Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why We Love Paris

This is off-topic, but too good to pass up: Polly reminds us why we love Paris.

The Euro Comes of Age

"Coming of Age: Report on the Euro Area," Bruegel's study of the economic health of Euroland, can be downloaded for free here.

News Conference Text

Ron Tiersky asked me if I knew where to find a full text of Sarkozy's news conference. I can do better than that. It seems that the delivered speech differed significantly from the written version. Here is the official transcript of the delivered speech.
And here and here are analyses of the differences between the two versions, together with an evaluation of the most frequently used words, rhetorical devices, etc.

Le Monde

Le Monde's ombudsperson Véronique Maurus compares the current crisis at the paper to the crisis of 1951, "which was also a political crisis, following an attempt by a political party (the MRP) to assert its power within the newspaper." Nowhere in the remainder of the piece, however, does she explain this dark allusion. She does not say which political party she accuses today, because she doesn't think she has to. She can take it for granted that her readers will fill in the blank and implies that because Arnaud Lagardère is a friend of Sarkozy's, his actions have no rationale other than politics (although Philippe Cohen has offered a plausible business rationale, as I noted yesterday). Nor does she reveal the party to the conflict for which she no doubt speaks, the Société des Rédacteurs du Monde, the association representing the paper's journalists.

Make no mistake. I support, insofar as I am able to judge the issues from the outside, the SRM in this affair. But since one of those goals is to maintain the independence of the newspaper, I think that the use of the newspaper's columns to discuss the conflict should make it clear that the writer has a position and explain the reasons for taking it. Maurus hides behind the mail received from readers--"We still count on you!"--to portray the conflict in Manichaean terms without either describing the Good being defended or naming the Evil. This is demagoguery, not debate, and it diminishes the newspaper in which it appears--to say nothing of calling into question the very independence it purports to defend.

Labor Market Talks

So the talks on labor market reform, about which I wrote yesterday, have ended without an agreement and with the usual spectrum of reactions among the "social partners." The MEDEF is upbeat: "For the first time in France, flexicurity! Welcome to the Scandinavian workers' paradise!" Which of course raises the question of why it's the bosses who are so pleased at the prospect of entering this particular Valhalla.

Meanwhile, on the side of the workers, the usual confusion reigns. "Lukewarm" seems to be the operative adjective, but lukewarm might be putting it a bit strongly. The CFDT speaks of "real satisfactions and profound regrets." Severance pay has been doubled, rights to job training can be transferred from one firm to another, and there is a bonus for youth employment (stop me if you've heard this one before). So what's the profound regret? That the provision for "friendly termination" allows only for a review by the local labor department rather than the conseil de prud'hommes (labor conciliation board, which includes representatives of workers). Is this really reason for profound regret?

Of course one never knows in these affairs which gallery is being played to. The CFDT can't look too pleased if the MEDEF is rubbing its hands with glee. Gabrielle Simon of the CFTC says she'll present the results to her members, but her assessment won't be "dithyrambic." And Maryse Dumas of the CGT says "there are more dangers than positive points in this agreement." Bilan globalement négatif, alors? And for FO it's "a certain number of advances" and "quite a few regrets."

Sounds to me like near-agreement. But this is the way it goes in France lately. Reforms are proposed. The union leaderships resign themselves to the changes with one degree or another of hope that it all might work out somehow. But when the moment comes, at least a part of the rank-and-file won't go along (notice that there is no statement from SUD above). There are strikes. The rhetoric heats up. Union leaders begin to fear that they won't be able to carry their troops with them. And the government has either to arbitrate or lead the retreat. Still, it seems pretty clear that the days of the old CDI (unlimited duration contract) are over. There will be some kind of "friendly" termination, and workers will receive a certain number of compensatory benefits in return for going along with the program. The actual details will remain murky and be chewed over endlessly in back rooms (do we know even now how the hullaballoo over the special regimes really ended? They're still working out the details ...). And in the end the French labor market will be slightly more flexible than before--but I don't think there's any danger that Parisians will wake up to find themselves in Copenhagen anytime soon. At the Café de Commerce Swedish meatballs will not replace steak-frites.

LATER: Le Monde's editorial takes a far rosier view of these negotiations than I do.