Thursday, July 12, 2007

Frontline Looks at France

I pass on the following e-mail, which I received just now:

Dear Mr. Goldhammer,

We've enjoyed your blog, and wanted to let you know about our video report, which we think your readers might be interested in.

Watch France: The Precarious Generation
FRONTLINE/World takes a look at the challenge of economic reform in France.

From the Producers:

This week, for the 218th time, the French will line the Champs Elysée to celebrate Bastille day with traditional French pomp and circumstance. It will be Nicolas Sarkozy's first chance to ride in the Presidential jeep, amidst the stylish military regiments of the big parade.

Though Sarkozy has settled into the Elysee Palace, the country is still waiting to see what future the new president will chart for France. As he slowly unfurls his plans and policy – policy expected to break radically with France's Gaullist tradition of socialist-style protections - he must consider the ranks of the "precarious generation".

It's a name a dissatisfied generation of young French people have chosen for themselves and in France: The Precarious Generation, we take a closer look at the anxieties of this new generation of workers in France. They grew up expecting the way of life their parents had, but instead are finding themselves jobless and sans social benefits. The French term is precarité - and both alienated youth from the projects, or banlieus, and the middle class graduating jobless - are feeling it.

We were there last summer on Bastille day, and captured on film a handful of characters that represent France at a crossroads. The video illustrates French sentiment towards the traditional social model, as well as what many see as its polar opposite: American-style capitalisme sauvage. Their views shed light on the opposition Sarkozy might have to overcome if he makes any aggressive moves to the right and the economic difficulty the country might face if his reform is unsuccessful.

You can watch the video here:

Or paste this url into your browser:

Click on 'watch video'. You can watch the video using quicktime or realplayer software - and choose to see it small or large - choose LARGE!!!

Singeli Agnew
Charlotte Buchen

Producers/Frontline World Fellows

Minc Joins the Exodus

Alain Minc, locked in a dispute with Le Monde's journalists about his influence at the paper, is reportedly going to accept an offer from Sarkozy to leave his present post and join a commission "to reflect on the conditions of press financing" in France. Another stone not left unturned by the president, who seems determined to outrun and outflank all opposition. The charge that he has too much influence over the media through friends like Alain Minc has dogged him for some time, so it makes sense to douse this fire by removing the fuel. To some it will look more like removing the fox from the forest and appointing him to watch over the henhouse. But there will be plenty of "reflection" going on in Paris, what with commissions cropping up right and left to ponder such matters as financing the press, responding to globalization, and reforming institutions. The devil finds work for idle hands, and Sarko seems determined to make sure that no hands--or, more important, brains--are left idle to hatch any plots he doesn't have a hand in himself.

LATE ADDENDUM: Minc denies the report.

The Left Hangs On

Fifty-one percent disapprove of Sarkozy: the left might take this poll result as good news if it reflected the sentiments of the electorate as a whole, but this is Sarko's score among self-identified voters of the left! Forty-three percent of the same group approves of the president's performance thus far, including the opening to personalities of the left. Is this merely an effet d'état de grâce, or has Sarko truly destabilized the left and initiated a "party realignment" in France? What is clear, in any case, as Libé notes, is that almost nothing remains of the "demonization" of Sarkozy during the campaign. François Miquet-Marquety distinguishes three "lefts": one "benevolent" toward Sarkozy (43%), one "critical" (31%), and a third "hostile" (20%).

To be sure, Sarko's tactics have contributed to the de-demonization. He has played down the more repressive aspects of his platform. Of these, only the minimum sentencing law has drawn much attention, and even that has received relatively little press compared with the resignation of several members of Dati's staff (what we could call "inside the Beltway" news in the US--we might say "inside the periphérique" in France, but that would be much too broad for this minor flap, which should probably be called "around the Place Vendôme"). The ministry of immigration has talked more about encouraging "economic immigration" and less about roundups of the undocumented, deportations, and other more muscular measures.

One sign that this approach might be temporary was noted yesterday by La République des Lettres. It seems that the justice ministry has taken the unusual step of appealing the dismissal of a suit against the rapper Hamé, leader of the group La Rumeur, whose allegations of police brutality enraged the authorities.

On International Institutions and Domestic Power

cjb wrote in a comment to a previous post:

But de Gaulle did say, regarding the pan-European institutions, "send the most stupid", a signal of the extent to which international institutions were considered pale imitations of their national counterparts. The EU has often been the political doghouse. Of a matter of biding time. At any rate, I think we can say more boldly that it's a giant cop-out. Rather than take on the PS and its voters/militants, DSK would rather strut around on the international stage, gain whatever kudos he can from that, and then return with an even larger claim to technocratic competence. Assuming, of course, that any of this has to do with longer term political ambitions...

Now, no one would deny de Gaulle's political shrewdness, but no one would deny, either, that the world has changed a good deal since de Gaulle. International institutions have indeed been used as doghouses or parking places but not only for the "most stupid." Think of Adlai Stevenson at the UN, or Arthur Goldberg. Both deserved better fates but were outfoxed by wilier men with a less robust sense of duty and a more ruthless approach to power, and it may be, indeed I would grant cjb that it is likely, that DSK will suffer a similar fate at the IMF. Nevertheless, I believe that international institutions need to be strengthened, and this will not happen unless men and women with significant national political ambitions choose to make them instruments of their own interests. If the call to serve in such places is answered only dutifully, the investment will not be commensurate with the task. If self-interest is engaged, then there will be sufficient incentive to take the requisite risks.

International institutions will indeed be a pis-aller if they are seen only as instruments of nation-states, and hence of politicians back home, rather than of the individuals dispatched to run them. For cjb, DSK has nothing to gain from the IMF but an enhancement of his "technocratic competence." That he might also gain "political competence" is implicitly denied, presumably because the IMF is not responsible to an electorate. But politics is the art of reconciling conflicting interests, and nowhere are the conflicts of interest more dramatic than at the IMF, where the fronde of the poor nations against the rich (mentioned by Attali) is one of the great political challenges of the next decade. Another challenge that the IMF might take up under a creative leader is the problem of finding productive uses for the surplus liquidity soaked up by countries with huge trade surpluses. Rather than continue to finance profligate spending by the dissolute rich, some of this cash could be used to reduce the inequalities between the rich and the poor that are fueling the fronde. It is of course possible that DSK will shirk these challenges, miss the opportunity, and simply indulge himself at the head table of the world's elite. But that is a matter of character, not circumstance, and if he wants to be president of France, he may as well seize the opportunity to demonstrate both his character and his mettle and perhaps learn a trick or two while he's at it.

A Lang Shot

Asked whether Sarkozy didn't have "ulterior motives" in naming him to a commission on institutional reform, Jack Lang replied, "Who doesn't have ulterior motives?" He then went on to explain to Libération how he had been stabbed in the back by Hollande and Ayrault. Later, on RTL, he returned the favor by stabbing them in the front: although he had told Libé that it was not a good idea in politics to hold grudges, he nevertheless suggested a "collective resignation" of a PS leadership that is in the process of "destroying itself." The party should be turned over to the militants: this would be the "healthier, fairer" way to rebuild. Since Ségolène Royal was oddly absent from his indictment of the leadership for the party's "heavy defeat," we may presume that the ulterior motives that Lang so generously distributed to all were here being kept ulterior.

Meanwhile, in Tunisia, the president of the Republic appeared for a midnight swim with his entourage and reporters. Libé's Antoine Guiral delivered himself of a mocking, almost sneering account of the occasion, as is de rigueur in such circumstances. Journalists don't like being condescended to by les grands, so Guiral condescends in turn: "For a good hour [the president] indulged in an exercise in self-satisfaction, narrating his own glory and attesting mightily to the pleasures of power. Ever so delighted to belong to the club of rulers of the world."

And there you have a vignette of what the French like to call la vie politique in France at this moment: a self-satisfied president, a self-lacerating, self-destructive opposition, and a self-parodying press.