Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The EU in the French Election

A fragment of a longer piece I'm writing for The Tocqueville Review:

The most recent Eurobarometer shows that only 51 percent of the French feel “attached” to the European Union. Two French presidential candidates, Le Pen on the far right and Mélenchon on the far left, are calling for “Frexit” on the grounds that there is no other way to restore exclusive national sovereignty over budgetary and regulatory matters—sovereignty which they insist is both necessary and sufficient to resolve the problems that have bedeviled two successive French presidents. The Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon has taken up economist Thomas Piketty’s proposal for a Eurozone Parliament to bring greater democratic management (and legitimacy) to the common currency, but European commissioner for the economy and monetary affairs Pierre Moscovici has rightly criticized the plan as an impractical “dream”: “One has to start with Europe as it is, not as one dreams it ought to be.”

Indeed, opposition to “Europe” now functions as opposition to capitalism used to function in the past: it is a rhetorical badge of “radicalism,” proof that one is not in any way complicit with the existing “system,” the disappearance of which is taken to be the prerequisite for any improvement in the status quo. The particulars of the replacement are seldom specified or analyzed, however. This is radicalism on the cheap, predicated on the assumption that what is different can only be better. The inertia of what exists is minimized, and the transformative, disruptive power of the unknown and untried is magnified as only a projection on a tabula rasa can be.

In contrast to the radical options of exit or impossible institutional transformation, the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron characteristically prefers the blandly enigmatic formula of “strengthening the Franco-German couple” that is at the heart of European construction. Critics denounce this as merely more of the same, “muddling through,” a recipe for continued dominance of German ordoliberal preferences for rules over discretion, austerity over stimulus, and for the famous schwarze Null, the zero-deficit nirvana that is supposed to give backbone to otherwise spineless politicians inclined to spend their way out of whatever troubles arise.

The possibility that some reforms work slowly—il faut donner du temps au temps, as François Mitterrand put it—is discounted, as is the possibility that a shift in the balance of power in Germany’s Grand Coalition, from Christian Democratic to Social Democratic dominance, might make Macron’s cautious gradualism a more attractive (because less risky) choice. Of course, it is too early to say whether polls showing Martin Schulz for the first time ahead of Angela Merkel in the race to become the next chancellor will prove prophetic. What is certain, however, is that if any of the candidates proposing a radical change in France’s stance toward Europe should win the presidency, the pressure in the combustion chamber of the European engine will build to dangerous levels. If it explodes, the radicals will be left trying to reassemble the fragments of the shattered system, for which the people they claim to serve will be clamoring loudly once it ceases to supply their needs.

Fillon Mis en Examen

It's official: François Fillon has been mis en examen:

Le candidat Les Républicains à la présidentielle François Fillon a été mis en examen ce mardi 14 mars, pour "détournement de fonds publics", "complicité et recel de détournement de fonds publics", "complicité et recel d'abus de biens sociaux", "manquements aux obligations de déclarations à la haute autorité de la vie publique", ont affirmé des sources judiciaires à l'agence Reuters.
This comes two days after the JDD revealed that some mysterious person has been signing large checks for bespoke suits from chez Arnys.

I can't think of another candidate whose image has been so totally transformed in the course of a presidential campaign. Yesterday came word that 100 young Juppéistes were deserting LR for En Marche!, so however much the Trocadéro demo, with troops turned out by Sens Commun, may have shored up Fillon's support on the catho-traditional right, it weakened him in the center. If I had to guess, that means that most of Fillon's remaining supporters will go for Le Pen in round 2. This is the hard core of the ex-governmental right, which has no problem with the FN's xenophobia but rejects its defense of welfare chauvinism in favor of a hard-right paring back of the welfare state. The cross-cutting cleavages on immigration, social spending, and relation to the EU are tearing apart the French party system.

The next few years look to be quite unstable no matter who wins the presidency. The Fifth Republic may not be formally replaced by a Sixth, but its vaunted stability seems more and more likely to evaporate in a way that will revive memories of the Fourth.