Friday, June 27, 2014

Renzi Steals Hollande's Thunder

Look, folks, I'm no dupe. Not much happened at the EU summit, and austerity has not been abandoned, as some feverish headline-writers are suggesting. But you have to hand it to Matteo Renzi: he has played the moment superbly and reaped the credit for acknowledging the obvious.

But Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached a deal late on Thursday which stresses the need for a flexible interpretation of fiscal rules, while stopping short of any change to the EU pact.
Merkel stressed at a news conference that it would be up to the European Commission, not member states themselves, to decide whether extra time was granted.
"The best use of flexibility means the best use, not the fullest use but the best, the most appropriate for the situation," Merkel said.

This reward could have been Hollande's. But Renzi is a politician; Hollande is an apparatchik promoted above his pay grade. You also have to give Merkel some credit for knowing how to modulate her rhetoric without ceding much of actual substance.

Sarkozy's Return

The Danes, like everyone else, seem to have forgotten that François Hollande exists. To judge by this cartoon, they think Sarkozy has already completed his comeback. Or else Denmark is caught in a time warp. (h/t TexExile)


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Le Pen Fails to Form a Group in the European Parliament

Marine Le Pen has failed to form a group in the European Parliament. Her willingness to join forces with the Holocaust-revisionist Polish KNP was too much for Geert Wilders, and Nigel Farage's UKIP seems to have siphoned off support from other potential allies.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Weakness and Irresolution

The retreat on the ecotax is Hollande in a nutshell, even if this particular maneuver was executed by his ex, Ségolène Royal. The government has purchased what it hopes will be social peace at the price of weakness and irresolution. It has given up the principle of the ecotax, which was to force truckers to, as economists say, "internalize the externalities" of pollution and maintenance costs. It has surrendered to a regionalist display of lawlessness from a motley coalition of protesters in Brittany. And it has given up 400 million euros or so in needed revenues. In doing so, it sets no discernible course for the future and forfeits the trust of political allies among ecologists. It renounces any principled commitment to emissions reduction. And it demonstrates its weakness and irresolution in the plainest possible way, by retreating in the face of opposition--and weak, regionalist opposition at that.

Die-hard Hollandistes may counter that the ecotax defeat was redeemed by the great Alstom victory. Right. Alstom has sold itself to General Electric, as it intended to do all along. True, GE paid more than it originally intended to, but the state has kicked into Alstom's capital, raising its value. Montebourg has an eyewash victory to put in his pouch and a few meaningless "guarantees" about jobs and "sovereignty," but in the end the deal went through as designed by the private parties involved.

The Declining Image of L'Instituteur

François Dubet thinks that the difficulty in recruiting teachers has become severe owing to a sharp decline in the image of the teaching profession:

Il y en a deux. D’une part, un problème d’image. L’image, c’est celle d’un métier difficile. Celle d’un enseignant qui souffre, face à des élèves qui ne veulent pas apprendre, à des parents d’élèves qui l’enquiquinent, à une administration qui lui gâche la vie...
Le discours que produisent les enseignants sur eux-mêmes est celui de la plainte. Autrefois, c’était un discours sur la grandeur de la profession, le plaisir d’enseigner, de faire la classe... Il y avait une mise en scène positive, une représentation du métier qui pouvait donner envie de l’exercer.
Aujourd’hui, quand les enseignants parlent d’eux-mêmes collectivement, c’est pour dire  : « Nous souffrons, nous ne sommes pas reconnus, nous sommes méprisés, nous avons un métier de chien, c’est extrêmement difficile, nous sommes soumis à la violence »... L’image qui s’est répandue, c’est que tous exercent dans des collèges de ZEP violents, ce qui est rarement le cas.
L’image de l’école elle-même s’est renversée  : l’école qui intégrait la société, qui fabriquait des citoyens, qui les préparait à vivre quelque chose de commun a laissé place à l’image de la machine à diviser, à trier, à créer des inégalités. Les sociologues ne sont pas pour rien dans cette image, mais elle a peu à peu été intériorisée par les Français.
L’école, c’est « l’endroit où mon gamin risque de se faire jeter » et dans certains quartiers, c’est carrément « la machine faite pour nous exclure ». A cela s’ajoute une perte de confiance dans la culture scolaire. Cette dernière n’est plus perçue que comme un moyen de sélectionner  : la « vraie culture » est ailleurs...
Dans les médias, vous ne trouvez plus beaucoup d’image positive des enseignants, à part ce vieux feuilleton, L’Instit, qui présente un enseignant idéal, positif, qui a des relations formidables avec les gamins et roule à moto...

Who Will Be the French Matteo Renzi?

Matteo Renzi's reform efforts may yet fail, but at least he has created a sense of movement in Italy that is sorely lacking in France:
So where is the hope coming from? Renzi is not just going after the economic troubles. He seems to be attacking the very deep structural issues in a novel way. He is seeking serious constitutional reform in a country that has seen no constitutional changes for 30 years. Changing the constitution is difficult and requires a super-majority, which Renzi does not have. But when you meet with Parliament members and ministers from Renzi’s party, there is an optimism that is almost catching. Somehow or another Renzi has convinced a lot of people in the Italian political system that reform is possible. In particular, he wants to do away with the upper house (their senate) and streamline the decision-making process in the remaining house of Parliament, with different rules for creating majorities.
France is in desperate need of a politician capable of creating such a sense of motion.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Decline of the Socialist Party

Laurent Bouvet discusses the decline of the PS:

La fédération regroupant les élus socialistes (FNESER) a ainsi évalué à 30000 sur ses 60000 adhérents l'hémorragie due aux municipales. Si l'on tient compte de tous les emplois qui étaient liés de près ou de loin à ces mandats, on mesure combien le corps socialiste a été atteint. La déroute des municipales de 2014 n'est donc pas une simple défaite de plus dans l'histoire du PS, elle est un tournant même si le parti n'a pas «perdu le pouvoir» comme en 1993 ou 2002. D'autant que les élections locales (régionales et départementales) qui s'annoncent en 2015 pourraient bien être des répliques dévastatrices de ce mouvement architectonique.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bernard Girard

With great sadness I must announce the death of my blogging confrère Bernard Girard. Bernard's blog was always an inspiration to me, and I invariably learned from his astute and perspicacious comments on the French political scene. He commented frequently on this blog as well, and I know that some of you discovered Bernard's blog through this one and became his loyal readers. I will miss him. Rest in peace, cher Bernard.

Compromesso storico: New UMP or Godfather IV?

The UMP has struck its "historic compromise," which will last, if all goes well, until the party elects a new president in October ... or until one of the many petits juges after the top party brass turns up more dirt on Copé, Sarkozy, Hortefeux, Guéant, Woerth, and others currently under investigation. Meanwhile, Jean-Pierre Raffarin has persuaded his co-triumvirs Juppé and Fillon, themselves rivals to the death, to avert an open split in the party by installing Luc Châtel, a presumably loyal Sarkozy lieutenant--someone should write a book about how these lieutenancies come to be--as "secretary general" of the party, in which post he will attempt to hobble the efforts of the triumvirs to put the final nail in Sarkozy's coffin. Is this a political party or a script for The Godfather IV?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Taguieff on the FN

La reductio ad hitlerum ne fonctionne donc plus. Pas plus que n'opère le spectre d’une rechute fasciste. « C’est précisément la banalité du constat qui fait peur aux observateurs engagés », analyse Taguieff. Car à travers cet échec, l'auteur décrit la disparition de « l’homme de gauche » réduit à un hybride social-libéral-écolo-conservateur-progressiste-républicain avec désormais « la poche à droite » et un vague souci de préserver « les acquis sociaux »Un homme de gauche d’autant plus paumé que son adversaire historique d’extrême droite apparaît désormais, à certains égards — et c'est bien là le plus troublant —, plus à gauche que lui ! Libération, sous la plume de Luc Vaillant, s'est d'ailleurs récemment interrogé en ces termes :« Et si le FN était plus à gauche que Hollande, plus social que le PS, plus anticapitaliste que le NPA ? » 

My Cynical, Self-Assured Readers Underestimate the FN's Real Menace

My cynical readers are convinced that there is no genuine split in the Front National, that Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter are simply playing bad cop and good cop, respectively, the one appealing to the party's racist, anti-Semitic base, the other to its more recent converts. It's possible, of course, that they're right, but if so, the news today that the elder Le Pen's blog has been removed from the FN Web site may disconcert the base and lead to some head-scratching among the cocksure commentariat.

Of course, there's no way to prove any proposition about a putative change in the FN's deeper makeup one way or the other. Nevertheless, I think that those who see nothing in the party of the extreme right but business as usual may be missing the forest for the trees. It's no doubt comforting for commentators to think that, with their superior powers of perception, they have penetrated the veil of FN propaganda to divine the true (and perennial) intentions of the "dysfunctional family" that allegedly runs the show.

In my view, this analysis, while painting the FN in the darkest of colors, actually underestimates the party's potential menace. The real danger for France is that the FN may become the most powerful voice of protest against staying the course with austerity and with EU institutions as presently constituted. It's not that opposition doesn't exist elsewhere: there are substantial minorities in the PS and UMP to say nothing of majorities in the Front de Gauche and EELV who would also like a change of course. Marine Le Pen's achievement has been to find a way to stitch together economic anxieties with concerns about loss of sovereignty and national identity. It's a potent mix--far more potent than Jean-Marie Le Pen's double-entendres. Cynicism about the FN's new orientation really avoids the political challenge it raises.

Monday, June 9, 2014

An Analysis of the Green Vote

Here.

The Emancipation of Marine Le Pen

Jean-Marie Le Pen has made another of the "gaffes" for which he is famous, proposing to make "an ovenload" of artists who denigrate his Front National. It's hardly news that the elder Le Pen is a past master of such dreadful double-entendres. This time is different, however. For the first time, his daughter has denounced her father's statement as "a political error" that has damaged the party, a sentiment in which she has been joined even more vocally by other party stalwarts, who have remarked that JMLP "a manqué une bonne occasion de se taire." In addition, Gilbert Collard has implied that because JMLP is now in his dotage, he has become a political liability to a party attempting to move from the cold into the mainstream and ought to retire.

In response to these events we have the usual chorus of conventional wisdom. JMLP's dérapage, some say, is actually proof that the FN has not changed and remains the neofascist bastion of anti-Semitism that it was. Others insist, on the contrary, that the swift condemnation of his remarks by top party leaders proves that MLP's FN is intent on shedding its old image and consolidating its new status as a, if not the, party of the governmental right.

One thing is certain: the FN can now actually envision wielding power, and this prospect has modified its approach to political rhetoric. It doesn't need to provoke to garner publicity. It has put forth a substantive critique of existing policy with which it can attract enough votes to ensure constant press coverage. JMLP's logorrheic excesses are no longer useful, and his daughter will do what she can to stop them. But the old man is cantankerous enough to defy her, and old men can be tough to deal with. I'm old enough to know.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Strange Bedfellows and all that ...

There have no doubt been stranger moments in French political life, but to find Dominique de Villepin, whom Nicolas Sarkozy not so long ago threatened to hang from a butcher's hook, calling for Sarkozy to return from retirement to head the crisis-ridden UMP has to be right up there.

I'll spare you my speculations on what Villepin's ulterior motives might be. The patent problems with a Sarko-comeback are as serious as the latent ones, even if Villepin is joined in his appeal to Sarkozy by Hortefeux, Morano, Guaino, and other Sarkofaithful. The first issue is of course that the crisis of the UMP is--at least ostensibly--a crisis of Sarkozy's campaign and the way it was funded. Now, it may well be the case that Sarkozy is, as he protests through his henchmen, innocent, that Copé was stealing diverting funds from the UMP to his cronies at Bygmalion for his own future campaign coffers and not for Sarkozy's. I'm prepared to believe that. But it's not as though Sarkozy doesn't have other judicial matters hanging over his head. It's difficult to see how appointing a tainted leader to replace another tainted leader is going to cleanse the party of the stain on its reputation. Villepin may well be right that Sarkozy is one of the rare people in France capable of uniting the Right, but in the current circumstances it's hard to say how his tactical opportunism makes any sense whatsoever. Yet it seems that this is indeed the tactical choice of Sarkozy--to precipitate his comeback, in the hope, I suppose, that as party leader and putative next president he will have a better chance of warding off any judicial attacks on him than he has now as an outsider to both government and party. The chutzpah is astounding--but I suppose chutzpah is what makes Sarkozy the rare leader he is in Villepin's eyes.
« L'UMP est menacé, comme le Parti socialiste, de dépérissement, de discrédit… La seule chose importante, c'est de préparer un congrès. Les calendriers sont bousculés. Il n'est pas possible aujourd'hui d'attendre un an, deux ans avant de clarifier les choses. Il faut un chef à l'UMP… Nicolas Sarkozy fait partie des très rares qui ont aujourd'hui les capacités à rassembler la droite. Je pense que ceux qui ont cette qualité, cette capacité, ne sont pas nombreux. Je vois Nicolas Sarkozy et Alain Juppé et en plus je pense qu'ils ont la capacité de s'entendre. C'est pour moi la clé…
La première étape c'est que Nicolas Sarkozy dise s'il est ou non candidat à la présidence de l'UMP, qu'il dise pourquoi il est candidat, et à partir du moment où il est candidat, on verra quels sont les autres candidats au sein de l'UMP. Mais je pense que c'est à ce moment-là que se jouera l'avenir de la droite. »
Relativant son antagonisme passé avec Nicolas Sarkozy, Dominique de Villepin explique : « c'est comme ça la vie politique, il y a peu de gens capables d'agir dans la crise, capables d'avancer, capables de faire face », et ajoute en guise de conseil : « le défi aujourd'hui, c'est d'être capable de se dépasser. D'être au dessus des petits intérêts. S'il y a une leçon à tirer du précédent quinquennat, c'est qu'on ne peut pas aller chatouiller les bordures. Il faut avancer de façon clair devant les Français et défendre l'intérêt général. »

Monday, June 2, 2014

German Politics

A superb rundown of the political situation of Germany by Wolfgang Streeck can be found here. Germany is in a sense the inverted mirror image of France. In Germany the center-left and center-right have joined in a cozy alliance to maintain the status quo, with the left accepting its place as a quasi-permanent junior partner in a Grand Coalition. In France, the center-left and center-right have both sunk into near collapse because the status quo cannot be maintained.