumnus of the same promotion Voltaire that gave us Hollande, Royal, Villepin, and so many other prominent political actors of the last several decades. How a man of his experience could have committed so many blunders in so short a time is baffling. But if I have to guess, Jouyet is now toast and will probably be gone by the end of the day, or at any rate the end of the week, even if he has been François Hollande's best friend ever since they were army buddies (along with Michel Sapin) back in the day.

In any case, the Elysée is now reeling. It was bad enough that Hollande's "face aux Français" exercise in rehabilitation failed dismally and only added to the mockery to which the chief executive has increasingly been subjected. Now the palace is accused, rightly or wrongly, of having engaged in an "attempted destabilization" of a leading figure of the opposition.

Fillon, of course, continues to deny that he said what Jouyet says he said, and it will be impossible to prove otherwise, since the only other person present at the now infamous lunch backs Fillon's version. The really perverse aspect of this affair is that it diverts attention from the actual enormity of the corruption in the UMP that is the real scandal here. The seriousness of the Bygmalion predations is such that the investigating authorities surely needed no prompting from anyone to pursue the case. But Sarkozy and Copé, who are at the heart of this affair, can now pose as victims of Socialist machinations.

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, whom I had always viewed as a competent bureaucrat and dedicated European, a protégé of Jacques Delors and longtime compagnon de route of François Hollande, who has served France under Jospin, Sarkozy, and now his old friend François, will very likely be forced out of government and end his career in ignominious disgrace. To be sure, he has only himself to blame. How could he have been so stupid?

And for the record, I would say that Fillon is also toast. How can UMP militants consider him as their presidential candidate now that what may have started as a convivial lunch between old friends and colleagues has been portrayed in the press as intelligence avec l'ennemi. I don't think he would have been the candidate in 2017 in any case, but Fillon's difficulties only strengthen the hand of Sarkozy, whose comeback had until the last few days seemed rather underwhelming. Now he has le vent en poupe and the perfect smoke screen with which to cover his own past errors.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Doesn't Anyone Here Know How to Play this Game?

There are moments when any observer of French politics must shake his head in disbelief. Today, Le Monde reveals that in June François Fillon sought a lunch with Jean-Pierre Jouyet, secretary-general of the Elysée, in order to tell him to "strike quickly" against Sarkozy by accelerating the investigation of wrongdoing in the Bygmalion affair. According to Jouyet's account, relayed to two Le Monde journalists in September, Jouyet took this request to Hollande (who had been informed of the lunch beforehand and insisted that it take place outside the Elysée), but the two men agreed that, of course (wink, wink), the judicial branch in France is independent and nothing, absolutely nothing, must be done to interfere.

This story raises any number of questions. If the executive is really as pristine as Jouyet suggests, then why did Fillon, who also knows a thing or two about the inner workings of government, make the request, knowing that if it became public it would make him look like a vindictive rival out to sink a feared opponent for the leadership of the UMP and the 2017 presidential candidacy? Why did Jouyet reveal this sensitive information to Le Monde? Why did Le Monde sit on the story for two months only to publish two weeks before the UMP leadership election. Why did the Le Monde reporters record their discussion with Jouyet, apparently without his knowledge, since he later denied what he told them? Who is manipulating whom and for what purpose in this affair?

I find it quite believable that Fillon, upon joining the triumvirate that replaced Copé as head of the party, was outraged by what he discovered of the Sarkozy-Copé depredations at the UMP. His desire for vengeance against Sarkozy is perfectly comprehensible. He might well have believed that Jouyet, one of those chameleon figures who was as comfortable serving Sarkozy or Jospin as he is serving Hollande, was the right conduit. Taking Sarkozy's own derisive view of him to heart, he might even have decided that de l'audace was precisely what he lacked to be worthy of the presidency, and contacting Jouyet was certainly an audacious move.

But what is Jouyet's game? Why did he talk to the press? And what is Le Monde's game? Why is it publishing now? Does it want to sink Fillon? To what end? To abet Juppé? To elect Bruno Le Maire as head of the UMP, on the theory that both Fillon and Sarkozy are discredited by these allegations? Everything about this affair points to the less savory features of the French political class: the connivance between politicians and journalists, the selective publication of information with timing suggesting occult ends, the betrayal of confidences (first by Jouyet, then presumably by Le Monde, which I have to think received Jouyet's information "off the record" yet recorded his words to back a carefully timed revelation several months later), etc.

To be sure, there is little enough confidence left in the country's political institutions anyway, but this episode only reinforces the partisans of tous pourris--and we know where that sort of thinking ends up. I am flabbergasted.

UPDATE: Fillon is suing the 2 journalists who broke the story in their book for slander. And they claim that they recorded Jouyet with his consent. Whether his remarks were supposed to be off the record or not remains unclear.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Face aux Français, pour faire quoi exactement?

Yesterday, President Hollande participated, probably against his better judgment but on the advice of his image handlers (and one has to pity them!), in an exercise that few presidents have managed well, even when not in a hole as deep as that in which Hollande finds himself. He submitted himself to the questions of four "ordinary Frenchmen" (actually 1 man and 3 women) carefully chosen by the management of TF1 to "represent" key issues (there was a small businesswoman, for example, and a representative of the "visible minorities," etc.). It was an exercise in futility.

Pierre Rosanvallon has written about the need for "proximity" in modern democracies. The media, especially the televisual media, create a false sense of intimacy between governors and governed, and people want to feel "accompanied" in their daily plight by those who are supposed to be solving their problems. Or so goes the theory. In seeming corroboration, the "representative" of the unemployed in yesterday's panel told the president she felt "abandoned," and of course he dutifully replied that she was not alone. Indeed, there she was, "accompanied" by the president himself under the klieg lights. It was really a rather surreal moment, though of course no less surreal than when the president defended himself against his ex-mistress's charge that he prefers "great restaurants" to greasy spoons. "No," M. Hollande protested to his questioner, "have you ever seen me in a great restaurant?" Probably not, since the questioner was the "representative" of the unemployed. In any case, Hollande went on to say, having represented the Corrèze for many years, he had visited all the bistros in Tulle many times to meet with voters. As if he spent all of the past 30 years in Tulle meeting with voters. The absurdity of the response was distressing, and if I were a bistro owner in Tulle I would feel rather insulted, since the president, even if he didn't call their establishments "greasy spoons," was clearly commending them as places good only for meeting with voters and not for flattering one's palate.

But enough. It's all too easy to mock the foolishness of the "grands de ce monde face au petit peuple" genre. What was even more distressing was the evident absence of consciousness on the president's part of why he is in this mess. He felt it necessary, apparently, to affirm his continued existence vis-à-vis Manuel Valls by announcing that Valls was merely carrying out policies conceived and desired by the president. It wasn't quite as peremptory as Chirac's "je décide, il exécute" dismissal of Sarkozy, but it was close, as commentators did not fail to note. In any case, Hollande had already made that point in a marathon press conference only a month ago, and he had nothing new to add. Rather than avail himself of an opportunity to explain the logic behind the direction he has chosen (we can take him at his word that it was his choice), which is not the direction he had promised to go during his campaign, he continued with his baffling predilection for announcing petty measures as if they were grand designs ("A tablet for every junior high student in France!" will probably not go down in history alongside Henri IV's "chicken in every pot", and in any case the tablets had already been promised by Benoît Hamon, whom Hollande recently fired from his job as education minister).

It was a performance that could only leave one still hoping for a resuscitation of French social democracy perplexed and sad. And what is one to say of a democracy in which the "representatives of the people" are chosen by TV news executives without the slightest justification of their "representativity?"

Friday, October 31, 2014

Scary Clowns Terrorizing France

No, this is not a story about the French government. My son Zach, who now writes for The Atlantic, stumbled onto this story about the spate of terror-clowns currently plaguing the French countryside. It's the latest French bizarrerie.

The Emerging Split in the Extreme Right

The deep cleavages in the mainstream parties have never been more apparent. Less obvious, however, is the emerging split in the extreme right. Alain Soral, together with his partner Dieudonné, wants to forge an alliance between right anarchists, his traditional stock-in-trade, and the young and angry shock troops of les banlieues. To do this, he is banking on "the new antisemitism" exemplified by Dieudonné, an antisemitism obsessed with the destruction of Israel (and therefore calling itself anti-Zionism) and eager to identify with radical Islamism and, lately, with the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS).

The Front National, on the other hand, has been trying to divest itself of Le Pen père's legacy of antisemitism, which Le Pen fille views as the principal impediment to the mainstreaming of her party and the last remaining obstacle on the road to actually taking power at the national level. Her foreign policy advisor Aymeric Chauprade has therefore written in support of the American bombing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, thus putting himself in Soral's sights. Soral, who wears a T-shirt emblazoned "Goy," has therefore attacked Chauprade as a "Zionist agent" and is agitating for his removal from his FN post.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Miracle of Loaves and Fishes

The institutions of the European Union work in wondrous ways. Last week the voice of doom thundered out of Brussels: "France, thou shalt explain why thou hast sinned against the Stability and Growth Pact." At first Michel Sapin denied that God had spoken, but then the First Vicar and President of the Republic admitted that He had, but that "it was nothing," just a friendly communication between sommités. This morning France announced that a miracle had indeed taken place over the weekend, and as a result of lower interest rates and some other hocus-pocus France's "structural deficit" had indeed fallen more than previously noted. And now, just a few hours later, word has it that the Lord on high has been mollified. France will not be sanctioned after all. Just as everyone predicted would happen after the divine throat clearing. And so we limp on for another year.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Perils of Victory

How much easier it was for the Socialists to be in opposition than to govern. The contradictions that have always riven the party were relatively muted--at least in the sense that un panier de crabes is mute. Now les éléphants, trumpeting loudly, are trampling one another to death. Or are they piranhas taking bites out of one another? Animal metaphors are endless, and poor J.-C. Cambadélis can no longer ignore the blood in the water: moments ago he issued a "solemn call" for "unity."

Yesterday, Hollande bestowed a medal on his prime minister, which gave him the opportunity to remark that the Republic always needs an homme de synthèse. He could not help snickering at his bon mot, since clearly he sees himself slipping once again into the comfortable middle-of-the-road, not too hot, not too cold, not too left, not too right role he played as party leader. It's his comfort zone.

Unfortunately he is now president of the Republic, and people expect him to lead rather than triangulate--or snicker at his own jokes. Aubry's weekend blast seems to have loosened other tongues. Benoît Hamon announced that the rightward turn of the party under Valls was a "threat to the Republic" that promised "an impending democratic catastrophe," a rather elaborate way of warning that the Front National is going to win more votes in 2017 than the PS. Everyone now takes this as a given. Who would have thought that victory in 2012 would lead to this Bérézina? Like Napoleon in Russia, the PS is discovering that apparent victory is sometimes a prelude to abject misery.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Europe Has No Foreign Policy, but Total Does

Christophe de Margerie, the CEO of the oil company Total, was killed yesterday when his airplane struck a snowplow on a Moscow runway, The accident throws an interesting light on Western threats to impose sanctions on Russia. Le Monde reveals that Margerie was in Moscow to discuss Total's investments. The firm's "ambition is to make Russia its primary zone of hydrocarbon production by 2020. Total is counting on Russia in order to compensate for decreased output in the North Sea."


The EU may not have a foreign policy, but Total does.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Après-Hollande Has Begun

The presidency of the Fifth Republic was conceived by its founder, Charles de Gaulle, on the model of the Jansenist Dieu caché, whose center is supposed to be everywhere and circumference nowhere (Pascal). François Hollande promised a different sort of presidency: he aspired, he said, to be un président normal. Undoubtedly he meant to contrast his ideal of the presidency with that of Nicolas Sarkozy (who had no center but whose circumference was ubiquitous) rather than that of de Gaulle. If so, he mistook his own intention, because Sarkozy, too, sought to be un président normal in the sense of a partisan political leader rather than an aloof arbiter standing above the partisan fray and governing sub specie aeternitatis.

Fate has not been kind to the normal presidency, however. Hollande's motorcades soon ceased to stop at traffic lights, for security reasons. He began to fly the presidential jet rather than take trains. He was photographed on the back of a motorscooter on his way to a tryst with an actress. His budget minister and trade minister resigned in the wake of scandal. The "normality" of Hollande's presidency came to mean simply this: that he was no more exemplary, modest, or disciplined than his predecessor. Alas.

And then he vanished. The nomination of Manuel Valls as prime minister placed a more dynamic and compelling figure at center stage. The subsequent appointment of Emmanuel Macron gave a new face to the "social-liberal/neoliberal turn" that Hollande had previously tried to sell under the "social-democratic" banner. This weekend, Hollande's old nemesis Martine Aubry emerged from obscurity to mount an all-out attack on the direction of Hollande's presidency, only to have the riposte come from Valls, as if the president himself were no longer a figure of sufficient consequence to parry the blow.

Hollande has the worst of both worlds. He bears full responsibility for the neoliberal turn of French socialism. Even though the prime minister has fully embraced the policy, he offers the president no protection. The prime minister as bouclier or lightning-rod--the Gaullist model of politics--is a model unsuited to the age of TV and Internet, in which the president becomes the embodied form of policy, the incarnation. Yet there is something oddly ectoplasmic about Hollande, which renders him unfit for the role of incarnation.

Nor can he retreat into the traditional chasse gardée of the presidency, foreign policy. Where he has intervened successfully--Mali, Central Africa--his successes are diminished by the global insignificance of the crises that led to his involvement. By contrast, where the action rises to global significance--Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine--his role is overshadowed by the American presence (or, in Ukraine, the German presence).

So the post-Hollande era has begun. Montebourg's candidacy is all but underway. Aubry has not broken her silence for nothing. Macron, already a media darling on the strength of all of three weeks of gaffe-marred ministerial experience, is openly being touted as a future prime minister under President Valls (an unlikely prospect, to be sure, but journalists must write about something). Ségolène Royal is giving away free weekend rides on the autoroutes in the hope of kindling a little presidential heat ("Why not make pastries free on Sundays?" quipped the UMP's Christian Jacob, who needs to resurrect himself now that his former savior Jean-François Copé has self-immolated).

One can almost feel sorry for François Hollande, left alone in his palace without companion or mistress, ignored by his countrymen, neglected by his peers, spurned by the press, upstaged by Merkel and Renzi, too colorless to attract even cartoonists and caricaturists, a man whose flaws are too trivial to rise to the level of the tragic, pitiable in his normality.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Second French Nobel

The French economist Jean Tirole has won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on regulating firms with market power. This follows Patrick Modiano's Nobel for literature. Even a non-chauvinist can say it's been a good week for France.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Il n'y a que le ridicule qui tue ...

France has enough trouble without this: a UMP deputy (male) has been sanctioned by Sandrine Mazetier (PS) for addressing her as "Madame le Président" rather than, as she prefers (but the Académie Française does not) Madame la Présidente:

«C'est Madame la présidente, ou il y a un rappel à l'ordre avec inscription au procès verbal», l'a averti la députée de Paris. Julien Aubert a persisté, affirmant qu'il ne faisait que suivre «l’Académie française» en disant «Madame le président», la féminisation se référant à la femme du président. Et a écopé d'un rappel à l'ordre.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Renzi Dares to Say What Hollande Won't

From the FT:

“I prefer to have a France with 4.4 per cent [debt-to-GDP ratio] today than a France with Marine Le Pen tomorrow. This is very important for Europe,” he added, referring to the leader of the far-right National Front.
“We must give a message of comprehension for countries with problems,” Mr Renzi said.

Gender Madness

A decade or so ago, when I translated L'Histoire des femmes, the French weren't sure they had a word for "gender" in their language. Genre now fills the role well enough that Le Monde can refer to "les 'antigenre"'in a headline without risk of being misunderstood. Among "les antigenre" we find such groups as "Vigi-Gender" and the Fédération des Parents Engagés et Courageux. Courageux enough to invent an imaginary enemy of homosexuals and feminists allegedly bent on "destroying the family" and "effacing traditional gender roles." A sinister feature of this movement is the way it has brought together elements of the extreme right with representatives of the immigrant community (consider the strange alliance between Alain Soral and Farida Belghoul, for example). The movement seems to be gaining steam, drawing on hidden networks flourishing on social media, and is now ready, it seems, to move into the schoolhouse and demand direct action.

Du rififi chez les Chirac

Monsieur favors Juppé, Madame is for Sarkozy. Daughter Claude is engaged in shuttle diplomacy. What a touching spectacle of family discord. One can imagine the scene. After all, cher Alain, le meilleur d'entre nous, took a bullet for his boss back in the day and suffered a criminal conviction, ineligibility for several years, and exile in snowy Canada for his trouble. Bad boy Sarko may have called papa un roi fainéant, but before that he nearly became the son-in-law and no doubt flattered the often-deceived Bernadette as bad boys are known to do with susceptible mothers when suspicious prospective fathers-in-law are overly protective of their precious offspring.

Will any of it matter in the end? Probably not. Let's not forget that Chirac all but endorsed Hollande in 2012, while Bernadette was even then with Sarkozy. I don't think they swayed many votes. But everyone likes a soap opera--so much more diverting than the problems of the euro or the competitiveness of French industry.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sarkozy vs. Juppé

Among my French friends, the working assumption today is that the Left has no chance of winning the presidency in 2017, hence the important battle is for the nomination of the UMP, since my friends also assume that Marine Le Pen will make it to the second round but cannot win the presidency. For the sake of argument, let's grant these two assumptions (though both are open to challenge). What will happen on the Right?

It seems clear that Sarkozy will win the presidency of the UMP, despite a strong challenge from Bruno Le Maire. Sarkozy's support among the rank-and-file of Sarkonostalgics is simply too strong to overcome. His support among voters at large, however, is much weaker than among UMP militants, so the next obstacle becomes the organization of the UMP primary, to which Sarkozy has now committed himself (after some initial hesitation). Who will be allowed to vote? The party, emulating the Socialist success with an open primary, committed itself to follow suit, but the devil is in the details, and a Sarko in charge of the party apparatus will surely attempt to tailor the rules in his favor.

Sarkozy's second trump card is Juppé's age, of which he has already begun to make an issue. There is also Juppé's conviction for corruption, but as Juppé himself points out, Sarkozy is hardly in a position to claim clean hands in the matter of campaign financing. Juppé's fondest hope, in fact, is that the courts will deal Sarko a KO. Things are moving rather rapidly in the Bygmalion case, but none of the many affairs in which Sarkozy is involved is likely to reach a conclusion before he is elected party leader. So there is a tricky passage ahead.

Then there is the question of platforms. How exactly will Juppé differentiate himself from the "recentered" Sarkozy? Patrick Buisson, the man responsible for Sarko's droitisation in 2012, threatens to reveal any number of dark secrets from his devil's kitchen:

Il a cru me tuer. Il va voir que je ne suis pas mort. Ah, il va voir ce qu’il va voir !
Indeed, Buisson goes so far as to predict that Sarkozy will be obliged to stand aside as candidate:
Il ne pourra pas se présenter devant les Français en 2017, il ne pourra pas même se présenter à la primaire. Il fait système avec François Hollande.
 Today we learn that Chirac has endorsed Juppé (no surprise there). Will this carry any weight with UMP militants or simply remind them, as Sarkozy observes, that Juppé was prime minister 20 years ago and not exactly a harbinger of a more radiant tomorrow?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The "Illiterate" Working Class

In his first interview, Emmanuel Macron tripped over his silver tongue d'énarque. Evoking the difficulties of workers at the troubled Gad meatpacking plant in Brittany, he noted that the advice that employees likely to lose their jobs seek work elsewhere was impractical because in order to travel to nearby factory towns, they would need driver's licenses, which are costly to obtain in France (as much as €1500), and in any case, many of these workers are women and "illiterate" (or more precisely "unlettered"--illettrées as opposed to analphabètes). Macron no doubt thought he was commiserating with the plight of these malheureuses rather than insulting them, but even if their knowledge of Racine and Grevisse is deficient, they're sufficiently literate to decipher the colloquy between the indéboulonnable J.-P. Elkabbach and the Boy Wonder of Bercy and to recognize that the word illettrées expressed, if not contempt for their status, at best a condescension unbecoming in a minister of the Republic. Macron quickly made amende honorable before the chamber of the Assembly, but the damage was done.

Yet the new minister, however insensitive, was not entirely wrong, it seems, about the literary capacities of the Gad work force:
Selon le député du Finistère Gwenegan Bui, la proportion de salariés dans cette situation dans l’usine Gad de Lampaul-Guimiliau serait d’environ 20 % (contre 7 % en moyenne en France), rapporte leMonde. Cela crée des problèmes de reclassement. Emmanuel Marcon décrit une réalité qui existe.
Je défie quiconque aujourd’hui de dire précisément ce qu’est un illettré. Un analphabète n’a pas appris à écrire et à lire : là au moins la situation est nette. Certains dits-illettrés savent rédiger des lettres mais font des fautes. C’est ce qui fera qu’on les qualifiera d’illettrés. Cette catégorie n’est pas très sérieusement définie. On présuppose par ailleurs qu’il y a un lien direct, de cause à effet, entre le fait de ne pas avoir les bonnes qualifications et la perte d’emploi ou la difficulté à en trouver. On occupe la jeunesse au chômage depuis très longtemps par la formation, c’est une solution d’attente, qui peut parfois être utile. Quand dans les années 70, le chômage s’est installé de manière structurelle, les pouvoirs publics ont répondu au problème par le retour à la formation. C’est à cette époque qu’a émergé la notion d’illettrisme. On a inversé la causalité. Le moment où l’on a commencé à observer des gens qui avaient des problèmes à l’écrit – une cause d’échec scolaire – correspond au moment d’apparition du chômage. Les mines et les usines sidérurgiques ferment. Les formateurs disent des chômeurs qu’on leur envoie : ‘ils ont du mal à lire et à écrire’. Le chômage a été une condition de mise en évidence de l’illettrisme, mais on a fini par en faire une des causes du chômage. Il y a de nombreux emplois pour lesquels être fort en orthographe n’est pas très important. Les “illettrés” avec un emploi sont des citoyens comme les autres, qui payent leurs impôts. Mais au moment où ils perdent leur emploi, on commence à rendre leur illettrisme responsable de leur situation. Et certains discours ont laissé entendre que les dits “illettrés” ne seraient pas des citoyens comme les autres.

This incident is thus revealing. The new technocrat on the block is clearly well informed, but his knowledge of the Gad dossier, which he was so eager to show off to the veteran interviewer, who had not asked him about it, betrayed the sensibility that has done so much harm to the Socialist Party. The minister knows his numbers but not his people. He has been too long in Paris and sees the remote provinces only through the wrong end of the statistical telescope. He knows the problem, he may even have ideas about how to solve it, but he can't explain it to the "illiterates" he wants to help. The Good Samaritan is hoist by his own petard.

Manifesto of ENS Socialist Section

This manifesto by the PS section at the Ecole Normale Supérieure makes some good points and some less good ones, but this diagnosis of the party's ills strikes me as accurate:
D’abord celle des années 80, quand, aux élites intello-militantes formées dans les années 60 –les Joxe, Rocard, Chevènement, Jospin–, succèdent les techno-élites à la Hollande-Sapin, fils de leur temps et de l’ENA. Eduquées dans l’ombre du pouvoir mitterrandien, qu’ont-elles retenu du vieux Sphinx, qu’elles singent à grand peine et sur la tombe duquel elles se prosternent encore régulièrement? La vanité de toute ambition politique face au réel qui, lui, ne ment pas; la patience de l’alternance; les accommodements avec le pire des institutions de la Ve République; la conviction que toute difficulté est soluble dans la technique administrative; la pratique du double langage et de la langue de bois; le goût des intrigues de palais et des combinaisons de congrès. Pour cette génération sans histoire ni ego, la politique, c’est durer.

Pour la génération des élites communicantes grandies sous le jospinisme triomphant, une bonne politique est avant tout une succession de coups médiatiques réussis.
La génération suivante, celle des élites communicantes grandies sous le jospinisme triomphant, considère elle qu’une bonne politique est avant tout une succession de coups médiatiques réussis. A ses yeux, le 21 avril 2002 est d’abord le résultat d’une communication défaillante. Peu soucieuse de s’affranchir de ses aînés, préférant le buzz et les plans com des spin doctors aux controverses idéologiques, elle s’est soumise avec délice aux exigences des nouveaux médias, réseaux sociaux et chaînes d’info en continu. Pour la génération des années 90, tout en surface, la politique, c’est raconter de jolies histoires.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The FN Conquers New Territory

Le Monde today has an interesting piece on the FN's inroads in Normandy, a part of France in which I've just spent several days. As in other regions of France, the FN did well in Sunday's senatorial elections in this region, capturing the votes not only of its own few grands électeurs but also of others not formally affiliated with the party. This suggests not only that traditional anti-FN taboos (associated with Catholicism and trade unionism) are breaking down but also that the FN is reaping the benefit of a broad rejection of "the system" supposedly represented by the mainstream parties of left and right. "System" of course means an amalgam of capitalism, globalization, the EU, the euro, US dominance, borders open to trade and immigration, etc.

In La Manche, where I was staying, the FN leader is Fernand Le Rachinel, a printer and meilleur ouvrier de France. In conversation around the dinner table, I was interested to hear that Le Rachinel presents himself not as an extreme right ideologue but as a political fixer in the classic big-city politician mold--except that he operates in a rural region, one of the world's most beautiful countrysides, where cows graze peacefully in impeccable green fields and the largest industry is the manufacture of butter and cheese. "If you have a problem, Le Rachinel will take you by the arm and offer to solve it," one resident told me. He is everyone's best friend, the region's Godfather. This is retail politics, and it works where soaring speeches about the need to build a unified Europe and make the world safe from terrorism do not. There are lessons here for the mainstream parties, but they don't seem to be learning them.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Une semaine en France

I've been in France for a week and have somehow managed to avoid much discussion of politics. The country certainly looks less morose than it is said to be: the restaurants are full, the gardens are manicured, the shops look prosperous. Appearances are deceiving, to be sure, and the beautiful Indian summer surely helped, but the atmosphere is not charged with crisis. I did catch bits of the president's marathon news conference, Castro-like in length if not in passion. Hollande no doubt hoped it would reaffirm his authority or at least remind his countrymen that he exists. He failed. The headlines the next day were about the Scottish referendum and, more ominously for Hollande, Sarkozy's comeback.

Lying on my bed in a "hotel of charm" in the Vexin, I tried to fathom Hollande's problem as I faded in and out of sleep. His soporific effect is surely among his handicaps: he is one of the worst public speakers I can remember, numbing in his rhythms and utterly lacking in the ability to project affect or conviction. Whether the subject is computers in the classroom or waging war on ISIS, his tone never varies. The job is hard, he said several times. No one doubted him. He, too, was disappointed in the lack of results but full of confidence that relief was just around the corner. Something would turn up. Meanwhile, Paris Match (provided free with my Hertz rental) featured "Love Story in San Francisco," a gauzy spread on the new affair between ex-ministers Montebourg and Filipetti, no doubt arranged by Montebourg's media consultants as Step 2 in his Plan to Claim the Presidency in 2017--following the Sarkozy model of the coup d'éclat followed by the carefully photographed amourette.

On the right, the maneuvering has begun in earnest. Various knights-errant have pledged fealty to Sarkozy, while Juppé courts support more quietly and hopes that the courts and the judges will take care of Sarkozy. There is little policy discussion from any quarter of the political landscape. Le Point published a puff piece on Francois Rebsamen, who is charged with the revision of the labor code, but beyond keeping closer tabs on the unemployed, what he intends to do wasn't clear.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Antisemitism in France: A Strange Report from Le Monde

Le Monde today reports a "sharp increase in antisemitism" since the beginning of this year, but the accompanying graph paints a different picture:


A more balanced way of presenting the data would be to say that overt acts of antisemitism have decreased sharply since the early 2000s, with a mild uptick in the first half of this year. Frankly, these numbers are rather encouraging, since the last nine months have seen both the Dieudonné affair and the protests against the war in Gaza. Of course, counting overt acts of antisemitism (vandalism, attacks, etc.) does not tell the whole story, but these numbers give the lie to the assertion that there has been a marked deterioration in the situation in France in recent years. Quite the contrary.

Monday, September 8, 2014

7 of 25 "Brightest Young Economists" Are French

According to the IMF

1. Nicholas Bloom, 41, British, Stanford University, uses quantitative research to measure and explain management practices across firms and countries. He also researches the causes and consequences of uncertainty and studies innovation and information technology.
2. Amy Finkelstein, 40, American, MIT, researches the impact of pub- lic policy on health care systems, government intervention in health insurance markets, and market failures.
3. Raj Chetty, 35, Indian and American, Harvard University, received his Ph.D. at age 23. He combines empirical evidence and economic theory to research how to improve government pol- icy decisions in areas such as tax policy, unemployment insurance, education, and equality of opportunity.
4. Melissa Dell, 31, American, Harvard, examines poverty and insecurity through the relationship between state and non-state actors and economic development, and studies how reforms such asgovernment crackdowns on drug violence can influence economic outcomes.
5. Kristin Forbes, 44, American, Bank of England and MIT, has held positions in both academia and the economic policy sphere, where she applies her research to policy questions related to international macroeconomics and finance.
6. Roland Fryer, 37, American, Harvard, focuses on the social and political economics of race and inequality in the United States. His research investigates economic disparity through the development of new economic theory and the implementation of randomized experiments.
7. Xavier Gabaix, 43, French, New York University (NYU), has researched behavioral economics,finance, and macro- economics, including corporate executives' compensation levels and asset pricing.
8. Gita Gopinath, 42, American and Indian, Harvard, studies international macroeconomics and trade with a focus on sovereign debt, the response of international prices to exchange rate movements, and the rapid shifts in relative value among world currencies.
9. Esther Duflo, 42, French and American, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Jameel Poverty Action Lab, focuses on microeconomic issues in developing economies, including household behavior, education, access to finance, health, and policy evaluation.
10. Matthew Gentzkow, 39, American, University of Chicago, applies micro- economic empirical methods to the economics of the news media, including the economic forces driving the creation of media products, the media and the digital environment, and the media's effect on education and civic engagement.
11. Emmanuel Farhi, 35, French, Harvard, is a macroeconomist who focuses on monetary economics, international economics, finance and public finance, including research on global imbalances, monetary and fiscal policy, and taxation.
12. Oleg Itskhoki, 31, Russian, Princeton University, specializes in macroeconomics and international economics with a focus on globalization, inequality and labor market out- comes, international relative prices and exchange rates, and macroeconomic policy in open economies.
13. Hélène Rey, 44, French, London Business School, focuses on the determinants and consequences of external trade and financial imbalances, the theory of financial crises, and the organization of the international monetary system.
14. Emmanuel Saez, 41, French and American, University of California, Berkeley, is recognized for using both theoretical and empirical approaches to income inequality and tax policy.
15. Jonathan Levin, 41, American, Stanford, is an expert on industrial organization and microeconomic theory, specifically on the economics of contracting, organizations, and market design.
16. Atif Mian, 39, Pakistani and American, Princeton, studies the connections between finance and the macro economy. He is coauthor of the critically acclaimed House of Debt, which builds on powerful new data to describe how debt precipitated the Great Recession and continues to threaten the global economy.
17. Emi Nakamura, 33, Canadian and American, Columbia University, is a macroeconomist whose fields of research include monetary and fiscal policy, business cycles, finance, exchange rates, and macreconomic measurement.
18. Nathan Nunn, 40, Canadian, Harvard, focuses his research on economic history, economic development, political econ- omy and international trade. Of particular interest is the long-term impact of historic events such as slave trade and colonial rule on economic development.
19. Parag Pathak, 34, American, MIT, played a role in apply- ing engineering approaches to microeconomics. His research focuses on market design, education and urban economics.
20. Thomas Philippon, 40, French, NYU, studies the interactions of finance and macroeconomics: risk premia and corporate investment, financial crisis and systemic risk, and the evolution of financial intermediation.
21. Amit Seru, 40, Indian, University of Chicago, researches financial intermediation and regulation as well as issues related to corporate finance, including resource allocation within and between firms, and organizational incentives.
22. Amir Sufi, 37, American, University of Chicago, is coauthor of House of Debt. He studies links between finance and the macro economy, including the effect of house prices on spending and the effect of corporate finance on investment.
23. Iván Werning, 40, Argentine, MIT, is a macroeconomist who aims to improve tax and unemployment insurance policies via theoretical economic models. As well as optimal taxation, he studies stabilization and monetary policy, including macroprudential policy.
24. Justin Wolfers, 41, Australian and American, Peterson Institute for International Economics and University of Michigan (on leave), studies labor economics, macroeconomics, political economy, law and economics, social policy, and behavioral economics. In addition to his research, Wolfers is a columnist for The New York Times.
25. Thomas Piketty, 43, French, Paris School of Economics, is known for his research, with Emmanuel Saez, on the distribution of income and wealth. His bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, argues that global inequality will increase because the rate of capital return in developed economies is higher than the rate of economic growth, exacerbating wealth inequality..