Monday, July 2, 2007

More Socialists Join Sarko

It was announced today that Socialist Jack Lang has accepted an invitation from Pres. Sarkozy to join a group that will reflect on institutional reform. Another Socialist, Hubert Védrine, the former foreign minister, has accepted a call to reflect on France and globalization after rejecting an earlier invitation to join the government (reportedly as foreign minister, before the appointment of Kouchner to that post).

As if on cue, Lang also gave Le Monde an interview, defending Sarkozy against the charge of "hyperpresidentialism." Of course, says Lang. "Et alors?"

I can't criticize Lang for taking this view, since it is the view I have expressed consistently in this blog. If Sarkozy is "hyperpresidential," it is chiefly by contrast with the torpor of Chirac. Hyperpresidentialism is built into the structure of the Fifth Republic. It takes an active president to make things work. Lang puts it this way: "We're rediscovering a reality in France. All power is concentrated in the president. Wouldn't it be logical, therefore, to establish a true presidential regime? An executive power checked by a real parliament, endowed with real powers." A refreshingly candid statement from a left that has had a hard time finding its voice.

Will Lang now be expelled from the party? True, he hasn't accepted a ministry, but his defense of the Sarkozyan method is more forthright than that of any of the Socialist ministers.

Right-Wing Gramscist?

Le Monde surveys a number of economists for their opinion of Sarkozy's economic program and principles. My favorite characterization comes from Dominique Plihon of ATTAC's scientific advisory committee and prof at Paris XIII: "Nicolas Sarkozy is practicing a 'Gramscism of the right.' He uses ideas to serve the conquest of power, not power to serve an idea."

Free Speech?

On Saturday, I mentioned that UMP deputy Christian Vanneste was the first person in France to be sentenced under the law of 30 December 2004, which makes it a criminal offense to discriminate against homosexuals or make homophobic statements. Vanneste was found guilty of "insults based on sexual orientation." He was sentenced to pay a fine of 3000 euros, damages in the same amount to the parties civiles in the case (3 gay rights organizations), and court costs.

The judgments of the several courts involved in the case can be read here. Vanneste criticizes homosexuality not on religious but on philosophical grounds. He argues first that sexual orientation is "a free choice, not a fate." He sees it, moreover, as an individual choice, to be assumed as such, rather than as a title to membership in a "community" with a claim to particular social rights or status. "I do not call for stigmatization or punishment," he says, but merely "discretion." He further contends that the homosexual "choice" is "inferior" to the heterosexual one because it "cannot be universalized." Or, more precisely, if it were universalized, it would be a "threat to humanity." But such a "threat" is to be regarded as hypothetical; it does not mean that he considers homosexuality "dangerous." He adds that he regards organizations representing gays as "sectarian" rather than representative.

These, in bald summary, are the facts on which Vanneste was tried and found guilty. The appellate court recognized the "philosophical" character of Vanneste's remarks but nevertheless found them susceptible of inciting hatred of homosexuals and therefore upheld the conviction.

This judgment comes as something of a shock to an American observer who is a card-carrying member of the ACLU, which vigorously defends the right of free speech, and who is old enough to remember that the political upheaval of the 60s began with the Free Speech Movement. The Franco-American contrast in this case strikes me as no less stark and no less interesting than in the matter of the foulard islamique. To my knowledge, it has not been much studied by scholars. I think it would repay scrutiny, along with other restrictions on free speech in France and other European countries.

European Economic Strengths

A very interesting article on VoxEU points to a number of relative advantages of European economies and weaknesses of the US economy. Particularly interesting is the comparison of efficiency of energy use. US GDP per unit of energy is only 4.5, compared with 5.9 for France and 6.9 EU average. Paul De Grauwe also notes a sharp decline in US social mobility.