Sunday, January 31, 2010

Presidential Arbitration Needed

I'm surprised Sarkozy has not stepped into this conflict at the heart of a great French institution: the orchestra of the Paris Opera. (h/t Stephanie)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

WaPo Watch: "The Gallic Dean Martin"

You might have to be of a certain age to appreciate this:

Who but Sarkozy could make a diatribe on international economics so entertaining? The man is the most animated figure on the international stage: He scowls, he shrugs, he struts. Dressed in one of his skinny "Rat Pack" suits, he might be a Gallic Dean Martin. 

Well, they say (falsely) that the French like Jerry Lewis, so I guess it's no surprise that they're partnered with Dean, even if the teetotaling, diminutive Sarko really doesn't bear much resemblance to the tall, boozy crooner. What was Ignatius thinking? Gotta turn in that column on deadline, probably.

Foreign Aid Hall of Shame


France is below average, the US in the cellar.

Does a Gentlemen Stoop to Pick Up a Lady's Lost Shoe?

This looks like a contingency for which neither the French president nor the American secretary of state was briefed. (By the way, this is the first time I've linked to "Hollywood Life," and it may be the last. I had seen the story reported elsewhere, but this was the best photomontage, for which I thank the ever-alert Polly-Vous Français).

Software Piracy

The virulent opposition to the HADOPI Law in France suggests a certain ambivalence, to say the least, about the concept of intellectual property. It is therefore interesting to note that a report on software piracy by the Business Software Alliance shows that while France belongs, along with other advanced economies, to the group of 25 countries having the lowest software piracy rates, it is the worst in that group, with a piracy rate of 41%, compared with 20% in the US, 27% in Germany and the UK, and 32% in Canada.

Georgia is the most buccaneering country in the world when it comes to software, with an astounding 95% piracy rate, but apparently it paid the price in its recent war with the Russians. Since even the Georgia government is using pirated (and therefore unpatched) software, it is particularly vulnerable to cyber-attack, and the Russians fully exploited this weakness.

The Muslim Community

It is easy to read in the French press about the Muslim community in France, but it is rarer to hear accounts from inside about conflicts within that community. Here is one such report, about a conflict involving an imam, Hassen Chalghoumi, with an "ecumenical reputation" for bridge-building, especially with the Jewish community (and in Drancy, of all places). Because of this, he has allegedly become the target of attacks by militant Islamists. Recently, it was reported that "a commando of 80 militants" had disrupted a meeting at Chalghoumi's mosque. The cited article, by Hicham Hamza, does not purport to be an objective account of the incident (which Hamza, who questions the use of the word "commando" in press reports, says was nonviolent), but it does give links to articles of all stripes concerning both the event and the Imam's past positions. What does emerge clearly from the report is the way in which the national identity debate, and the animus focused on the burqa and niqab, have created dissension rather than convergence toward consensus and how the issue has become a flash point among Muslims. Indeed, the argument often made by "defenders of republican values" such as M. Copé, is that the burqa is a provocation by radicals intended to "test" the Republic. If so, this article shows how the eagerness of Copé and others to take the bait has played into the hands of the radicals by persuading a much wider circle of Muslims that a "counter-defense" is needed. In any case, the story, which I had not come across in the "mainstream media" although it was evidently reported by the AFP and covered by the TV networks, is an interesting one.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Interpret This

Can somebody penetrate this text and tell me what is really going on? Le Point seems to be telling us that three of the biggest financial players in France, Bolloré, Lagardère, and Arnault, all with ties to the government, are engaged in various maneuvers to put pressure on the already beleaguered Le Monde. If it collapses, presumably, one or more of them will pick it up for a song, and gone will be a major independent voice. France will take another step toward Berlusconization. Is this really happening? If so, what is to be done?

Derrière la Tett

Gillian Tett finds wisdom, sort of, in Sarkozy's Davos speech. Specifically, she singles out his call for a "new Bretton Woods" as an idea that only recently would have seemed "old-fashioned or even barking mad" but which now, in a time of confusion and uncertainty, has the virtue of a lighthouse in a fog, pointing the way to terra firma (or, at any rate, to a place where terra firma used to lie).

Well, maybe. One is never clear how much actual thinking lies behind Sarko's "unexpectedly geeky comments," to borrow Tett's phrase. He is a voracious idea monger and opportunity senser, and, as Tett also notes, he smells a vacuum: the US, preoccupied with internal squabbles and somewhat insulated from the disaster it has created, seems to have retreated from leadership in the international financial arena, but the problem  of global imbalances has not grown less acute. Somebody has to step up, and Sarko, tired of playing second fiddle to The One, is glad to be the one. But the US and China are the major players here, and French relations with both economic superpowers are somewhat frosty at the moment. Sarko may be onto something, but follow-through has never been his strong suit. This dossier bears watching, however.

Withered Laurels

Dominique de Villepin's victory march through the TV studios will have been cruelly short. The parquet will appeal the not guilty verdict. In fact, the verdict was not really "not guilty," despite Villepin's insistence that he had been "blanchi." It was more in the nature of a Scottish verdict of  "not proven." As Le Monde notes:

Si les trois juges considèrent que l'implication politique de l'ancien premier ministre dans cette affaire est bien supérieure à celle qu'il a voulu reconnaître – ils estiment notamment sans l'écrire explicitement que M. de Villepin ment lorsqu'il assure n'être pas intervenu lorsque Imad Lahoud a été placé en garde à vue ou qu'il dément avoir été en contact régulier avec Jean-Louis Gergorin ...

Indeed, the judges really held that Villepin's innocence rests on his not having been sure until October 2004 that the listings were fake. On the other hand, this is also the basis for believing him guilty of something, if not precisely a crime: if he entertained doubts about the veracity of the listings, he nevertheless continued to work with the people who were using them to get at his rivals. Furthermore, as many observers have noted, the verdict leaves open the question of cui bono. Who profited from the operation, and who might have initiated and/or paid for it? Well, Villepin certainly stood to profit, but that's not evidence that he initiated the affair. Would Gergorin have done this on his own? He, too, claims to have been a dupe. Lahoud? Seems unlikely. So we are back where we started, looking for a prime mover not among the three men convicted--a prime mover who may or may not exist.

The prosecutor's motives are clear. He's now the fall guy, and he wants to prove that his prosecution of Villepin was motivated not by politics (or orders from the Elysée) but rather by evidence that he insists is in the record:

Dans le dossier, il y a tous les éléments pour entrer en condamnation. Un jugement a été rendu. Mais la justice n'est pas encore totalement rendue.

But a court has already judged this record. It is a peculiarity of the French system that the prosecution can appeal a verdict of not guilty without alleging a technical flaw or new evidence. When Sarkozy said yesterday that he would not appeal as a civil party, he was actually mistaken about the law: he had no right to appeal. Only the parquet or the defendant did on the question of the relaxe; Sarkozy could have appealed only the dommages et intérêts. This was reported as a slip by the president, but I wondered at the time if it wasn't meant to be a signal to the parquet: "No appeal! This case has become a political liability!" Of course it may also have been intended as the opposite signal: "I'm not going to keep this going, I don't want to look like a bloodthirsty avenger, but you still have the option, and it would please me if you availed yourself of it."

On the other hand, the prosecutor has every reason of his own to continue the case: it is now his honor that is at stake, his judgment to prosecute Villepin in the first place. He is out to prove that he had every legal rather than political reason to do so by convicting Villepin in a retrial. But at this point, I think, trop, c'est trop.

N.B. Of course another explanation of the prosecutor's action is that he is following orders from on high. Probably most people in France believe this, since he is subordinate, ultimately, to the chief executive. Of course there is no evidence that this is the case. For many, that is proof that it is so, especially if they have firm convictions about the character of the individuals involved. I refrain from drawing any conclusions in this regard. A subordinate may act on orders. He may act in a way that he supposes will please his superior. He may act to defend his own honor. He may act to defend his idea of justice. He may act out of personal enmity. I see no reason to choose among these explanations in the absence of hard evidence.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

And Maybe Frêche Is Not Rotten?

Rue89 trots out Georges Frêche's pro-Semite credentials after his apparently anti-Semitic comment. Meanwhile, Martine Aubry has pushed the mayor of Montpellier to mount a challenge to Frêche in retaliation for his latest "slip," which Fabius lieutenant Claude Bartolone believes was calculated. Frêche himself defends his comment as "a popular expression used by the French for centuries." Indeed, it's amusing to reflect that one way to translate "pas très catholique" in English would be "not very kosher." So Frêche would have us believe that he merely meant to say that Fabius' face is as "phony as a 3-dollar bill," rather than the face of a non-Catholic. The denial is almost plausible, since, indeed, many in France believe that Fabius has the face of a used-car salesman and wouldn't buy one from him. So Frêche might have said, Si j'étais en Haute-Normandie, je ne sais pas si je voterais Fabius, ce mec me pose problème. Il a une tronche de maquignon normand."

But maybe that wouldn't have been such good politics in Normandy, just as pas catholique isn't such good politics in Paris.

I might add that "used-car salesmen" have every reason to take offense at my above remarks, and since "one of my best friends" is in fact the daughter of a used-car salesman, I have every reason to regret this.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Sarko turns 55 today, and for a gift the court that was supposed to be filled with his lackeys cleared his arch-rival Dominique de Villepin on all counts. "Not proven" was as close as the court came to finding DdeV guilty of having masterminded the whole Clearstream operation, although it did say that he had used Chirac's name and had taken steps to get Imad Lahoud released from custody, contrary to what the former prime minister asserted in court (but I guess prevarication is considered par for the course in these high circles). And so it ends: Villepin steps down from the butcher's hook and tonight relaunches his quixotic campaign against Napoléon l'Infime. La comédie est finie. Except for the seconds couteaux, who are going to jail.

The decision, I must say, is a masterpiece and reflects my feelings about the evidence, insofar as I have been able to decipher it. Gergorin trinque, as he should, because he is the "material author" of the affair. His "experience in intelligence" should have taught him to be wary of a guy like Lahoud, "in order to avoid all manipulation." Lahoud fed him the information he needed. Bourges behaved unethically. Robert, the journalist, was just being a journalist and got mixed up in the machinations, so he gets off. And Villepin, whatever he may have suspected, was too canny to send himself up the river. He's guilty enough to deserve Sarko's enmity unto the gates of Hell and not guilty enough to retain his éligibilité though probably not his electability, unless cataclysms as yet unforetold should befall la Grande Nation. And, perhaps most important, the court steered its way nicely between Scylla and Charybdis by not succumbing to either presidential pressure or antipresidential diatribe. It was a politic decision, but not necessarily a political one. And it let off the one most nearly innocent of the Keystone Conspirators, Denis Robert.

I will be on France24 today (3 PM EST, 9 PM Paris time) to give an interview about the outcome, which is of no particular interest to me, but for some reason the station has repeatedly turned to me as a talking head on this issue. My brief experience as a pundit has made me more skeptical of the news media. In this particular instance, my "expert" qualifications seem to be that a) I follow the French news and b) speak English. I would be glad in the mean time to hear from anyone with anything interesting to say about the trial. Who knows? You might hear your views transmitted to the world via France24. How big is their audience, anyway?

Frêche Is Rotten

Georges Frêche has done it again:

Selon l’hebdomadaire L’Express, M. Frêche a récemment déclaré à l’adresse de l’ancien Premier ministre Laurent Fabius, d’origine juive: «Voter pour ce mec en Haute-Normandie me poserait un problème, il a une tronche pas catholique».

He has a Le Pen-ish gift for this sort of thing. The PS is embarrassed, yet again, by his tous azimuts vileness.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dominique Rousseau on the Burqa Law


This Is a Politician?

Rachida Dati had better hope that she is permitted to take the oath to practice law, because she seems unlikely to make it in politics if the behavior described here by Jean Quatremer is typical of her.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


So much for Martine Aubry's recently vaunted "realism." Les Echos offers an acid commentary, fully deserved.


Rue 89:

Lundi soir, à la télévision, si vous étiez une femme, un Arabe ou un Noir, vous aviez une chance plus grande que le président de la République vous appelle par votre prénom.

Aghion Report on Universities

Here. Article here.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Statistics

You can't collect racial statistics in France. But you can publish racially charged photos, and in the absence of statistics, one can't say whether this is an accurate representation of delinquency in France or not. The CRAN has protested.

A Society Adrift

Bookforum has a very interesting review by the always excellent Scott McLemee on a posthumous collection of writings by Cornelius Castoriadis entitled A Society Adrift. Castoriadis was part of the "Socialisme ou Barbarie" group, which, as McLemee explains, grew out of a Trotskyist faction known as the "Chalieu-Montal minority," which was in turned linked to an American Trotskyist group whose leaders included C. L. R. James. In France, Castoriadis was associated with two other intellectuals who later became well-known in very different ways, Claude Lefort and J.-F. Lyotard. Lyotard became a theorist of postmodernism, while Lefort influenced a generation of "left liberal" intellectuals, most notably Pierre Rosanvallon. Some years ago, Lefort came to Harvard, where during lunch he mentioned that the group to which he and Castoriadis belonged was often erroneously identified as "Socialisme et Barbarie," a mistake that he regarded as a revealing Freudian slip. Sure enough, at the lecture afterward he was introduced by an eminent Harvardian as a representative of "Socialisme et Barbarie." Remember the group's sobriquet, SouB (perhaps one should call it a soubriquet) and you won't make that mistake.

What Passes For National Identity Debate

Jamel Debbouze: "La burqa n'est même pas un épiphénomène, ça concerne 250 personnes : qu'est-ce qu'on vient nous faire ch... avec ce truc", a lancé l'humoriste Jamel Debbouze sur France Inter mardi. "Encore une fois, c'est xénophobe, voilà. Et les gens qui vont dans ce sens-là sont des racistes", a ajouté l'humoriste à propos des préconisations de la mission parlementaire sur le voile intégral rendues mardi.

Jean-François Copé: "Si on ne l'interdit pas sur l'ensemble de l'espace public, ça peut donner le sentiment qu'on l'autoriserait" dans certains endroits, a-t-il déclaré à l'issue de la remise du rapport de la mission parlementaire , qui préconise une loi d'interdiction dans les services publics et s'interroge sur la constitutionnalité d'une prohibition générale. "Comment va-t-on expliquer que c'est plus constitutionnel à l'hôpital que dans la rue ?", s'est interrogé Jean-François Copé devant la presse.

Paris as Financial Center

Christine Lagarde has taken an initiative to improve the standing of Paris as a financial center by introducing new technology for bond trading.

A Shrewd Producer

I didn't watch all of the Sarko Show with Jean-Pierre Pernaut last night (life is short), but I did catch the beginning, the colloquy with "Nathalie" and "Monsieur Le Menahes." The difference in mode of address with the two interlocutors spoke volumes. With the unemployed young graduate in marketing, Sarko was avuncular, familiar, reassuring--and abstract in his answer: I will bring growth, he promised (this time he omitted to say that he would fetch it with his teeth), and some day you will find work. With Monsieur Le Menahes, the angry cégétiste in leathers and sporting earrings in both ears, he avoided familiarity, tapped his virile instincts, yet held his anger presidentially in check despite M. Le Menahes' dogged efforts to rattle him, and Pernaut's interventions to keep the conversation moving forward, which Sarko merely brushed aside. Indeed, the made-for-TV confrontation was so effective that one can imagine Sarko or his media advisors begging TF1 to find an angry trade unionist and deck him out in combative costume (the leather jacket and earrings--an inspired touch!) in order to provide the president with the répondant he has expressly found lacking in his face-offs with credentialed newsmen.

As reality TV, I would rate this show several notches above Jersey Shore. Even the rather moche setting--a few café tables strewn about a set made to resemble a classroom, with Pernaut strutting around in the rear like an anxious teacher while the mayor conducted his civics lesson in the front of the room--contributed to the overall effet de réalité. What many French viewers don't appreciate, I think, is how good Sarkozy is at this kind of performance. His tonal range as an actor is much better than one finds in even the most practiced American politicians. The failure to appreciate his gifts as a performer is perhaps because the staginess is in the end rather wearing. One has heard all the lines before in a variety of other "sets," and the whole show has the dated feel of one of those efforts to make, say, Le Misanthrope relevant to modern times by changing the actors' dress and body language to look more contemporary and setting the action in a Métro station or hospital waiting room rather than a château.

Here and here are two other takes.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mistral on the Situation in the US

This is about American rather than French politics, but I recommend to French readers this article about the state of affairs in the United States by my friend Jacques Mistral. I share his pessimism.

The Coming Week in French Politics

Here's what promises to be an hour of compelling television: first Sarko fields some softball questions from the charming Laurence Ferrari, then he sits down for a little back-and-forth with hand-picked representatives of "the people." As I said a couple of posts back, it's the hour of populism, and something must replace the Proglio affair in the headlines. Thursday will be a big day: the Clearstream verdict will be announced, and either Villepin will be ready for that butcher's hook or he will come roaring out of the Palais de Justice ready to stake his claim to the presidency. À suivre.

Copé Bio

If Sarkozy is the "omnipresident," then Jean-François Copé is the "omni-heir apparent." He flaunts his ambition as though it were the chief qualification for the job--and this could be the definition of chutzpah. A biography has appeared, and the story of his life is excerpted here. Interesting reading

Implications of the Proglio Affair

Henri Proglio has now renounced his Veolia salary but will remain as chairman of the board. But the opposition smells blood and is pressing its point home, and Christine Lagarde said last not that this situation will not last. So the question now is what will become of Proglio's "retraite chapeau," or supplementary retirement, from Veolia, which is valued at between 13 and 20 million euros? The whole notion of la retraite chapeau (the legalities of which are explained here) comes up at an awkward time for the government, as it is about to enter negotiations with the unions on raising the retirement age, in which it has just received a fillip from Martine Aubry, who has recognized the need for such an increase in the name of the Socialists. But here is the government, bending over backwards to save Proglio's golden retirement bonus, while insisting on the need for higher contributions from workers to preserve their retirement benefits. To be sure, there is no logical link between the two situations, but the emotional resonance is clear. As "populism" has become the label for the political turn in the US, so it may be in Europe, where favoring the wealthy and squeezing the less wealthy is as unlikely to please the many as it has proved in the United States. The only question is which unions and above all which political parties will be the first to exploit the opportunity.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Carbon Tax

A defense.

The Civil Service and Policymaking

Matt Yglesias brings France into a discussion of what has gone wrong with the policy process in the US:

Something we pay much too little attention to when we talk about policy in the United States is the nuts and bolts of making policy work. The French, for example, have a whole system of higher education oriented around the idea that going to bureaucrat school [the ENA] is incredibly prestigious and that has a lot of consequences for what it’s possible to expect the bureaucracy to do. ... In addition, I think there’s the airy question of the social status of professional regulators. In the post-1980 United States of America rich CEOs of profitable financial firms are very prestigious individuals. If one of them gets into an argument with a career civil servant, the civil servant loses. That’s not a law you can repeal, it’s a cultural fact you can work to change

 Now, there is some truth in this comparison, but I think Matt's focus is too narrow. It's not just the way top civil servants in France are selected and trained. The whole French system is pervaded by a tension between rationality and democracy. The bureaucracy is supposed to embody rationality, and it is seen as a corrective to democracy, which is presumed to be subject to the distortions of passions, caprices, and irrational exuberance or depression. And it is not just bureaucrats who are selected by the competition for places in top schools: it is also the people in the most influential economic positions.

By contrast, in the US, the cultural prejudice is different: Americans fear concentrated power, even, or perhaps especially, in the hands of the highly educated, who are suspected of serving themselves whenever they get the chance. Competition, whether in the marketplace or in the political arena, is supposed to check irrationality and excess, and the result of such competition is deemed to be a form of "rationality" higher than the deductive reasoning of the elite. So the wealthy banker in Matt's example wins the dispute with the bureaucrat not just because he is more prestigious (or wealthier) but because it is presumed that if he is wrong, his failure will be exposed by his competitors. It was the failure of competition to correct systematic bias that caused Alan Greenspan to say that the financial crisis had shaken his entire understanding of the world. He had placed his faith in rational markets rather than rational people, because, in the American view, even rational people are distorted in their judgments by self-interest, whether they are bankers or regulators.

This is indeed a deep cultural difference between the two countries--and also within them: there are American critics of the American idea of rationality and French critics of the French. Indeed, domestic critics of their own systems tend to be dismissed as influenced by alien ways of thought. Thus, in France, those who question the rationality of the administration (and at times Sarkozy, known for his anti-ENA views, is one of them) are branded "Anglo-Saxon neoliberals," whereas in the US "socialism" is the label reserved for those who are "European" or, worse, "French" enough to want to use government to correct market failures. Each system has its characteristic vices, and among those vices is the tendency to assume that the aspiration to virtue is merely a Trojan horse for bringing the vices of the other system within the gates of the City.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

French Nationality Law ...

... applied to the case of Nicolas Sarkozy, by Eolas -- but the discussion is interesting even if you omit the famous object.

Teaching of French Declines in US

French is taught at only 46% of American high schools, compared with 64% as recently as 1997. Instruction in other foreign languages has also declined. The reason, according to the report cited, is No Child Left Behind, which has forced many schools to concentrate their resources elsewhere. After Spanish, French is still the most widely taught foreign language in the US, however.

It's an absurd situation, really. A global power that shirks the responsibility of educating its citizens in the languages and cultures of other countries is headed for a fall.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Time to Get Out of the Limo

Not long ago Sarko made the gaffe of hoping that there would one day be a TGV to Strasbourg, when there already is. Now Chantal Jouanno, secretary of state for ecology, looks forward to the day when Line 14 of the Métro will be automated, although it has been since 1998. Back to the future. Time to get out of that limo, Mme. la secrétaire d'État.

Aux Grands Hommes, la Patrie Reconnaissante

I guess you're not really president of France until you've made an official Grand Homme of somebody. Rebuffed on the Camus front, Sarko now seems bound and determined to Pantheonize another artist, Claude Monet. It's not as though Monet lacks for gloire. Generations of tourists have dutifully trooped before the Water Lilies at the Orangerie and continue to flock to the Orsay. When in Paris, I myself frequently make the pilgrimage to the Marmottan, one of my favorite small museums. Still, I can't escape the feeling that there's something inherently ludicrous about the gesture. Monet was pre-eminently the painter of light, and to take him from his garden at Giverny to shut him up in the chill darkness of the Panthéon seems almost cruel. And for what? So that the President can present himself as a patron of the arts? And I can already hear the words of the speech Guaino will write for the occasion. Les arts plastiques neglected by the Panthéon! Quelle honte! For the French are a race of artists, un peuple de peintres, une nation de Nabis, une ribambelle d'Impressionistes, une déclinaison de David à Delacroix, une vision de Vigée-Le Brun ...

And where was the French government when it came to saving the house and gardens at Giverny? The money had to be scrounged in America, from the Readers' Digest heiress, of all people. Quelle mascarade! as de Gaulle would have said. (h/t Kirk)

P.S. Yes, I know that Chirac initiated the move, but Sarko will capitalize on it in his own inimitable way.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Retirement Age, PS and Burqa

Martine Aubry has lifted the taboo on discusson of lifting the age of retirement. It could go up to 61 or 62, she says, if due allowance is made for those whose work is more physicall demanding. Le Monde calls this Aubryréalisme. One might also call it too little, too late. The PS saw the demographic handwriting on the wall at least 15 years ago but ceded the issue to the right for fear of alienating too much of its own electorate. Now it seems to be engaging in belated me-tooism.

One could say the same thing about the left and the burqa, as Gérard Grunberg notes here. I watched a bit of Yves Calvi with J.-F. Copé and François Hollande. Hollande seemed eager to be as blunt and unnuanced about the issue as Copé yet held back by the party's opposition to an anti-burqa law (as opposed to a resolution simply condemning the burqa as un-Republican and un-French). Neither man saw fit to address the possibility that a ban might be construed by the EU as a violation of fundamental human rights.

A PACS Is Between One Man and One ... Woman

Heterosexual couples are increasingly choosing the PACS over marriage. And other interesting demographic statistics from INSEE. (h/t Eloi Laurent)

Nuclear War

Well, not that kind of nuclear war ... it's just a squabble between Areva (91 percent state-owned) and EDF (84 percent state-owned) and their ample-egoed CEOs, respectively, Anne Lauvergeon and Henri Proglio. Proglio has issued a warning equivalent to Khrushchev's "We will bury you" to Areva, which he thinks should be merged with EDF, and Lauvergeon, a protégée of François Mitterrand who has somehow survived in Sarkozie, is resisting. The stuff of an epic battle. Now François Fillon has intervened in two contract disputes between the companies, while Proglio, who was once rumored to be an item with Rachida Dati and may be again, has come under fire for collecting two salaries, one from EDF, which he now runs, and another from Veolia, which he used to run and of which he now sits on the board, for which he collects 450,000 euros a work for an hour and a half of work per week. Christine Lagarde formerly said that this would not be tolerated (this was supposed to be the regime that favored la moralisation du capitalisme, after all, and that lambasted the excessive compensation of CEOs everywhere), but that statement has now been rendered inoperative, because, as Mme Lagarde told the Assembly yesterday, there is a competitive market for executive talent and M. Proglio cannot be expected to work for less than his peers. Of course one might put this thesis to the test by cutting his pay to the bagatelle of 2 million that he gets from EDF, but this is a risk that the government seems unwilling to run, even though it's perfectly willing to run the risk of capping the bonuses of bankers who are not in such good graces of the current regime as M. Proglio apparently is. This is crony capitalism at its finest.

Private Financing for the Arts?

In this respect, Michael Kimmelman thinks that Europe, like it or not, is becoming more like America. Frédéric Martel has studied the contrast in depth in an excellent book, De la Culture en Amérique..

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fin de règne?

Could Sarkozy collapse of his own contradictions by 2012, making room for another (or a different) candidate on the Right? And could that candidate be Alain Juppé? Aimée Joubert and Marc Cohen think so:

En clair, Juppé se place. Et comme Martine Aubry, ce n’est plus l’horizon lointain de 2017 qu’il a coché sur son agenda, mais celui de 2012, pariant un Sarkozy largement démonétisé à cette échéance, pas tant vaincu par ses adversaires que s’effondrant sur lui-même, victime expiatoire de ses propres contradictions. Et de fait, le maire de Bordeaux a intérêt à ne pas trop tarder à sortir du bois, la concurrence – inexistante il y a quelque mois – se durcit et se précise chaque jour un peu plus. Dans la même niche écologique, celle de la droite non-sarkozyste (comme on parlait il y a quarante ans de gauche non-communiste), il faut déjà compter avec la guerre ouverte de Villepin et la guérilla larvée de Copé, sans parler des innombrables escarmouches provoquées ça et là par deuxièmes couteaux type Raffarin. Et sans parler non plus d’une possible défection d’un poids lourd du gouvernement. On pense bien sûr à Fillon, qui pourrait songer à se mettre fissa en orbite pré-élyséenne, mais Borloo pourrait avoir le même type de tentation, pas du tout de Venise…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why Benedict XVI Is Wrong About Pius XII

Albert Camus said all that needed to be said in 1944:

Quatre ans auparavant, dans Combat (daté 29 décembre 1944), Camus exprimait déjà le même sentiment : "Il y a des années que nous attendions que la plus grande autorité spirituelle de ce temps voulût bien condamner en termes clairs les entreprises des dictatures. (...) Notre voeu secret était que cela fût dit au moment même où le mal triomphait et où les forces du bien étaient bâillonnées. (...) Disons-le clairement, nous aurions voulu que le pape prît parti, au coeur même de ces années honteuses, et dénonçât ce qui était à dénoncer."

Vinocur on Identity Debate

In The New York Times, John Vinocur unloads on the French "identity debate":

We’re there now. A current French discussion about banning the burqa — understood here to mean the head-to-toe garment that leaves Muslim women peering out at the world through a narrow slit — is really a politicized retreat from a potentially meaningful debate about Muslims assuming a more distinctly French identity in exchange for the assurance of a greater role in French life.
How the possible discussion of real issues dissolved into a charade with a low-risk choreography as ancient as the minuet is suggestive of how difficult (and debilitating) the subject is for Europe’s leaders.

Monday, January 18, 2010

French Islam

Anyone interested in a detailed look at how Muslims are adapting their religion to French norms (or resisting adaptation) will want to have a look at John Bowen's new book, Can Islam Be French? Bowen, the author of Why the French Don't Like Headscarves has now moved beyond the headlines and into Islamic schools and mosques and community associations. He reveals the many strands of French Islam, disagreements among teachers and religious authorities, and emerging compromises on a range of issues.

De Gaulle Replaces Pascal

It seems that the third volume of De Gaulle's memoirs will replace Pascal's Pensées on next year's Bac L under the rubric "Literature and Debates of Ideas." And Pascal Quignard will replace Choderlos de Laclos. As much as I admire the chosen works of le grand Charles et le petit Pascal, I can't help feeling something has been lost in the exchange, but perhaps that's just my cultural conservatism speaking.

Oddly enough, I just saw for the second time "Ma nuit chez Maud," the late Eric Rohmer's 1969 film, set in De Gaulle's final year in office and featuring a debate about Pascal between un coco et un tala* who are rivals in two liaisons dangereuses. It's an engaging little film, whose social and political overtones (a Catholic engineer employed by Michelin vies with a Communist philosophy professor for the favor of a bourgeoise suspended between the fixed comforts of yesteryear and the morally ambiguous promise of tomorrow) I of course completely missed when I saw it circa 1970.

* coco = Communist; tala = Catholic (from va-t-à-la-messe).

Another Franco-American Contretemps ...

... in Haiti, where the French feel pushed aside by the American "invasion" (the word "occupation" has also been used). No surprise, of course, and never did the course of true humanitarianism run smooth, but cooperation rather than confrontation would be particularly useful here because of the language issue (although at this point I suspect that English is about as common in Haiti as French, owing to the Haitian diaspora). Still, the French pride themselves on l'humanitaire, American emergency assistance tends to take a military form ("How many divisions has Médecins sans frontières?"), and diplomatic sensitivity is not the forte of military logistics teams. The airport, a major bottleneck, is under American control, and French humanitarian flights need clearance to land and depart. Solving this problem will require intervention at a high level. I hope Hillary Clinton takes notice. But French petulance such as that displayed by M. Joyandet, who grabbed a mike from an air traffic controller's hand, is hardly likely to help. De Gaulle casts a long shadow (and Kouchner in particular has inherited aspects of his style), but some omelets can be made without breaking eggs, or balls. If this continues, Sarkozy's projected visit to the island is likely to become another flash point, and result in another pissing contest with Obama, at least as reported in the French press. La presse américaine s'en fout comme de l'an 40.

Misuse of Power by Teachers Union?

Here is an anecdote, relayed by Luc Rosenzweig, which I call to your attention despite having no way of knowing whether the facts recounted are accurate or not. I would be interested in hearing from anyone with knowledge of similar allegations.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Here's a sidelight on the swine flu vaccine controversy that you may not have heard before: apparently it was rumored in the Muslim community that there was "pork" in the vaccine. The rumor was spread by e-mail and text message among students.

Economic Patriotism

Economic patriotism is back, sort of. But there's quite a bit of daylight between Sarkozy's blustery pronouncement--"we don't put so much cash into our manufacturers to see all their factories move elsewhere"--and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn's vague promise that Renault will "maintain activity and jobs on the site" at Flins and "will continue to produce combustion vehicles while developing the production of electric vehicles." Ghosn didn't say how much "activity" or how many or what kind of "jobs," and he didn't say how long any of these vague commitments will hold.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Linguistic Anomalies

The unimaginable Haitian tragedy continues to unfold. I urge you to contribute to relief efforts. But the pretext for my post is a linguistic question: I've noticed that news people say Port-au-Prince without pronouncing the "t," yet we make the liaison when we say tout au moins. Why the difference?

And is it à Haïti or en Haïti? Apparently both, according to Le Monde's proofreaders.

The Swine Flu

I listen from time to time to Nicolas Canteloup's Revue de la Presque on Europe1, and although I admire his talent for mimickry, I find myself frequently irritated by the mindless repetitiveness of many of his barbs: Marseille is a city of crooks and corruption, Jean-Louis Borloo has dirty hair, Martine Aubry isn't as easy on the eyes as Ségolène Royal, Bernard Kouchner makes false liaisons, etc.

Lately he has been merciless toward Roselyne Bachelot for ordering too many doses of vaccine. This is one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that will be raised for years hence by those out to prove that governments can't do anything right. Such people already know the truth, of course, and don't wish to be bothered by the facts. Nor do they ever ask themselves what might have happened in a worst-case scenario or when it is better to err on the side of caution. Bernard Girard offers a nice corrective by noting that other countries also took the WHO's predictions of a pandemic as sufficient reason to act decisively.

The problem with populist derision is of course that it undermines confidence in government generally, as if error were an exclusive province of the state. This breeds a "pox on all their houses" attitude: all politicians are the same, it makes no difference who one votes for, party platforms are meaningless because they never keep their promises anyway, etc. Dismissing the possibility of honest error makes every action blameworthy. Yet people who hold such beliefs are often the first to cry "Shame!" when the government they have persistently mocked fails to prevent some calamity.

Know-nothingism disguised as political humor is one of the pathologies of democracy, and it is particularly virulent--a pandemic--among French political humorists. Canteloup is not alone. And yet--curious thing!--one finds a strange complicity between these humorists and the French political class. Politicians, always eager to show what good sports they are, what regular guys, frequently appear with the very comedians who mock their every tic and mannerism. And so it was that Bachelot, the butt of Canteloup's humor, sat with him and Michel Drucker and Anne Roumanoff in a France2 special the other night. It's all one big happy family in le pays des pipoles. Nothing means anything, no barb is out of bounds, and anyone who can't take the heat should get out of the kitchen. Which only reinforces the belief of les beaufs that they're all in it together, that the world is run by a conspiracy of people with the right connections, and the only authentic attitude is to kiss them all off with a hearty on s'en fout.

It's an unhealthy climate. Humor is a fine thing, but it shouldn't be allowed to destroy the capacity for gravitas. There are times when a state needs to be able to command awe.

Update on The Burqa Question

Charles Bremner fait le point on the burqa question. It seems that France is headed for a resolution similar to the resolution of the veil question: a limited ban on the burqa in "public spaces," still to be defined. Anything more would risk running foul of EU human rights protections and raising domestic opposition among moderate Muslims. Sarkozy, says Bremner, does not want to run these risks and will therefore head off Copé's bill, which would impose a broader ban and require more muscular enforcement procedures. The clip at the end of the post gives you Thierry Ardisson coaching a veiled young woman through an account of her reasons for dressing as she does while Jean-François Copé looks on.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Squalid Period

It's been a rather squalid period in French politics of late, and I haven't been much moved to write. The national identity debate seems to have dragged the whole campaign for the regionals down with it, and tonight new depths were reached with the Besson-Le Pen face-off. Vincent Peillon tried to make a spectacle of himself by walking out after agreeing to participate. Meanwhile, the president, who has been touring the country offering New Year's greeting to one group or another, has seized on the Haitian tragedy as a more suitable stage for his indefatigable energies. He will go to offer his solace in person. I'm not sure this is the most useful contribution he can make, but for such a virtuoso of sympathy, the opportunity is irresistible. Meanwhile, Martine Aubry is now ranked by pollsters as the president's most effective opponent thanks to a few recent forays, including a call for granting the right to vote in local elections to foreigners. A good move, but one that the Socialists failed to make while in power. Still, it is tactically shrewd, since the UMP is divided on this issue. At last the Socialists have discovered the virtues of divide et impera, of which Sarko is past master.

Blame France

Did you know that the Haitian earthquake was the fault of the French? With some help from the devil, of course. So says Pat Robertson, who takes American French-and-devil-bashing to new heights:

PAT ROBERTSON: And, you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, "We will serve you if you will get us free from the French." True story. And so, the devil said, "OK, it's a deal."

And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It's cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I'm optimistic something good may come. But right now, we're helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.
KRISTI WATTS (co-host): Absolutely, Pat.

h/t Kirk, Bill

Seriously, consider contributing to Haitian relief through Doctors without Borders or the Clinton Foundation. After the tsunami, I thought no worse natural disaster was imaginable. I was wrong.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Solal Sarkozy? Can it really be? Congratulations, in any case, to the proud parents and grandparents.

Economic Warnings

Two dark bits of economic news on the horizon: German GDP declined 5% last year, the worst recession in Germany since the end of the war, and the aggregate cost of insuring the sovereign debt of the EU-15 is now higher than that of insuring the bonds of Europe's top 125 investment-grade companies. Now, the latter figure is somewhat misleading, since outliers such as Greece and Ireland raise the average considerably, and the mean is not weighted by market share. So take the report as simply another sign of stress in the Euro zone. There doesn't seem to be much high-profile discussion of how to alleviate that stress. France is ideally placed to lead such a discussion, but, alas, Sarkozy is not Mendès France. If Christine Lagarde has had something to say on the subject, I haven't seen it. But perhaps France, rather than continue to congratulate itself on its relatively decent performance in the crisis, ought to show some leadership in this area.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

War on Google?

Launch a war on Google? What? Is Sarko crazy? Shouldn't he take on an easier opponent, like Djibouti? Or Andorra?

Devedjian Attacks the Conseil Constitutionnel

As I predicted, the Conseil Constitutionnel's decision on the carbon tax has led to criticism of its operation more generally, most notably from Patrick Devedjian. Devedjian's critique, though not empty of substance, skirts the real issue, which is the textual and logical basis on which the CC ought to base its decisions. The CC, by its nature, operates on a more abstract level than the US Supreme Court. Cases arise not out of actual harm to individuals or groups after a law is promulgated but rather prior to promulgation, as the result of a complaint of unconstitutionality by a political minority defeated in the legislature. This political logic troubles Devedjian, but even more troubling to him is its nakedness: the CC is not bound to take technical advice, hear opposing arguments, or study the legislative history of the laws it strikes down. Devedjian would prefer that politics be dressed up in judicial finery. His opinion may matter, since he is rumored to be under consideration for an appointment to the CC. This would, in American football parlance, have the effect of running interference for Jean Sarkozy, since Devedjian still has some support in what is evidently destined to become the fief of Prince Jean.

A Turkish Renault?

Is Renault planning to outsource production of its Clio model to Turkey? The rumors have drawn a sharp response from the government, in the person of industry minister Christian Estrosi. "Don't try it," he warns. The state holds 15 percent of Renault. Neoliberalism meets politics. Who will win? I'll bet on politics in the short term and economics in the long. Frontal assault on the citadels of the state is not the way of big French business. These things are best handled quietly. It's better if plants seem to die natural deaths than if they succumb to assisted suicide.

Daniel Bensaïd

Daniel Bensaïd, perhaps the best-known Trotskyist philosopher and theoretician in France, has died at the age of 64.

Monday, January 11, 2010


France discovers Churchill, while America, thanks to a new biography by Larissa Taylor, discovers Joan of Arc--whom David Bell, in this review, ranks along with Churchill as one of history's "endlessly fascinating" characters. That said, it would appear that Bell fears that Joan's fascination has eluded her biographer, who provides a "lucid, reliable narrative" but fails "to confront the past in all its utter strangeness." A pity--for, as anyone who has ever seen the FN celebrating the cult of Joan on May 1 in the place des Pyramides can attest, the voices that spoke to la Pucelle have continued ever since to whisper in the ears of other illuminated defenders of la grande nation.

France Discovers Churchill

A new translation of Churchill's memoirs by François Kersaudy is apparently doing well in France. Charles Bremner blames the old translation for the book's failure to make a mark in France before now, and the long list of howlers that he supplies supports his case. In any way, justice has now been done to the text by Kersaudy.

La Meute

Another dog has joined the pack: François Hollande made it clear that he is running for president in 2012. There were no cheering crowds. The announcement--actually more of une petite phrase than an announcement: "je ne suis plus dans les petits rôles ou dans les personnages secondaires"--came in typical Hollande style, in a meeting with the press. It takes a lot of preparation to run for president, he said. Of course one might say that Hollande has been preparing for more than a decade, with little to show for his efforts. But perhaps he will turn out to be a late bloomer.

Manuel Valls has welcomed him to the pack, while calling for a "large majority" in favor of a law banning the burqa--a position at odds with the declared position of the PS, at least according to its spokesman Benoît Hamon. As Hollande says, a presidential election is won in the first round, so one has to make it clear before the first round with whom one is going to govern. Valls seems to be making a point of saying that if he's the Socialist candidate, he will make it clear that he intends to govern with the right, at least on issues of symbolic import without practical effect.

Has Besson Fallen Out of Favor?

Yes, according to Jean-François Kahn, but not for the reason you might think. The debate on national identity isn't the issue... because it was Sarko's idea, says Kahn. No, it was rather the debate on the reform of capitalism that Besson organized. According to Kahn, he failed to provide audiences for the head of state and the prime minister and is therefore guilty of lèse-majesté. The Elysée is also out to remove Laurence Parisot, in Kahn's opinion.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ferry Bites the Hand that Feeds

Luc Ferry, who heads the Conseil d'Analyse de la Société, apparently doesn't think much of many of Sarkozy's recent decisions: the carbon tax is an "absurdity," the national identity debate is "philosophically exciting but politically absurd" (actually he's got that backwards), the national loan is "surrealistic," and the elimination of TV ads "makes no sense." But Sarko is still "the best, and by far." Hmm. The philosopher's reasoning itself seems rather absurd, surrealistic, and senseless, to borrow a few choice adjectives.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lionel Does Jospin

Lionel Jospin has been ubiquitous this week, plugging his new book and film. I've been snowed under with work (...and snow) and so failed to blog on his Le Monde interview, as an e-mail from Éloi Laurent reminds me. What struck me about the interview, apart from a certain sotto voce feistiness uncharacteristic of Jospin ("L'unité a fait défaut en 2002 et la crédibilité en 2007"--self-criticism tied to a knife in Ségo's back), was a certain contradiction at the heart of Jospin's analysis of the position of the PS. In what he characterizes as a "broader reflection" on the party's future, he observes that there are 3 types of socialist party in Europe: dominant parties like Labour in Britain or the Social Democrats in Sweden, parties of influence like the French PS, which cannot achieve a majority on their own, and supplemental parties. A party of influence cannot achieve power unaided and needs to form a coalition. This is what Mitterrand successfully achieved, but the PS has since failed to command a coalition. Jospin then says that he fears that the current temptation--to flirt with the center--is a "jeu de dupes" which will "destroy our credibility" and "reduce us to a supplemental force."

Well and good. But he has previously dismissed the "extreme left" as an element that has no wish to govern and cannot accept the compromises necessary to govern: "It is at ease only under the right." (Another brief flash of passion.) And he is also rather dismissive of ecological politics, which he says will ultimately discover that its aims can be achieved only when it recognizes that the real issue is about "relations among men, which is what socialist thought is about."

So if the flirtation with the center is a fool's game, if the extreme left has no wish to govern, and if the Greens will get nowhere until they wake up and recognize that they are really Socialists at heart, around what issues will the rassemblement that Jospin describes as necessary take place, and with whom? His retrospective analysis seems as deficient as his 2002 analysis, in which he himself recognizes, in this same interview, that he believed that his actions in government spoke for themselves and needed no defending. This was wrong, he now admits, but he still seems to have no sense that others need to be wooed, cajoled, persuaded, and inspired if they are to enlist in a cause, however righteous.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sister Republics, but not Twins

From today's Boston Globe (h/t Brent Whelan):

A Massachusetts college that drew flak for banning face coverings, including the veils worn by some Muslim women, has amended its policy to allow a religious exemption. “We will achieve our objective of campus security while allowing for a medical and/or religious accommodation,’’ the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences said yesterday. A day earlier, a Muslim civil liberties group asked the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate whether it was illegal for the college to ban face coverings, under federal law that bans employment discrimination.

So, as France debates whether to have a law against the burqa (as Jean-François Copé wants) or merely a resolution deploring it (as Xavier Bertrand has proposed), in the US Muslims are challenging bans on head coverings as illegal. Incidentally, the Copé-Bertrand skirmish should be seen as one more episode in the preparation for the après-Sarkozy. By 2017 there will be probably be more votes to be gained by courting the Muslim bloc than by chasing the FN rump, or so Bertrand seems to be calculating. Of course he could be wrong, but I wager that he isn't.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Eurabia Debunked ...

... by my friend Justin Vaïsse, with panache. And Henry Farrell points to what happens when an American racist visits France:

As Clive Davis notes, Charles Murray “is disconcerted by the number of black and brown faces he sees around him” during three days that he recently spent stranded in Paris.

I collected data as I walked along, counting people who looked like native French (which probably added in a few Brits and other Europeans) versus everyone else. I can’t vouch for the representativeness of the sample, but at about eight o’clock last night in the St. Denis area of Paris, it worked out to about 50-50, with the non-native French half consisting, in order of proportion, of African blacks, Middle-Eastern types, and East Asians. And on December 22, I don’t think a lot of them were tourists. Mark Steyn and Christopher Caldwell have already explained this to the rest of the world—Europe as we have known it is about to disappear—but it was still a shock to see how rapid the change has been in just the last half-dozen years.

The term “looked like native French” is an interesting euphemism, given that a quite substantial percentage (and, I suspect, a large majority) of the people whom Murray worried about during his peregrinations were citizens of France. I rather think that the word that Murray was looking for here is “white.”

Not just citizens, by the way, but "native" French in the sense of having been born in France.

Carbon Tax Redux

Christian Gollier and Jean Tirole criticize the carbon tax decision of the Conseil Constitutionnel for its neglect of economic incentives. (h/t Éloi Laurent, whose article with Jacques Le Cacheux appears here)

Fillon's Homage to Séguin

Fillon's homage to Séguin.

Philippe Séguin Is Dead

Philippe Séguin, 66, died last night of a heart attack. I met him once at a Harvard conference. He was an impressive man in several senses: imposingly large, remarkably eloquent, soft-spoken, candid for a politician, ironic, tough-minded, but blessed with a seductively mellow voice. He will be remembered for his outspoken opposition to the Maastricht treaty--the last genuine Gaullist, who debated the arch-anti-Gaullist Mitterrand on Maastricht yet won Mitterrand's admiration and friendship, perhaps because he shared le Florentin's caginess as well as his cultivation.

Though considered un présidentiable for a time, Séguin was a man to whom certain principles mattered more than the presidency, and he could not make the leap from the RPR's Gaullism to the UMP's Chiraquism. Several men who once were close to him now serve Sarkozy, most notably François Fillon and Henri Guaino.

After losing the mayoralty of Paris to Bertrand Delanoë, Séguin withdrew from politics. He ended his career at the Cour des Comptes, which under his leadership has been, if not quite a thorn in Sarkozy's side, at least a mild irritant, with its criticism of certain Elysian extravagances. He was a character, a politician, it sometimes seemed, from another age, before television, which did not flatter his better qualities and failed to generate the affection that his Falstaffian presence could muster in more intimate settings. He would have made an interesting prime minister if Chirac had preferred him to his antithesis, Juppé, and would probably have avoided Juppé's fatal errors. But he would likely have committed his own, because he was a man out of joint with his time, and more interesting for it.

A video documentation of his life and career can be found here. An interview with Roger Karoutchi here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Hillary Thinks About Europe

What do Hillary Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy have in common? Both are thinking about Europe's need to diversify its long-term energy supply. Here is Hillary:

What are we doing to work with Europe so that they will come up with a common policy through the EU on their own energy needs?

Good question. What are we doing? We know that Sarko has been active on this front. Has the US been talking to him about energy, or does it see him as an obstacle: an independent player who has been circumventing the EU in order to promote French interests in the energy sector (a theme that I have frequently touched on here)? (h/t Judah Grunstein)

Court Packing

Shades of Franklin Roosevelt: Sarko has figured out how to get around the Conseil Constitutionnel's opposition to the carbon tax. He has a chance coming up to replace three members of the panel, and he will seize the opportunity.

To Burqa or not to Burqa

Leave it to the Socialists to sow confusion at Internet speed. No sooner had Benoît Hamon, the party's official spokesman, announced that the PS would oppose a law to prohibit the burqa, than Aurélie Filipetti contradicted him: "The party has not taken a position," she said. Business as usual.

Après Copenhagen

Daniel Cohen, after describing three "utopian" strands of thought that helped to boost hopes for the Copenhagen conference, recommends focusing on more limited and pragmatic objective in the wake of its failure. The point is at once obvious and important. To the extent that hope was built on naive belief in the imminence of world government and limits to growth, it is now time to see what realism can accomplish. And the first step toward realism is to recognize that, while the consequences of climate change may affect 192 countries around the world, the causes are more concentrated and need to be dealt with by seeing what we can do about changing our own behavior.

Will the Grandes Ecoles Buckle?

The battle over the Grandes Écoles is heating up. When you have Alain Minc and François Pinault joining forces to declare the position of the GE "reactionary," you know that something is up. What's behind this blast is of course Valérie Pécresse's pressure on the GE to increase the percentage of scholarship students from around 15 to 30. The GE counter that this would force them to "lower standards." A careful discussion of this issue would require a lot of time and a lot of statistics, and I'm short of both at the moment. But to paint with broad strokes: it is true that the GE are unusually selective by international standards. The size of each GE cohort has not increased relative to the total university population in more than a century, despite huge changes in the social demand for highly educated labor. A proper solution to the problem therefore requires not just an increase in the proportion of scholarship students but an increase in the size of the GE in absolute terms. Current admissions "standards" are geared to the necessity to keep classes small. Expansion of the GE should therefore accompany any change in admissions standards. But to expand the GE will require the commitment of major resources, and this seems to be the element missing from Pécresse's proposal, which imposes a quota on a numerus clausus. This accounts for the internal opposition, which is not so much reactionary as pragmatic.

It is true, as a recent study of the US has shown, that competition for admission to the most selective universities has increased sharply over the past 3 decades, while entrance standards to universities in general have declined. The overall picture is clouded. If the value of a "college diploma" (without further qualification) has decreased, the value of the "best" diplomas has increased. The number of universities in the "elite" category has increased, as has the output of students with credentials comparable to the French GE. The flexibility of the US system is undoubtedly an advantage in a dynamic economy, but it is a flexibility financed largely by private means: the willingness of American families to pay extremely large sums for the privilege of an elite education for their children. Both the American and the French systems of selection are "unfair," and the pretense of meritocracy cannot really withstand scrutiny when one looks at how students are prepared for success in either system. Pécresse's proposal seems to be aimed at alleviating that unfairness on the cheap; it would be better to achieve greater inclusiveness by increasing the size of the pie while diversifying its ingredients.

(The text issued by the Conférence des Grandes Écoles is here. Charles Bremner's take here, with link to Descoings-Tapie debate on the subject. And a Descoings text here.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pétain in the Gallery of Ancestors ...

... in one Calvados village--and the mayor
refuses to take down his portrait.

Gendered Immigration

The figure of the female immigrant has become central to the French discourse on immigration, according to a new book (Anne-Isabelle Barthélémy, Catherine Benoît, Vincent Berthe et al., Cette France-là, vol. 1). From the review:

[O]n découvre une réflexion sur le caractère sexué des politiques migratoires. « Le corps des femmes étrangères […] devient à proprement parler un enjeu d’identité nationale » (p. 117) : il est en effet au cœur des attentions politiques et médiatiques. Prostituée, femme de l’immigration, fille des quartiers : ces figures récurrentes, caricaturales et floues, sont au centre de la conception d’une « immigration subie », que l’on refuse au nom même de la liberté des individus qu’elle concerne. La dénonciation des violences subies par ces femmes est au centre d’une politique de définition de l’identité nationale, adossée à l’idée d’une modernité relationnelle et sexuelle.

The authors also attack the idea that immigrants are a burden on the economy. On the contrary, they contribute to growth as both producers and consumers, the authors argue. What is a burden is the amount spent on arrest, incarceration, and expulsion of illegal immigrants, which the authors estimate as 2 billion euros per year, or 0.1 percent of GDP. Compare this with the sum spent on swine flu vaccine, for which the government is now taking so much flak: under 1 billion.

Violent Youth?

Sociologist Laurent Mucchielli discusses violent youth crime in France. To the question "Are delinquents younger and more violent than in the past?" his answer is a clear No.

Toujours de l'audace!

Who says nothing has come of the national identity debate? Eric Besson has a concrete policy proposal: La Marseillaise shall henceforth be sung at all Division 1 championship series sporting events. France is saved!

(But foreigners resident in France won't get the right to vote in local elections: the UMP hates the idea.)

Besson and Sarkozy: A Pair with a Pair

Eric Fassin considers national identity from the point of view of virility and finds in Besson and Sarkozy a pair with a pair each.


France has taken steps to promote entrepreneurship and small start-ups. Good move.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Bono and HADOPI

In yesterday's NY Times, Bono expressed the wish that the movie industry will prove to have the clout that the record industry did not, sufficient to stop illegal downloading of artistic productions. So count him among the advocates of the Loi HADOPI.

Rien que la vérité?

To call this an interview is clearly an exaggeration, and I won't vouch for the truth of everything Julien Dray says here. If I post it, I do so for one reason only: here is further evidence of the unhealthy state of relations within the Socialist Party and the political class (including journalists) more generally. According to Dray, everybody had a score to settle with him, and now he has scores to settle with everybody. He doesn't pause to ask himself if there is anything abnormal about this state of affairs, so we must assume that he takes it to be normal. One thing you can say for this "interview" (in which the interviewer scarcely opens his mouth): langue de bois it isn't.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


In French, discussed here. "Les quatres coins de l'Hexagone" is not just a cliché, by the way; it's an offense against l'esprit géométrique.

The Extreme Right

In case you've been wondering what's happening on the extreme right in the national identity debate, you will be reassured to learn that the perennial themes--the undermining of "the nation" by the foreigner and the Jew, or "le mondialiste et le cosmpolite," as the site of l'Oeuvre française puts it--have survived. L'Oeuvre française, rather astonishingly, recently held a memorial banquet in Lyon in honor of Robert Brasillach, who was executed for his collaborationist crimes in 1944. The guest speaker was a fugitive from justice named Vincent Reynouard, a convicted negationist.

Jospin: The Book, The Film

Lionel Jospin is about to publish his memoirs, and Patrick Rotman has produced 180 minutes of film recounting his political life. Excerpts are available on JDD.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Constructing the Perfect Candidate

Pascal Riché draws on a biography the public relations consultant Jacques Pilhan to deduce the "symbolic profile" of the perfect candidate to oppose Sarkozy. Inverting Sarkozy's defining characteristics, he deduces that the ideal opponent should be calm, optimistic, generous, youth-oriented, and above the parties. Any ideas?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Taxe carbone : une censure sensée

Here is Eloi Laurent's reaction to the decision of the Conseil Constitutionnel. As you will see, Eloi approaches the issue differently from me and gives a careful argument in justification of the CC's decision. Apologies to those who don't read French, but I don't have time to translate this. Here is Eloi:

La décision du Conseil constitutionnel n° 2009-599 DC du 29 décembre 2009 qui censure les articles du projet de loi de finances instituant une taxe carbone en France au 1er janvier 2010 peut difficilement être considérée comme une bonne nouvelle. Le combat pour la taxe carbone, qui a été âpre, va reprendre de plus belle dans le contexte des élections régionales, propice à toutes les politicailleries, comme on le voit avec le soi-disant débat sur la soi-disante identité nationale. Or la décision du Conseil, qui appelle un nouveau texte de loi, ne touche pas aux deux défauts majeurs du projet gouvernemental - un niveau de départ de la taxe trop faible (17 euros) et des mesures de compensation mal calibrées - et ne permettra donc pas d'y porter remède.

On peut être d'autant plus inquiet que la dernière fois que le Conseil a statué sur la réforme de la fiscalité écologique française, l'affaire s'est mal terminée : devant la censure partielle de sa proposition de taxe générale sur les activités polluantes (TGAP) par la décision n° 2000-441 DC du 28 décembre 2000 , le gouvernement Jospin a préféré renoncer purement et simplement à son ambition de taxer les émissions de gaz à effet de serre. Dix longues années ont alors été perdues dans la lutte contre le changement climatique.

Et pourtant, la présente décision du Conseil constitutionnel est riche de deux inspirations qu'il faut bien qualifier d'excellentes : le gouvernement français doit accélérer la mise aux enchères des permis sur le marché européen du carbone ou, à défaut, trouver une solution équitable de remplacement ; la lutte contre le changement climatique doit être considérée comme un objectif de portée constitutionnelle et les politiques publiques qui s'y rapportent peuvent faire l'objet d'un examen par le Conseil sur la base de leur efficience.

Sur le premier point, une certaine confusion s'est installée dans le débat public en France. Le Conseil ne condamne pas toutes les exonérations et régimes de faveur contenus dans le projet de loi de finances : il range sous la rubrique « d'exonérations » deux catégories bien différentes de traitements différenciés sous le régime de la taxe carbone.

Considérant, en particulier, que l'article 7 fixe, pour chacune des énergies fossiles qu'il désigne, le tarif de la contribution sur la base de 17 euros la tonne de dioxyde de carbone émis ; que cet article et l'article 10 instituent toutefois des exonérations, réductions, remboursements partiels et taux spécifiques ; que sont totalement exonérées de contribution carbone les émissions des centrales thermiques produisant de l'électricité, les émissions des mille dix-huit sites industriels les plus polluants, tels que les raffineries, cimenteries, cokeries et verreries, les émissions des secteurs de l'industrie chimique utilisant de manière intensive de l'énergie, les émissions des produits destinés à un double usage, les émissions des produits énergétiques utilisés en autoconsommation d'électricité, les émissions du transport aérien et celles du transport public routier de voyageurs ; que sont taxées à taux réduit les émissions dues aux activités agricoles ou de pêche, au transport routier de marchandises et au transport maritime ;

Sont ici mêlées différentes catégories d'exonérations (taux réduits, taxation différée, exonérations partielles, exonérations totales) décidées pour différente motifs, mais qui sont en principe toutes contraires au principe d'égalité  devant l'impôt énoncé à l'Article 13 de la Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen du 26 août 1789 : « Pour l'entretien de la force publique, et pour les dépenses d'administration, une contribution commune est indispensable : elle doit être également répartie entre tous les citoyens, en raison de leurs facultés. » En réalité, il y a, selon le Conseil, des exonérations justifiées (et donc conformes à la Constitution) et des exonérations injustifiées (et dès lors contraires à la Constitution).

La décision de Décembre 2000 sur la TGAP précisait déjà à ce sujet que «  le principe d'égalité ne fait pas obstacle à ce que soient établies des impositions spécifiques ayant pour objet d'inciter les redevables à adopter des comportements conformes à des objectifs d'intérêt général, pourvu que les règles qu'il fixe à cet effet soient justifiées au regard desdits objectifs ». Plus précisément encore, le Conseil indiquait que « les différences de traitement » devaient être « en rapport avec l'objectif que s'est assigné le législateur » pour qu'elles ne soient pas « contraires au principe d'égalité devant l'impôt ». Le Conseil réaffirme aujourd'hui clairement cette jurisprudence :

le principe d'égalité ne fait pas obstacle à ce que soient établies des impositions spécifiques ayant pour objet d'inciter les redevables à adopter des comportements conformes à des objectifs d'intérêt général, pourvu que les règles qu'il fixe à cet effet soient justifiées au regard desdits objectifs ;

C'est donc sur un examen de conformité que repose ici le contrôle de constitutionalité : la conformité des moyens proposés par le Gouvernement pour atteindre l'objectif fixé, en l'occurrence la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre. Or c'est ici que, selon le Conseil, le bât blesse. L'essentiel de la décision tient ainsi dans son alinéa 82 :

Considérant que des réductions de taux de contribution carbone ou des tarifications spécifiques peuvent être justifiées par la poursuite d'un intérêt général, tel que la sauvegarde de la compétitivité de secteurs économiques exposés à la concurrence internationale ; que l'exemption totale de la contribution peut être justifiée si les secteurs économiques dont il s'agit sont spécifiquement mis à contribution par un dispositif particulier ; qu'en l'espèce, si certaines des entreprises exemptées du paiement de la contribution carbone sont soumises au système d'échange de quotas d'émission de gaz à effet de serre dans l'Union européenne, il est constant que ces quotas sont actuellement attribués à titre gratuit et que le régime des quotas payants n'entrera en vigueur qu'en 2013 et ce, progressivement jusqu'en 2027 ; qu'en conséquence, 93 % des émissions de dioxyde de carbone d'origine industrielle, hors carburant, seront totalement exonérées de contribution carbone ; que les activités assujetties à la contribution carbone représenteront moins de la moitié de la totalité des émissions de gaz à effet de serre ; que la contribution carbone portera essentiellement sur les carburants et les produits de chauffage qui ne sont que l'une des sources d'émission de dioxyde de carbone ; que, par leur importance, les régimes d'exemption totale institués par l'article 7 de la loi déférée sont contraires à l'objectif de lutte contre le réchauffement climatique et créent une rupture caractérisée de l'égalité devant les charges publiques ;

Le Conseil paraît ici prendre deux positions : une position favorable aux exonérations et régimes particuliers accordés pour motif économique et une position défavorable aux exonérations totales prévues pour le projet pour un certain nombre de secteurs industriels qui sont déjà soumis, ou vont l'être en 2013, au marché européen du carbone. Ainsi, « la sauvegarde de la compétitivité de secteurs économiques exposés à la concurrence internationale » relève de « la poursuite d'un intérêt général », mais l'exemption totale des secteurs soumis au marché européen n'est justifiée que « si les secteurs économiques dont il s'agit sont spécifiquement mis à contribution par un dispositif particulier ». Or les permis délivrés à ces secteurs le sont, en France, gratuitement pour la phase actuelle du marché, la deuxième, qui courre de 2008 à 2012.

Le gouvernement a donc raison quand il prétend, dans l'exposé des motifs de la taxe carbone , respecter « le cadre communautaire » car, en effet, « L'ensemble des acteurs de l'économie sera…soumis à un signal-prix carbone : dans le cadre du marché européen de permis d'émission pour les principales installations industrielles, via la taxe carbone pour tous les autres : ménages, administrations publiques, entreprises pour les usages autres que ceux couverts par le marché de permis européen, etc. ». Mais le Conseil a raison de préciser que les entreprises ne sont pas pour autant « taxées » dans le cadre européen, dès lors que les permis leur sont distribués gratuitement (ce qui ne les dispense pas pour autant de devoir payer pour polluer davantage que le quota qui leur a été alloué).

La situation, passablement complexe, se corse alors franchement pour le gouvernement. Le plus simple, pour échapper à la censure du Conseil, serait en effet de décréter que les permis qu'il a la charge de distribuer annuellement aux entreprises françaises soumises au marché européen seront désormais payants et non gratuits, ce qui constituerait une réponse satisfaisante aux objections du Conseil. Après tout, l'Allemagne et le Royaume-Uni mettent une partie de leur permis aux enchères. Mais la loi européenne interdit d'allouer à titre payant plus de 10% des permis jusqu'à la fin 2012. Le « dispositif » que le gouvernement va devoir inventer ne pourra donc pas relever de la mise aux enchères pour 90% des permis distribués. Il faudra donc le compléter par l'extension de la taxe carbone jusqu'en 2013 aux secteurs soumis au marché européen. Et au-delà ? Il faudra que le gouvernement, s'il ne veut pas prolonger ce régime de transition, prenne l'engagement devant le Conseil de mettre aux enchères tous les permis français à partir de 2013 sans attendre 2027, date aujourd'hui prévue au niveau de l'Union (il est alors vraisemblable que le gouvernement jouera sur les dérogations pour « fuite de carbone » reconnues dans le « paquet climat-energie » voté en décembre 2008, puisque le Conseil reconnaît l'argument de la « compétitivité de secteurs économiques exposés à la concurrence internationale »).

Du point de vue de l'efficacité écologique et de la justice sociale, le Conseil rend en réalité service au gouvernement. A vrai dire, même si la censure de la taxe carbone constitue à court terme un manque à gagner fiscal, il lui rend également service en termes de finances publiques : la taxe carbone, dans sa nouvelle mouture, rapportera plus que la version initiale (mais il est vraisemblable que ces recettes seront redistribuées, ce qui, dans le cas des entreprises, ne se justifie pas dès lors qu'elles transmettent leur surcoût aux consommateurs sous la forme d'une hausse de prix).

La décision du Conseil est également bienvenue s'agissant des principes qu'elle invoque, au-delà du principe d'égalité devant les charges publiques. C'est en effet la première fois que le Conseil reconnaît explicitement au « réchauffement de la planète » et implicitement au principe pollueur-payeur qui lui est rattaché, rang constitutionnel en prenant appui sur la Charte de l'environnement de 2004.

Considérant qu'aux termes de l'article 2 de la Charte de l'environnement : " Toute personne a le devoir de prendre part à la préservation et à l'amélioration de l'environnement " ; que son article 3 dispose : " Toute personne doit, dans les conditions définies par la loi, prévenir les atteintes qu'elle est susceptible de porter à l'environnement ou, à défaut, en limiter les conséquences " ; que, selon son article 4, " toute personne doit contribuer à la réparation des dommages qu'elle cause à l'environnement, dans les conditions définies par la loi " ; que ces dispositions, comme l'ensemble des droits et devoirs définis dans la Charte de l'environnement, ont valeur constitutionnelle ;

La Charte de l'environnement fait en effet partie du « bloc de constitutionalité », autrement dit des principes généraux qui, à côté de la Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen du 26 août 1789 et du Préambule de la Constitution du 27 octobre 1946 doivent inspirer l'action du gouvernement et du Parlement français.

La décision du Conseil constitutionnel qui a censuré partiellement la taxe carbone deux jours avant sa mise en œuvre n'a donc pas le caractère « technique » que certains veulent lui prêter pour minimiser sa portée. Elle est le fruit d'un raisonnement juridique précis et impeccable (qui rejoint les préconisations de l'analyse économique) et d'une connaissance fine de la politique climatique européenne. A n'en pas douter, elle embarrasse le gouvernement. Mais elle lui donne également l'occasion de prouver que son engagement écologique n'est pas qu'affaire de stratégie électorale.