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.