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.