Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Macron Proposes Refounding the EU

At last, a major political figure has called for a refounding of the EU. As the economist Herbert Stein once said, "If something can't go on, it won't." It has been apparent for some time that the EU as presently constituted can't go on, but nobody has been prepared to do anything about it. Whatever one thinks of Macron's policy views, he has one indispensable virtue in a politician: he is free of the conviction that his life's future depends on maintaining his electability. This frees him to say what he thinks. And he thinks that Europe needs to be rethought. Everyone else thinks so too, but no one wants to rock the boat--except for the likes of Schäuble, Varoufakis, Krugman, or Piketty, who are not shy about reminding the world that the EU can't go on like this. In any case, it's good to have Macron on record.

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.