Monday, July 7, 2008

EU Accepts French Immigration Proposal

The EU has acceded, with some important modifications, to France's proposal on immigration reform. The modifications involved a ban on mass regularizations, such as that carried out by Spain in 2005, and a rejection of the French insistence on "integration contracts" that would have required immigrants to promise to learn the host country's language and take other steps toward assimilation. The amendment allows countries to adopt whatever assimilation policies they wish.

But the significance of the agreement has less to do with the specific provisions than with the existence of any agreement at all. The news is that Europe has adopted a common approach to immigration, which concedes that immigration cannot be unlimited. To be sure, none of the practical proposals for setting limits is likely to work, so the agreement belongs more in the category of pious wish than of policy. Will any more concrete policies follow from this agreement in principle? Probably, but I would be surprised if they are very far-reaching.

Why Did He Say That?

"Now, when there is a strike, nobody notices." Why did he say that? It was an unnecessary provocation, and the unions have been duly provoked. It was not the sort of thing he said back when he was still popular, still riding the crest of the post-electoral wave, and still claiming that he aspired to be "the president of all the French." Certainly it's not the minimum service law that tamed labor, so he can't claim that as his government's great achievement. Certainly it's not the relatively painless reform of the special retirement regimes. The strikes were noticed, but they didn't last long, because everyone agreed, whether publicly or not, that some reform was necessary. But now, just as negotiations with the unions are really getting sticky, with even the generally amenable CFDT expressing serious problems with the attack on the 35-hour week, Sarkozy decides to come on like gangbusters--or, rather, union busters. "Nobody notices." This claim to have emasculated the unions is the sort of stupid remark that the president may yet regret--and I use the word "stupid" advisedly, because the stupidity is similar to that remarked upon by Patrick de Carolis in regard to Sarkozy's comments on public vs. private television. Both remarks were stupid because they were assertions contrary to plain and ascertainable fact.

So why does he say these things? Is he in the process of taking leave of reality, as George Bush has done? Has he convinced himself that it is enough to say that things have changed for people to believe that "Sarkozy's reforms have succeeded"?

ADDENDUM: On the other hand, perhaps he was simply feeling flush, given the currently favorable rapport des forces.