Monday, November 30, 2009

Uncle Sam Wants Vous!

Sarko finally got the long-awaited call from Obama, but perhaps not exactly the call he would have liked. Obama wants 1,500 more French troops in Afghanistan. This is not only a tall (perhaps impossible) order for the French militarily, it is a tough one for the French president politically. With regional elections ahead and a French public firmly against the war in Afghanistan, he stands to lose support if he helps out the American president, who hasn't exactly endeared himself to his French counterpart. But if he holds back, he strengthens the hand of those in the US, mainly on the right, who say that the Europeans, and most especially the French, are all talk and no action and that there is no point in seeking a more multilateral foreign policy--not an outcome that Sarkozy wants.

To be sure, consultation with allies doesn't seem to have ranked much higher on Obama's agenda than it did on Bush's when push came to shove. The US military does not like coordinating with foreign forces, hamstrung as they are by complex (and politically motivated) rules of engagement and hindered by different doctrines, incompatible equipment, and all the rest. Of course there is also a symbolic dimension to the commitment of forces to Afghanistan, and this is surely not lost on Sarkozy, who operates more in the realm of symbolism than of hardware in any case. But to an unusual degree the American request for aid this time may be operational as well as symbolic. Now that the commitment is made, and a timetable apparently set, boots on the ground count, if only to hold territory already cleared. So any foot-dragging by Sarkozy will only further sour relations.

As for what Sarkozy really thinks of Obama's decision, as opposed to the various calculations, electoral as well as military, that may figure in his response, only time will tell. If there's anything Sarko does not want, it's a commitment to a subaltern role in what could well turn out to be a protracted, costly, and unwinnable war.

Newsweek Attacks Sarkonomics

Newsweek has published a long and very critical attack on Sarkozy's economics. Some of the charges are old--Sarko is really a Colbertist, not a neoliberal, he flies by the seat of his pants, etc.--and some are more on target than others. On the whole, I would describe the tone of the piece as, "You think state intervention in the economy looks good now, but wait until the bill comes due." Hence it might be better to read this as a veiled attack on American interventionism since the crisis than as a measured assessment of French policy, which has its strong points and its weak points. Still, this is unusually thorough coverage of French politics for an American newsweekly.


Le Monde notes in today's editorial the contradiction between the notion of a French "identity" and the continued existence of ghettos where social conditions are anything but identical with those existing elsewhere, as this page of statistics demonstrates. Enormous effort has been expended to expunge signs of difference from "public space," yet the most public of all space--the very streets of entire towns--has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where it is not only a sign but also a breeding ground of difference, not to say resentment. Inaction on this front has been glaring. While Valérie Pécresse organizes her campaign for the Ile-de-France regionals around the theme of "humanizing le Grand Paris," what is happening in les banlieues that the glittering image of a brand new greater Paris is supposed to banish from consciousness? From my vantage point, not much.

To be sure, I am far away. If things are happening on the ground that I'm not aware of, I'd be glad to know about them. I read Fadela Amara's blog regularly and come away with little sense of action. Perhaps that's because Amara's is more of an ambassadrix to the suburbs than a minister. But who is in charge? What is being done? This seems to me an area that cries out for government action, yet among the projects to be financed by Le Grand Emprunt, I don't think there was one that specifically targeted disadvantaged towns, underprivileged students, or deteriorating urban landscapes. Between incidents of unrest, « ces gens-là » disappear from the government's agenda.

Of course one might argue that targeted government action of this kind is ineffective "social engineering," which has been demonstrated not to work. That was the line taken by the neoconservative critique of Great Society programs such as "Model Cities" in the United States. Indeed, the backlash against such programs was one of the driving forces behind the rise of American neoconservatism. I know of no such critique in France, where attitudes toward the suburbs don't even seem to rise to the level of "benign neglect" once advocated by the late Sen. Moynihan. In France, the task is left to the schools and the police: the former are to inculcate "values" and discipline and the latter to maintain order and keep the peace. It's not enough.

Pitiless Selection

The sociologist François Dubet issues a jeremiad against France's pitiless system of "meritocratic" selection:

Si l'on pense que l'école a pour vocation centrale de distinguer le mérite des élèves et si on croit que ce mérite est juste et décisif, la vie scolaire s'apparente à une vaste compétition distinguant progressivement les vainqueurs et les vaincus aux dépens des dimensions proprement culturelles de l'éducation. Les enquêtes internationales montrent que les systèmes scolaires qui adhèrent fortement à ce modèle sont aussi ceux dans lesquels les élèves ont le moins confiance en eux, sont les plus pessimistes et les moins confiants dans les institutions. De ce point de vue, la France est dans le peloton des pays les moins bien placés.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Guillon in Trouble?

Has Stéphane Guillon handed the government a pretext to get him off the air? Rumor has it that of the various political humorists who keep France laughing these days, Guillon is the only one who seriously irritates le pouvoir. Sarko laughs along with Laurent Gerra doing Sarko. Mayor Gaudin of Marseille appears on TV with Nicolas Canteloup, who portrays him as un mafieux and his city as Murder, Inc. All in good fun. But Guillon cuts too close to the bone, apparently, and in the "mariage gris" clip above he trespasses on the sacrosanct vie privée of politicians. Will this suffice to bring him down?

I suspect that, if he goes, it won't be immediately. That would be too direct, too crude. The hint has been planted, and Philippe Val knows how to take hints.

"Bradley Effect" in Switzerland?

The Swiss identity debate seems to be taking a more aggressive turn than the French: early reports are that the Swiss have voted to ban minarets. This is a surprise, since polls had predicted the opposite result. Are we seeing a Swiss "Bradley effect?" Will the outcome, if confirmed, encourage anti-immigrant sentiment in France? Will there be calls for similar bans?



Saturday, November 28, 2009

Valls Woos Les Gracques

Manuel Valls, looking for a constituency to back his candidacy, tried to woo Les Gracques, a group of center-left high civil servants:

Entre les Verts, le PS, le MoDem ou Villepin, il y a une compétition pour savoir qui incarne politiquement cette alternative. C'est pour ça que je plaide pour qu'on parte des questions de fond.

Interesting to find not only MoDem but even Villepin included in Valls' notion of the rightmost boundary of the Left. This will probably not endear him to the PS, the party he was invited to leave not so long ago by its leader Martine Aubry. Ségolène Royal has similar ambitions--"to build a party stretching from Besancenot to Bayrou," as she put it at Harvard last year--but even she hasn't yet suggested reviving her ENA-era "amourette" with Villepin. That might just be a bridge too far. But Valls has less to lose.

An Echo in Eco

Those of you who heard or read my lecture on "The Future of French Culture" last week might want to compare the last two sections with the essay by Umberto Eco in today's Monde:

Cela provoque une internationalisation du goût, et la preuve en est l'expérience passionnante que vit celui qui entre en contact avec le monde artistique chinois : sortis depuis peu d'un isolement presque absolu, les artistes chinois produisent des oeuvres que l'on distingue difficilement de celles qui sont exposées à New York ou à Paris. Je me souviens d'une rencontre entre critiques européens et chinois, où les Européens croyaient intéresser leurs hôtes en leur montrant des images de diverses recherches artistiques européennes, tandis que les Chinois souriaient, amusés, parce que, ces choses-là, ils les connaissaient désormais mieux qu'eux.

Enfin, il suffit de penser à ces innombrables jeunes de tous les pays qui connaissent la musique uniquement si elle est chantée en anglais...

Ira-t-on vers un goût généralisé, au point que l'on ne pourra plus distinguer la pop chinoise de la pop américaine ? Ou bien verra-t-on se dessiner des formes de créolisation, de sorte que des cultures différentes produiront différentes interprétations du même style ou programme artistique ?

En tout cas, notre goût sera marqué par le fait qu'il ne semble plus possible d'éprouver de la stupeur (ou de l'incompréhension) face à l'inconnu. Dans le monde de demain, l'inconnu, s'il y en a encore, sera seulement au-delà des étoiles.

Settling Scores

Alain Carignon, the former mayor of Grenoble and minister of culture under Edouard Balladur, had national political ambitions and was a rising star on the right until he was prosecuted for corruption and sent to prison (a rarity in political corruption cases). He is now an advisor, "à titre amical," to his friend Brice Hortefeux. And he has found a way to settle scores with the man who prosecuted him, Philippe Courroye:

"Maintenant, M. Courroye passe ses vacances à Saint-Tropez, fréquente M. Bouygues, M. Pinault, et son épouse travaille pour M. Naouri, PDG de Casino, ironise-t-il. Il a même organisé un dîner entre l'enquêteur de la police judiciaire chargé du dossier Casino et Me Lombard, l'avocat. S'il s'appliquait sa doctrine des années 1990, il devrait se mettre lui-même en détention provisoire. Les juges d'instruction ont commis des excès, ils seront supprimés."

Philippe Bilger disapproves. And no doubt Bilger is right that the deposed mayor is surely not the most objective witness when it comes to the man who prosecuted him. But given the high connections of both men, their quarrel is not without interest.

DSK the One?

Here is an amusing but at the same time quite lucid take-down of the mini-boomlet in favor of "DSK à la présidence" to which we have been treated by the media and pollsters these past few weeks.

What's Sarko Up To pre-Copenhagen?

Positioning himself to lambaste Obama, perhaps, but not really advancing the agenda. For a commentary on the Lula-Sarkozy accord and subsequent presidential travels in the name of climate legislation, see here.

Franco-Russian Deal

France will take a 10 percent stake in a Gazprom pipeline out of Russia that competes with a rival pipeline backed by the US and the EU. Hmm.

Friday, November 27, 2009

France Gets Its Way

Michel Barnier has been named an EU commissioner in charge of market and financial regulation, a key post that France has coveted. This despite British objections.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Identity Poll

Here is a TNS-Sofres poll that asks people a variety of questions about their identity. It's Thanksgiving today in the United States, so I'm going to avoid any deep analysis, but a cursory inspection reveals some interesting nuggets in the detailed breakdowns. For example, not the distinctiveness of the responses of those who identify as members of the PCF.

Those of you who have more time to look at the details might want to leave comments. Incidentally, I've noticed that traffic on this site is higher on working days than on weekends, which suggests that most people do their blog reading at work! Today is a holiday in the US but not in France, so we'll have to see what happens to the hit count.

Industry-Research Jolly-Ups

Back when I was a wee lad and student at MIT, I attended a few events at Radcliffe known as "jolly-ups." This was local student argot for what were elsewhere known as "mixers": opportunities for boy to meet girl et ainsi de suite. It seems that Valérie Pécresse has decided to organize Web-based jolly-ups where eager industrialists can couple up with research teams in search of a partner. Can't hurt, I guess, although my recollection of those student mixers is that there were relatively few successful matches, a lot of hopeful wallflowers, and a pecking order in which the winners were those who probably would have done just as well without the institutional intermediary.

Can't hurt to try, though--right?

Copenhagen--and Kabul

President Obama will go to Copenhagen with a proposal to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 17% -- from its 2005 level. Le Figaro points out what The Times does not, namely, that Europeans measure their reductions against 1990 levels, not 2005. By this standard, Obama's proposal looks much more modest: just 4 percent. This sets up the possibility of a clash between Sarkozy and Obama, since, rhetorically for sure and to some degree in practice, Sarkozy has been quite aggressive on this front. It will be interesting to see how the two men handle their differences. Of course by the time they meet in Copenhagen, another difference--over troop levels in Afghanistan--may well overshadow the climate issue.

And of course no matter what agreement is reached (or not reached) in Copenhagen, Obama has one problem that Sarkozy cannot begin to imagine: the US Congress. It is not difficult to imagine how the Republicans--and some Democrats--will go after any emission reduction proposals in a time of high unemployment and fiscal distress. What is more, popular support for new environmental protection legislation has been declining in the US. President Sarkozy often complains, not without reason, about the difficulty of overcoming tous les conservatismes, but if he wants to sample a real political dogfight, he should try confronting tous nos conservateurs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

He Was For the Grand Emprunt Before He Was Against It

Michel Rocard seems to be of two minds about le grand emprunt that he and Juppé cooked up together.

Montebourg Attacks the Reform of La Taxe Pro

This is an effective use of video and Internet to critique the proposed reform of la taxe professionnelle. Perhaps the Socialists will follow Montebourg's lead and make better use of the new media (h/t Christophe Barbier).

Mitterrand Will Meet Google

Culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand is attempting to coordinate a common European approach to Google and its plan to digitize all the world's libraries. He'll take the European view into the belly of the beast when he visits Google HQ in California next year.

By the way, Blogger, the software, and Blogspot, the Web host, which bring you this blog are Google services. The Google empire is vast and far-flung and, though it seems benign and brings us many products which I personally would find it hard to live without (Google search and Gmail and Blogger have become essential parts of my daily routine), Mitterrand is right to be wary, as Robert Darnton, the head of Harvard's libraries, has pointed out. Contracts are contracts, and the language in Google's contracts is not quite as free-spirited as the image of Google's youthful founders might suggest. In any case, I'm glad to see that Mitterrand appears to be taking a pragmatic approach rather than simply invoking national pride and a certain protectionist instinct. Google's immense resources can be of great public benefit, but corporations outlive us all, and it is essential to protect the interests of future generations from the exclusivist instincts of Google (or its attorneys).

Hegel said that "the daily newspaper is modern man's morning prayer." Jean Baudrillard might say, rather, that Google services are post-modern man's simulacrum of sacred ritual. And it's always a good idea to be wary of what we sacrifice to what we take to be sacred and therefore untouchable.

The Van Rompuy Nomination

Might his position on Turkey have won Mr. Van Rompuy his new job?

“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe,” Mr Van Rompuy said during a meeting held at the Belgian parliament in December 2004.

“An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion, as in the past. The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.”

Mr Van Rompuy’s speech puts him squarely on the side of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, both of whom are willing to offer Turkey a “privileged partnership” but want to keep the country out of the EU.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bruni and Allen

Not Burns and Allen but Bruni and Allen: Carla has agreed to play in Woody's film. But it's this phrase that will no doubt grab headlines in France: "Quand je serai grand-mère, je voudrais avoir fait un film avec Woody Allen." We await announcement of the blessed event.

Good News for the French Economy

Consumption continued to increase in France last month, a sign that the economic recovery has not faltered. From Le Monde's newsletter on the economy:

La consommation est restée soutenue en octobre
Les dépenses de consommation des ménages français en produits manufacturés ont continué d'augmenter en octobre, progressant de 1,1 % après une hausse de 2,4 % le mois précédent, a annoncé l'Insee mardi.
La consommation, principal moteur de la croissance française, continue de résister, conformément aux anticipations du gouvernement. Cette résistance n'est pas uniquement liée au secteur automobile. En octobre, tous les postes de la consommation enregistrent une hausse significative, précise-t-on dans l'entourage de la ministre de l'économie, Christine Lagarde.

Lecture: The Future of French Culture

Several of you asked that I post the text of the lecture I gave yesterday at Harvard on "The Future of French Culture." Here is the text, and here are the accompanying PowerPoint slides. Warning: the slides file is over 15 megabytes and is in .pptx format (PowerPoint2007). If you have an earlier version of PowerPoint, you'll need a converter to open it. The lecture can be read without the slides.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dreyfus on the Resistance and the Jews

Jean-Marc Dreyfus offers a very interesting review of Renée Poznanski, Propagandes et persécutions. La Résistance et le « problème juif », 1940-1944. Just how did the Resistance approach the question of the persecution of Jews under Vichy's anti-Jewish laws and the deporation of Jews by the Nazis? It seems that historians have neglected the question until now, as if a sort of taboo were in place. Poznanski has broken the silence, and Dreyfus reports his results. Fascinating reading.

Compulsory Economics

A course in economics will become compulsory in French lycées beginning in 2010.

Luc Chatel:

L'économie est un domaine où les sensibilités politiques et idéologiques sont fortes, c'est vrai. Cela dit, l'idée selon laquelle les profs sont des alter mondialistes poussant à la décroissance me semble totalement erronée! Mais, s'il faut revoir les programmes, il faudra les axer davantage vers l'aspect scientifique de la matière.

Hmm. L'aspect scientifique de la matière. An interesting phase that could hide many unavowable intentions.

Jacob on Finkielkraut

Didier Jacob remarks, quite justly, on Alain Finkielkraut's recent ubiquity and penchant for giving stern moral lessons on anything and everything to anyone and everyone. Having defended the artist Polanski and the remains of Albert Camus and attacked the hand of Henry, he now finds that artists, too, are capable of excess: Marie Ndiaye, it seems, suffered from "verbal intoxication" when she said that she found the Sarkozy regime "monstrous." By contrast, you will recall, Polanski's victim had in Finkielkraut's account offered her ravisher consent by inebriation with his illustrious stature in the film industry. Monsieur Finkielkraut's moral compass seems to be broken, yet he continues to offer his services as a guide to anyone who will listen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Together Again!

Daniel Cohn-Bendit and François ("T'es minable") Bayrou have buried the hatchet and shaken hands for the sake of the climate. Dany even ironized that he hoped Ségolène Royal might crash their meeting.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


As any economist will tell you, some incentives are invitations to forget about fair play.

"Dream Team of Mediocrity"

Jean Quatremer doesn't mince words:

La responsabilité des gouvernements socialistes dans la nomination du trio Van Rompuy/Barroso/Asthon, une véritable « dream team » de la médiocrité, est historique. Ce sont les six premiers ministres socialistes (Grande-Bretagne, Espagne, Portugal, Grèce, Hongrie et Slovénie) qui ont, en effet, choisi, hier après-midi, la commissaire au commerce, la Britannique Catherine Asthon, comme ministre européenne des affaires étrangères, ce poste leur revenant. Un choix catastrophique : cette apparatchik travailliste n’a absolument aucune expérience internationale et, de l’avis de plusieurs personnes qui ont travaillé avec elle à la Commission, elle a été particulièrement mauvaise depuis sa prise de fonction le 3 octobre 2008 : absence de travail, mauvaise connaissance des dossiers, sens diplomatique réduit.

Lovely. More from Quatremer here on the selection process. And here he is on Van Rompuy, with yet another pronunciation (prononcez « vane rompeuille ») and another devastating characterization: "Plus simple et plus cliché belge, tu meurs." And then there is the indispensable Henry Farrell on the two big stories in Europe, the EU and football.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Lecture

For readers in the Boston area, a reminder that I will be lecturing on "The Future of French Culture" on Monday, 4:15-6, at the Harvard Center for European Studies, 27 Kirkland St., Cambridge, in the Lower Level Conference Room. The discussant will be Michèle Lamont. The lecture is open to the public, so please come! In fact, I will be talking mainly about the past, which is the only way I know to say anything about the future without a crystal ball. So if you're interested in French culture in the 20th century and how it has been affected by a variety of factors ranging from political and economic upheaval to educational reform, you might not find it a total waste of your time. (And even if you do, there will be a PowerPoint with pretty pictures to look at.) I will post the text on the Net after the talk.

Nick and Carla on the Simpsons

More here.

Camus au Panthéon?

You will recall that early in his presidency, Sarko went to Algeria and had Camus read to him in the open air as he stared out to sea. Now he wants to have Camus Pantheonized. This will be an "extraordinary symbol," he says. In four respects Camus will be a symbol of the kind Sarko especially likes: he was anti-Communist in the Cold War, he was born in Algeria and tried to remain above the fray in that war, he was un grand résistant (editorialist for the underground Combat), and he was the anti-Sartre. Sarko can get on board with all of these things. And Camus's style is classically pure--or, as this mauvaise langue puts it, "Camus ? Ce philosophe pour classes terminales, avec son style IIIe République et sa morale de Croix-Rouge ?" I am aware of the contempt for Camus in certain French cultural quarters (from the same article: On ne méprise plus Camus, on l'ignore. Et Jean Daniel n'a pas oublié le « ricanement » de Michel Foucault et des grands esprits qu'il avait rassemblés pour fonder « le Nouvel Observateur » en 1964, lorsqu'il citait son ami disparu), but I have never understood it. For an antidote, I suggest reading Tony Judt's The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century. (h/t Kirkmc)

Confusion in Europe

There seems to be some confusion about the new EU president, or president of the European Council, or whatever his title is (that's the first confusion). The second is the pronounciation of his name:

À l'heure des people et de la confusion des genres, M. Van Rompuy (prononcer «rommpeuil») offre un charme plutôt suranné.

Mr. Van Rompuy (pronounced ROM-pow), 62, an economist, has been Belgium’s prime minister for less than a year.

Mr. Rompuy writes haiku. A sample:

“A fly zooms, buzzes; Spins and is lost in the room; He does no one harm.”

Oy, vey. The Times:

Mr. Van Rompuy, who likes bowling duckpins and writing haiku, has earned respect for calming ethnic tensions in Belgium in his 11 months as prime minister. Someone who met him recently described him as intelligent and humorous, but “timid.”

And how do we square this with the description of Rompuy as a ruthless opportunist, which I quoted yesterday from Le Figaro? Does anybody know anything about this guy?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Europe's Telephone Number

OK, Europe now has a telephone number. Two of them. The president is Herman van Rompuy, the Belgian PM. Never mind that Belgium didn't have a government only yesterday. And the Foreign Minister is Catherine Ashton. Who? you ask. And well you might. Does it matter? Well, it might. Who knows? Who ever knows with Europe? It has to invent itself as it goes along. Vamos a ver.

Les initiés décrivent le futur président européen comme un cynique lancé à l'assaut du pouvoir et «sans pitié pour l'adversaire».

Peillon on the media

The first minutes of this clip feature Vincent Peillon's ruminations on the changed relation between the media and politics over the course of his political career. The Socialists, he claims, used to jouer collectif, but now anyone who hopes to be elected president must pursue an individualist "media strategy" at the expense of the party. Perhaps this explains his resentment of Ségolène's intrusion upon Espoir à Gauche.

But Peillon's view of this change--that it is due to Sarkozy's success at cultivating la communication--is a bit short-sighted. It is the outsized role of the presidency that has personalized politics, and this is inherent in the structure of the Fifth Republic. Mitterrand may have been a creature of the party system of the Fourth Republic, but he rose by personalizing the contest with de Gaulle. Sarkozy's methods may be somewhat more modern but represent no fundamental innovation. I'm not sure why Peillon is so concentrated on the present and shows so little historical perspective.

Football and Politics

I don't know squat about soccer, but I see that my beloved France is in a tizzy this morning about a hand ball. I won't even attempt a complete rundown of the lamentations, since this seems to be the biggest event in French history since Sarko took Carla to Disneyland. A few choice samples will suffice. Dany the Red: "La main de Thierry Henry, c'est le summum de la chance." The minister of sport: "On a eu une équipe de France qui était absolument asphyxiée, qui a obtenu son match nul à cause d’une grossière erreur d’arbitrage." Alain Finkielkraut, a "specialist in moral matters" (as Charles Bremner characterizes him): "We are faced with a real matter of conscience," he said on Europe1. "From the moral point of view I would almost have preferred a defeat to a victory in these conditions. We certainly have nothing to be proud of." Alain Juppé: "La France doit se battre pour rester dans le coup."

Oh, wait: Juppé isn't talking about the World Cup. He's discussing Le Grand Emprunt. It seems that France Is Falling Behind yet again, and that it needs to Invest In the Future. This is a hearty perennial of French politics, perhaps of politics everywhere. Juppé and Rocard, in perfect harmony on every point, according to Juppé, decided that the future lies in higher education (after discarding Juppé's pet project, a new TGV line, and Rocard's, a new canal--I think these two must have been jointly reading a history of the American economy in the 19th century). So the pot of gold, borrowed from the citizenry (actually from the banks: this will not in fact be the great popular loan announced with much fanfare by Sarkozy at Versailles), will go to mes confrères in academia. Good for our side.

But the money, says Juppé, will go only to universités d'excellence. Hmm. I spot a fly in the ointment here: a potential battle royal over the definition of excellence that could make the debate over national identity seem like child's play. After all, academics are really above the fray when it comes to identity. They have theirs, inherent in their diplomas and titles. But when it comes to grabbing a share of the 16 billion euro pot of excellence, their own irons are in the fire. I look forward to the match, but watch out for those hand balls. Finkielkraut's conscience will have to go into overtime. And no one trusts the referee.

UPDATE: Rama Yade, as usual, is out of step with her ministre de tutelle: she does not think "que l'on puisse parler de triche" : "Vous ne pouvez pas savoir exactement d'où vient le ballon et où il part. D'ailleurs l'arbitre n'a rien vu", a déclaré Mme"Thierry Henry lui-même a reconnu avoir touché le ballon. Il n'y a que lui qui sait si c'était volontaire", a-t-elle estimé, ajoutant : "Je ne crois pas qu'un joueur de son envergure, avec son expérience, avec son palmarès, le nombre de sélections qu'il a eues en équipe de France, avec l'amour qu'il a du jeu, qu'il soit un homme à faire de la pratique anti-sportive".

"Unrealistic but Interesting"

That is one Scandinavian's verdict on the French climate plan proposed by Jean-Louis Borloo, which features aid to poor countries to compensate for the cost of environmentally friendly decisions. I actually find that judgment rather heartening, since pure realism in environmental matters (as in many other areas of public policy) often errs on the side of pessimism. Since my natural proclivities lie on that end of the spectrum, it's always useful to be confronted with "interesting ideas" that don't quite take full account of the awful weight of reality. The negation of reality, as Hegel knew, is the first moment of the dialectic.

And in this case, irrealism and justice happen to coincide. Developing countries rightly object to bearing as much burden as the developed countries that have made action on this front necessary. They deserve compensation and will not support environmental protection measures unless they get it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Peillon Won't Go Quietly

Vincent Peillon is refusing to quit his courant, which Ségolène Royal insists is hers. Plus belle la vie! Royal cashiered Hollande without a fuss and may have thought she could do the same with Peillon. No such luck. And so we will have at least another week of PS soap opera.

Herding Cats

Hard to imagine what this omnium gatherum of philosophers was like. Butler, BHL, Kristeva, and Zizek under one roof* is not my idea of a good time, and then you had all the rest, the dozens of non-divas. Just goes to show what chaos a government can sow by launching a debate on national identity. And if you listen to the audio clip, you'll see that, predictably, the debate begins with several voices asking if it should be taking place at all. Philosophers can always be counted on to ask the troubling questions.

*Actually, BHL phoned it in from New York: what else did you expect?

The Americanization of France

France is getting to look more like the United States every day. Ségolène Royal wanted to hand out "contraception passes" to high school girls. Her regional government would pay for the pills, and the school nurse would distribute them. Advanced, enlightened, a little risqué: how very French. But then Paris got wind of the scheme and invoked parental authority, family values, and all those other unhip things of a "moral order." How very American. Except that if Arne Duncan tried to emulate Luc Châtel, issuing orders to local school boards from on high, he'd be branded a Nazi by the champions of moral order. I would nevertheless like un Pass' contraception for my French memorabilia collection, even if it must remain a dead letter. Anybody got one?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

La Taxe Pro's the Thing

Martine Aubry has found her issue. Mayors hate the reform of la taxe professionnelle, and she's a mayor ... so, by golly, she's going to run with this. Fillon appeared before an auditorium full of mayors today and was booed before he had a chance to say a word. Martine rushed into the breach and got herself invited onto the JT 20H with David Pujadas--and she wasn't half bad. She forcefully articulated all the mayors' complaints and said the Socialists could do this job better and impugned the motives of the Right and refused to be drawn into pettiness about Ségo's spat with Peillon--une bisbille, she said. It was well done.

Except, let's face it: la taxe pro is a bad tax. It needs to be revamped. The government has done a poor job of it so far, but it's not too late to patch things up. And this isn't the kind of issue that is going to swing a lot of votes. It doesn't really alter priorities. Eventually it will shift the source of certain revenues from one place to another and perhaps alter the destination to a limited extent as well. But all those local services will be financed somehow--or most of them. And then what? It's not a vision of the future to say that the old folks home in Bledsville really needs to be paid for somehow. And the ability to float above intraparty squabbles isn't the same as the authority to make them go away.

So I give Aubry 1 star for this performance. It's a start. But she shouldn't get too excited. There's still a long way to go.

Royal Fires Peillon

La présidente socialiste de Poitou-Charentes a annoncé, mardi soir sur Canal+, qu'elle confiait l'"animation" de son courant à Jean-Louis Bianco, Najat Belkacem et Gaëtan Gorce, après sa dispute avec Vincent Peillon, son ex-lieutenant qui dirigeait le courant "L'Espoir à gauche". (AFP)

De Gaulle Evolves

The evolution of de Gaulle's thinking on Algeria, as seen by Benjamin Stora (reviewed by Guy Konopnicki).

"Besancenot, l'idiot utile du sarkozysme", de Renaud Dély

A review here. Brent, this is a provocation to which I invite you to respond if you so desire.

Lagarde: FT's Finance Minister of the Year

See here and here. Frankly, I find this award a bit puzzling. In the interview, Lagarde herself emphasizes the effects of automatic stabilizers, for which she deserves no credit. To be sure, she also emphasizes the focus of stimulus, such as it was, on investment rather than consumption. There is some truth to this, but the actual sums invested are, I believe (in the absence of good data), relatively small, and the positive effects of such investment lie mainly in the future, whereas the award seems to be predicated on performance to date. Finally, as the interviewer notes, French GDP was less dependent on the financial sector than some other economies and took a generally more conservative approach to banking, qualities that reflect on French mores, not Lagarde's achievements.

I am not saying that anyone else in Europe deserves the award more than Lagarde does, and I suppose it had to go to someone. I do, however, find it problematic that French policy is being held up as exemplary. I await your brickbats and contradictions.

Who's Still With Her?

Le Figaro asks who's still with Ségolène and even gives her the benefit of the doubt: I would have put Pierre Bergé in the "abandoned" camp, particularly after his remarks of this past weekend.

Drop Those Trousers, Ladies

Forget the burqa: it's illegal for women to wear trousers in Paris. Such a complex thing, French identity. (h/t Dick Sindall)

Monday, November 16, 2009


A French expert looks at Afghanistan. To this American veteran of Vietnam, it looks like déja-vu all over again:

  • La coalition apparaît comme une immense machine tournant un peu sur elle-même et souvent pour elle-même, en marge de la société
  • Les membres de la Coalition se déplacent en véhicules de base en base comme de petits corps étrangers, blindés et armés.
  • Prendre ses repas dans la base américaine Phoenix est surréaliste par l'abondance de produits offerts, presque tous importés des Etats-Unis
  • Outre son caractère égoïste, cet archipel a le défaut d'être associé, dans les esprits afghans, à une administration locale corrompue,
  • On ne permet pas aux Afghans de combattre à leur manière, en petites bandes très agressives
  • Au sein d'une culture afghane féodale, guerrière et mystique, cette puissance de feu écrasante est comme un Midas qui transforme en héros ceux qui s'opposent à elle, en martyr ceux qui en sont victimes et en vengeurs les proches de ces martyrs.

Casanova on Europe

For Jean-Claude Casanova, the time has come for Europe to declare its independence:

Sur trois questions spécifiques : la Russie, le Proche-Orient et l'Afghanistan, le rapport montre à juste titre que les Européens pourraient et devraient concevoir leur propre stratégie, parce que dans ces parties du monde ils ont des intérêts, des compétences et des moyens d'action. Ils en débattront ensuite avec les Américains pour s'accorder avec eux ou pour s'en séparer si les opinions ne se concilient pas. Il en est de même en matière financière. Entre les Etats-Unis et les pays européens il existe désormais une course à la régulation.

Montaigne on French Identity

Entretien avec Montaigne, propos recueillis par Roger-Pol Droit

"– Vous êtes l’un des symboles majeurs de la culture française. Qu’est-ce que cela signifie pour vous ? De quelle manière vous sentez-vous français ?
– Ce n’est pas parce que Socrate l’a dit, mais parce que c’est mon goût – et non sans quelque excès, peut-être : je considère tous les hommes comme mes compatriotes, et j’embrasse un Polonais comme un Français, en faisant passer ces liens nationaux après les liens universels et communs. Je ne suis guère épris de la douceur d’un air du pays natal. La Nature nous a mis au monde libres et sans liens…

Sarkozy as Nixon

Richard Nixon was another head of state who could not help revealing his fragile psyche in public. And we know how he ended.

Internet at 46,000 euros per month

Guy bought an "unlimited" 3G phone connection to the Internet from Orange. When he opened his first bill, it was for 46,000 euros. The connection was unlimited in duration, it turns out, but he had to pay for data volume in excess of 1 gig. Caveat emptor. Read the fine print, people.

Le Rassemblement

Here is the Web site of the embryonic "coalition" that Peillon, Cohn-Bendit, and Sarnez tried to get off the ground in Dijon this weekend. Ségolène Royal crashed the party and referred to it as "my flock." (h/t MYOS)

Who Knew?

A Sheikh is not un cheikh.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Academics Debate University Reform

A summary of arguments put forward at an "EHESS alternative seminar" can be found here.(h/t Polit'bistro)

Peillon-Royal Contretemps

Wasn't it Vincent Peillon who was prepared to go to court to block Martine Aubry's victory over Ségolène Royal in the party leadership contest earlier this year? He has cooled considerably on Ségo since then, to the point of denouncing her presence at a meeting he organized as "unwanted." Peillon is attempting to put himself at the center of a broad coalition of Socialists, Greens, and centrists. This is the territory that Ségo wants for herself, and she's not going to allow herself to be outflanked, even if it means crashing somebody else's party.

So what else is new? The 50-somethings block the 40-somethings, personal ambition prevents party unity or even common strategy, and there is no PS, only individual entrepreneurs furthering their own designs.


Theater of the Absurd

Christian Vanneste distinguishes himself yet again--for ses conneries. To be sure, compared with the fire-and-brimstone homophobia that we know so well in America, Vanneste's blundering quest to develop a rational basis for his prejudices--a sort of anti-gay categorical imperative--has about it a wistful, quixotic charm. But his arguments--homosexuals drink and smoke, hence their fitness as parents is questionable; homosexuals frequent gay bars and read gay books, hence they discriminate--are so desperate that one can only shake one's head in disbelief. Still, how many other backbench deputies can you name? He stands out, if only for his absurdity.

The Veil, Encore et Toujours

Another of those little episodes of which "French identity" seems to consist these days. I have made my position on the veil clear in the past, and I am willing to admit that there are two sides to the question and that my instincts in the matter are American, not French. But I still find it incredible that a deputy of the UMP would be so unhinged by the sight of a veil within the precincts of the National Assembly that he would feel compelled to take out his cell phone and begin snapping pictures of the child wearing it, as though she were a criminal or a provocateur of whose crime it was necessary to preserve the evidence. A debate about national identity is one thing; the persecution and humiliation of a child is another. (h/t MYOS)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sen, Stiglitz, Fitoussi, Hall, Lamont

There will be no blogging this afternoon because I will be attending a conference at Harvard. The session will bring together Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, two of the three prime movers behind the Sarkozy-inspired initiative to invent new measures of social success (the practical translation of Henri Guaino's idea of the state as the shaper of "civilization"). They will be joined by Peter Hall and Michèle Lamont, the editors of a recent volume in which a number of scholars ponder the question of how to measure social progress. Readers in the Boston area might find this event interesting. It is open to the public. Details here.


I was asking the other day about Germany's relative success in keeping unemployment low despite a substantial GDP hit in the crisis. I wasn't the only one who noticed. Paul Krugman today recommends that the US consider a German-style Kurzarbeit program: government subsidies to employers for keeping workers on at reduced time rather than proceeding to layoffs.

How quickly times have changed. Krugman actually defends (against Larry Summers) work-sharing programs in all their forms. That would include France's 35-hr. week. During the presidential campaign, Sarkozy ridiculed the idea that sharing the available demand for labor among more workers accomplishes anything, and Krugman concedes that "in ordinary times" such programs are generally considered to be a drag on long-term growth. But these are not ordinary times, he says.

Economists, who know the meaning of ceteris paribus, have no difficulty shifting positions when the parameters of a situation change. But politicians who draw upon economists for campaign themes tend to become wedded to their commitments, because they use them to draw lines in the sand: on the other side, where my opponent stands, lies madness. Changing one's mind is derided as "flip-flopping" (cf. Keynes: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"). But the proper balance to be struck depends on a careful analysis of local conditions. France has had long and not altogether happy experience with subsidized employment as well as shortened working hours. Other active labor market measures might be better adapted to present conditions. Earlier in Sarkozy's administration there was talk of increased funding for worker retraining coupled with enhanced job search assistance, in emulation of Scandinavian flexicurity schemes. We haven't heard much about this lately, perhaps because the unions showed little enthusiasm for the idea.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Survey of French Economists

Etienne Wasmer and Thierry Mayer polled French economists on a range of issues. The results can be found here.

UPDATE: Link to paper here.

Ruining Sarko's Day

Man, those killjoys at Forbes really know how to spoil a guy's day. Just yesterday Sarko was holding hands with Angela Merkel and putting himself at the center of history. Now Forbes tells him he ranks only 56th out of 67 on the World's Most Powerful list, where his name is preceded not only by Putin, Trichet, and DSK but--O! miséricorde!--Bernard Arnault, the boss of LVMH. The horror! A salesman of perfumes and suitcases and champagne edges out Carla Bruni's husband. As does Lakshmi Mittal. No wonder Sarko can't do anything about Gandrange.

And to think that Carla wanted to marry a man with a nuclear weapon. She should have gone for a Vuitton bag. But of course she probably already has one.

But, all kidding aside, this is one mondo bizarro list. And why does Forbes get to seat all the VIPs?

Poland turns to Europe ... and to France

Judah Grunstein notes that one consequence of Obama's decision not to proceed with antimissile deployment in Eastern Europe is that Poland is turning toward EU defense. And there is a Franco-Polish defense agreement. To quote Judah:

It's worth noting that this is where French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to reintegrate the NATO command really pays dividends, by cutting off the predictable accusations of French efforts to undermine NATO at the pass. What's more, many of the European priorities the declaration identifies (increasing strategic airlift, helicopter fleet and maritime projection) will improve Europe's ability to contribute to NATO missions. Others -- increased industrial cooperation to generate a true European defense market -- will clearly threaten the U.S. defense industry's commercial interests.

The Deformation of French History

On Sarkozy's deformation of French history, see this and this.

Empty Memory

Vincent Peillon: "La grande affaire, pour notre génération, qui n'a rien fait : ni la Résistance ni l'anticolonialisme, tout au plus Mai 68, va être d'écrire sa propre histoire. Nous ne pouvons pas être seulement les gestionnaires d'un mémoriel."

This is a bizarre statement but rather symptomatic, I think, of a state of mind that has plagued a Left brought up on an idea of politics filled with heroic imagery. It is as if ordinary life doesn't count and cannot summon up any passion or commitment. But what was the Resistance for, if not to make ordinary life possible again? For an interesting comparison, read Peillon's plaint against Lionel Jospin's apologia pro vita sua. Jospin ticks off the accomplishments of his government, and he's not exaggerating:

Priorité à l'emploi ? 900 000 chômeurs de moins, 35 heures mises en œuvre et emplois-jeunes multipliés. Croissance économique ? Constamment soutenue et supérieure à la moyenne européenne. Rétablissement des grands équilibres ? Baisse des déficits du budget et de la Sécurité sociale, et même de la dette par rapport à la richesse nationale. Parité entre les hommes et les femmes ? Inscrite dans la Constitution et introduite dans les scrutins de liste.

Lutte contre les discriminations ? Mesures antiracistes et instauration du pacs. Indépendance de la justice ? Scrupuleusement respectée. Sécurité des quartiers ? Création de la police de proximité. Respect des élus locaux ? Contrats de plan généreux et négociés. Immigration ? Politique ferme mais digne.

Soutien à la recherche, à l'éducation et à la culture ? Fin des coupes sombres et efforts budgétaires. Obéissance aux règles de la République ? Cinq ans de gouvernement sans scandale et d'administration conduite en transparence, hors de tout favoritisme.

A respectable bilan, to which Peillon's remark reads like an impudent "So what? Where is the heroism? Where is the emancipation? Where is the dialectical moment?" But as Max Weber liked to say, "politics is the long, slow task of boring through hard, dry boards." Jospin was good at boring boards (and crowds). It was an honorable effort, for which leftists dreaming of opportunities to prove their heroic prowess felt no gratitude whatsoever. In fact, they repudiated the idea that such unheroic governmental labor even shared the same conceptual universe as the final struggle of which they dreamed. And so the 2002 election ended as it did.

As Peillon's comment reveals, it is not so much the Right that has defeated the Left as the Left that has so divided itself internally, existentially, intellectually that it cannot be comfortable with any image of politics that is not also a simulacrum of combat. And of combat that is in any case liberally tinctured with fantasy: I would never speak ill of the Resistance, yet "Paris brisé, Paris outragé, Paris martyrisé, mais Paris libéré. Libéré par lui-même ..."--it was a lovely rhetorical turn, I will be the first to admit, but one that left an entire generation with a vision of emancipation as miraculous transmogrification. A lesson in the long, slow boring of hard, dry boards would have been more useful.

The Extreme Right

An unsavory as well as motley crew prepares for the regionals.

Scholarships and Grandes Ecoles

Valerie Pécresse has set a goal of 30% scholarship students for all Grandes Ecoles. Current levels:

Sur cette base, 20,7 % des étudiants d'école de management sont boursiers, contre 22,9 % des étudiants d'écoles d'ingénieurs. Les décalages entre établissements sont importants. Certains établissements sont déjà proches de l'objectif, comme l'ESC Grenoble (22,5 %), ou l'ENS Cachan (30,17 %). A l'autre bout de la chaîne, l'cole des mines de Paris ne compte que 9,47 % de boursiers, suivie par Polytechnique (11,03 %), les écoles de commerce les plus sélectives (12,3 % en moyenne pour HEC, Essec, ESCP…) et l'Ecole centrale Paris (13,67 %).

These figures count only students entering from preparatory classes, not from the universities. Clearly, the top schools have some way to go. In 2007, the income cap for eligibility for scholarships was lifted from 27,000 to 32,440 euros. This was a controversial move, as some alleged that it would increase the proportion of "middle-class" candidates relative to "the disfavored."

For comparison, Harvard offers tuition relief to students whose parents make up to $180,000 per year (adjusted gross income): tuition is capped at 10% of parental AGI. The same criticism has been leveled at the Harvard program (a Larry Summers innovation): it is too generous to people who are relatively well off.

Le Florentin Bis

François Mitterrand bore the sobriquet "Le Florentin" for his sinuous tactical intelligence. His nephew Frédo, the minister of culture, seems to share the late president's genetic endowment. He dodges bullets as nimbly as François leapt the fence of the Jardins du Luxembourg in the affaire de l'Observatoire. You will recall that Frédo was quick to appoint himself champion of the oppressed artist when Roman Polanski was arrested on a fugitive warrant. This, said FM, was treatment unworthy of a great artist, a noble human being, and a friend.

But the oppressor then was the Swiss prosecutor. In the attack on another artist, Marie NDiaye, whom the minister calls "a great writer," the attacker, Eric Raoult, is, alas, also "a friend" (dixit Frédo lui-même). A case of conscience, clearly. So, with the wisdom of Solomon, the minister of culture has decided to split the difference: this is not a case for him "to arbitrate," he says. In any event, there is plenty of freedom to go around: the artist is free to say what she wants, and friend Raoult is free to say what he wants. No need to decide anything, to reprimand anyone, to state any principle. The defense of artists, which in the Polanski case seemed to constitute, in Mitterrand's mind, the very essence of his ministerial post, is now left to the artist herself. Indeed, she should be honored to be left undefended by her minister, because this allows her to prove her own prowess in the field of political battle.

Chapeau, monsieur le ministre. You have shown yourself to be a nephew worthy of your illustrious uncle.

Cf. Eric Fassin's remarks on the same episode.

"All Politics Is Local"

Admirers of the late Tip O'Neill, the author of the adage "all politics is local" as well as the Congressional representative of my own Eighth Massachusetts District for so many years, will appreciate this stylish règlement de comptes from Montreuil, where, by the sound of it, local politics is practiced with all the subtlety for which O'Neill, the Irish Machiavelli, was famous.

Une et Indivisible

La République est une et indivisible. French citizens are individuals, not members of any community. France does not collect ethnic statistics. Etc. etc. The B-A-ba of republican life--l'identité française, quoi! So how on earth is it that Eric Besson, minister of immigration and national identity, is sending out invitations to members of the Franco-Moroccan community? Via Pierre Assouline:

Au nom d’Éric BESSON, ministre de l’Immigration, de l’Intégration, de l’Identité nationale et du Développement solidaire, nous vous invitons à réserver votre soirée du 16 décembre 2009 pour un « Dîner Citoyen » réunissant les femmes et les hommes nourris de la relation unique entre la France et le Maroc.Français d’origine marocaine, Marocains de France ou, comme Éric BESSON, Français nés au Maroc, ce dîner rassemblera des personnalités de tous horizons et de tous bords politiques, issues du milieu artistique, sportif, politique, associatif, économique ou académique vous êtes l’un des éminents représentants de cette communauté franco-marocaine et nous espérons donc avoir le plaisir de vous retrouver le 16 décembre.

Interesting, no? How was the invitation list compiled?

Le Devoir de Réserve

Le devoir de réserve has been in the news in recent days. The term is familiar, but what exactly does the law say? As usual, Maître Eolas is supremely helpful:

Et ce fameux devoir de réserve, alors ?

C’est une création jurisprudentielle du Conseil d’État (CE, Ass., 28 mai 1954, Barel, n° 28238). au domaine très délimité : il frappe les fonctionnaires et agents publics (les magistrats ne sont pas des fonctionnaires au sens strict car ils ont leur statut propre, mais ils sont soumis au devoir de réserve), et eux seulement.

Le statut général des fonctionnaires (loi n° 83-634 du 13 juillet 1983) en son article 6 proclame la liberté d’expression des fonctionnaires, qui sont des citoyens comme les autres. Mais le Conseil d’État a apporté une limite à cette liberté, le devoir de réserve, que le Conseil n’a pas défini (que diantre, il n’est pas législateur) mais qui apparaît au fil des décisions comme une obligation de modération sur la forme, liée à l’obligation de neutralité de l’État qui s’exprime à travers ses agents, et à l’obligation de loyauté de ceux-ci envers l’État dont il se sont faits les serviteurs. Question de cohérence, en somme. Le Conseil d’État ayant précisé que les élus syndicaux sont largement déliés de ce devoir, l’action syndicale s’accompagnant volontiers d’une certaine outrance revendicative.

Will Tomorrow, Friday 13th, Be Unlucky?

The question is exhaustively studied by a French expert.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Laporte to BHL: You are a pig, sir.

Read it here.

Armistice Day

This being Armistice Day, it might be a good opportunity to take a look at the Web site of The Museum of the Great War (Historial de la Grande Guerre), which is located in Picardy. It is hard to overstate the importance of World War I in shaping the future of France's (and Europe's, and the world's) 20th century. And to put contemporary conflicts in perspective, it's always good to recall that between July and November 1916, the Battle of the Somme claimed more than a million casualties.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Über alles unter den Linden

Evidently Sarkozy's men didn't consult the Germanist Bruno Le Maire, minister of agriculture, who could have told them that "Deutschland über alles" has been politically incorrect in Germany for some time. Otherwise they could have avoided a major gaffe:

... le chœur de l’armée française interprètera, sous l’Arc de Triomphe, « l’hymne allemand : « Deutschland über alles » »…qui n’est plus chanté par les Allemands depuis 1991.

The Fissure in the Right

The rift over the taxe professionnelle is more than an incidental flaw in the otherwise seamless government of the Right. Balladur, Juppé, and Raffarin have all spoken out against it. As PS deputy Jean-Pierre Balligand (Aisne) remarks in the cited piece, the tax-cutting ideology of Sarkozy has here run up against the vital interests of local officials. Sarko wants to reduce taxes on business and expects the localities financed by those taxes to accept whatever substitute he decides to offer them. There is more at stake here than meets the eye. There aren't enough neoliberal internationalists to win elections for any party. The UMP needs to retain its local bastions and its sociological base. Neuilly may have given Sarko his start, but he had to conquer la France profonde in order to be elected. The question is whether he can hang on to it. For the time being, that won't be very difficult. The opposition isn't showing many signs of life. But in the long run it may prove as difficult for the Right to resolve its internal contradictions as it has for the Left.

Note, by the way, that Balladur, Juppé, and Raffarin are not just any voices: they are 3 of the 4 prime ministers of the Chiraquien Old Guard. By contrast, Jean-François Copé, the paladin of the New Guard and ambitious to be Sarko's successor, has thrown in his lot on this issue with Sarko, as one might expect of a man who moonlights as a corporate lawyer.

A Complex Game In the Middle East

Philippe Marini has submitted a report on France's Middle East diplomacy to Nicolas Sarkozy. Marini argues that a cordon sanitaire can no longer be maintained around Hamas and that, at the appropriate time, France should offer to end the diplomatic isolation of Hamas in the interest of achieving an intra-Palestinian reconciliation and moving the peace process, or what is left of it, forward.

Judah Grunstein sees one winner in this: Syria's Assad. Haaretz, coming at the problem from the Israeli side, sees a loser, Netanyahu, whose intransigence on settlements and stonewalling of Obama are likely to provoke a U.S. reaction.

The question, then, is whether the U.S. reaction will take advantage of France's seeming willingness to take the lead in exploring a new direction. Earlier in Sarkozy's administration, it had seemed to me that he was offering himself as a useful adjunct to U.S. Mideast policy: France can take risks that the U.S. can't, and Sarkozy is willing to take some heat for taking a tougher line on Israel, which is less politically dangerous at home than a comparable move by a U.S. president. But various signs suggest that Obama, or the people around him, haven't been keen on coordinating U.S. policy with European allies. The Marini report offers a new opportunity, especially when coupled with deteriorating U.S.-Israel relations, the threatened resignation of Abbas, and the stalled talks with Iran. Sarkozy's next moves should be interesting.

UPDATE: Israel's relations with Turkey are also suffering.

"The Plural of Anecdote Is Data"

That's from Paul Krugman. In the slightly less anecdotal, more substantial "data" category, we have this from Les Echos: French industrial production up 2.9% in the third quarter.

More on Economic Mysteries

Re yesterday's post "Economic Mysteries," the OECD report on which the Economist article is based can be found here (h/t Eloi Laurent). I appreciate Leo's comment that the explanation of Germany's good performance lies in the Kurzarbeit program, but, as the report makes clear, other countries are also subsidizing job retention with shortened working hours and assorted training programs. And there remains the equally interesting mystery of why British and French unemployment have increased by roughly the same amount in the crisis, even though the negative shock to UK GDP was about twice as large as the shock to French GDP.

"The language of Europe is translation."

The quote, from Umberto Eco, appears in Leyla Dakhli's very interesting review of François Ost's Traduire: Défense et illustration du multilinguisme."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Economic Mysteries

Matt Yglesias highlights this graph from The Economist. To my mind there are a lot of surprises here. It's not surprising that France is doing better than the United States, but why is Britain doing almost as well as France? And why is Germany doing better than everyone else, with the high euro supposedly damping exports?

Devoir de réserve

Eric Raoult, UMP deputy from Seine-Saint-Denis, wants to silence Marie N'Diaye's criticism of the Sarkozy government on the grounds that winners of the Prix Goncourt are subject to un devoir de réserve:

Il vient de rendre publique son intention de demander à Frédéric Mitterrand qu'il rappelle la romancière à un « devoir de réserve » dont on ignorait jusqu'à présent l'existence :« Monsieur Éric Raoult attire l'attention de M. le ministre de la culture et de la communication sur le devoir de réserve, dû aux lauréats du Prix Goncourt. En effet, ce prix qui est le prix littéraire français le plus prestigieux est regardé en France, mais aussi dans le monde, par de nombreux auteurs et amateurs de la littérature française. A ce titre, le message délivré par les lauréats se doit de respecter la cohésion nationale et l'image de notre pays. Les prises de position de Marie Ndiaye, Prix Goncourt 2009, qui explique dans une interview parue dans la presse, qu'elle trouve "cette France [de Sarkozy] monstrueuse", et d'ajouter "Besson, Hortefeux, tous ces gens-là, je les trouve monstrueux", sont inacceptables.

Ces propos d'une rare violence, sont peu respectueux voire insultants, à l'égard de ministres de la République et plus encore du Chef de l'État. Il me semble que le droit d'expression, ne peut pas devenir un droit à l'insulte ou au règlement de compte personnel. Une personnalité qui défend les couleurs littéraires de la France se doit de faire preuve d'un certain respect à l'égard de nos institutions, plus de respecter le rôle et le symbole qu'elle représente. C'est pourquoi, il me paraît utile de rappeler à ces lauréats le nécessaire devoir de réserve, qui va dans le sens d'une plus grande exemplarité et responsabilité. Il lui demande donc de lui indiquer sa position sur ce dossier, et ce qu'il compte entreprendre en la matière ?»

What chutzpah. Raoult's, I mean.

Contrepèterie du jour


Attali-Bianco Spat

Jacques Attali says that Jean-Louis Bianco is an "unconscious anti-Semite" because the latter claims that Attali's reluctance to see Germany reunified in 1989 was a consequence of his Judaism.

"Cela reste absolument honteux. Epouvantable. Ma position sur l'Allemagne n'a rien à voir avec une des dimensions de mon histoire. Dire que mes conseils au président étaient déterminés par mon judaïsme est ignoble. Et cette déclaration est, évidemment, antisémite."
Socialists seem to be able to manufacture fundamental dissensions out of thin air.

EU Foreign Minister

Has David Miliband taken himself out of the running for the post of EU foreign minister? Jean Quatremer thinks so. Ostensibly, the reason is that Gordon Brown needs him at home to help run the Labour campaign. Subtext: positioning himself to take over the party if Brown fails may loom larger than becoming the first EU foreign minister.

Who will get the post if Miliband is out? Quatremer names Massimo d'Alema.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Buy a Urinal

Ever wanted une vespasienne of your very own? Now's your chance.

Principe de Précaution Dinguo-Insensé

In the US, thieves are hijacking truckloads of swine flu vaccine because the stuff is in such demand. In France, only 19.3% of the population intends to get vaccinated, because la méfiance is so out of control that people are more afraid of the government than they are of the flu. Or something. Here we have an item for the French identity debate: Why are people in this country so afraid of cell-phone towers, genetically modified organisms, and swine flu vaccine yet perfectly willing to drive at 150 km/h on 1-lane country roads, ride bicycles in Paris, and consume triple-crème cheeses?

Dumas Looks Back

Roland Dumas, very relaxed and quite jovial, looks back on the fall of the Soviet bloc and Mitterrand's attitude toward German reunification, in a fascinating conversation, which I would recommend viewing with a skeptical eye.


Sarko at the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Carla Bruni teams up with Harry Connick Jr. And other Sarkogossip. UPDATE: And what if Sarko's memory is faulty?

Le Déclassement

Le déclassement has become a hot topic in French sociology of late. Eric Maurin, in La Peur du déclassement, contends that the phenomenon is largely psychological, a fear of what is in fact rather rare. Camille Peugny, the author of another book on the subject, disagrees.

If I hesitate to translate the word in question, it's partly because I'm not sure there's an equivalent English term and partly because definitional issues are central to the disagreement. One might think of "downward mobility," but part of Peugny's riposte to Maurin is that the latter adopts too strict a definition. What appears to be a position of given status may now require more substantial credentials than it did a generation ago, for example. If a foreman now needs a licence to hold a position that didn't even require a bac before, then the educational credential has been devalued, déclassé. Or has it? Perhaps the job carries with it a greater autonomy and responsibility than the job of the same name in the past. But has its relative remuneration risen or fallen? And so on. Clearly, the issues are numerous and difficult to resolve given the available evidence.

I'd be curious to hear your views on whether déclassement is more real than imaginary. Readers interested in an American comparison might like to look at Caroline Hoxby's recent paper on changing selectivity in American universities. Hoxby finds contradictory tendencies at work: the most selective colleges have become more selective than ever, but more than 50 percent of colleges at the lower end of the scale have become markedly less selective. Hence higher education has been both déclassé and reclassé depending on where in the spectrum a student lands.

Le Maire's Loyalties

Bruno Le Maire, who was Dominique de Villepin's chief of staff but is now Nicolas Sarkozy's minister of agriculture, has spoken out against Villepin's persistent sniping at the government. "There is a limit" to legitimate debate, he said, defined by "the interest, the unity of the majority." As normative political theory, this is of limited interest, but as a sign that Villepin's tactics have exasperated even his friends, it is worth noting.

All Digital Textbooks

France will move to all digital textbooks. The publishing industry is not happy.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Elysée In the Rap Business

Did the Elysée intervene to get assistance to Pierre Sarkozy, Jean's brother, a rap producer? If so, you've got to give Sarko credit for a thick skin:

“I’m not a Sarkozy guy, I don’t give a s***,” said Poison, whose name is pronounced the English way. “The guy [Pierre Sarkozy] brought me some music. He does good sh**. I didn’t know at the start that it was the son of Sarko. When I found out, I blew a fuse and phoned him. He said ‘Yeah, but Poison, I didn’t wanna tell you ‘cos you wouldn’t wanna hang out wid me no more’. I told him, hey, no problem. You never done me wrong. We’ll bust nobody’s balls, we’ll just do good stuff.” In an anti-Sarkozy video with other rap singers last year, Poison chanted: “Anti-Sarko, anti-right, Nicolas don’t you hear. We’re anti-you.”

Old Chestnut

This is a perennial of French politics: Jacques Chirac and François Hollande run into each other comme par hasard somewhere in deepest Corrèze, in this instance at the Foire du Livre in Brive. This is the French equivalent of the "outside the Beltway" gambit in American politics. The politician assures the locals that they are the salt of the earth, that it really is good for the soul to get outside the Périphérique/Beltway, to return to where the air is pure and the people are occupied with the real stuff of life, be it milking the cows or picking up the latest Beigbeder on a Saturday morning in Brive. The meeting of rivals only enhances the opposition between the "real" life of the provinces and the "unreal" preoccupations of the capital. Left and right join in patting the rump of the cow or hoisting a brewski in jovial proof that, once the artificial distinctions of political life are forgotten, under the surface we are all One.

The cow pats may be real, but the comity isn't.

UPDATE: Maybe it is:

Ce n'est pas tant la photo commune ou les congratulations – sous les applaudissements mais aussi quelques sifflets – que la déclaration de M. Chirac, la veille, au quotidien local, La Montagne. M. Hollande a " sans aucun doute " un destin national, a-t-il dit. " Il en a les moyens et l'ambition. (…) C'est une personne de qualité ". Sans compter que le président du conseil général de Corrèze avait passé tout son vendredi avec Bernadette Chirac, dans l'harmonie la plus parfaite.

La Franche-Tireuse

Ah, I do love French linguistic quarrels. We who speak the ungendered tongue of Shakespeare miss out on so much fun.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Remembering the Fall of the Wall

Various political figures remember their sentiments on learning that the Berlin Wall had come down. I share Bruno Le Maire's reaction: I wasn't sure what it would mean. A divided world had been such a part of my inner landscape for my entire life that I couldn't quite grasp its sudden disappearance. Six months later I visited Berlin for the first time. The East German government still clung to a nominal existence, and there was still a border to cross at the Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station. The guards went through the motions. I was glad to have seen the last embers, and at another point to have touched the graffiti-covered wall, parts of which still stood. When I returned nearly two decades later, Friedrichstrasse was all glass and steel, the Alexanderplatz was no longer quite so bleak a declaration of Soviet aesthetics, and the Cold War had become un lieu de mémoire. It's hard to convey to my children what it was all about.

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

Bernard Girard offers some wise words on the so-called identity debate:

Ce n'est évidemment pas en nous regardant dans un miroir que nous trouverons notre identité, c'est en écoutant ce que les autres, ceux qui nous regardent de l'extérieur, ont à nous dire sur ce que nous sommes. Si traits communs il y a, seuls des regards étrangers peuvent le discerner. Nous en sommes incapables, sauf à penser qu'être Français se résume à quelques imbécilités jusqu'alors réservées aux supporters des clubs de foot et de rugby, genre Marseillaise, drapeau et coq gaulois.

Sarkozy at midterm: a British look

A reader suggested this assessment from the FT of where Sarko stands:

Perhaps it is no surprise that disillusionment is setting in at his term’s halfway stage. It is even more understandable as the reforms going through parliament strike at the heart of lawmakers’ vested interests. But there may be more to the unruliness than mere mid-term malaise or difficult reform. In truth, Mr Sarkozy seems to be falling victim to the contradictions he has created in his reform programme and in his style of government.


Martine Aubry as portrayed by Le Figaro:

«Nous ne devons pas être systématiquement dans la réponse aux polémiques. Je ne veux pas faire de la politique en tirant des balles, même sur les adversaires. Nous ne voulons pas être les plus grands dénonciateurs de la droite, mais être les meilleurs…» Martine Aubry cherche le mot qui lui échappe, elle se tourne à droite à gauche en quête d'inspiration. Puis elle reprend, sans être tout à fait assurée de son choix : «Mais être les meilleurs proposants de la société que nous voulons mettre en place.» Et quand on lui demande si elle se considère comme la première opposante à Nicolas Sarkozy, elle hésite. «Si cela veut dire faire des propositions…», répond-elle.

This is a cruel portrait, with a tone that comes close to the gutter-sniping of Fox News in the United States. Not out of character for Le Figaro. Still, one does wish that Aubry would just propose something rather than announce that she is about to.