Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Valls Plays Poker

Valls seems took a big chance yesterday. His majority is slim, a mere 30-odd votes, but he knew he had the votes and therefore delivered a firm message. Le Nouvel Obs thinks he won big; Le Monde draws the opposite conclusion. The former liked his style; the latter counted the votes and took the measure of the anxiety on the Left, coming to the conclusion that Hollande was "disavowed," but still the PS refused to commit suicide by turning out its own prime minister. I think Le Monde has it right.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How Many Socialists Will Vote against the Valls Plan?

Anywhere from 20 to 100, it seems. Les Échos has the majority "on the verge of nervous breakdown":

Deux lectures de la déroute des municipales s’affrontent en fait depuis des semaines. Pour les opposants au plan Valls, cette claque électorale est d’abord due au non- respect des promesses de « changement » faites par François Hollande pendant la campagne présidentielle. Et doit donc s’en suivre un coup de barre à gauche et un refus de l’austérité et des contraintes « imposées » par Bruxelles. Pour le pouvoir et les ténors du PS, la Berezina du 30 mars s’explique avant tout par une absence de résultats sur le front économique et social. D’où la nécessité d’accélérer et non de remettre en cause la politique menée, en misant tout sur la baisse des charges et de la fiscalité pour relancer la machine. Deux visions peu conciliables.

An Airbus of Energy?

Just as Alstom was about to sell its energy-related operations to the American conglomerate GE, a counteroffer has come from the German conglomerate Siemens. The news is a great relief to economy minister Arnaud Montebourg because ... well, you know, no French minister likes to see a mismanaged French firm sold off the the Yanks, whereas selling it off to the Boches can be characterized as "a victory for Europe." To skeptics who might be tempted to say that what's at work here is a political as opposed to an economic logic--a political logic that may actually cost more French jobs than it saves, since there are labor redundancies with Siemens' operations that apparently don't exist with GE ... well, that would be a churlish objection to raise at a time when smiles are de rigueur in high Parisian policy circles.

So let's hope for the best in the best of all possible worlds. An Airbus of Energy and an Airbus of Transport! What a fine Franco-German synergy. The hastiness with which this new offer was thrown together suggests that there may be more than a few bumps in the road ahead, especially considering past difficulties in industrial arrangments with Siemens (regarding Areva, for example). But for now, the American wolf has been repelled from the door. Vive la France and cocorico!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Food Consumption Patterns in France, UK, and US

An interesting comparison. (h/t Mark Thoma)

Copé: Can You Feel the Love?

Jean-François Copé seems to have a lot enemies in his own party:

Le hic, c'est que l'opinion publique n'est pas la seule à se défier de lui. Ceux qui le fréquentent de près ne l'apprécient pas plus. Au sein de son propre parti, la plupart de ses concurrents, ces quadras qui étaient autrefois ses amis, le vouent aux gémonies. Ils critiquent pêle-mêle son "manque de conviction", son côté "clanique", sa "brutalité dans les rapports humains", son "rapport lacunaire à la morale".Son égocentrisme forcené aussi, qu'amis comme ennemis pointent du doigt. Une blague assez édifiante court sur lui dans les cénacles UMP : "Copé vous invite à déjeuner. Sur une heure, il passe cinquante-cinq minutes à parler de lui et les cinq dernières, il vous dit : "Allez, parle-moi de toi : qu'est-ce que tu penses de moi ?""

Friday, April 25, 2014

French TV Refuses to Broadcast EU Election Debates

This is scandalous, I think:
« C'est un enjeu qui dépasse les frontières françaises et Internet est le meilleur média pour diffuser ce débat » justifie de son côté France Télévisions, qui semble avoir peur de faire un mauvais score en audience.
« La logique d’audience est plus forte que la nécessité d’ouvrir le débat européen. Mais c’est un coup de pouce aux votes extrémistes, qui prospèrent notamment en raison de l’absence de débat sur l’Europe ! » s’exclame Henri Lastenouse, en charge de la campagne Plus d’Europe à la télé.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

PIketty cartonne!

It's been interesting to watch the fortunes of French economist Thomas Piketty's Le capital au 21e siècle since its publication in France last September. I'm well placed to do so, since I'm the book's English translator. The French version has sold well from the start. For the past 78 days straight, it has been on the Top 100 list of amazon.fr. But today, for the first time, it hit no. 1 in France, as news of Piketty's astonishing success in the United States returned to French shores. It's as if France was awaiting validation of its latest intellectual superstar by the tough American audience.

In the United States, success came swiftly. Two Nobel prizewinners wrote glowing reviews: Paul Krugman and Robert Solow. A third Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, praised the book during a public appearance with Piketty at CUNY. Economist Brad DeLong sums up the burgeoning discussion of the book here. This is the first Harvard University Press book to make the New York Times bestseller list since the 1990s.

I'm pleased to be associated with this important book and congratulate Thomas on his well-deserved recognition.

Pauvre François

The president is in such trouble that he can't even lay a wreath in memory of Jaurès without getting booed, jeered, and attacked by a tenacious woman in the crowd  (watch the video at the link) who tells him "You haven't kept your promises, Mr. President." Socialist nostalgia is no longer operative; the restive masses would like to see some actual socialist practice.

French Regulations Drive Netflix to Luxembourg

France asked too much of Netflix, so the streaming video service went to Luxembourg instead.

Bons élèves, les dirigeants de Netflix se sont tout de même donné la peine d’entamer des négociations avec Aurélie Filippetti et le CSA : les règles françaises étant issues d’un décret et pas de la loi, un infime espoir subsistait de voir le Ministère de la Culture assouplir le cadre réglementaire en échange de la promesse de financements supplémentaires pour les productions françaises originales et, bien sûr, d’importantes rentrées fiscales.
Peine perdue : la bonne volonté des Américains s’est heurtée à l’intransigeance française, comme l’illustrent les déclarations martiales d’Aurélie Filippetti, qui assurait, en début d’année, que Netflix devrait“se plier à nos régulations”.

Taliban at Ecology: Minister Royal Bans Décolleté?

She denies it, but Le Point insists that Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal has banned décolleté at work.

Her sister minister, Marisol Touraine:


La ministre de la Santé Marisol Touraine a réagi, expliquant que dans son ministère "toutes les femmes et tous les hommes ont le sens de la mission qui est la leur et spontanément adoptent des tenues descentes", et que, l'été, "des décolletés légers ne [lui] posent aucun problème".
No one at Ecology can have a private office, including top advisor Jean-Louis Bianco. And Ségo has stopped kissing the cheeks of her colleagues now that she's in charge, contenting herself with a handshake.

More at Rue89:
Au ministère de l’Ecologie, raconte Le Point, Ségolène Royal aurait donné des consignes... strictes à ses collaborateurs.
  • porter des tenues décentes, avec « interdiction des décolletés » ;
  • se lever au passage de la ministre, « précédée d’un huissier qui l’annonce » quand elle se déplace dans les locaux ;
  • s’abstenir de fumer en sa présence, dans la cour et le jardin ;
  • « ne pas emprunter le couloir adjacent » à son salon quand elle y déjeune (ça fait trop de bruit) ;
  • partager son bureau avec au moins un collègue ;
  • en ce qui concerne le chauffeur de Frédéric Cuvillier : dormir ailleurs qu’au ministère quand le secrétaire d’Etat aux Transports n’est pas à Paris.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Historical Paris

A nice commentary on the Charles Marville show at the Met by Lauren Elkin.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bruno Le Roux Gives a Lesson in Langue de Bois

Bruno Le Roux, who has the thankless job of heading the Socialist group in the National Assembly, tries to explain why, although his group dislikes the Hollande-Valls policy, can't do much to change it, and is worried about its effects on their political ambitions, they will nevertheless perform their expected function of godillots fidèles:

Dans quel état est le groupe socialiste après la défaite des municipales, le remaniement et les épisodes qui ont suivi ?Bruno Le Roux : C'est un groupe qui est toujours dans la réflexion sur les causes de la défaite et le message des électeurs. Il y a une grande conscience qu'il faut continuer, redresser le pays. Ce courage, ça fait partie du logiciel de la gauche. Dans le même temps, il a envie de participer encore plus à la mise en oeuvre de cette politique, à sa définition, de soutenir en réfléchissant et en participant encore plus.

Don't you love that promise to offer "support while reflecting and participating more than ever"? And "This courage is an integral part of the software of the left." Translation: Yeah, you're right, they're screwing us over, but we'll suck it up as we've always done and seize any opportunity we can find."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hollande Ties His Fate to the Unemployment Curve

François Hollande says he won't run in 2017 if employment has not decreased by then (he didn't say by how much, however):
Les syndicalistes de Michelin ont eu droit, vendredi 18 avril, à une première. C'est en partageant un déjeuner avec eux, à Clermont-Ferrand, que le chef de l'Etat a lâché cette drôle de confidence : « Si le chômage ne baisse pas d'ici à 2017, je n'ai ou aucune raison d'être candidat, ou aucune chance d'être réélu. »

Friday, April 18, 2014

Morelle Resigns

Another nail in François Hollande's coffin? His close advisor and longtime friend Aquilino Morelle has resigned under fire, despite his having mounted a vigorous defense against Médiapart's accusation that he was involved in a conflict of interest because he consulted to drug companies while employed by the state agency charged with regulating them. Morelle claims he respected all the rules governing such outside work, but even if true, the "optics" of the situation were just disastrous for a regime already haunted by the Cahuzac affair, which lingered on for months as the accused vehemently denied all charges, even before the National Assembly, only to resign in even greater ignominy than when the truth was finally established. So, lesson learned: the story had barely broken when the new head of the Socialist Party began to hint that Morelle would have to go. Morelle posted his denial on Facebook, but today he resigned. And no doubt he was told to walk the plank.

Moi, président: everyone remembers François Hollande's anaphoric litany of all the things that would change when he was elected to replace Nicolas Sarkozy. France would defy the German insistence on austerity; unemployment would begin to decrease; the budget deficit would disappear; and exemplary behavior would become the norm at the top levels of government. It's all ashes now.

Governing is hard. There's no shame in making decisions that turn out to be wrong in the face of massive uncertainty, conflicting advice, and expert disagreement. Even in matters of ethics there are gray areas. But it should be obvious to any schoolchild that consulting to an industry you're supposed to be regulating crosses an ethical line. The only surprise is that this transgression took so long to surface.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Does Austerity Mean?

Good piece.

Le Monde Backs Valls' Turn to Austerity

Le Monde takes the view that critics (like me) of Valls' "courageous" insistence on shrinking the bloated French state despite persistent recession are lamentable and pathetic, unwilling to face reality, etc.
Bref, dès qu’il s’agit de réduire – ou plus exactement de tenter de réduire – les dépenses de l’Etat, des collectivités locales ou de l’Etat-providence, ce n’est jamais ni le bon moment, ni la bonne méthode, ni la bonne politique. Toujours moins, implorent les uns ; toujours plus, réclament les autres.
Le Monde, in short, is playing the role aptly dubbed by Paul Krugman that of The Very Serious Person (VSP). In the blogosphere, this tactic is known as "concern trolling." We are deeply concerned, intones the newspaper of record, that those who are screaming cris d'orfraie at the latest turn of the austerity screw, do not realize what an unconscionable burden they would have us leave to generations still unborn from now until eternity.

Duly noted. Nevertheless, je persiste et signe: this is a stupid policy, it demonstrates both lack of economic understanding and lack of fortitude, it plays into the hands of the political extremes, it further disconcerts and disorients the left electorate, and it fails to address the real difficulties of the French economy.

On TV last night, Valls angrily responded to a question about pressure from the European Commission by saying "France is a sovereign nation." Like Hollande, he avoids exploring or explaining his actual economic analysis by treating "debt" as a moral rather than an economic category. He does not explain why a debt of 97% of GDP is an intolerable burden for future generations while a debt of 80% of GDP is not. He avoids detail about the precise timing of the various receipts and outlays he proposes to tamper with. He discusses. legitimately enough, the need for reform of the state but fails to say a word about the need for reform in the private sector and how the state might encourage it--and this is the crux of the matter.

France has been slower than some of its European partners to react to changes in the global marketplace and shifting factor supplies and prices. The challenge for the government is to lead a transformation that it cannot control in detail: dirigisme's day is over, but the government still has a role to play in guiding the restructuring of the private sector. A true leader would be able to articulate a vision of the "social market economy" of the future rather than simply invoke it as a slogan. Valls appears to think that he can get by by putting a tough face on a continuation of the status quo. It won't work.

Socialist Style: The Imelda Marcos of the Elysée

Aquilino Morelle, a close advisor of the president, has been a figure in the PS for quite some time. This could be the beginning of yet another major scandal:
La première fois que David Ysebaert a ciré les chaussures d’Aquilino Morelle, c’était au Bon marché, dans le VIIearrondissement de Paris. Il lui a laissé sa carte. Et quelques semaines plus tard, raconte le cireur, « une femme, probablement sa secrétaire, m’a appelé pour prendre rendez-vous ». Au Palais même. Depuis, tous les deux mois environ, « le temps de garantie pour un glaçage », il revient à l’Élysée s’occuper des souliers du conseiller politique de François Hollande, également directeur de sa communication.« Aquilino Morelle a 30 paires de souliers de luxe faites sur-mesure, pour son pied qui a une forme particulière. Des Davison, des Weston… Des chaussures de plein cuir toujours du même style. »
...
Au même moment, Aquilino Morelle travaille pour un laboratoire danois, Lundbeck. Un dirigeant du laboratoire de l’époque raconte :« Il nous avait été recommandé par un professeur de l’AP-HP (Assistance publique hôpitaux de Paris). Son profil était séduisant. On s’est rencontrés. Il m’a dit qu’il cherchait à travailler pour l’industrie pharmaceutique, qu’il avait du temps libre, que son travail à l’IGAS ne lui prenait que deux jours sur cinq, ce qui m’a semblé bizarre. Mais son profil et son carnet d’adresses nous intéressaient. »
Pour le compte du laboratoire, l’inspecteur de l’IGAS organise deux rendez-vous avec des membres du CEPS (comité économique des produits de santé), cet organisme chargé de fixer le prix des médicaments et les taux de remboursement. « Il nous a ouvert des portes, raconte le dirigeant. Et c’est un enjeu majeur : nous permettre d’aller défendre notre dossier auprès de la bonne personne. On cherchait à stabiliser le prix du seroplex, un anti-dépresseur. »

Here is Morelle's defense:



DROIT DE REPONSE A MEDIAPART

Je suis suffisamment au fait de la vie politique pour ne pas m’émouvoir de la charge dont je viens d’être l’objet. Je veux néanmoins apporter ici des réponses précises à ces allégations.

1. Le droit et les faits.

Docteur en médecine, ancien interne des hôpitaux de Paris et ancien élève de l'ENA, je suis inspecteur général des affaires sociales. Comme tout fonctionnaire de l’Etat, j’ai la possibilité de demander à être placé en position dite de « disponibilité » pour exercer une activité dans le secteur privé, comme salarié ou pour créer une entreprise.

C’est ce que j’ai fait à partir du 1er avril 2003. J’ai alors été engagé par la société Euro RSCG C et O, spécialisée dans le conseil en communication.

J’ai respecté toutes les règles et toutes les procédures, en particulier le passage devant la Commission de déontologie.

J’ai transmis à la Commission un dossier complet, indiquant les fonctions qui devaient m’être confiées. Celle-ci a rendu un avis favorable, sans aucune réserve, à l’inverse de ce qu’elle fait parfois.

J’ai donc été engagé avec pour mission de développer une activité « corporate santé » au sein de l’agence. Il s’agissait de travailler dans l’ensemble du domaine de la santé, du champ social de façon plus large, mais aussi dans tous les secteurs de la vie économique, en fonction des dossiers auxquels l’équipe de direction souhaitait m’associer.

Ce fut notamment le cas, à 3 ou 4 reprises dans mon souvenir, pour des laboratoires, soit déjà clients de l’agence, soit au cours d’appels d’offre -qu’ils aient été remportés ou perdus.

J’ai travaillé sur les dossiers qui m’ont été confiés par mes supérieurs hiérarchiques. Etant médecin de formation, il était logique que me soient notamment attribuées des missions supposant une connaissance des problématiques de santé.

Au cours de ce passage dans cette agence, un de ses clients, le laboratoire Lilly, a apprécié mon travail. Aussi, après mon départ de l’agence, les dirigeants de ce laboratoire m’ont-ils proposé de continuer notre collaboration.

C’est à cette fin que j’ai créé l’Eurl Morelle, immatriculée au registre du commerce et des sociétés le 15 mai 2006, société au capital de 1.000 euros, et dont j'étais l'unique actionnaire.

Cette entreprise unipersonnelle n'a eu de réalité économique que pendant deux exercices, 2006 et 2007. En 2008 et les années suivantes, l'entreprise n'a plus eu aucune activité et, donc, aucun chiffre d'affaires. C'est pourquoi elle a été radiée d'office le 15 mars 2013 par le greffe du tribunal de commerce de Paris.

En 2006, mon unique client a été le laboratoire Lilly. Le contrat de conseil a été conclu pour la période du 02 juin 2006 au 15 décembre 2006, pour un montant total de 37.500 euros HT.

A la fin de l’année 2006, j’ai décidé de réintégrer l’IGAS. Aussi, dans cette perspective, j’ai anticipé la cessation d’activité de l’Eurl en demandant à mon frère d’assurer la fonction de gérant.

Cette fonction ne nécessitait évidemment aucune compétence particulière en matière « d’expertise sanitaire ».

J’ai réintégré mon corps d’origine le 1er mars 2007.

En tant que fonctionnaire, un certain nombre d’activités annexes sont autorisées par la loi, dont l’enseignement et le conseil.

C’est à ce titre que je suis professeur associé à l’Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne depuis octobre 2003 et que j’ai aussi enseigné quelques années à Sciences Po Paris, comme beaucoup de hauts fonctionnaires. C’est aussi dans ce cadre que j’ai accepté le contrat ponctuel avec le laboratoire Lündbeck (15 octobre / 31 décembre 2007). Ce fut le second et dernier contrat de cette activité de conseil. Ces activités ont dû être déclarées à l’IGAS. Je n’ai pas retrouvé la trace de cette démarche en dépit de mes recherches. Ce sont des faits anciens –plus de sept ans. Je souligne enfin que je n’ai jamais eu, ni auparavant ni après, de contact avec ce laboratoire.

En particulier, lorsque j’ai été désigné par le chef de l’IGAS pour coordonner l’enquête sur le Mediator en novembre 2010, je n’avais aucun lien avec aucune entreprise quelle qu’elle soit et, en particulier, aucun lien avec aucun laboratoire pharmaceutique.

A aucun moment je n’ai donc été en situation de conflit d’intérêts.

2. La méthode.

Lorsqu’après plusieurs semaines d’enquête le journaliste de Mediapart est entré en contact avec moi, samedi dernier, j’ai répondu à toutes ses demandes adressées par écrit.

A plusieurs reprises, il a manifesté son souhait de me rencontrer, dans le cadre de la préparation de cet article alimenté par des rumeurs et des contre-vérités, ce que j’ai refusé. En revanche tous les bilans et comptes de résultat de mon ancienne entreprise unipersonnelle sur la période allant de 2006 à 2013 lui ont été communiqués dans la plus grande transparence

Je l’ai fait parce que je n’ai rien à cacher à qui que ce soit, que je respecte le travail de la presse, et que je crois que toute ma trajectoire aussi bien personnelle que professionnelle atteste de mon indépendance d’esprit.

Ainsi, à propos de mon patrimoine, commun avec ma conjointe, le journaliste se garde bien de mentionner qu’il a été notamment acquis grâce à des emprunts ; et il ne fait pas état des dettes contractées. Ce patrimoine et les dettes existant en contrepartie ont été communiqués, selon les règles, à la Haute Autorité pour la transparence de la vie publique.

Ainsi, les propos qui me sont attribués quant aux experts sanitaires avaient-ils un sens précis : celui des relations entre experts médicaux travaillant au sein des agences de sécurité sanitaire ou concourant à leurs travaux et l’industrie pharmaceutique. Ils soulignaient un contexte précis : celui de la gravité des fautes commises dans un scandale de santé publique ayant provoqué, selon les estimations disponibles, environ 2500 morts.

Ainsi, il est exact que mon emploi du temps extrêmement chargé ne m’a pas toujours permis d’aller moi-même chercher mon fils le lundi soir, à 19h30, à la sortie d’un enseignement –ce que j’aurais eu beaucoup de plaisir à pouvoir faire moi-même. Il en va de même pour certaines questions personnelles, que mon secrétariat m’a proposé avec gentillesse de me décharger, de façon ponctuelle.

Voilà pour répondre à l’essentiel de ces attaques.

Aquilino MORELLE.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Valls Turns Into Hollande

Well, I think Manuel Valls can kiss goodbye to that 58% approval rating. He has just done what François Hollande did on taking office: immediately dashed the hopes invested in him. Just as Hollande promised to renegotiate the TSCG, raising hopes across Europe that he would lead an anti-austerity coalition, so did Valls' initial announcements suggest that he might at last put some additional money into the pockets of people who would spend it, encourage firms to hire by reducing payroll taxes, and in the meantime fend off demands from Brussels and Berlin for drastic spending cuts. But today he announced that the promised €50 billion in spending cuts would not be delayed but would phase in starting in October of this year. These include a freeze on civil service pay hikes, cuts in family allowances, and reduction of other social benefits. At least he had the courage to own the cuts rather than blame them on Brussels. But he also used the false argument of austerians everywhere, that deficit reductions are intended to "help the children" by not overburdening them with debt. The children won't be helped if the economy stagnates for another two or three or four years because of fiscal drags. Worst of all, the prospect of a change of policy direction in the wake of the drubbing the Socialists took in the municipals is now ended. It will be more of the same for the foreseeable future--which may be no longer than the drubbing the Socialists will now surely take in the European elections. Valls may style himself after Tony Blair, but the British leader he now most resembles is David Cameron: he has become the leading exponent of "expansionary contraction."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Should France Leave the Euro?

We'll be hearing a lot of this in the upcoming European election campaign. Rue89 provides a primer for neophytes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

IFOP: Valls More Popular than Hollande by 40 Points

The Fifth Republic has entered uncharted waters. The Prime Minister has a 58% approval rating, according to IFOP, while the President is only 18. Nothing like this has ever been observed before.


Of course, Valls has only been on the job for a week. "Give him time," say les mauvaises langues, "and he'll be down in the daisies with the president." Of course, according to the logic of the institutions, the PM is supposed to serve as a screen for the president, shielding him from the dissatisfied public. The president can always fire the PM, but not the other way around. So now what?

Well, the logic could be stood on its head. The willingness of 58% of the electorate to give Valls the benefit of the doubt--rather than say, "Groan, yet another Socialist to screw things up further"--suggests a surprising level of what I am tempted to call forgiveness. So it's possible that the dissatisfaction with two wasted years will be directed toward Hollande, while Valls, if he gets results, could be exonerated. Of course promised spending cuts are to be announced this week, and when people know whose ox will be gored, they may quickly change their minds about Valls. But the surprisingly high initial approval rating suggests that the present conjuncture might be viewed as almost the beginning of a new term, un triennat, as it were, in which Valls will have his chance to prove that the PS can indeed govern after all.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

ECB Concedes that Deflation Is a Worry Requiring Immediate Action

Mario Draghi conceded that he is worried about deflation and is prepared to move toward unconventional monetary policy to combat it. He blames the strength of the euro and speaks of the need for "monetary stimulus" to combat it. According to the Financial Times, however, the plan is not to buy assets on the open market, as the Federal Reserve has done, but to cut interest rates on deposits by banks with the ECB, possibly into negative rate territory, which would effectively be a tax on these deposits.

The Hidden Story of the Municipals: An Arun Kapil Scoop

My blogging confrère Arun Kapil has a real scoop today:
One of the noteworthy stories of last month’s municipal elections—but which went absolutely, totally unreported in the national media, including in newspapers like Le Monde (in their hard copy, at least)—was the first-ever election of a mayor of Maghrebi/Muslim origin in a municipality of over 30,000 inhabitants in metropolitan France: Azzédine Taïbi, age 49 and of Algerian immigrant parents, who was elected mayor of Stains—a commune in the heart of the Seine-Saint-Denis (le neuf-trois)—on the PCF-headed Front de Gauche list.
...
All in all, the number of conseillers municipaux of non-European immigrant origin, according to La Gazette.fr, went from 1,069 to 2,343 in this election, i.e. 6.7% of the total. That is not an insignificant increase. L’intégration est en marche.
Hats off to Arun for ferreting out this story and giving it the prominence it deserves. We need some good news to counter the pervasive reporting that it is the FN rather than integration that is en marche.

UPDATE: An FB friend of Arun's points to this interesting report on municipal councilors issus de l'immigration.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hollande Approval at Scarcely Believable 13%

No "Valls effect" reads the headline: after the nomination, Hollande's approval rating has fallen again to 13%, according to this poll. This is scarcely believable: given the inevitable number of "low-information voters," you'd think that noise alone would boost anyone--Astérix, Mickey, a drunk Gérard Depardieu--above 13%. Of course it's not difficult to explain why there was no post-Valls bounce: the nomination surely pissed off the last remaining left-PS voters still willing to give Hollande the benefit of the doubt. And why would center-rightists approve of Hollande simply for nominating a PM they might like better than, say, Arnaud Montebourg?

But it's really rather alarming. Given the importance of the presidency in the French system, the slightest hiccup could precipitate something close to a legitimacy crisis. There is no cushion. And with the FN likely to score big in the next elections, what response can there be from the government. The remaniement option has been used up. There are no more chairs to shuffle, no lambs to be sacrificed. The president is exposed. Something had better turn up.

Is Deflation Looming for the Euro Area?

The signs are increasingly ominous. Here is Menzie Chinn's comment:


At this juncture, the distinction between the US as a monetary and fiscal union with high interstate factor mobility, the euro area as a monetary union with relatively low inter-country factor mobility, becomes important. While inflation is negative in the periphery countries, the deviation from the trend line is negative for the core (and large) euro area countries of Germany and France. The German deviation is about 5% in log terms. While the French deviation is smaller in absolute value, it contrasts with the pre-crisis value of essentially nil. If nominal debt had been accumulated with the expectation of the two percent trend in the price level, the very fact that the price level is lagging implies higher than expected debt burdens and hence more binding collateral constraints.
The IMF concludes:
Macroeconomic policies should stay accommodative. In the euro area, additional demand support is necessary. More monetary easing is needed both to increase the prospects that the ECB’s price stability objective of keeping inflation below, but close to, 2 percent will be achieved and to support demand. These measures could include further rate cuts and longer-term targeted bank funding (possibly to small and medium-sized enterprises). …

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Désir to Head European Affairs, Cambadélis to Take Over Party

Harlem Désir's days as head of the PS were clearly numbered after the municipal election fiasco, but to kick him upstairs to European Affairs to get rid of him is not a good move. Yes, Jouyet will be calling the shots from the Elysée, but relations with the EU are crucial, and Désir is a novice in this area (and didn't demonstrate much skill as party leader either).

Cambadélis is an apparatchik, so he'll be right at home at Solférino. The question is how to rebuild the party. If Camba has any ideas about how to do this, I don't know what they are.

Jouyet Named Secretary General of the Elysée

Sarkozy's Mr. Europe is now François Hollande's right-hand man. He is an old friend of Hollande's, who previously served in such delicate roles as telling Valérie Trierweiler that she was history. Most recently he headed the Caisse des Dépôts. He is an "old Europe hand," having worked with Jacques Delors and Lionel Jospin before Sarkozy. The move is seen as a step toward centralizing control of relations with the EU in the Elysée, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Already, however, the Jouyet nomination is drawing fire, not least for lending credence to Marine Le Pen's charge that the "UMPS" is actually a conspiracy of center-right and center-left to surrender France to neoliberal Europe. As absurd as the charge is, it will nevertheless be exploited by the FN. A more serious criticism, as always with Hollande, is that one has no idea what stance toward Europe he wants Jouyet to take. What is needed right now, in my view, is the toughness to insist that budget deficits in excess of Maastricht limits must be tolerated for some years to come. Even if Brussels cannot be persuaded, the fight needs to be made vigorously and public for domestic political reasons. And depending on how things evolve, France may need to accept the consequences of defying the Commission's edict. If Jouyet has been brought in simply to smooth things over and continue bumbling along, the result will not be pretty.

Documentaries on Hollande

Arun Kapil points to two (unfortunately blocked in US).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Valls Opening Gambits

Manuel Valls laid his plans before the AN today. They include a number of well-targeted stimulative measures, including elimination of social contributions on minimum-wage workers, elimination of the (Sarkozy-imposed) surtax on corporate taxes, and a reduction of family contributions. But of course the change of tone was perhaps the most salient sign that a new man is in charge. There is a forcefulness about Valls that Ayrault simply lacked. How well this change of style will translate into effective action remains to be seen, but my guess is that many people will be pleased by Valls's more hands-on approach.

Valls of course already has many vociferous detractors, including several commenters on this blog. 100 Socialist deputies have called for a new "contract with the majority." Yesterday I discussed Claude Bartolone's lukewarm reception. Much of the reaction is predictable and overblown. Valls will not "destroy the Left." His proposals might well do some good, and even a small uptick in the growth rate, which is likely, will tamp down some of the wilder adverse commentary.

Valls may prefer to portray himself as a French Blairite, but his first moves toward a more stimulative stance are positive. Now if he can just hold off the calls from Brussels to finance the tax and contribution cuts even before their effects are felt, he will have gotten somewhere. In any case, the frondeurs among the deputies have no choice but to give him time. In his speech he invoked the memory of Mendès France but avoided mentioning his real mentor, Michel Rocard. Like Rocard, Valls is a realist. Hence he won't please the ideologues in the party, but he will respond pragmatically to the situation he faces. Unlike Rocard, he expresses himself simply and directly and is considerably more popular than the president under whom he serves. He may well replace Hollande in the public mind as the man in charge. His success, if it comes, will therefore redound to his benefit and not the president's.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dupin on the Recomposition of the Left

Eric Dupin analyzes the likely recomposition of the Left in the wake of the Valls nomination, which no less a rightist than Jean-Pierre Raffarin has praised for the "clarification" it brings to Hollande's political outlook.

The EU Elections

Brent Whelan handicaps the race across Europe.

Bartolone Fires a Warning Shot

There are many unhappy Socialists these days, and Claude Bartolone, the president of the National Assembly, is putting himself forward as their spokesman. In a long interview with Le Monde, he says to Hollande, in essence, "we told you so," and calls for a change in France's relation to Europe:
Il y a un avant et un après-municipales : plus rien ne sera comme avant. La réponse apportée pendant vingt-deux mois aux députés lorsqu'ils avaient un doute était : « C'est un engagement du président de la République. » Et pourtant, ils ont manifesté leurs inquiétudes au moment de la suppression de la demi-part des veuves.
Ils ont attiré l'attention sur les conséquences des différents couacs gouvernementaux. Et ils ont averti quand ils ont senti les Français s'éloigner de la majorité. Il faut définir un nouveau mode de travail pour obtenir la confiance de ces élus, non seulement socialistes et radicaux, mais aussi écologistes et du Front de gauche. C'est un nouveau contrat qui doit être présenté à la majorité présidentielle, pour réinstaller la stabilité dans le pays.
 Unfortunately, his actual prescriptions remain vague, except that he has a preferred candidate to head the European Commission:
Nous avons une chance, c'est la candidature de Martin Schulz à la présidence de la Commission, qui peut incarner le visage et les mots d'une autre Europe.
Nous pouvons, compte tenu de ce qu'a été le libéralisme affiché par la Commission, montrer que nous pouvons être porteurs d'une autre vision de l'Europe, pas une Europe de la punition, mais une Europe qui soit attentive au chômage, mobilisée sur les questions d'éducation, d'environnement, de culture. C'est en défendant une autre vision de l'Europe que nous aurons une possibilité d'amener les électeurs à s'intéresser à ce scrutin et d'éviter une trop forte abstention.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Borloo Withdraws from Politics

Jean-Louis Borloo renonce "à ses fonctions et mandats" politiques

Selon les informations du "Point", Jean-Louis Borloo considère que son état de santé ne lui permet plus d'occuper ses fonctions politiques. Le président de l'UDI avait été hospitalisé à la fin de janvier pour une "pneumonie aiguë frontale".

This is sad news. The center might have a very important role to play in the next few years, given the reconfiguration of the left initiated by the Valls nomination and the withdrawal of the Greens from the government. Borloo could have been a major player.

The Collapse of Municipal Socialism: The Case of Limoges

Le Monde has a good article on the crumbling of municipal socialism in Limoges, which had been a fiefdom of the Left almost continuously since 1912.

« Le PS n’a pas compris que ses réponses sociales ne suffisaient plus et que son électorat populaire attendait aujourd'hui des actions sur le plan de l’emploi et de la sécurité », analyse Christophe Grandcoing. « C’est vrai qu’on s’est peut être reposés sur nos lauriers », reconnaît Laurent Lafaye. « On n’a pas été assez à l’écoute », admet volontiers, Gülsen Yildirin conseillère municipale sortante. « Quand vous avez la tête dans le guidon, parfois vous perdez de vue ce qu’il se passe », ajoute-t-elle.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

So What Was He Waiting For?

This is astonishing:
Depuis quand le président a-t-il compris qu’il y avait quelque chose de dysfonctionnel dans le couple qu’il formait avec Jean-Marc Ayrault ? « En réalité, il a tranché depuis très longtemps, assure un intime. Depuis la fin de l’été 2012, il sait que cela ne marche pas. »
What was he waiting for? For Closer to publish a picture of him in a tryst with Manuel Valls? Does Hollande have a problem ending relationships that aren't working?

The Real Titles of the New Ministers

Irreverently, here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Portrait of Manuel Valls

Here. One thing I had forgotten is that in the Socialist primary, Valls was already defending a policy quite similar to what has now become known as the Responsibility Pact:

Lors de la primaire socialiste en 2011, Valls se démarque des autres candidats en estimant que « le programme du Parti socialiste est à revoir ». Il prône la rigueur budgétaire. Deux mesures :
la mise en place d’une « TVA protection » (un nouvel impôt) ;
l’utilisation de l’intégralité des marges de manœuvre pour réduire les déficits de la France :

« 100% des marges de manœuvre que nous dégagerons, et non 50% comme le prévoit le projet, devront être consacrées à la réduction des déficits et au désendettement.
“Imaginer que nous pourrions gagner en promettant l’augmentation des dépenses, la stabilisation des impôts, le retour à la retraite à 60 ans, la suppression des agences de notation... est une erreur.”
Il n’est pas contre l’idée d’une “règle d’or” pour contenir les déficits. Pendant la primaire, il préconisait un “pacte national de croissance et de compétitivité”.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Simon Wren-Lewis on the Responsibility Pact

Here:
Why does the economic policy pursued or proposed by the left in Europe often seem so pathetic? The clearest example of this is France. France is subject to the same fiscal straightjacket as other Eurozone countries, but when a left wing government was elected in April 2012, they proposed staying within this straightjacket by raising taxes rather than cutting spending. Although sensible from a macroeconomic point of view, this encountered hostility from predictable quarters, as I noted here. But in January this year President François Hollande announced a change in direction, proposing tax cuts for business and public spending cuts. When your macroeconomic announcements are praised by Germany’s foreign minister as courageous, you should be very worried indeed. Any hopes that Hollande might lead a fight against austerity in Europe completely disappeared at that point.

You could argue that France was initially trying to oppose irresistible economic and political forces, and no doubt there is some truth in that. But what was striking was the manner in which Hollande announced his change in direction. He said “It is upon supply that we need to act. On supply! This is not contradictory with demand. Supply actually creates demand“. This is not anti-left so much as anti-economics. Kevin O’Rourke suggests this tells us that to all intents and purposes there is no left in many European countries. It would indeed be easy to tell similar stories about the centre left in other European countries, like Germany or the Netherlands. With, that is, the possible recent exception of the Vatican!

Bouvet on Valls

Political scientist Laurent Bouvet analyzes the ascent of Manuel Valls as the advent of a new configuration of the governmental left. Bouvet describes the first 2 years under Hollande as an attempt at a Mitterrandian synthesis between a Rocardian "second left" distrustful of state management of the economy, favorable to decentralization, deregulation, and self-management (if one deforms the word a bit to mean not autogestion of the workplace by workers but management of the economy by leading firms) and another left "antiliberal" in its economics but "liberal" in its "cultural" and "moral" values and dedicated to individual "liberation." Valls was the leader of the former faction, Taubira of the latter, in Bouvet's view.
L’actuel président de la République a cru pouvoir être celui, comme Mitterrand en son temps, qui pourrait faire la synthèse de ces deux nouvelles familles, à la fois confiant dans son habileté tactique et conforté par une campagne présidentielle qui les a facilement réunies en 2012 autour d’une volonté commune de faire tomber Nicolas Sarkozy.
Las, il s’agissait d’une illusion qui s’est vite dissipée une fois au pouvoir. Ces deux nouvelles gauches se sont en effet révélées, petit à petit, à l’occasion des grands choix économiques et à propos des questions «de société» qui sont venues en débat. La conscience des fractures qui les séparent s’est ainsi considérablement accrue ces derniers mois.
On peut parier que l’action de Manuel Valls à Matignon rendra plus clair encore le schéma qui s’est ainsi esquissé depuis deux ans. Face à une telle clarification, le président de la République n’aura alors pas d’autre choix, s’il veut continuer d’exister politiquement et proposer à nouveau sa candidature en 2017 que de maintenir une forme d’équilibre entre les deux pôles, sans jamais donner le sentiment qu’il néglige trop l’un au profit de l’autre, et ce malgré leur éloignement. C’est dans cet exercice quasi-impossible que réside la clef de la réussite ou de l’échec de son quinquennat.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Rousseau on Inequality

David Lay Williams looks at Rousseau and inequality here.

Kapil on the New Government

Arun runs down the new ministers.

The New Government

Ségolène Royal and François Rebsamen are in; Vincent Peillon and Pierre Moscovici are out. Arnaud Montebourg has been promoted to Minister of the Economy. Christiane Taubira remains at Justice. Cazeneuve has moved to Interior. Martine Aubry remains nowhere in sight.

Kremlinologists can read into these retouches various tensions that must exist within the Socialist Party. It's interesting that Montebourg has outlasted his two arch-enemies, Ayrault and Moscovici, especially since his policy preferences seem at odds with the steady-as-she-goes (straight to the bottom?) approach to the economy. His mellifluous tongue will no doubt be used to sugar-coat the bitter pills ahead. This is an all-Socialist governments. There are no Greens, Communists, or centrists.

A Guest Post on a Left Alternative to the Status Quo

Regular reader Brent Whelan has often remarked that there are good ideas for resolving the current crisis in France on the Left of the Left, a quarter of the French political spectrum that I don't cover as thoroughly as I perhaps should. I asked him to condense some of those ideas into a post for this blog. What you see below is Brent's contribution. I think some of these ideas are feasible, others not, but I present them to you as Brent has written them for your contemplation and comment.

Brent Whelan:
The Big Question posed by pundits commenting on the municipal elections seems to be: Will France maintain its alternation between nearly indistinguishable policies of its center-Left and center-Right parties? Or will it veer off toward the radical alternative posed by the FN: withdrawal from the Euro, reconstitution of a traditional Franco-French culture, closure of borders, protection of national industries, etc.? This is the stark choice Marine LePen’s success has thrust into the forefront of media discussions.
But those discussions tend to ignore another alternative, supported by the Front de Gauche and its 10% of the electorate as well as by left elements in the PS and the EELV—a constituency almost as large as the FN’s. With some justification Jean-Luc Mélenchon has complained about the near-total neglect of his movement’s policies by the mainstream media.
So what would a Left Front government do?

· Build social housing, restore the previous pension system, reduce health contributions, increase educational spending—a fully restored and expanded network of social services
· Place environmental protection and greenhouse gas reduction at the center of development policies, including localized agriculture and production, greater supports for rail transportation and public transit; and support the establishment of an international court of environmental justice
· Support immigrant rights, regularize undocumented workers, open shorter routes to citizenship
· Institute greater controls on banks and financial institutions to reduce financialization of the economy, and create a public lending agency.
· Support a ‘Different Europe’ focused more on social solidarity than commercial interests, with power transferred to the elected parliament and direct ECB lending to member states
· Withdraw from NATO, oppose the Transatlantic trade initiative, reorient French interests toward the Maghreb and Middle East as well as a decolonized French Africa, and oppose the austerity policies of the IMF, while annulling the debts of developing countries
In short—and this is a highly abbreviated selection of proposals— the Left of the Left presents a vision for a complete overhaul of French society and the EU according to Socialist and Ecological principles—a transformation comparable in magnitude to the 30-year drift into free-market capitalism controlled by global financial corporations whose consequences we live with today. All those who have convinced themselves that this current system will soon have us back on the track of steady growth; will resolve the gathering ecological catastrophe; and maintain democratic governance in the face of massive social inequality will find this proposed transformation unnecessary and absurd. Others, less confident, are flocking to the FN to rebuild a mythical France that never was. Given that bleak pair of alternatives, I would propose that the Left Front, Eco-socialist alternative is at least worth discussing.


[In its full detail the FdG’s program can be found here http://www.lepartidegauche.fr/system/documents/docs-pg-humain_dabord.pdf in the Front’s 2012 platform, or in part here http://www.jean-luc-melenchon.fr/brochures/eco_socialism_first_manifesto_en.pdf in the 2013 Eco-Socialist Manifesto]

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The End of Municipal Socialism

The Socialist Party was excluded from the presidency for 17 years, from 1995 to 2012, but during that time it built up an impressive local power base, controlling numerous cities and regions (especially after 2008). In two years, all that patient construction has now been demolished:
A Argenteuil (Val-d'Oise), le maire sortant, Philippe Doucet, assure avoir dû subir la « double peine » au second tour : « Surmobilisation de la droite et surabstention des électeurs du Front de gauche ». En théorie, les reports de voix du Front de gauche du premier tour auraient pu l'avantager, mais le député a été battu de 187 voix contre l'UMP.
« C'est rageant parce que nous avons bien travaillé à Argenteuil, mais le sujet n'était plus là, c'était la revanche de la présidentielle », celle d'une ville qui avait voté à 64,64 % pour François Hollande. En deux ans, selon lui, « toute la base socialiste patiemment construite et conquise a été balayée. Même les survivants, comme Martine Aubry à Lille, sont amoindris. Nous sommes durablement atteints dans ce qui fait notre socle. »
To be sure, "municipal socialism" was not an unmixed blessing. It taught Socialists to think small. It narrowed their strategic vision at the national level and provided niches in which politicians could make satisfactory careers without having to adjust their world views to the broader stage. François Hollande was the perfect leader for a party of local barons, since he never insisted on imposing a unified national strategy. He let a hundred, two hundred, five hundred flowers bloom. But the blight has set in, and the party must now reinvent itself. Its new figurehead, Manuel Valls, has the ambition, but does he have ideas à la hauteur?

A Defense of the Valls Nomination from Contreligne

President Hollande's nomination of Manuel Valls to be the next prime minister has provoked loud howls in many quarters of the Left. Here is a contrarian view, which sees Valls as a combination of Clemenceau and Rocard.

Could Hollande Lose His Majority?

According to this article in Le Monde, yes. Ministers leaving the government, such as Cécile Duflot, can reclaim their seats from their suppléants. And Duflot, who is leaving because she vehemently disagrees with Valls on the Roma issue, need not vote for the government. The Front de Gauche has already said, in the person of Mélenchon, that it will not support Valls in a vote of confidence. And the absolute majority hangs on only 2 votes.