Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Second Act

At the end of last year I wrote an article for ENA Hors les Murs, the ENA alumni magazine, in which I suggested that Sarkozy's problem was that he had written his presidency as a one-act play and, when the crisis struck, he had no second act. I think we are about to witness the unveiling of the second act. Sarko will soon speak, as he is now permitted to do under the constitutional reform, to a joint session of the Assembly and Senate at Versailles. The Greens have announced that they will not attend: Noël Mamère finds the setting too monarchical and the promised post-speech debate an empty sham. The Socialists will attend but won't take part in the debate, thus continuing their string of uninterpretable strategic moves. Does attendance connote acceptance of the reforms, while refusal to debate is meant to suggest adherence to some other principle of government? Who knows? Who cares? Les chiens aboient; les caravanes passent.

Attention will therefore focus on what Sarkozy says. There have been leaks, most notably from Claude Guéant: the second half of the quinquennat will be devoted to social issues (because the economic ones have all been dealt with, or because the crisis has limited the room for maneuver?). The elderly will be promised assistance. Local government reforms will be laid out. There will be more "moralization of capitalism," as the French like to say: fulminations against "speculation" (bad), praise for "entrepreneurs" (good). But is a banker or hedge-fund manager who takes a flyer on a high-tech startup a speculator or an investor?

Such Jesuitical questions are best left to others; the president speaks ex cathedra. "Green" is in, so there will be lenifying words about the environment. Cohn-Bendit was useful for thwarting Bayrou, and Nicolas Hulot might be useful for taking votes from whichever of its 27 presidential hopefuls the PS finally settles on in 2012, but in the end a substantial number of Green voters must be made to feel at home in the UMP (Borloo is the government's most popular minister). Etc.

Act 2 will then continue in the form of un remaniement ministériel, the last refuge of presidents who think they're ahead of the competition and don't see opportunities for any big policy initiatives. The new faces, promotions, and demotions will give the press (and bloggers) material to write about for three or four weeks, merging nicely into the presidential vacation season. Then for the rentrée there can be a renewed assault on a few of the sticky wickets left over from Act 1: lycées and universities, perhaps, hiking the retirement age, closing some hospitals and courthouses, shrinking the odd government department.

And afterwards, as Napoleon said, on s'engage, puis on voit. The troops will have been deployed, and it will remain to be seen whether the sleeping enemy can rouse itself for un baroud d'honneur or must slumber on in the hope of a revivifying kiss from some still unnamed Prince or (Princess) Charming. Unemployment will likely be much higher by then. Some people might be feeling rather desperate. Things could heat up. The president might feel a twitching in muscles that haven't been used for a while; old instincts might revive.

But he'd prefer, I think, to muddle through Act 2 without riling Nemesis. Then, if re-elected, there might be time for an Act 3, more ambitious than Act 1, if the hero hasn't tired by then and begun to think of cosseted retirement. Though the thought of retirement might also trouble him a bit: he can't really expect Mme Sarkozy to stick around when he no longer has at his disposal the world's most potent aphrodisiac, as power has been called.


La Vie des idées has compiled a series of recent essays on the evolution of the justice system.

Nailed Him

The Socialists, always in search of la rénovation, have at last found the issue with which they can beat Sarkozy! And what might that be? you ask. Answer: the cost of the annual Élysée garden party. Yes, folks, the famous Dosière Report is out, and you won't believe the waste and misrepresentation that the good professor has discovered. Here is the scoop in his own words:

Un exemple précis, qui concerne le coût de la garden party du 14 juillet, illustre à quel point la communication permet de dissimuler la réalité budgétaire.

Que dit le commentaire : « les mises en concurrence ont ainsi permis de baisse le coût unitaire de la garden party du 14 juillet, par exemple, ne serait ce qu’en l’appliquant aux traiteurs. »

Le lecteur en conclut donc que la garden-party coûte moins cher, et qu’il y a bien eu économie.
La réalité est exactement contraire puisque la garden-party a coûté plus cher : 475 523 euros en 2008 contre 419 213 euros en 2007, soit +13,4% . Ce que ne dit pas le rapport, c’est que le nombre d’invités est passé de 5 500 à 7 050

Yes, the shocking truth is that while the palace boasts of reducing the "unit cost" of the presidential bash by applying liberal economic principles (competition among caterers!), the eagle-eyed Socialists have discovered that so many more guests were invited to partake of the pared-down comestibles that the price actually increased by 13.4%. Yet another case of hyperprésidentialisme. Sad, sad, sad. Can it be long before Martine Aubry outstrips Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the polls? Now that the PS is exercising its contre-pouvoir to the max, surely the voters will see the error of their ways and come back to the fold. We wait with bated breath.

Maastricht was sooooo 1990s

In case you had any doubts, the Stability and Growth Pact gives new meaning to the phrase "more honored in the breach than in the observance."

Sarko and Chirac Bury Bongo ...

... and hope he takes his secrets with him to the grave. Sarko was booed by the crowd on his arrival at the presidential palace.

Le Fait du Prince

The president mucks about with the local sewers at Cap Nègre, the prefect resists, and ...


Yesterday, some Socialist (hard to tell them apart anymore) said that the party was more and more reminiscent of the SFIO. La preuve: here.