Monday, August 22, 2016

Des Machiavelli à la petite semaine

Le Monde today begins what promises to be a very interesting series on how the Loi El Khomri was pushed through the Assemblée. It is a tale of small-time Machiavellis manipulating one another for the benefit of an audience--the public--that had seen through the ruses long ago and therefore stopped paying attention.

The chief lion-tamer was one Boris Vallaud, adjunct secretary general of the Elysée, aka M. Vallaud-Belkacem (he is the husband of the education minister). His advice to those representing the government: "Pretend to believe that everyone is willing to compromise." But of course compromise was out of the question, because the president had already made up his mind that there had been enough discussion: "Article 49.3 is anti-democratic when a bill has not been thoroughly debated and amended. ... I did everything possible to strike compromises and make amendments that would allow the Socialists to support" the proposed law. But there was still that recalcitrant group of malcontents, who would now have to be disposed of by whatever means were available.

And what about the street protests, the student marches, the union protests, Nuit Debout? All written off: "I never believed we were facing a powerful movement," the president told Le Monde. "The leader of this movement was [Philippe] Martinez [head of the CGT]. There was nobody else."

By contrast, Laurent Berger, the leader of the CFDT, is credited by Hollande with being "very clever," although the executive recognized that the text of the bill went beyond what the CFDT was prepared to accept. The strategy for circumventing this last pocket of serious opposition was to agree to 500 or so of the roughly 5,000 proposed amendments, but with a list of amendments from the more intransigent frondeurs that were ruled off the table in advance.

Now, all of this is probably a reasonably accurate description of how the process looked from the executive side. But the confession that the last six months of politicking around the bill was largely a sham, the government having already decided that it had reached the end of its tether in private negotiations and would force through the bill that it had unilaterally decided was the only reasonable outcome, confirms the alienating and widely shared suspicion that French public discourse has become a public-relations veneer designed to put the best face on decisions that have already been taken behind closed doors by a small group of insiders.

What is missing from the published account is any discussion of the merits of the reform itself, the reasons for accepting certain amendments and rejecting others, or the intended results, to be used as benchmarks for evaluating the law's effectiveness. To the insiders, all of this is no doubt too obvious and tedious to recount. Or perhaps, in the heat of combat, the desire to win simply took over, and it became pointless to count the casualties or to weigh them against the anticipated value of victory. After such a battle, is it any wonder that the public is morose and dispirited?

Meanwhile, Arnaud Montebourg, in addition to announcing his candidacy for the presidency, devoted much of his speech to attacking Hollande's record as "indefensible." Having stripped his annual Burgundy shindig of its former moniker, "Festival of the Rose," he put the PS on notice that he may run as an outside candidate if the conditions of the primary are not to his liking. And the chief of those conditions is whether Hollande will choose to be part of it. Clearly, Montebourg is hoping that Hollande will decide not to run, which would leave him well-placed to make an inside run against the less charismatic Benoît Hamon. But if Hollande does run, Montebourg can still run outside the party, thus adding yet another nail to the electoral coffin in which the president finds himself immured. Of course, Montebourg has little organization and no money, so he really needs the party more than the party needs him, and Cambadélis may decide simply to call his bluff. But this maneuver merely proves that he is yet another small-time Machiavelli, playing what he thinks is a clever game before a public that is largely uninterested and universally unimpressed.


FrédéricLN said...

I agree (sadly) about Montebourg. His agenda is desperately neither meat nor fish — just "considering" that State might buy "one of the large banks" is quite zero, as the largest banks are already socialized (coopératives — BPCE and CaLyon).

And about the total lack of consideration for substance, once the lobbies submitted their wordings, this is the sad rule of French polices since the 90's at last. A Président of a local authority proudly told me his Assembly had one debate on the substance, i.e. costs and benefits, of one vote. Once. Because, as a piece of luck, private interests within his Assembly were exactly balanced on the issue, say 20 to 20. So, he was happy to push a debate on the substance. This is certainly not only French. But it comes in sharp contrast with our deep belief that "l'intérêt général" emerges from overcoming "les intérêts particuliers" (rather that accommodating them or finding a compromise, that might be the American way). At the end, this emergence of "l'intérêt général" is just mimicked by the game you describe — l'Elysée and/or Matignon playing at toy soldiers with "représentants de la société civile" and sticking to their decision, whatever it is, relevant or not.

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