Friday, October 19, 2007

The Past Is Prologue?

Which president of France is described in the following passage?

During the electoral campaign X had promised "profound change" and "a break with the past." ... As press accounts emphasized, X seemed to possess the institutional power necessary for the introduction of substantial change. ... X and his conservative coalition controlled [most] of the seats in the National Assembly. ... X assembled his cabinet and began attempting to deliver on his campaign promises. ... X's extraordinary "voluntarism"--what Americans might call his "can-do" style--aroused a variety of expectations ...

Of course you recognized Jacques Chirac, in the description of John Keeler and Martin Schain in the introduction to Chirac's Challenge, published in 1996. They went on:

After a year in office, the expectations aroused by the president's voluntarist style

.. would prove difficult to fulfill. ... [He] ignored the need for sacrifice and jeopardized the chances for economic growth. ... It rapidly became clear that, as president, Chirac would have a dfficult time retaining the breadth or depth of support he was able to generate as a candidate. Detached analysts stressed that his economic program was contrary in the extreme. ... The early conflicts within the new government [soon] came to a head. ...

Language Politics

Lexicographer Alain Rey takes after linguistic purists and deriders of a supposed "decline in standards" in his new book, L'amour du français: Contre les puristes et autres censeurs de la langue. French as it exists today is, for Rey, the product of a vast "métissage." He remarks that "the lexicon of any language spoken over a long period of time and in many places is un mille-feuilles." Which in English we call "a Napoleon," reminding us that, while language is often a treat, it also follows empire and is imposed by force. I swerve myself between being a purist, sometimes more Catholic than the pope, and a partisan of the pungent and piquant language of the moment and the streets. And of course in either mood I look to Alain Rey, the editor-in-chief of Le Robert, as a fount of wisdom on the subject.

The Lisbon Treaty

The new European Treaty has been adopted by the Lisbon summit, and Sarkozy wants it to be ratified by the French parliament before the end of the year. Some Socialists have announced their opposition to the procedure. The most prominent of these, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, was of course also a leader of the "no" vote on the referendum. He'd like to have another go. It would be a pity if the Socialist Party as a whole were to be drawn into this impasse by the logic of confrontation with Sarkozy. It will no doubt be tempting to make an issue of the whole Sarkozyan style of governing by claiming that opposition to the ratification procedure is not opposition to the treaty as such. But another referendum defeat would be disastrous for Europe. Some will no doubt tell me that I'm no democrat for saying so, and I plead guilty to the charge, if to be a "democrat" means always to prefer the direct democracy of referenda to the representative democracy of parliamentary debate. I can only hope that pro-Europe Socialists will have the backbone to resist the calls for a popular vote and to use the opportunity afforded by the parliamentary procedure to make the case that the European Union, for all its flaws, is preferable to European disunion.

To see where referendum fever leads, one has only to look across the channel. Meanwhile, VoxEU today begins a series of columns on how the EU can enhance its influence in global economic policymaking and help member states to confront economic challenges.

Stock Options

Economist Élie Cohen analyzes the issue of taxing deferred salary in the form of stock options and Louis Gallois's proposal to eliminate stock options in favor of payment in company shares distributed gratis.

Private Life

The principle that the private life of public men has no business in the newspapers has evidently been "rendered inoperative," to borrow a phrase from the Nixon era. Le Monde, which had maintained a discreet silence as the Sarkozy marriage drew to a close, today offers a detailed account, not only of Cécilia's affair with M. Attias but of Nicolas's simultaneous affair with "a journalist from Le Figaro." Cécilia is said to have more in common "with Mme Bovary than with Mme de Maintenon." The piece, which reads like the report of a private detective ("She tells her husband she is leaving him and heads for the airport. He follows in an official automobile, siren screaming, in vain. She joins Richard Attias in Petra, Jordan ..."), is signed by Raphaëlle Bacqué and Philippe Ridet. The former has been busy in this genre, since she was involved in digging up the dirt on the Hollande-Royal couple as well. Who needs Choc and Closer when we have Le Monde pipolisé?