Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sixty Minutes Interview

I've just watched the Sixty Minutes interview with Sarko, and I must say that the characterization of him as having "stormed out" of the meeting in outrage was pure hype. He simply ended the interview abruptly when asked about Cécilia (this was two weeks before the divorce, but rumors were already flying). The "quel imbécile" remark in the promo clip was taken from the beginning of the interview, not the end, and was directed at his press secretary for scheduling the encounter at a time when he didn't want to have it. When he walked out, he shook Stahl's hand and thanked her for the interview. He did not lose his temper.

The Stahl piece was a tissue of banalities and clichés, as one would expect from a reporter so ill-informed about France (see previous post). Too often, the coverage of France in the United States is of such appalling simple-mindedness--cartoonish, really--that one can only sympathize with Sarko and Levitte as they attempt to put across to the American viewer a message that they know in advance will be deprived of all subtlety and nuance by the crudeness of the instrument with which they are obliged to work. What a depressing spectacle.

Anyone in the Boston area who would like to learn more about France under Sarkozy could do worse than come to Center for European Studies at Harvard on Nov. 1 at 4:15 P.M. for a panel discussion on "Le régime Sarkozy":
Announcement here.

Lesley Stahl Does France

Sarko apparently stormed out of his interview with Lesley Stahl because she asked him a question about Cécilia, but he should have refused to meet with her because she is so utterly ignorant of France, as this "reporter's notebook" makes clear (click on the "Lesley Stahl's notebook" link). She states that France "used to be anti-American but is now pro-American and pro-Israel" and that the French are "prohibited by law" from working more than 35 hours per week. This misunderstanding may make it difficult for her to comprehend Sarkozy's reform of the tax on overtime work.

Regular blog readers will be interested to learn that they have been joined today by hundreds of newcomers who are discovering "French Politics" for the first time, apparently because the news that Sarko walked out on CBS is spreading around the United States like wildfire. Today will set a record for hits on this site, most coming from people searching Google for "French president storms out of CBS interview." With one impulsive action, Sarko may have wiped out much of his carefully planned seduction of America. Or maybe not. Although Stahl opines that the French may like their politicians on the macho side, she seems to have forgotten what mileage Bush got in the good old days with lines like "Bring 'em on."

School of Tall Studies

Note the translation of Hautes Études. In related news, the school in question is moving to Aubervilliers, which may make it a tall order for some of its students to get there.

Sarko Storms Out of CBS Interview

Nicolas Sarkozy storms out of an interview with CBS. Tonight on 60 Minutes.

Controversy in Comments

In case you missed it, there is some controversy in the comments to a previous post. There I reported the remarks of various present and former MEDEF officials to the effect that the now-exposed UIMM slush fund was used in part to finance the unions. Greg Brown noted that François Chérèque of the CFDT denied that his union had received any employer funds that it had not disclosed publicly and suggested that the MEDEF had circulated the story to discredit union leadership. Indeed, I had reported this same theory, advanced weeks ago when the Gautier-Sauvagnac story first broke by Daniel Schneidermann of Arrêt sur Images among others. Alain Q. pointed out, however, that the unions are not required to publish their full accounts and disparaged what he called "the MEDEF conspiracy theory" by saying that 600 million was a lot to spend on such a purpose.

Of course we don't actually know that MEDEF, UIMM, Gautier-Sauvagnac or anyone else funneled any precise number of euros to any particular union's accounts. The various employer slush funds are no more transparent than the union accounts, and the fact that large sums of cash were withdrawn from UIMM accounts and avowedly used for purposes not recorded in any books doesn't prove that any or all of the money went to any or all of the unions.

Furthermore, side payments can exist even where accountability laws are nominally stricter. In Germany, for instance, it has been established in court that VW paid large sums to a union leader, and the disbursements were disguised in its audited corporate accounts. So a change in the law alone will not be enough to remedy the situation.

One problem in France is surely the fact that neither employer associations nor trade union leadership is effectively monitored by members. Most workers do not belong to unions and have neither incentives nor means to monitor, while union insiders, who might monitor their leaders, are often paid staff who stand to share in any occult benefits. Employer associations seem to operate largely unmonitored by the firms that contribute to them and are ultimately the depositors to their slush funds. Corporate boards might thus be expected to have an interest in knowing what happens to the money. So might shareholders, if any, and shareholders might be on less intimate terms with association heads than board members. But the structure of French capitalism is still relatively archaic, as Thomas Philippon has pointed out in his book Le capitalisme des héritiers. For example, the proportion of family-dominated firms is 64.8 percent, compared with 19.3 for the US (though Germany, at 64.6 is no more modern than France in this regard and family control remains fairly common in much of Europe). Closely held firms are presumably free to operate in move cavalier fashion than firms with a wider variety of stakeholders.