Wednesday, September 2, 2015

La politique politicienne

I love the French phrase "la politique politicienne." In two words it expresses the widespread contempt for "the political" that fuels populist reactions everywhere. Of course it is often used by politicians to deny that they are indulging in it, or else to criticize their rivals for indulging in nothing else.

In the nomination of Myriam El Khomri to replace François Rebsamen as minister of labor, we see an exemplary exercise of la politique politicienne. One often despairs of any generational renewal in the French political class, where the same faces can dominate the news for decades on end. Mme El Khomri is at least a new face. Le Monde describes her rise as "meteoric." She previously held the post of secretary of state for cities, in which she apparently performed admirably, with a penchant for confronting the FN on its terres de prédilection--for which she deserves full credit. Of course her appointment to that post was a successful exercise in la politique politicienne, a riposte to Sarkozy's nomination of a Muslim woman to fill the same job. Mme El Khomri was less in the news than the headlineogenic Fadela Amara but probably more effective in her role.

That efficacity has now earned her a promotion to replace the hapless Rebsamen, a mayor with national ambitions who had badly wanted a ministry, but not the one he got. He knew nothing about labor. Neither, apparently, does Mme El Khomri. But the slot was hard to fill. No one of consequence wanted it, because the government is threatening to reform the labor code (mildly), and this will no doubt trigger the kinds of reaction that bring bad press to anyone unfortunate enough to be in charge of the dossier at the time. In any case it is obvious that the reforms, if they come, will be managed by the government's heavyweights, Valls and Macron, and not by the minister of the labor. Who would want a job with little power but plenty of opportunity to be blamed for failure, or even for "success" in achieving "reforms" that the ministry's chief constituency will very likely resist?

Of course Hollande might have chosen to play a different politique politicienne by appointing one of the renegade EELV ex-leaders, de Rugy or Placé, to the post, thus splashily announcing that he hasn't, after all, split the Left by alienating the Greens and further marginalizing Duflot and her "objective ally" Mélenchon. Not doing so, however, allows him to claim that he is not playing la politique politicienne. Rather than move his Green pawns, he can move this other pawn, who has the virtues of being both a woman and a "minority." Win-win. I wish Mme El Khomri nothing but the best in her new job and hope that she survives her meteoric ascent to the position of sacrificial lamb.


PF said...

All very shrewd analysis. That said, on this theme of "la politique politicienne," I do think some burble from the left is too readily indulging an old tic to dismiss anything touching on symbolism and identity politics, as "mere" symbolism and nothing but cynicism. Young minority representation among the political class is crucial and good, period. It's not enough, but it doesn't deserve dismissive reactions just because it -- like anything in politics -- can be instrumentalized in various ways.

Arun Kapil said...

Art, I invariably agree with your analyses, which I invariably find excellent, but not here. I really don't see what Myriam El Khomri's appointment has to do with 'la politique politicienne'. Hollande/Valls had to name someone to replace Rebsamen, there was no obvious man or woman waiting in the wings, and, as the media has been reporting today, both Hollande and Valls really like Myriam EK, have been impressed with her and been singing her praises in private to all and sundry, and so decided to appoint her to this thankless ministry - but which she clearly sees as an opportunity - point à la ligne. As for your suggestion that this is 'a riposte to Sarkozy's nomination of a Muslim woman to fill the same job', there are at least four problems here. First, Sarkozy/Fillon's Ministres du Travail were Xavier Bertrand, Brice Hortefeux, Xavier Darcos, and Eric Woerth, none of whom were Muslim or a woman. Secondly, there is no reason whatever to think that Hollande/Valls were motivated by such ethno-confessionnal considerations in appointing Myriam EK or had what Sarkozy did in 2007 in mind (as if anyone thinks about that nowadays). Thirdly, who says that Myriam is a Muslim anyway? Fourthly, she is, ethically speaking, half French (via her mother), so this is not, stricto sensu, a diversity appointment (not that anyone in the media or political class is suggesting that it is, at least so far as I've seen).

bernard said...

I think, perhaps unsurprisingly, that you are too hard and/or cynical on this. The government now contains two very major female ministers with those kinds of names - I have no idea about their religion or lack thereof - and it is the names and the looks that matter to public opinion in France that is in the midst of a racist regression. Another very major ministry is occupied by the excellent Taubira, and she has been on the receiving end of massive, overt racism. A couple other ministries, perhaps less major, are led by other figures who look diversity. This cannot be "de la politique politicienne", if anything these are all "in your face" appointments which, in the kind of France that we unfortunately have these days, are not going to generate any political goodwill with the majority of the population. Of course the latest appointment will have a very hard time succeeding and it is no wonder that no major political figure would have wanted to touch the ministry of labour, much safer to try to secure a local or regional appointment.

In other news, though not entirely unrelated, many of us had a lot of severe criticism of Germany during the acute phase of the Greek crisis in June and July. It is only fair that we should salute today's German attitude to the gigantic migrants crisis. Merkel appears to be the first European leader to have the realism to know that fighting against major population migrations is essentially futile, and she has placed fundamental human values above "la politique politicienne" and, thankfully,is now followed by Hollande. Fabius also deserves credit for telling it like it is re-Hungary. Of course, anyone knowing a bit of Hungarian history pre- and during WWII or the historical role of prominent American Hungarians post-WWII (scientists and politicians alike) will not have been unduly surprised to see Hungary unfortunately revert to type.

FrédéricLN said...

There is something special about our Labor Department: it has no real influence on anything related to work.

The Minister of Labor is in charge of:

a) Talking to TV at the end of each month, when statistics are published, about the rise of unemployment. That is serious. Mr Rebsamen underscored that in his departure speech.
b) Negotiating with the trade unions *of civil servants* when the government decides to change something in their general rules, including wages. That happened often in the past, but since 10 years nothing happens. So, forget b).
c) The permanently ongoing (since ~1982) and constantly inexistent "réforme de la formation professionnelle" — no Minister would dare trying to understand something in this totally opaque system, which feeds the Unions of (non-civil servant) workers and of employers (30 to 40% of their budget, as far as I remember) — so, just looking at the honeypot is like attacking the "démocratie sociale". So, forget c).

What relates to work in the companies at large, including State-owned ones, is, as far as I know, under the responsibility of the Minister of Economy — Mr Macron.

If Ms El Khomri has been appointed, that suggests she is the person who knows how not to raise an eyebrow. Mr Rebsamen got very fast tired of that silly game.