Monday, March 2, 2009

Balladur, Terrible Complexificateur

François Miclo dismantles the Balladur Commission report, which aspires to dismantle the existing regions in the name of simplicity. A brilliant dissection, which concludes with the simple observation that the Balladur Commission, for all its gusto in slicing up the map of France with the abandon of the revolutionary commissars who created the départements in the wake of the Revolution, failed to carry out the mission entrusted to it, namely, to clarify or at least simplify the relations among different levels of local and regional government and eliminate overlapping resources and responsibilities.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

The president, despite his "busy schedule," will drop in on the annual banquet of CRIF, the representative organization of French Jews, "for a few moments," just long enough to upstage the long-suffering François Fillon, who will deliver the after-dinner speech. Sarko distinguished himself at this event last year by springing the surprise announcement that every French schoolchild would be required to carry the picture of a Holocaust victim. This idea was quickly forgotten, and perhaps Sarko didn't want to raise expectations of pulling another rabbit out of his hat, so, at first, he decided to poser un lapin instead. But that raised eyebrows instead of expectations, hence the last-minute decision to "drop in" on the banquet. Sarko does indeed have a busy day: he'll be leaving a summit in Egypt this morning to attend the funeral in Levallois-Perret of the French teen killed last week in Cairo. No wonder he has no time for gefilte fish. Or maybe he'd just rather dine at the Bristol (see previous note).

Diversion: A Little Gastroporn

Sarko's favorite chef, Eric Fréchon of the Hotel Bristol, has been awarded 3 stars by Michelin. For an amusing little dégustation of gastroporn, try this link.

A Stellar Void

"Stellar void": the Algerian press's word for the Union for the Mediterranean. Remember that? It was the fallback from one of les grands projets of Sarkozy's early presidency, the Mediterranean Union. Merkel objected, and we got the UfM instead. And then Gaza erupted, and union, such as it was, turned to disunion.

But the MU was to have been a French-dominated alternative to the EU, or perhaps a sort of consolation prize for the Turks, and with the EU itself in some disarray, and the Turks, in the person of their prime minister, having unleashed an angry outburst at Israel at Davos this year, the UfM is going nowhere fast.

The French Holbrooke at Last

Sarko now has a special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, a French equivalent of America's Richard Holbrooke: Pierre Lellouche. Lellouche had made no secret of his disappointment at being left out of the government. (His memorable words to that effect can be consulted here.) Lellouche is among the most Atlanticist of the French, so apparently Sarko figures that parachuting him in to the hottest spot on the planet alongside the surging American forces coming out of Iraq will make him feel right at home. Holbrooke is an American used to having his own way, however, so it remains to be seen how he will take to having a Frenchman looking over his shoulder.

Seeing Double

We have markedly different takes on the situation in Europe from an American and a French newspaper this morning. The Times takes a decidedly downbeat view of this weekend's European summit, sees the east-west cleavage developing rapidly and threatening the Union itself, and is already imagining the collapse of Ukraine and possible Russian (I almost wrote "Soviet") intervention. Meanwhile, Libé, or at any rate Libé's EU correspondent and blogger Jean Quatremer, sees a "reaffirmation of European solidarity." Alas, that solidarity is illustrated by an image of Sarkozy and Berlusconi arm-in-arm (reproduced here). And then we have Sarko illustrating his idea of solidarity with this sibylline phrase: "Entre le protectionnisme et le libre-échangisme, il y a un équilibre." Indeed. In fact, I'd go farther and say that there are multiple equilibria. The question for Europe is whether it will choose among these the optimal or the less optimal, and the signs thus far are not encouraging.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman gives Europe an F.