Friday, November 5, 2010

Sarko's Endgame Strategy

A reader calls attention to this post, with which I disagree. Sarkozy exercised personal power during his first few years, but personal power is not "absolute" power, as argued in the referenced text. Sarkozy managed to hold together the various factions of the UMP by giving something to each: a little more flexibility and "activation" in the labor market, a little more lip service to religion, some threatening gestures on immigration and crime, internationalism (rejoining NATO, for instance) coupled with nationalism (differences with Merkel over economic and energy policy), overtures to Washington and snubs to Washington, tax cuts for the wealthy, defense of loyalists (Eric Woerth), sacking of the disloyal (Rachida Dati), etc. etc. But all of these thrusts, which never really coalesced to define a philosophy of government, were accepted by the party only as long as they promised to produce results.

With the advent of the economic crisis and the obvious insufficiency, not to say injustice, of some measures that were previously accepted, the consensus ended and Sarkozy's power, never absolute, had to seek a new equilibrium. That is why he is hesitating so long over the choice of a new prime minister. The issue isn't what prerogatives the PM may or may not be granted; it's rather what the choice will symbolize to various constituencies. Borloo, who may be popular with the public (for reasons that are hard to discern), isn't popular with many segments of the UMP. Fillon is closer to the party's core, I believe, and may be kept on precisely because Sarkozy's reign is not and never has been absolute. It arose out of a pragmatic compromise, of the sort that has eluded the Left, without erasing substantial ideological differences.

Sarkozy wanted the confrontation with the street over retirement reform, in my view, more than he wanted the reform itself. It gave him an opportunity to hang tough, just as his "sécuritaire" actions did earlier this year. He has one more strategic opportunity left before the election campaign begins in earnest: tax reform in 2011. There is substantial pressure in his party to do something about the highly unpopular bouclier fiscal. His most likely move, I think, will be to call for abolition of both the wealth tax and the tax shield. He can still reward the wealthy donors who so badly wanted the tax shield by introducing "innovations" into the tax code to protect income from capital gains, for example. This can be dressed up as an investment credit, a spur to the economy. In revising the tax code, he will not have a free hand, however, precisely because his power is anything but absolute. Tax reform will impinge on naked interests, and it will take some adroit maneuvering to strike the right balance between, say, the provincial small-business UMP of Raffarin and the corporate shark UMP of J.-F. Copé.


Unknown said...

> Borloo, who may be popular with the public (for reasons that are hard to discern)

He's popular because he's a walking piece of trash, at least before his transformation in future prime minister. Look at what 'les guignols' are making of him ...

It's part of the traditional french kindness for epic loosers. Poulidor, someone?

It's my opinion as a french man.


Anonymous said...

Borloo is popular because he cultivates a Chirac-like "buddy" image - it's about as real as Chirac's, but he does come accross as affable, not visibly enamored with bl$ng, and not too haughty, qualities that are currently appreciated. In addition, he's linked to the Environment ministry created especially for Juppé and is thus credited for being "green" and somehow "social" -- although he admitted upon arrival that he knew nothing about the environment. To his credit, he got to work on catching up and I've been told he's even a reasonable boss the ministry's employees will see leave with regret.
The day he drunkenly dropped trou to go swimming during an official trip also scored him bonus points (... I know, what a necessary quality for a politician to have. Then again, we have the Tea Party, which is its own brand of crazy, so it's hard to go totally judgemental on French voters.)

RichardTrois said...

Thanks for this comment and discussion.

For sure, it's not Louis XIV's absolute power.
But Mr Goldhammer is there in the democratic world a country where journalist and their sources are threatened that way? Where journalists are threatened through the media shareholders. Where the Judicial branch is blocked whenever is the inquiry is related to the President?
The same way member of the french parliament are threatened as well. Would they disagree with the disgusting way the Roms were used as scapegoat, then they are sure that the UMP chief Mr Sarkozy himself is going to sack them for the next election, etc...

The closest comparison to would be Nixon's presidency. They got the very same feeling of impunity.

But even Nixon could be impeached, something the French president does not need to fear.
The French constitution gives more power to the President, counting on his restraint and his wisdom, where the American
system of government, with checks and balances, makes sure citizens do not have to count on human nature being good
for their country to be ruled according to its own laws.

Unknown said...

American presidents have launched wars, ordered waterboarding, and had suspects snatched from the streets in both the US and foreign countries and transferred to secret prisons in the Third World without too many checks and balances. Sarkozy's behavior can hardly hold a candle.

RichardTrois said...

Yes sure, I'm not saying that the US is THE paradiase.

But what if The New York Times, Newsweek and The Huffington Post would have been burgled during the very same week?

I assume that things would go a very different way on your side of the pond.

Anonymous said...

Regardless on where you stand on "absolute" power in a democracy, you've got to admit that when journalists and their sources are threatened by the government and that the secret services are so uneasy about the use of *private* spying/burglarizing spooks that they spill the beans to Le Canard Enchainé (whereby we learned that Nicolas Sarkozy himself supervises the orders to break-in) ... I'd say there is a big problem with how power is exercised.
Threatening journalists and sources should be off-limits in a democracy, period.

Unknown said...

Yes, spying on journalists is bad, but let's try to maintain some perspective. There is a tendency in France to magnify Sarkozy's failings. In many ways, de Gaulle was more repressive, Mitterrand less respectful of the limits of the law. This is not to deny the limits to press freedom in France today, but the country is not (yet) Berlusconized. Meanwhile, in the United States, we have a major media outlet (Fox News) that has on its payroll two potential presidential candidates (Palin and Huckabee) and a Republican operative (Rove). This is a line that France has yet to cross, to my knowledge.

RichardTrois said...

I do think it is Berlusconized.
A club of capitalist, named after the Fouquet's, owns the media and the president names public radio and television people, sacks those he dislikes. All others are threatened by other illegal means.

Now, the reference to Mitterrand as becomes in France like a gimmick...
But god that was 20 years ago.

Also an Mitterrand did not spy to escape from the Justice but to try to protect what he tought was his privately life (he was wrong).

Thanks anyway the discuss and the US insight.

Anonymous said...

I don't think France is supposed to be compared to Berlusconi's Italy.
Inefficient, corrupt, in bad taste... is that really a comparison that doesn't lower France?
"There's worse: look at Italy!"
In terms of democracy, I'd want to compare France with the US (obviously), also with "regular" European countries (Spain, the UK, Germany) and I wish it were as clean as what one can see in Northern Europe.
That would fit better with France's image (self-image) as democracy's craddle.
It may be the discrepancy between the image and the reality that grates so much.

I haven't known De Gaulle or Mitterrand so I can't compare, but it was a long time ago and one would hope France would have progressed a bit since then, and gotten closer to other democratic countries. Spain has not been a democracy for long and as far as I know such things don't happen there. Many other European countries do better. There's no reason France can't do as well as its neighbors, especially thinking how it sees itself as a champion for democracy.

It seems to me that one can't justify one president's failings because other past presidents failed (I also don't know whether these other presidents were caught and what happened to them. One happenstance from the past that I've heard of a lot, in reference to l'affaire Bettencourt, is les diamants de Bokassa which happened when Giscard was president. Based on old people's tales, he was not tried but people judged him all the same when he got caught.)

There really is something odd nowadays in France, even compared to 2007, and even more so if you compare with the early 2000's for example. Back then, there was a widely held belief that the now-sacrosanct Chirac was a crook and a liar (not compliments to the president!), but the atmosphere was nevertheless very different.

Anonymous said...

Berlusconi movie!

Anonymous said...

Is Palin on Fox in addition to the "Real Alaska" show or is it the same thing?

(How is Huckabee, BTW? I don't follow Fox News news but I'm curious about him).

I wonder who in France could have a show. LCi would be no problem for a channel, but who do you see hosting a show? Copé? Lefevre?

Is MSNBC totally dead now?


Anonymous said...

Dominique de Villepin has a provocative opinion on the issue: