Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bickerton on the Arche de Zoé Affair

Sometime "French Politics" contributor Christopher Bickerton has an interesting article on the Arche de Zoé Affair in Spiked.

The Recriminalization of Insanity

At the time of the "little Enis" case, Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear that he believed there ought to be some way of affording emotional satisfaction to the victims of crimes whose perpetrators were deemed "not responsible" for their acts by reason of insanity. Now Rachida Dati is ready to introduce a bill that would eliminate the insanity defense altogether, if I understand the purpose of the bill correctly. This is a step backward. The French are often critical, and rightly so, of the use of the death penalty in the United States. It is argued that the death penalty belongs to a lower stage of civilization. I am not sure that abolishing the insanity defense establishes the claim to have advanced to a higher level.


A little more information has begun to emerge about what university students are protesting in various places across France. The central grievance seems to be the principle of university budgetary autonomy, and in particular the possibility that individual universities will seek to raise private funds to augment whatever money they receive from the state. Students fear that this will ultimately lead to privatization of the universities and increased inequality. The concern is not unfounded, but the government thought it had won acceptance of this point in negotiations with the student unions several months ago. So Valérie Pécresse's consternation is comprehensible.

On the substance of the issue, I think there is good reason to be concerned about the possible distortion of educational priorities by the injection of private funds. Nevertheless, competition and choice can be useful stimuli. The goal should be to allow students of equal talent an equal opportunity to choose among competing universities. To insist on equality among universities is to ensure mediocrity, and the existence of Grandes Écoles belies the egalitarian discourse in any case.

Tactically, Bruno Julliard's UNEF seems to have been outmaneuvered by the Collectif Contre l'Autonomie des Universités (CCAU), a new group apparently influenced by the extreme left, which is also a force in the more militant union protests against the special retirement regime reforms. The UNEF apparently joined the CCAU-led university protest yesterday, fearful of being left behind though dubious about the mobilizing issue. In short, it appears that there is an effort afoot to bring student and worker discontent together over the next few weeks in the hope of derailing Sarkozy, just as Juppé was derailed in 1995. How Sarko handles this confrontation will be an important test. If he gets past these next few weeks without conceding too much, he will have consolidated his presidency.

I would be particularly interested in hearing from readers who know anything about the CCAU and its leadership, affiliation with other organizations and parties, etc.

"Let Them Ride Bikes"

When the price of bread rose, Marie-Antoinette said (aprocyphally), "Let them eat cake." When the price of gas rose, Christine Lagarde said, "Let them ride bikes." A farmers' union official from the FDSEA suggested that she try pulling a harrow or seeding machine with "a vélib' de Paris." Now we know why Sarko went out to face the fishermen in Guilvinec. He remembered the fate of le boulanger, la boulangère, et le mitron.

Sarko Kisses Hand, Bush Speaks French

As you can see from the picture, la rupture has not affected one ritual of Franco-American relations: the presidential kiss of the First Lady's hand. Someone will have to explain the protocol. As I recall, Sarko kisses Angela Merkel on the cheek but doesn't kiss her hand. Bush, in any case, doesn't look any more pleased than when Chirac kissed Laura's hand, though France is now our "staunchest ally," according to the briefing Nick Burns gave yesterday to L'Express--in French, for a while, until he ran out of clichés and switched to English, the language in which his unctuous mastery is more fully on display. Bush, too, spoke French, long enough to say Bienvenue à la Maison Blanche.

Meanwhile, Cécilia is also doing her part for Franco-American relations. The New York Post ran a photo of her emerging from a Manhattan restaurant named Orsay. Note, however, that the quai d'Orsay was conspicuously absent from the higher echelons of Sarko's entourage, unless you count Rama Yade, whose extraordinary beauty seems to bump her up a few protocol notches above the place her status as a junior minister would otherwise entitle her to. She, along with Christine Lagarde and Rachida Dati, accompanied Sarko to a state dinner, demonstrating to admiring Americans that the French have learned to manage "diversity" as glibly as their American hosts. Sarko also brought a chef with him, and the director of the Louvre. All of this connotes a "return to normalcy" in Franco-American relations: hand-kissing, elegant women, haute cuisine, haute couture, and high art--these are the things that represent "the good France," "our oldest ally," in the American psyche, and as long as the French content themselves with the finer things of life and don't meddle in the serious business of war and finance, we can get along just fine.

Sarko seems willing to play along. He is even finding time in his brief 26 hours in the US to meet with what The Times delicately describes as "American Jewish leaders"--and no doubt his advisor Jean-David Levitte has told him how heated things were with that group just a few short years ago. All is forgiven if not forgotten, and The Times even finds space to mention [I'm correcting an error in my original post here] that Sarkozy's mother is partly Jewish (for la petite histoire; la grande will remember only that "France is back").