Thursday, June 19, 2008


Patrick Devedjian must feel like a prisoner on his way to execution. Xavier Bertrand and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet were previously dispatched to flank him en route to the stake, but they couldn't silence him. Now another Sarko loyalist, Christian Estrosi, has been added to the squad. But Bertrand and NKM wore kid gloves. Estrosi is a tough guy. But Devedjian, who brawled with extreme-right-wing groups in his youth, probably holds a few sharp jabs in reserve. The fight should be interesting.

The Language Amendment

"Regional languages are part of the national patrimony." So reads a proposed amendment to the Constitution. Who could object to an anodyne statement of fact? Well, the Académie Française, for one, and, as of yesterday, the Senate. Because a statement of fact ceases to be a statement of fact when it is enshrined in the very preamble to the constitution as a defining feature of French national identity. This morning I received an interesting comment from an old friend of the blog, Steve Rendall:

Our local paper--the Depeche du Midi--had a screaming headline today suggesting that the Senate's rejection of an amendment to the constitution recognizing that regional languages are part of the country's patrimony meant a prohibition on using Occitan (that wasn't quite what the headline said, but I think that's what most readers will take it to say). Nowhere in the accompanying article was it said precisely what the implications of the amendment or its suppression would be. The amendment was sponsored by the government, but only tepidly; the main opposition to suppressing the amendment came from the Socialists and the Greens, who see things quite differently from the Revolutionary forbears, who were among the first to insist that regional languages had to be subordinated to French. But even the UMP was not unanimous in support; as one UMP senator put it, "Nos enfants parlent Texto, il faut renforcer le français et ce n'est pas en faisant appel aux langues régionales [qu'on le fera]." In any event, it seems pretty clear that the government is not going to forbid speaking, writing, or even teaching regional languages (my daughter studied Occitan in elementary school), and that the regional papers, as usual, are indulging in hysterical demagogy on this point.

It seems that regional language courses are quite popular in certain parts of the country. No one is proposing to shut them down. Let a thousand flowers bloom. I understand the urge to recover one's "roots," though I wish more people were inclined rather to develop "branches," to exfoliate new growth turned toward the light rather than burrow down into the dark earth in search of a seed that no longer exists. I wouldn't impose my preference on anyone, but I wouldn't want to see the preferences of others given special constitutional prominence. A constitution is a special kind of document. It should seek to express a spirit. The more encumbered it becomes with technicalities and special pleading, the more likely it is to collapse of its own weight. The Lisbon treaty exemplifies this error. The Fifth Republic shouldn't follow Europe down that wrong path.

Hirsch Defends the RSA

Martin Hirsch defends the Revenue de Solidarité Active.

Generals React

A group of general officers assesses the defense white paper and finds it wanting.

Bickerton on the Irish Problem

French Politics guest contributor Chris Bickerton has an article in the Guardian on the Irish no. His point is that those who argue that the Lisbon treaty must be ratified if the EU is to have a foreign policy do not reckon with the lack of "inner vitality" of which the Irish vote is a reflection. No matter what foreign policy institutions the EU equips itself with, its global influence ultimately depends on the support of its constituent peoples.