Wednesday, June 6, 2007


I reported the other day on an allegation of press censorship involving Vincent Bolloré, media mogul and friend of Sarkozy. Bolloré has now decided to allow the offending article, which he judged "extremely unpleasant for France," to be published. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that the story is complicated by the involvement of Philippe Thureau-Dangin, who is one of three* announced candidates for the editorship of Le Monde, to replace Jean-Marie Colombani, who has been rejected by that paper's Society of Journalists. The cynic in me is tempted to think that Le Monde is too big a prize to sacrifice for the sake of a continued ban on an article that disobligingly compares the French police to the Soviet police for having detained a troupe of Roma at Roissy.

The webs of ownership, interlocking directorates, rotating editorships, and traffic in inuendo and gossip in the French media have become too dense for an outsider to penetrate. One is reduced to Kremlinology. There are likely plots and plots within plots to be unraveled here, but my taste for conspiracy-mongering is limited, so I'll leave that chore to others.

* Correction: make that four announced candidates. This one appeared while I wasn't looking.

Communism Bankrupt?

It seems that the French Communist Party has hit on hard times. Nevertheless, the PCF is denying rumors that it will sell its spectacular Oscar Niemeyer-designed headquarters on the place du Colonel-Fabien (picture here), the art works inside, or its one item of residential property in Paris, a small apartment once occupied by Lenin. With only 1.93 percent of the vote in the presidential election, it will not be fully reimbursed by the state for its campaign expenses, and with a dwindling number of deputies, it can no longer count on their salaries, which used to go to the party treasury. The situation is dire.

Here in the United States, another venerable monolith finds itself in a similar pinch. The Catholic archdiocese of Massachusetts has been forced to sell off much of its property to pay legal expenses and compensate for the dwindling of its flock.

The comparison is not altogether facetious. In France some of the working-class voters who have fled the PCF have wound up in the camp of the Front National, which is well-established in old blue-collar towns and provides some of the kinds of support that used to be associated with the workers' party. The old party discipline and culture have evaporated. In the US, similarly, working-class Catholics once educated and to some degree formed politically by the Church now turn to evangelical denominations that instill a quite different culture and a radical-right political agenda bearing little resemblance to any of the forms of political Catholicism of old.

The disintegration of these two ideological anchors of the recent past has transformed the politics of the two sister republics.


Today is the seventh anniversary of the Parity Law, which was adopted on June 6, 2000. The law imposes a penalty on any party that runs slates of candidates in which the number of men differs from the number of women by more than two percent. Despite the law, the parties have preferred to forfeit part of the subsidy they receive from the state. They claim that there are not enough qualified female candidates to fill the slots available (and in a country where a recent survey reported that only 8 percent of women read a newspaper regularly, this claim may have a basis in fact).

Of the parties, the UMP has historically been the least paritaire. In 2002 only 19.7 percent of its candidates were women, and under the Parity Law it therefore forfeited 30.4 percent of its state subsidy, or over 4 million euros. The UDF counted 19.9 percent women among its candidates, and the PS 34.6 percent. (Source here.) In 2007, only 14.55 percent of French parliamentarians are women (compare US 16.3 and Sweden 47.3).

So it is not insignificant that Nicolas Sarkozy promised to have a paritaire government and followed through when elected. Seven of fifteen ministers in the Fillon government are women. Women hold some of the most important portfolios, including interior and justice. Most of the seven female ministers have independent stature, moreover; they do not owe their positions solely to the favor of Sarkozy. I've discussed Alliot-Marie, Dati, and Pecresse elsewhere in this blog. But consider Christine Lagarde, the minister of agriculture and fisheries. One of the many lawyers in the Fillon government, she was named "one of the most powerful women in the world" by Forbes Magazine in 2005.

So, progress. One step remains to be taken, however: I've yet to see (perhaps I've missed it) a female minister jogging with the president. I look forward to the day.

For deep historical background on gender and politics in France, one can do no better than Judith Surkis's new book, Sexing the Citizen.