Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Peace Is at Hand

I borrow my title from the famous words of Henry Kissinger at the Paris Peace Conference. I don't know why these words sprang to mind when I learned that I was wrong yesterday to say that Bruno Julliard, the head of the student union UNEF, would be hard to please. In fact, he's pleased as punch. Perhaps it occurred to me that this increased the likelihood of peace in the streets of France this fall.

Under the reformed reform proposal submitted today by Valérie Pécresse, all universities will become autonomous within 5 years, and there is to be no selection, at least not immediately, at the bac+4 or master's entry stage. There will continue to be selection 2 years earlier and 1 year later, so why this concession should have mattered so much to UNEF is not entirely transparent. M. Julliard is unhappy about only one thing: that it took the intervention of the president himself to achieve this provisionally happy resolution. He thinks this demonstrates an unhealthy presidentialization of the regime. Back during the anti-CPE demonstrations, I seem to recall, the same M. Julliard was urging the then-president to intervene and deploring his aloofness. But a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Perhaps I recall Kissinger's words for another reason as well. Peace in fact wasn't at hand when he made that announcement, and somehow I suspect that peace isn't really at hand now. But a first hurdle has been overcome. The UNEF is happy that its cries have been heard; the university presidents are happy that their reservations have been noted. Only the enseignants et chercheurs remain disconsolate for the moment, but they are merely the workers of the education industry. The managers and customers are satisfied, so the workers will have to adjust. Not a word has yet been said about curricular reform, which might be thought to be the heart of the matter. But one step at a time. Score another early victory for Sarkozy and the Sarkozyan method: du pragmatisme, encore du pragmatisme, toujours du pragmatisme. Or faire la part du feu pour sauver le bois. Handy of French to have such an apt apothegm for tactical retreat.

Humanitarian Intervention vs. Angélisme

Christophe Bickerton, in a guest post, observes that some humanitarian groups worry that Kouchner and Sarkozy will "use" humanitarian intervention to serve French political interests rather than the other way round. Such angélisme seems to me misplaced. Very little good would get done in the world if it didn't serve less than spotless interests. Since I invoked Shakespeare in a response to another commenter today, let me call again upon the Bard:

Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so
spotless, if it come to the arbitrement of swords, can try it out
with all unspotted soldiers: some peradventure have on them the
guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some, of beguiling
virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars
their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace
with pillage and robbery.
--Henry V, IV,1
Humanitarians had better worry that their good intentions yield perverse consequences than fret that politicos might make sordid use of their nobler purposes.

Radical Paganism in Brittany (Christophe Bickerton)

Guest post from Christophe Bickerton

For the truly bizarre, little beats a recent spate of attacks on sixteenth century chapels in Brittany (Finistere). For detailed accounts, read here, here and here. Before the four individuals were arrested, there was speculation that the attacks were the work of Satanists. Previous attacks on churches in the Morbihan (Southern Brittany) had been the work of Satanists. In fact, this time around, the four young people arrested had been acting in the name of the TABM: True Armorik Black Metal. They believed Christianity - in an early version of what today we might call 'cultural imperialism' - had unjustly imposed itself upon sites of significance for pagans and druids. Brittany is known for its pagan history, and for the attachment many of its population has with the past. This time round, there is probably an intriguing story to tell about bored Breton teenagers inventively combining the gothic nihilism of Marilyn Manson with the archaic anti-modernism of a region that has never fully accepted its absorption into the French Republic. John Stuart Mill once wrote something about how Bretons and Basques should stop sulking on their rocks and embrace the French nation. Sounds like a few still need convincing.

-- CB

What happened to the humanitarian corridors? (Christophe Bickerton)

A guest post from Christophe Bickerton:

When Bernard Kouchner was first appointed as foreign minister in Nicolas Sarkozy's government, there was speculation about whether he would be able to stand the diplomatic niceties and constraints that come with the post. Kouchner's career has been built upon appearing to go against the grain, telling governments and world leaders what they don't want to hear. That Kouchner has swum against the tide is dubious. His career has in fact matched the 'rise and rise of human rights', and its place in the diplomatic mainstream is now firmly assured. The difficulty is that acting in the name of human rights doesn't fit very well with the narrow raison d'état of national governments and foreign ministries. In the 1990s, humanitarian intervention was all the rage, but many on-the-ground humanitarian agencies have resented the actions of great powers, whose own human rights agendas have been tainted by the grubbiness of political opportunism.

With all of that in mind, it is interesting to follow Kouchner's recent efforts over Darfur. Up until now, nothing much has happened in terms of concerted Western intervention. The standard explanation is that China is torpedoing attempts to bully the Sudanese government, since Sudan is one of its chief oil suppliers. It's more likely that the war in the Iraq, and ongoing failures in Afghanistan, have sapped the will to intervene. Kouchner has brought to all of this his legendary optimism, and France appears to be taking up the mantle of humanitarianism. Kouchner initially proposed that an EU-led force establish a humanitarian corridor, operating from neighbouring Chad. This was deemed too dangerous. It is also possible that other EU member states didn't like the idea of putting the EU badge onto an operation that was obviously French-led, and smelt a bit too much like old-style French interventionism in its African backyard. Now, Kouchner is pushing for a joint UN-African Union force. Reports are that the Sudanese government has accepted this. However, already, a few groups are expressing their concern that Kouchner may hijack Darfur in order to score a French diplomatic victory, at the expense of doing anything useful on the ground. The French government convened in Paris this week a meeting of an 'enlarged' contact group, which brought together Condoleezza Rice, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Chinese envoy to Sudan, and a host of others. France is clearly positioning itself as new kid on the humanitarian bloc. Watch this space.

-- CB

Rebuilding the Socialist Party 4

Yesterday I complained that the current generation of Socialist leaders is deficient in the art of politics and argued that education and experience had something to do with this. Today Libé reports that one prominent Socialist whose name I omitted, Martine Aubry, has made progress in developing a real rapport with the classes populaires of the city she leads as mayor, Lille. Aubry is an énarque and, as the daughter of Jacques Delors, to the manner born, yet one of her constituents says of her that she's becoming "more and more like Mauroy. You sense a kind of affection, you feel that she's from the region. At first she didn't come on that way, but little by little she's been making progress. Emotionally." Sur l'affectif. This is good to know. This is where the PS needs work. Aubry has been somewhat in eclipse at the national level, perhaps because she's been cultivating her garden in Lille. It may be that renewal will come from the local level, as the national leadership continues its fratricidal death spiral.*

*For an earlier and quite different view of her style as mayor of Lille, however, see this article from Le Figaro.

Correction from a Reader

The French economist Eloi Laurent, in a comment, offers the following corrective to one of yesterday's posts. I find his argument quite persuasive and thought it deserved to be moved out of the comments section and given prominence here as a guest post. This is precisely the kind of dialogue I hope the blog will stimulate.

Art, I strongly disagree with the teaming of DSK with the PS énarques under the motive that he once taught at ENA. These are two complelety different things (He also taught at HEC, and ENA, for most of the courses, employs contractual lecturers, not tenured professors). Mostly, it obscures a crucial difference between DSK and the others, which is that he comes from the academic world (like J. Lang), economics to be precise (he holds a Phd and the "agrégation" and currently teaches undergrads at Sciences-po). The reason why this is so important is because of the notorious lack of any serious economic formation at ENA (Michel Rocard, himself an Inspecteur des Finances, top-notch énarque has made this point forcefuly several times). This plays a major role in the favor given to ideological approaches of economic issues by énarques (all ideologies, including jumping from marxism-leninism into hayekism-friedmanism : as counter-intuitive as it may seem, ENA is an active foyer of neo-liberalism in France). The inability of most énarques to access pragmatic understanding of evidence-based, up-to-date economics (Attali being one of the most seriously handicapped of them all) is in my view the key to understanding why and how the PS has been unable to rebuild itself on sound intellectual bases for the last quarter of century. The deeply confused campaign of Ségolène Royal on economic and social issues (where I think she lost the election), not to mention the joke of the "Projet socialiste", shows that the PS is still far from a reality check. I don't know if DSK can bring about this change (as a matter of fact, I doubt it), but at least he is intellectually equipped and has a (short) more than decent record as a Minister of Economics and Finance under Jospin.

You can read more of Eloi here.

OECD Economic Survey of France

The OECD has just released its 2007 Economic Survey of France. The policy brief version is available here.

New Team at Le Monde

Tony Blair, shortly before leaving office, delivered himself of a blistering diatribe against the media, whose irresponsibility he sees as one of the gravest problems facing democratic societies today. Others would emphasize the ownership of the media above the irresponsibility, frivolity, and triviality of some journalists. That there is a serious problem here is nevertheless universally agreed. Hence it is of some moment when a country's newspaper of record overhauls its management significantly.

Le Monde has just made major changes in its top ranks. Eric Fottorino, currently directeur de la rédaction, will become directeur du journal. Pierre Jeantet will become directeur du groupe, but he is to step aside in three years in favor of the man who will become for now his deputy, Bruno Patino.

Fottorino, 47, was born in Nice and has degrees in law and political science, is a prize-winning novelist, and bicycles. Here is his comment on the conclusion of the recent electoral cycle. Le Monde's journalists' society, which rejected Jean-Marie Colombani in part because he was allegedly too close to "friends of Sarkozy," seems to be reasonably satisfied with his replacement: Fottorino received 62.8 percent of the "shares" voted.

An Active Sage

Laurent Fabius, in an interview with Le Monde, defines for himself a new role within the Socialist Party as "active sage." Party activists are furious with the leadership, he says, for occupying themselves with potshots at one another rather than with the renovation of the party. Hence he will refrain from participating in the daily sniping. Yet he couldn't restrain himself from slipping several daggers into Ségolène Royal, whom he finds guilty of having squandered a five-point lead at the time of her nomination and turning it into a three-point deficit by the date of the election. If only she had been as nimble as he in exposing the treacherous social TVA in his televised exchange with Fillon, she would have done so much better, he implies.

He goes on, sagely but actively, not to say aggressively, to accuse the candidate of combining three debilitating defects: she was neither presidential nor credible nor collegial. His response to a question about the controversial platform plank to increase the SMIC to 1500 euros raises doubts about his own credibility, however, since what he now defends in retrospect is the idea of a coup de pouce to the SMIC (for further explanation, see here), not an increase to any specific number. Evidently, the figure "1500" is now to be interpreted as merely symbolic. Still, he claims, Royal has now called into question her "sincerity" by retrospectively exposing this subterfuge. To an objective observer, however, it might seem that the sincerity of the party colleagues with whom she was allegedly so "uncollegial" is equally in question for having remained silent about the unreality of the figure throughout the campaign. (The figure was certainly unreal, because it would have granted a 50-percent wage increase to 17 percent of private sector workers overnight.)

In the course of his sagacious musings, the active sage also takes credit for the transformation of the European Constitution into a so-called simplified mini-treaty, which in reality he rightly finds quite complicated yet nevertheless an improvement over the rejected Constitution, to the defeat of which he contributed with his advocacy of a "no" vote against the wishes of a majority of his own party. Yet he is equivocal about whether he will actually support the "improved" product.

In all, a characteristically perfidious performance by Fabius, once a favorite of Mitterrand's and now apparently the heir to le Florentin's collection of daggers and stilettos. If this is what it means to be a "sage" in politics, it is no wonder that voters prefer the bare-knuckled, plain-spoken manner of the man they elected, who, unlike Laurent Fabius, admitted to dreaming of the presidency even when he wasn't shaving.