Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dissent Special Issue on France

Dissent has a special section on France:

"France: Red Rose, Blue Grip" by Mitchell Cohen
"France's 35-Hour Workweek" by Philippe Askenazy
"Gender and Politics in France" by Françoise Gaspard
"Of Croissants and Couscous" by Nancy L. Green
"Internet Politics in France" by Jean-Baptiste Soufron

Carbon Tax

The "Environmental Grenelle" that ended in an orgy of self-congratulation some months back reached apparent consensus on such a host of thorny issues with so little controversy that one could hardly blame skeptics for assuming that some sleight of hand must be at work. The devil is always in the details in this sort of thing. You will recall that at the time Sarkozy pronounced the carbon tax proposal a "good idea" but suggested that it would need further study. Since then we haven't heard much about it.

nonfiction.fr reviews a note by Mehdi Abbas that explores some of the complexities of the issue. For one thing, there is the WTO, which takes a dim view of self-proclaimed environmental and safety measures that may act as tariffs in disguise. Indeed, French sponsorship of the carbon tax may work against it with the WTO, since it is not always easy to distinguish between "economic patriotism," another specialty of the French, and "environmental protection." Sarkozy will face the same problem if and when he attempts to impose a "European preference" in agricultural products, as he has proposed to do during France's EU presidency (which starts in June).

Additional information on the carbon tax can be found here.

Jünger and Mitterrand

Students of French politics who know something of François Mitterrand's literary tastes will want to read Philippe Sollers' essay on Ernst Jünger. Along with Chardonne the antisemite, Jünger the Wehrmacht officer was a literary choice that a lesser politician might have chosen to forget, but not Mitterrand, who paid his respects to the elderly German in the course of a state visit to Germany. Sollers reminds us that Hannah Arendt described Jünger as "offering perhaps the most searching and honest account of the extreme difficulty of holding on to one's integrity and criteria of honesty and morality in a world where truth and morality no longer have any visible expression." Despite the influence of his writing on various Nazi elites, he was, she adds, an "active anti-Nazi."

Jünger himself offered an observation on his own behavior during the Nazi years that Mitterrand might have taken to heart: "One cannot act without completely hiding one's game. The most important thing is to avoid any appearance of humanity." A terrifying sentence, comments Sollers, but one can easily imagine how Mitterrand might have savored it.

The Smaller Parties

In 2001, the Front National was present in the second round in 41 municipalities; this year it will be present in only 8. By contrast, the PCF, the Greens, and the LCR all improved their positions in the municipal elections. According to Marie-George Buffet, the PCF will elect mayors in 800 communes next week. The LCR did well enough to negotiate for what it calls "technical fusions" of its lists with those of other parties (without pledges to cooperate in city management and with full political independence). It would be interesting to know how many former FN voters redistributed themselves among these three parties. Extreme right and extreme left as vases communicants: an interesting thought, but one that might not withstand scrutiny.

MoDem, meanwhile, collected only 3.74 pct of the vote nationwide, far short of the 7 pct it hoped to attain, but it is in a position to influence the outcome in a number of large cities. Here is a rundown of the alliances it has negotiated.


As you can see from the stat counter at the bottom of the righthand column, the blog registered its 100,000th page view sometime last night. We have now been in existence for 10 months, almost as long as the Sarkozy administration, and our popularity is still increasing--which is more than can be said for Sarko. But, credit where credit is due: without him, we wouldn't have had nearly as much to talk about.


François Debeusscher reviews a new book on the UK and the EU after 1997. He suggests that after the accession to power of New Labour, Euroskepticism became the key item differentiating Left from Right in the UK, as the Tories, hard put to define their difference from Blair's revamped Labour agenda, began to marginalize its pro-Europe leaders.

It's striking that in France the political valences are reversed: the Right has marginalized its anti-Europe nationalists and sovereignists, while the Left has tried to accommodate pro-Europe and Euroskeptic factions under one big tent. The more disciplined party has also been the more successful party in presidential elections.

France, Land of Emigration?

The French don't emigrate: that, at least, is the traditional image of France, a country where l'esprit de clocher is supposed to keep people close to home and whose hospitality to strangers and cultural splendors are supposed to draw foreigners in. The demographer Hervé Le Bras tells a different story, one in which immigration and emigration balance each other out. His full report also contains an interesting analysis of the changing age composition of the French population.

For an anecdotal account of French emigration, there's always the Times, if you can stand yet another story of bureaucratic red tape allegedly hamstringing the enterprising young, who flock to the greenswards of County Kent to start up their globalized comic book translation shops. The Times story is filled with numbers, but since one has nothing to do with another, it's impossible to construct a picture of actual emigration for the purpose of entrepreneurial start-ups, impossible to say whether the flow is increasing or decreasing, and impossible to gauge the factors that are actually driving the phenomenon (is it really red tape, or is it perhaps wage differentials, infrastructure, local government incentives, workforce qualifications, etc.). What might have been an interesting analytical piece is reduced to local color reportage:

Ashford, in Kent, is the first stop in England on the Channel Tunnel train, less than an hour from Lille and London and less than two hours from Paris.

“From down here you can look out and see Northern France,” said Alan Marsh, responsible for international relations in the Kent County Council. “It’s very comforting.”