Monday, February 11, 2008

Free Fall

Nicolas Sarkozy's approval rating has dropped below the 40 percent mark for the first time. Sarko stands at 39 pct in the latest IPSOS-Le Point poll. Remarkably, Fillon's rating is 52, up 7 since last month, while Sarko's fell by 5. This suggests that the respondents are dissatisfied not with the reforms but with the president personally.

The erstwhile hyperpresidential regime is thus turning into a new form of cohabitation. What if all the pundits were wrong? What if Sarkozy's ubiquity has finally undermined him, so that Fillon is no longer merely the president's chief of staff and shield (or fusible) but his substitute? What if Sarkozy has inadvertently Chiraquized himself--his worst nightmare? What if he must now cohabit with his own restive party, which goes its own way domestically while leaving Sarko to manage European and international affairs as the custodian of the domaine réservé? Fillon as Jospin to Sarko's Chirac? Fillon as Chirac to Sarko's Mitterrand?

It's a pleasant fantasy, but I don't think it will happen. Of course a stinging defeat in the municipal elections might further embitter the UMP, but more likely it will persuade the party that it needs Sarkozy more than ever. Fillon may be a competent technician who doesn't offend, but neither does he galvanize or mobilize. And with a resurgent post-election PS--or, more realistically, a slightly less moribund PS--the UMP will need the presidential bully pulpit. If Villepin weren't hobbled by his indictment, if Juppé hadn't been crippled by his failure last spring, perhaps there would be talent to lead an internal schism. But I see no other capable contenders. Copé is a lightweight, Devedjian lacks the stature, and Jean Sarkozy is only 21 years old, though I must say, already he has his father's chops and knack for the coup de Jarnac (as he demonstrated this weekend) plus his mother's good looks.* With that head of hair, he could go far. Of course if Alliot-Marie gets the sack after the municipals, she might wander off the reservation, but would anyone follow? I think not.

By the way, if you haven't seen David Martinon's tearful farewell to Neuilly, you should. He said that he had submitted his resignation as Élysée spokesman to the president of the Republic, "who has refused it." A sacking would be too merciful. Martinon must suffer continuation in his present post.

* The picture shows a younger Sarko with Marie-Dominique Culioli, the mother of Jean Sarkozy, who obviously takes his blond coif from the maternal side.

Health Report

I had minor eye surgery today, which makes it impossible for me to read any further animadversions on Ségolène Royal's intelligence, competence, skill as a campaigner, fitness for office, etc. So I am not going to respond to comments on those matters.

The surgery was very high-tech, using a laser to seal a small hole in my retina. The laser was French-made, and fortunately it all went well enough that I can still read comments on other subjects, so please don't stop writing, except about Ségolène, about whom I've now heard more than enough.

More Mediocre Grades

While we're looking at grades on economic policy (see previous post), Jérôme Créel and Éloi Laurent take a stern view of the ECB and IMF here.

For students of translation, note that passager clandestin in the final sentence is better rendered in English as (the non-obvious) "free rider" than as "stowaway." The latter would mystify social scientists, while the former will send them back to Mancur Olson's Logic of Collective Action, making sense of a passage otherwise opaque to Anglophones.

BofA Economist Evaluates Sarkozy

Fillon's ministers are to be graded by the American consulting firm Mars & Co., in conjunction with Eric Besson. But Sarkozy himself has now been graded by a senior Bank of America economist, Gilles Moec. The grade seems to be about a C+: OK, but could work harder. Moec is especially critical of the recent agreement on labor contract reform, which he believes will maintain the dual structure of the French labor market, divided between insiders and outsiders. For Moec, Sarkozy had a historic opportunity to repair this flaw and may be in process of muffing it.

The "flexibility package" is an improvement, but it falls short of Mr. Sarkozy's campaign promises. As his popularity slips, he risks losing a historic opportunity to reform the French labor market in one bold move. He may end up as just another half-reformer. The labor market dualism is not just an economic problem. Many "peripheral workers" belong to immigrant communities, whose willingness to embrace the French society could be put to test if the doors of core employment remain shut. Bringing more "égalité" to the labor market would be a productive way to fulfill the promise of the French Revolution.

The paean to the Revolution is a nice rhetorical flourish, which I suspect M. Moec did not pick up while studying economics. The article is worth reading in full.

Thanks for the lead to an interesting new blog on French politics in English, Sarkozy the American.

L'Aarrgh de Triomphe

I watched Sarkozy's speech on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty last night (you can view it here). It was as anticlimactic as its delivery was frenetic. Clearly Sarko felt he needed to impress the public with a major win, since the news has been largely negative for weeks now, but Europe is hardly the issue with which to attempt a reversal of opinion, because the subject is bitterly divisive. And although Sarkozy tried to play up the success of his own initiative--it was at France's behest that a "new treaty" was negotiated--and to play down the uncanny resemblance of the new treaty to the old one that was rejected in the 2005 referendum, the moment hardly lent itself to triumphalism. The ratification procedure was hardly calculated to unify the nation. It merely demonstrated the continuing disarray on the left and the suppression of misgivings on the right. So Sarko seemed rather more desperate than masterful--in my eyes, at any rate.

This is of course unfortunate. Sarkozy's unflinching commitment to Europe is heartening. He emphasized yet again last night that he intends to make the French presidency of the EU, which begins in June, a showcase for his European ideas. As I've indicated in past posts on this subject, I'm not sure that all of his ideas will sit well with his neighbors, but it will be a good test of his leadership, and at the end of the six-month rotation, he may well have something more to crow about. Last night's exercise was more an "aarrgh de triomphe" than an exultant cheer: to the victor belong the problems, and lately they seem to be getting the better of super-Sarko.

Ah, I see

Yesterday I wrote:

I do believe that misogyny has something to do with the virulence of the attacks on Ségo, and I can't help noting that several if not all of the more outspoken negative commenters here have been women--something worth trying to understand, perhaps.

This elicited from one of the commenters the following riposte (sans rancune, she assures me):

Quant à ma prétendue misogynie... sachez que je suis une femme !

I must not have made myself clear, though I do think the first passage cited above is not especially difficult to decipher. In any case, Anonymous was the only "outspoken negative commenter" whose gender remained unknown. Now I can eliminate the qualification from my judgment. Ségolène Royal seems to bring out extremely negative feelings in certain women especially--a phenomenon that calls for explanation.

Anonymous also wrote this about the comparison with Hillary in the comments to "Animosity":

Mais c'est là que le bas blesse et que vous devriez arrêter la comparaison.

Bas rather than bât: now that is clever. Could it be that wearing stockings is the problem?

Re the Clinton comparison, see Paul Krugman's column today. I think he's right about the vitriol directed against Hillary Clinton (a good example of which was the angry tone yesterday of Krugman's Times colleague Frank Rich, whom I normally admire), but some of his own less balanced remarks about Barack Obama might be described as availing themselves of what he calls "Clinton rules." In any case, some Ségo antagonists seem to play by analogous "Royal rules," which authorize an escalation of verbal violence--"unnecessary roughness," as we say in American football.

Correction on Circulation Figures

Better numbers on the French press than those I posted yesterday, which contain errors:
national press, regional press.

Thanks to Éloi for the correction.