Monday, October 31, 2011

The French Economic Situation

An interesting analysis by Rob Parenteau:

To be clear, Greece is not a special case, but rather a case in point of what happens when you attempt fiscal consolidation in countries with high private debt to GDP ratios, high desired private net saving rates, and large, stubborn current account deficits – conditions, by the way that also apply to France. EFC’s [expansionary fiscal contraction] are possible, but they are not automatic: in fact, they require very special conditions. Pursuing ID’s [internal devauation achieved by wage and benefit reductions] at the same time a financial consolidation is underway insures the latter effort will be thwarted as domestic incomes deflate. We must conclude the Troika’s policy approach has been an abject failure – indeed, they appear to have finally concluded as much themselves. It is high time to explore entirely new policy directives before the remaining eurozone economies are driven into the ground under what appears to be a faulty, faith based economics of the Troika.

Components of the Right

A Le Monde interactive graphic showing various splinters of the UMP coalition.

Record Eurozone Unemployment

10.2%! Mario Draghi, who takes over tomorrow as head of the ECB, could seize this opportunity to signal a change of policy by lowering interest rates.

Mille e tre

I saw the Met's Don Giovanni this weekend, so I have fresh in my mind the dangers of specifying performance with undue mathematical precision. François Hollande has promised to add 60,000 teachers to the payroll of l'Éducation nationale if elected, and the UMP is not letting him forget it. My informal soundings among French voters (N=2) suggest that skepticism about this promise abounds. But will it matter?

Frankly, I'm not sure that anyone believes Hollande's promise, but I am fairly confident that a) most voters believe that making exaggerated promises is SOP for politicians and b) for Sarkozy, who made a few unkept promises of his own in 2007, to claim that his opponent won't keep his promises will not necessarily persuade voters that he is the better choice if promise-keeping potential is the voter's deciding criterion. Nevertheless, Hollande will be hurt by the obvious contradiction between his desire to present himself as a rigorous manager of national finances and his profligate approach to educational improvement (he defends his promise in the all too obvious way, calling it an "investment in France's future").

Left out of this dialog of the deaf is any consideration of whether adding 60,000 teachers is the proper remedy for France's educational woes. One might propose other, potentially more cost-effective measures, such as adding more teacher's aides and restoring funds for classroom apprenticeship training. But these won't bring as much joy to teachers unions, on which Hollande counts as one of his staunchest bases of support. As rash promises go, this was not a particularly smart one to make, but voters will quickly tire of it, and Sarkozy will recognize the danger of an "Is that all you've got?" reaction, so I expect we will hear less of it after a while, at least until the final debates, when it will again be raised as a last-minute reminder that the Socialists are going to debauch the currency--assuming France still has a currency by next April.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Miraculous Recovery

Jacques Chirac, too feeble to appear at his trial, has made a miraculous recovery and will participate in a Sciences Po colloquium on his foreign policy in December. FP wishes to congratulate the former president on the return of his memory, which I hope remains robust when he is questioned about the suitcases full of cash Robert Bourgi claims to have delivered to him in person.


Le Pen, Mélenchon, Valls, Pécresse:

Jean-Luc Mélenchon sur France 2 - Emission... by lepartidegauche

The Seducer Abandoned

DSK's former loyalists are not so loyal anymore. It's about time:

Entre l'ex-favori de la primaire PS et ceux qui se préparaient à devenir ses apôtres, la ligne est définitivement coupée. Un de ceux qui avaient placé en lui ses espoirs et planché depuis des mois sur le scénario présidentiel résume le sentiment d'une strauss-kahnie qui s'avoue trahie : "Je suis très en colère. On a été trompés. Il nous a trompés. Je ne veux plus jamais entendre parler de ce mec." Au lendemain des premières révélations sur le scandale lillois, la phrase a fait florès chez les socialistes : "On devrait édifier une statue à Nafissatou Diallo." "Je ne me dis pas comme certains 'à quoi a-t-on échappé ?', mais bien 'heureusement qu'il n'a pas été élu'", confie Marisol Touraine, strauss-kahnienne et députée de l'Indre et Loire. "Il ne pouvait pas être président. Maintenant, je ne veux plus en entendre parler. C'est derrière moi."Laurent Fabius a parlé, vendredi 28 octobre, de "tristesse". Sandrine Mazetier, députée de Paris : "C'est plus que de la déception, c'est de la colère. On est tous très marqués par cette affaire. On trouve inimaginable de n'avoir rien su, rien vu. C'est comme dans les dénis de grossesse, où l'entourage immédiat ne voit rien non plus. C'est vertigineux." Même M. Cambadélis ne peut plus le soutenir. Il soupèse une phrase qui, comme toujours chez lui, prend l'allure d'un communiqué. "Aujourd'hui, je ne veux ni l'accabler, ni l'excuser."
There are limits, apparently, for everyone--except perhaps Anne Sinclair. And her ex-husband, Ivan Levaï.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


My Facebook stream has exploded with sarcasm--or should I say Sarkozm--directed against President Sarkozy's TV interview tonight. I watched only a few minutes--life is short, obligations are many--but once again I'm perplexed by the level and tenor of the hostility. It seemed to me that he wasn't too bad at explaining the broad parameters of the latest fix to the debt crisis: the Greek haircut, the guarantees to banks, the capital requirements, etc. Yes, he was a little extravagant in evoking the "barbarity" of past Franco-German history while adroitly sidestepping a question about whether the agreement was not in fact based almost entirely on Merkel's initiative, with which he was forced to comply. Yes, he alluded more than once too often to "Socialist errors" such as the 35 hr. week. Yes, he is not entirely convincing in the role of pedagogue, though he is rather good at explaining things clearly and succinctly.

It worries me that so many on the left are so furious with the president that they underestimate his strengths. He will be ruthless in exposing the contradictions in the Socialist platform, and his arguments are solid enough to require well-planned rebuttal. Sarkozm will not do; it is an incantation audible only  to those who already believe. His grammar may not be perfect, but he gets his points across. Hollande had better prepare well for the forthcoming debates.

(And incidentally, I just watched Sarkozy's plume, Henri Guaino, on Ruquier's program and thought he was quite formidable at demonstrating who he was on television--the very task for which Hollande has apparently had to undergo intensive training--see earlier post.)

P.S. I also learned from a Facebook friend that Marine Le Pen cited Paul Krugman and Amartya Sen during her TV appearance tonight. Staggering, or, as they say on Facebook, "OMG!"

Une histoire belge

Via Brent Whelan:

« Une croisade à Liège »

Bart De Wever concède, dans la même interview, qu’il commet aussi des erreurs en français : « J’ai dû sérieusement m’atteler à l’apprentissage du français en 2007. Après mon élection, je me suis illico inscrit pour une semaine d’immersion linguistique à Limont » raconte De Wever avant de livrer une anecdote. « Le deuxième jour, on m’a proposé un exercice : je devais téléphoner au service du tourisme de la ville de Liège pour organiser le lendemain demain une croisière sur la Meuse avec notre groupe flamand. J’ai formé le numéro et je me suis lancé : « Bonjour, c’est Bart De Wever à l’appareil. Je voudrais venir à Liège pour une croisade. » Il y eut un lourd silence au bout du fil. L’employé a crû que De Wever avait l’intention de partir en croisade contre Liège. »

Sarko: Growth Will Be 1%

In tonight's TV appearance, President Sarkozy announced that France would suffer from lower than anticipated growth, necessitating further austerity measures:

Nicolas Sarkozy annonce une révision de la croissance à 1 % pour 2012

Le président de la République a annoncé jeudi soir une révision de la prévision de croissance pour 2012 de 1,75 % à 1 %, lors de l'émission Face à la crise. Cela correspond à 6 à 8 milliards d'euros d'économies nécessaires, a-t-il précisé. M. Sarkozy a en revanche écarté une "hausse généralisée de la TVA". (Le


The "arts" have found a muse in DSK. First there was Law and Order: SVU, which based an episode on the Sofitel affair. Now there is DXK, a pornographic film inspired by the adventures of the former IMF director. This being "art," the writers are not required to maintain objectivity as to what happened in New York:

Selon le synopsis, «David Sex King, patron d'une grande institution financière, ne résiste pas aux charmes de la femme de chambre qui vient faire son travail. Dommage! C'est l'occasion rêvée pour elle de sortir de l'anonymat et d'utiliser tous les moyens pour faire payer ce très chaud lapin». Un scénario qui privilégie donc le côté vénal de Nafissatou Diallo et qui risque de faire bondir les associations féministes.

Inherited Wealth in France

A fascinating study by Thomas Piketty of changes in "inheritance flows" in France over the period 1820-2050. A model is provided to show that the importance of inherited wealth depends on the relative size of the return on investments and the growth rate of the economy.

Buffing Up Hollande's TV Personality

They're not "coaches," insist François Hollande's two new media advisors, but they do think he needs work in getting "who he really is" across on le petit écran:
"Notre travail a consisté essentiellement autour de cette question : comment faire passer à la télévision ce qu'il est vraiment. Dans les meetings, c'est un showman, il sait embraser une salle", raconte Sarah Meadel. Elles ont donc ingurgité des heures et des heures d'interventions télévisées de celui qui n'est alors pas encore candidat. "Je me suis hollandisée", plaisante Sarah Meadel.
Une méthode ? Elles ne veulent pas entendre parler des grilles habituelles de la communication politique. "Les recettes de com', c'est bidon" pour Sarah Meadel. Claude Laperrière poursuit : "On n'a pas cherché à le formater".
"L'idée était d'enrichir le discours politique et les interventions médiatiques avec les outils de l'acteur", poursuit la philosophe. Elles insistent : "le mot 'coaching' ne correspond pas à notre travail, nous ne sommes pas des communicants, c'est un travail personnel".
And they've also got him reading:
Cicéron, Rousseau, Primo Levi… Plongée, dans un premier temps, dans les textes classiques pour François Hollande. "Utiliser l'émotion ressentie dans des textes de grands auteurs et la transférer pour parler de l'actualité du jour". Avec cette question incessante : comment transmettre ? "Ses discours avaient une forme trop écrite", s'accordent-elles à dire.

Hmm. Reading Cicero in order to sound less bookish on TV:

I shall make you no reply at all about Galba; a most gallant and
courageous citizen. He will meet you face to face; and he being
present, and that dagger which you reproach him with, shall give you
your answer.
"You have enlisted my soldiers, and many veterans, under the pretence
of intending the destruction of those men who slew Caesar; and then,
when they expected no such step, you have led them on to attack their
quaestor, their general, and their former comrades!"
No doubt we deceived them; we humbugged them completely! no doubt the
Martial legion, the fourth legion, and the veterans had no idea what
was going on! They were not following the authority of the senate,
or the liberty of the Roman people.--They were anxious to avenge the
death of Caesar, which they all regarded as an act of destiny! No
doubt you were the person whom they were anxious to see safe, and
happy, and flourishing!
XVII. Oh miserable man, not only in fact, but also in the circumstance
of not perceiving yourself how miserable you are! But listen to the
most serious charge of all.
"In fact, what have you not sanctioned,--what have you not done? 

Oh, yes, indeed, that should do the trick.

Has Europe Been Saved? Did It Need to Be?

In France, former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has said that the
crisis has been "exaggerated for political purposes." Implicit in his
remarks was the allegation that Sarkozy intends to run his re-election
campaign on the theme "I saved Europe." If this was the plan, it has
foundered on Sarko's capitulation to Merkel on all salient issues. He
is now being portrayed in the French media as "the man who caved to
Merkel," Europe's new Iron Lady, rather than as Europe's savior.

Nevertheless, let us consider for a moment Giscard's charge. Are there
grounds for thinking that the crisis has been exaggerated? Not for
Greece, surely: as Yanis Varoufakis (see previous post and this one) and many others have
argued, imposed austerity is ripping up the Greek social contract and
precipitating a severe depression. Elsewhere, however, the required
fiscal adjustments have been less dire. Berlusconi's coalition may
sink after being forced to raise the legal age of retirement and
swallow other bitter pills, but widespread wage and benefit cuts of
the sort imposed on Greece have thus far been avoided. Spain's
difficulties are different from the others, stemming essentially from
a construction bust, which has left the country with a very high level
of unemployment. But will high spreads on Italian and Spanish debt
continue, or are these signs of a temporary panic? If so, the
agreement reached in the wee hours this morning may suffice to calm
things down, since it is being reported in much of the press as a
"success," pace Varoufakis's comments. For example: "European leaders,
in a significant step toward resolving the euro zone financial crisis,
early Thursday morning obtained an agreement from banks to take a 50
percent loss on the face value of their Greek debt."

Europe has yet to overcome its contractionary mindset, to be sure, but
then neither has the US. So a decade of no growth may lie ahead. But
is that any reason to prophesy the collapse of the euro and perhaps
even the end of the EU? Are European leaders really fiddling while
Rome burns, or are they playing a gentle nocturne, hoping to lull the
bond vigilantes (who may not exist in the US but are certainly
pressuring PIGS sovereign debt) back to sleep? The 50% Greek haircut
does not really threaten European banks, many claim. Will
the new capital requirements really stanch the flow of credit,
assuming that genuine investment opportunities emerge? One can doubt
this. Giscard might therefore be right.

So, what's wrong with this argument?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Varoufakis on the Euro Crisis

Yanis Varoufakis explains the variables with which European leaders will be grappling at today's summit. For a critical comment on his explanation, see The Current Moment.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bad Sign?

The meeting of Eurozone finance ministers in advance of Wednesday's double summit has been canceled. Good sign? Bad sign? With Europe's fluid decision-making structure, it's hard to tell. Since the primary action here is between France and Germany, the real negotiating is no doubt going on elsewhere anyway. Berlusconi is pretending (?) to sleep through meetings anyway, while others attempt to force him to take their concerns seriously. I suppose it's no more chaotic than what passes for high-level debate in the US. We have our Gang of 6, so Europe can have its Gang of 2, 3, or 4 in lieu of the full 27 (or is it 17 that count when it comes to the euro?). What will transpire tomorrow is undoubtedly the most significant European decision of recent years, yet the people of Europe will have almost no say in the outcome. To be sure, the issues are highly technical, and there has been much public discussion of alternatives, but what actually happens will come down to the will of two individuals: Merkel and Sarkozy. Yet 400+ million people will have to live with the consequences.

Toute la construction européenne depuis 1945 est en jeu. Le sujet est politique. Nicolas Sarkozy s'inquiète de la faible conscience qu'en ont ses concitoyens."Notre destin se joue dans les dix jours", a-t-il lancé, le 18 octobre, à l'Elysée, parlant de guerre et de paix, comme jadis le chancelier Helmut Kohl (1982-1998)."Ceux qui détruiront l'euro prendront la responsabilité de la résurgence de conflits sur notre continent", a-t-il averti.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Labour Leader Defends Sarkozy against Cameron

Ed Miliband (full disclosure: a former colleague of mine) stood up for President Sarkozy in his row with British PM David Cameron:

Not a mention of his stand-up, knock-down row with President Sarkozy. (Why is Sarkozy not on paternity leave? Isn't that an EU obligation?) Ed Miliband accused Cameron of grandstanding from the sidelines. "He is surprisingly coy. He managed to write the European version of How To Lose Friends And Alienate People.
"He went in being rude to the Germans, and came out being shouted at by the French!"
This was greeting by bellowing Tory cheers. It's the most wearisome cliche of all from the sceptics: they're just against the EU bureaucracy, not against Europe itself. Except for the French, as they never quite get round to saying.
Then Miliband made his mistake. "Yesterday, Mr President" – he addressed Sarkozy as if he were in the public gallery – "you spoke not just for France but for Britain as well!"
Oh, dear. He might just as well have advocated telling the Germans that we'd cracked the Enigma code, in the interests of world peace. Cameron leapt at his throat. "He said an extraordinary thing. That the French president speaks for Britain.
"It's difficult for an opposition to sell out our country, but he's just done it!" He finished by sneering at Miliband's "complete absence of leadership". Meaningless, but this was him swinging a dead husky by the tail and flinging it to the ravenous wolves behind his sledge.
Moments later, Cameron tried to account for the spat with the French leader. "If you have good relations with someone, you can have frank discussions with them." Or, I reflected, the other way round: if you truly loathe someone, you can be courteous to them now and again.

What Does This Mean?

"La rencontre a été squizzée par le duel Dati-Fillon", a résumé Brigitte Kuster, here. I see in several online sources that the verb squizzer can mean omettre, but that seems to make no sense here. Readers up on their French slang, what does this mean?

Why the ECB Should Act Without Authority in Express Violation of Its Charter

Brad DeLong explains.

The Franco-German "Couple"

Frau Merkel holds the purse strings, and Pres. Sarkozy has had to learn to bite his tongue. An excellent reportage by Jean Quatremer:

Sarkozy, toujours prompt à se vanter ou à dégommer ses partenaires, l’a compris et observe une retenue inhabituelle. «Je n’ai pas dit un mot depuis deux ans qui aurait pu nuire à la chancelière ou à l’axe franco-allemand», dit-il. «Le Président passe sa vie avec la chancelière. Il lui parle quasiment tous les jours au téléphone, la rencontre dès que possible», souligne un proche. «Il la voit presque plus que Carla», ironise un diplomate français. Merkel, à force de rencontres de «la dernière chance», a fini par accepter, à défaut d’apprécier, ce Français un tantinet agité, qui passe son temps à la toucher et à lui faire la bise.

Dati Attacks Fillon

Rachida Dati had been relatively quiet since her exit from the government, but the news that François Fillon is preparing to run for mayor of Paris, a post that Dati, now mayor of the 7th Arrdt., covets for herself, has goaded her into attacking him. Things have gotten so bad that Philippe Goujon, mayor of the 15th, wonders "whether Dati still belongs to the majority."

Good. We need a little diversion to liven things up in the capital. And of course to add spice to this cat fight, we have J.-F. Copé as mediator, which should be interesting since Copé and Fillon are likely rivals for the UMP presidential nomination in 2017. A very tricky political game will thus be played out on the streets of Paris, to be watched closely over the next weeks and months.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Anne Sinclair to Head French HuffPo?

Anne Sinclair has reportedly been sounded out about heading the forthcoming French HuffPo, Meanwhile, the plot thickens around hubby DSK's latest purported misadventures with ladies of the night, corrupt cops, and a Belgian underworld figure known as Dodo la Saumure. Go figure.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

From Seattle

I'm still on the road, but this analysis of Hollande's victory by Frédéric Martel, un aubryste de la première heure, is worth reading.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pessimism in Frankfurt

President Sarkozy has had no time to celebrate the birth of his daughter. Things are not looking good in Frankfurt:

Les Européens sont loin, très loin d'un accord. "C'était plus une réunion de planning que de négociations", plaide l'Elysée. L'entourage de Mme Merkel explique, sans sourire, qu'il s'agissait de distinguer les sujets à l'ordre du jour du Conseil européen des 27, dimanche matin, et ceux qui concernent les seuls dirigeants de la zone euro, dans l'après midi.
Bref, on est loin de l'accord "massif" que souhaite M. Sarkozy pour endiguer la crise et rassurer les marchés. Les négociations devaient continuer jeudi à Bruxelles entre les directeurs du trésor, et vendredi entre les ministres des finances de la zone euro. M. Sarkozy et Mme Merkel pourraient se retrouversamedi à Bruxelles, en marge de l'habituel dîner du Parti populaire européen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It's a Girl!

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has given birth to a baby daughter. Dad is in Frankfurt saving the euro.

Blog News

I will be traveling Thursday through Sunday, so blogging will be light to non-existent. Feel free to post your comments.

The UMP Responds

The UMP met yesterday to try to take back the news cycle from the Socialists, who have enjoyed a media windfall out of their primary. The main line of attack seemed to be Socialists = tax+spend, the familiar mantra of right-wingers everywhere but particularly ill-conceived after 9 years of uninterrupted UMP rule (despite the UMP tote-board adding up the alleged cost of Socialist policy in bright lights). What is more, Sarkozy is in the midst of negotiating with Merkel a European bailout plan, the success of which will depend on persuading governments and markets that debt and deficit limitations will this time be taken seriously, yet here is his party saying that international constraints do not matter, domestic politics will drive the outcome, and if the Socialists are elected they will ignore constraints that Sarkozy wants market actors to believe no government can ignore. The internal contradiction of this attack should make an easy target for Hollande. Le Monde is withering.

Aghion Interview

In Médiapart (€). Aghion, a Harvard economist, is advising Hollande.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Research in France

The map is changing.

Moody's Threat

A Socialist candidate is nominated, and, as if by clockwork, Moody's, the rating agency, puts France on its watch list for a downgrade. It will be convenient indeed if, in three months' time, the ratings gnomes are sufficiently impressed by further austerity measures that they extol the Right's "responsible management" of the budget. Of course responsible management has nothing to do with the market's anxieties or with the growing spread between German and French sovereign debt (now 100 basis points). The worry is French bank exposure to Italy and Spain. The government may need to shore up the banks, and that is what has the market worried.

"La semaine de l'épectase de François Hollande"

Jean-Luc Mélenchon:

Est-ce envisageable de faire un accord de gouvernement avec François Hollande?
Il va y avoir un débat. Dans une campagne, on ne descend pas de la montagne avec ses tables de la loi qu'on révèle. Il y a des étapes. Là, on est dans la semaine de l'épectase de François Hollande. Moi, je n'ai rien contre lui, je n'ai pas de compte personnel à régler avec lui. Même s'il n'a pas été très régulier avec moi. Ce n'est pas une affaire de personnes. Mais là, c'est vraiment trop beau comme débat.
Hmm. Semaine de l'épectase. Not knowing the word "épectase," I looked it up:
L’épectase est, chez les chrétiens, une tension et un progrès de l’homme vers Dieu. Cela désigne aussi, dans un sens plus courant, la mort par l'orgasme.

I wonder which meaning Mélenchon had in mind.

Presumed Innocent

Bernard Squarcini, the head of French domestic intelligence, has been mis en examen but remains on the job. Claude Guéant exhorts his compatriots to remember the "presumption of innocence." Ah, yes, the presumption of innocence: so presumably Guéant would see no objection to nominating DSK prime minister, since he, too, has been convicted of nothing. Still, one imagines that even M. Guéant must feel just slightly uncomfortable at the thought that one of France's top cops now stands formally accused of a crime. Why not place him on administrative leave? Perhaps because in spying on Le Monde in connection with leaks in the Woerth-Bettencourt affair, he was acting on orders of ... Claude Guéant. Firing a subordinate for carrying out one's own orders would certainly entail a presumption of impudence. So Squarcini remains in his post ... for now.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Royal Comeback

Ségolène Royal will rejoin the National Bureau of the PS--a first step toward diluting Aubry's control of the party apparatus, as I predicted earlier this morning. Of course, a seat for Royal doesn't necessarily connote an increase in Hollande's influence over the BN.

La gauche hollandaise

Gérard Grunberg thinks that Martine Aubry made a serious error in polarizing the second round with her attacks on "la gauche molle" since she herself has long steeped in the same sauce hollandaise façon Delors. The pertinence of this observation depends, I suppose, on whether you're thinking about political ideology or personality. Aubry, taking advantage of her reputation as the bulldozer who pushed through the 35-hour law, wanted to come on as the tough guy. It was a logical card to play, but, as I see it, the base of support of the governmental left has changed--it's aged, moderated, and bourgeoisified. That's where the votes are. Or at any rate 56% of the votes.

Krugman on European "Fantasy Economics"

Paul Krugman, lucid as always:

That said, I think Munchau is being too kind here. European leaders and institutions by and large didn’t even get to the point of devising policies that might have worked in a small open economy. Instead, they went in for fantasy economics, believing that the confidence fairy would make fiscal contraction expansionary. The ECB, which Munchau credits as the institution most aware of the linkages, was also the institution most dedicated to the doctrine of expansionary austerity.

Can Aubry Remain Atop the PS?

Will Martine Aubry be able to continue as leader of the Socialist Party after losing badly to François Hollande in the primary? Already Hollande's advisors have been pressing for more representation on the party's leadership councils. The geography of the vote is revealing: Aubry led in only a few départements in the north, her home region. Clearly, of the 2.7 million voters who chose to express an opinion, an incontestable majority favors Hollande and therefore, by implication, a change of direction at the top. Having occupied the post himself, Hollande undoubtedly knows what levers need to be pulled to ensure that his candidacy isn't sabotaged from within (as some say Royal's candidacy was under Hollande's leadership). But he will probably prefer to avoid a frontal assault. He needs the support of the party's left wing, which prefers Aubry, so for symbolic reasons he will probably leave her in place while diluting her influence as much as possible. This shouldn't be too difficult. The rewards are now his to distribute.

A commenter disputed my argument that Hollande would run, and win, in the center by noting that he had pledged to run on the party platform, which is arguably tilted leftward. To my mind, this objection overestimates the role of the platform, as vague as it is, as well as the degree of its "leftish" slant. Perhaps the only real problem in it for Hollande is the promise to return the "early retirement age" (thanks, Kirk, for the correct terminology) to 60. But Hollande has already shown how he is going to finesse this plank by adhering to 41.5 years of contributions as the criterion for full benefits. Sure, the Right will beat him about the head with the contradiction between the party's fixation on age 60 and the fact that Hollande's actual position coincides with Sarkozy's most recent reform. But this won't decide the election. Nor will any other single plank in the platform. Voters mainly want to be convinced that Hollande can fill the role of president (the problem of "incarnation," as Pierre Rosanvallon calls it), and Hollande has already shown how he is going to attack that issue: by presenting himself as a "normal" leader, by implication painting Sarkozy as an aberration--an argument that apparently most voters are prepared to accept, since their rejection of the current president, as reflected in his extraordinarily low approval ratings, cannot be accounted for by his record alone, which has been mediocre but hardly catastrophic.

Ominous Words from Michael Spence

Nobel economist Michael Spence:

Finally, global economic-management institutions need to address whether the pace of globalization, and its implied structural change, is faster than the capacity of individuals, economies, and societies to adjust can withstand. If so, the next challenge will be to find non-destructive ways to moderate the pace in order to bring capacity to adjust and the need for adjustment into closer alignment.

October 17, 1961

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a dark day in French history: the savage repression of Algerian protesters demonstrating against a curfew aimed exclusively at Algerians, which resulted in nearly 300 deaths. The prefect of police at the time was Maurice Papon, a key figure in the deportation of French Jews under Vichy.


Tristane Banon's lawyer has advised her to abandon any further legal action against DSK. Just as it seemed that the French side of the DSK affair might be ending, new allegations arose. Of course France has been through this before with l'Affaire Alègre, in which a prostitute leveled (false) charges against a political figure (Dominique Baudis). The new allegations against DSK may well be false too, but the story has spread beyond the tabloids, with new information about Jean-Christophe Lagarde's alleged visit to DSK in Washington on the day before the Sofitel affair. Lagarde has also been accused of involvement in a Paris orgy featuring a "political figure." DSK has asked to be heard by the investigators in Lille.

In any case, the former IMF head is sporting a fresh growth of white beard. He looks pretty good for a guy who's being hounded from pillar to post.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Où allons-nous?

So, we have arrived at the end of the Socialist primary process. Where are we? More or less where we started: DSK was the favorite, and the winner is Hollande, the candidate whose position in the spectrum was closest to DSK's, even if he did not win the endorsement of the man who would have beaten him had he not beaten himself. The candidate has been at the center of Socialist politics for decades, and yet he has never held a ministerial position and is virtually unknown internationally. These handicaps--lack of governmental experience and lack of foreign- and global economic-policymaking experience--will be his biggest handicaps.

Hollande's nomination reduces the potential for a bulge in the center of the spectrum. There will, I expect, be no repeat of 2007, when Bayrou captured 16% of the vote in the first round owing to resistance to Royal. Hollande should be acceptable to many centrists--enough to diminish the risk of a 2002-style first-round elimination. That risk must now be faced by Sarkozy, who may be abandoned not only by centrists but also by the far right of his party, which may not resist the siren call of Marine Le Pen--la Pen, I'm tempted to call her.

What will the far left do? Indulge itself in round 1 by voting for Mélenchon, then fall into line in round 2. What else can it do? So Hollande needn't veer left to secure his flank in the first round, possibly alienating center and center-right voters whose votes he will need in round 2. He will run a straightforward social liberal campaign, capitalizing on Sarkozy's failure to deliver on basic promises and on his general unpopularity. It will be an unexciting run but fundamentally sound: since beginning this blog, I have argued that the next presidential election would be won in the center, and I still believe that. Of course a center-left politics may prove no more successful than the center-right politics of Sarkozy in dealing with the intractable problems of unemployment, debt, failure to integrate visible minorities, and failure to control the rising costs of maintaining the welfare state. But that is another matter. First Hollande has to get elected.

What would a Hollande government look like? In the last debate, he was asked if he would choose Aubry as prime minister, and he sidestepped the question (as did she). My guess is no. Although this campaign was exceedingly mild by American standards, there were a few low blows from the Aubry camp in the final days. I doubt that these will be decisive. More important is Aubry's generally disdainful attitude toward Hollande's management of the party when he was first secretary. He no doubt returns the favor, though he has been quiet about it. I suspect he will want a new face. The old éléphants are usés. Fabius is perfidious. Ségolène Royal is not a consensus-builder. Montebourg and Valls and Hamon suffer from a variety of drawbacks. Peillon lacks luster. Which brings us to Moscovici, who is managing Hollande's campaign. A DSK loyalist, he made the switch to Hollande at the right moment and has been steadfast since. I think he is the logical choice, though he might prefer Foreign Affairs. Would Hollande consider DSK for finance? I think not. He'll still be too hot next May. Perhaps Didier Migaud, the head of the budgetary oversight committee (although he supported Aubry, I believe). Montebourg for justice. And for Defense, perhaps an exercise in ouverture: Bayrou, why not?

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's still an election to win. Hollande has been a surprisingly disciplined candidate, who worked hard at the job. He will no doubt continue to work through the election and may well have learned a thing or two about how to fend off Sarkozy's attacks.

Hollande Wins!

With 56%:

François Hollande remporte la primaire socialiste

Le député de Corrèze remporte le second tour de la primaire : il obtient 56 % des voix face à Martine Aubry, sur la base de 1,6 million de bulletins dépouillés, selon les résultats partiels communiqués par le Parti socialiste. Le total des votants est estimé à 2,7 millions de votants.


Élie Cohen recounts the history of Dexia, how it got into trouble, and how the European stress tests conducted as recently as July 2011 failed to reveal the bank's fragility. Which hardly builds confidence in repeated assurances that other banks are "solid" because they passed the stress tests.

Dexia, classée entreprise aux fonds propres les plus solides (Tier 1, meilleur que ceux du Crédit Agricole, de BNPP et de SocGen), a disparu quelques semaines après que ce constat ait été établi par le régulateur bancaire européen. L’aveuglement du régulateur jusqu’au terme ultime de la crise de Dexia laisse sans voix.

High Turnout

At midday, turnout in round 2 of the Socialist primary was higher than in round 1. What does this portend? Who knows? It could mean than anti-Hollande voters have been roused from their slumbers, or it could mean that the "people of the left" want this second round to bestow a ringing endorsement on their standard bearer. Rather than speculate, I'll wait a few more hours for the final tally.

Sarko's Silence

Jean Quatremer takes note of François Bayrou's critique of Nicolas Sarkozy's silence regarding the euro crisis. Indeed, there has been a marked change in Sarkozy's style since the beginning of his presidency. He used to take to the airwaves on the slightest pretext: un fait divers, a grand project to be announced and then forgotten, an outing with his girl to Disneyland. But lately he's been an absent presence. Bayrou thinks he needs to become a pedagogue, to explain what's being done about the euro crisis to citizens suffering from the EU's democratic deficit.

The euro crisis is not easy to explain, however, to the average citizen: I know, I've tried. And given the tense relations between France and Germany on the question, the president is probably well-advised to avoid simplifications that would either irritate the Germans or alarm the markets or both. When a deal is finally in place, there will be time for explanations. For the impatient, there is no shortage of discussion in the financial press, economics blogs, etc.

California Declares War on France

Foie gras will be outlawed in California eight months from now.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ségolène Royal

When I wrote about the oddity of watching Audrey Pulvar, Arnaud Montebourg's companion, grill Martine Aubry on On n'est pas couché, a commenter remarked that Pulvar's confrontation with Ségolène Royal in a subsequent broadcast was stranger still. That program only recently aired in the US (TV5Monde), and I have to agree: Pulvar's approach to Royal was inquisitorial. She seemed almost angry, scowling at times when Royal managed to evade what Pulvar hoped would be a devastating question. But Natacha Polony was even more aggressive, accusing Royal of undermining authority in the classroom and valuing the word of the child above that of the teacher--an inversion that led, Polony charged, to false accusations of pedophilia.

The whole line of questioning was outrageously unfair and defamatory, and I must say I was impressed by Royal's poise throughout the dual onslaught from Ruquier's Gorgons, who are apparently out to prove that they can be as tough as Naulleau and Zemmour. They have thus far proven that they can be equally rude, though not equally wide in their range of reference, be it political, literary, or historical.

In any case, I was also impressed by Royal's dignity when interviewed by David Pujadas on France2 a few days after her defeat. She was announcing her support for Hollande, and Pujadas asked the question that I suppose he had to ask, despite its goujaterie: Was she backing her ex-companion, the father of her children, for reasons of the heart or the head? It's curious how the French, who so often lecture us Amerloques on our indiscriminate mixing of private and public matters, can invoke affairs of the heart when it suits them. In 2007, of course, the argument was the reverse: feelings between Hollande and Royal were so bitter, it was rumored, that the former withheld the party's support from the latter out of spite. Now, it's supposed to be lingering affection that orients the loser's endorsement. But Royal quietly insisted that it was simply a matter of "political intelligence," which after all is what her supporters looked to her for. (Or perhaps, disent les mauvaises langues, she hates Aubry, who cheated her out of the party leadership, even more than she hates her ex.)

Ségolène Royal has often aroused intense hatred. She has been derided as "stupid," "intemperate," "unpredictable," and "flighty." She has certainly made mistakes, but I think she deserves better than this. She successfully infused flesh and blood into a party that had been drained of both by the reign of the énarques. She was one of them, but apparently the only one who understood that unremitting technocratic sobriety had driven a wedge between the party and its base. Now the sober-sided are back in control. But they should take the 24% of the primary vote that went to Royal and Montebourg as a warning. These were the two candidates who dared on occasion to abandon the chiffré and talk to people of everyday matters. If their gifts are not used in the campaign, it will be a mistake. Royal is an asset that other Socialists mock at their peril.

Banlieues de la République

Banlieues de la République, a report on an in-depth study of the suburbs of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil, centers of the 2005 riots, has been released by the Institut Montaigne. A summary can be obtained here. Among the findings:

Au lendemain des violences, Clichy-Montfermeil fut à l’avant-garde d’un flux massif d’inscription des  jeunes Français issus de l’immigration sur les listes électorales, notamment grâce à un mouvement de mobilisation civique dont l’éloquent acronyme d’ACLEFEU [assez le feu !], pour « Action Collectif Liberté Égalité Fraternité Ensemble Unis », disait assez bien la volonté de traduire des émeutes qu’il avait rebaptisées « révoltes sociales » en agir politique.
The project's Web site is here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Retirement SNAFU

Pascal Terrasse, Hollande's advisor on retirement issues, has torpedoed the party's Operation Obfuscation by making a clear statement:

«Il y a à la fois ce que les gens ont compris, ce que dit le PS, et ce qu'on fera. C'est trois choses différentes... C'est compliqué. Ce que les gens ont compris, c'est: les socialistes, s'ils reviennent au pouvoir, vont remettre la retraite à 60 ans. Ça n'a jamais été dit. Après, il y a la partie projet, c'est moi qui l'ai rédigée, je suis quand même bien placé. Je dis simplement que l'on acte le principe de l'allongement de la durée de cotisation: 41,5 années. Ça, on l'a acté. Pour avoir sa retraite à taux plein, il faut avoir 41,5 années. Et nous disons qu'on pouvait partir à 60 ans dès lors qu'on a ses 41,5 années. On est sur le principe "retraite à la carte". Si vous partez avant, vous pouvez, mais là vous avez une décote.»

I hope that Hollande comes clean before he debates Sarkozy on this issue. An honest statement of what he actually intends to do would be a refreshing change from the demagoguery of "back to age 60." What modifications will be established for those whose careers are interrupted by pregnancy, illness, or unemployment? What accommodations for those whose work is physically difficult? What penalties for early retirement? These are the real issues, not the utterly fictitious "legal age of retirement."

Montebourg Backs Hollande

Martine Aubry must have a unique gift for pissing people off. Arnaud Montebourg, who had positioned himself well to the party's left in the primary debates, has now announced that he will vote for Hollande, who had placed himself at the opposite end of the spectrum. And Royal, Hollande's ex-companion, also preferred him to her ex-rival for the party leadership. And that, as they say, should be the ball game, unless of course the rank-and-file decide that their leaders are bafflingly inconsistent and upset the applecart.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Opinionway: Hollande, 53-47

I'd score it about the same if I had to guess.

Debate Scorecard

Rue89 tries to keep score and comes up with a fairly even split of Montebourg voters between Aubry and Hollande, which is bad news for Aubry.

DSK Out of the Woods

As expected--as I expected, at least--Tristane Banon's case against DSK has been classé sans suite. This was inevitable, given the elapsed time since the alleged incident, the shaky evidence, and the fact that the assault, even if it took place as the victim alleges, must be characterized as "sexual aggression" rather than "rape" under French law, and the statute of limitations on the former has expired. It may not be justice, but it is the law.

The Last Debate

I watched large parts of the last Socialist debate between Martine Aubry and François Hollande. Both were competent, articulate, and cautious. Neither pandered unduly to Montebourg voters. Their exchanges with each other were mild, restrained, respectful. Both demonstrated mastery of the issues. Neither stood out as a particularly compelling personality. Two seasoned énarques, doing what énarques do so well: dispensing tightly constructed, neatly paragraphed responses to every imaginable question about government policy. If I were president, I'd be delighted to have either one as prime minister.

What I did not get from the debate--nor would I have expected to--was any sense of a deeper philosophy of state or statecraft. De Gaulle once said that if you want to build autoroutes in France, you have to give the French poetry. Poetry was not in evidence Wednesday night. Nor was any particular sense of urgency. To be sure, the candidates did take note of the imminent possibility of a Greek default, the potential need to shore up the banks, perhaps to take partial control of them. Neither went so far as Montebourg's "mise sous tutelle," but then both are Socialists in the mold of Jacques Delors, not Jules Guesde.

Others reacted more strongly to the debates than I did. Arun Kapil changed his vote from Hollande to Aubry. Mediapart's correspondent saw "Sarkozyste" journalists who did not know their stuff in cahoots with Hollande, their preferred candidate. I saw nothing of the kind, nor did I observe marked stylistic differences between the two candidates. I wish some media coach would break them of their ENA-induced habit of answering every question in numbered paragraphs: "On the banks, I would do 3 things. 1) .... 2) ... On layoffs, my plan includes 4 parts: 1) ... 2) ..." I'm less exigent than General de Gaulle. I'm not asking for poetry, just for a little breathing space, an indication that on some issues, the choices are not clear-cut, uncertainty is paramount, and what matters is not a fully articulated plan of action but a sense of the candidate's appreciation of the difficulties and inevitable trade-offs. A candidate able to convey such thoughtful realism would give voters a person to vote for rather than a position paper. I hope that the eventual nominee will develop such a faculty in the course of the campaign. It isn't une gauche dure that I want, pace Martine Aubry; it's une gauche pensante. What I saw Wednesday night was une gauche percutante, une gauche des dossiers, but not the birth of a statesman.

Between Aubry and Hollande I have no strong preference, only a slight hunch that Hollande would make the stronger candidate against Sarkozy. Assuming that Valls' voters go mainly to Hollande and that Royal's endorsement of Hollande carries some weight with her camp, Aubry has a large deficit to make up, and she would need to take the lion's share of Montebourg's vote to do so. Of course there is no guarantee that the people who vote in round 2 will be the same who voted in round 1. And as Arun Kapil's change of heart indicates, there can even be defections within the camps of the two leaders. So I am glad I do not have to predict Sunday's outcome. I think it will be tight.

P.S. A comparison of last night's Socialist debate with the previous night's Republican Party debate in the US is enough to make one weep for America. The French debaters may have been a little too intelligent, a little too well-informed, but the Republicans ranged from the ignorant (Rick Perry placed the American Revolution in the 16th c.) to the deplorable. What a contrast. Mitt Romney might last 15 minutes in a French debate format; the rest of them would be laughed off the stage.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Right Divides over the Primaries

The Socialists have to choose between two candidates, but the UMP seems to have got its knickers in a twist over the recourse to primaries. Sarkozy invoked the spirit of de Gaulle to denounce the primary system as a perversion of the Fifth Republic, which was supposed to detach the president from the parties--a somewhat strange argument coming from a figure whose route to the presidency lay through capture of the party and who continued to control the party, and participate in its activities, for some time after his election. Fillon, on the other hand, thinks primaries are just dandy--and no doubt he expects to win one against Copé in 2017.

Do primaries in France make sense? Arun Kapil offers some interesting thoughts on the subject here. In the US, the turn to primaries was a reform that grew out of the anti-establishment revolt of the late '60s, and its consequences have been mixed. Candidates must raise a lot of money and campaign in many states, and the role of the media, as well as accidents such as the sequence of elections in various states, has distorted the process. The "smoke-filled room" was not necessarily worse than what we have now. But people seem to like being consulted, so whaddayagonnado? as Tony Soprano would say. A political party is not the Mafia, which chooses its leaders by cooptation (even if it sometimes behaves like the Mafia--and I'm not naming names).

Royal Endorses Hollande

Primaire socialiste : Royal soutient Hollande pour le second tour

Ségolène Royal, éliminée à l'issue du premier tour de la primaire socialiste avec moins de 7 % des voix, a annoncé mercredi qu'elle soutenait au second tour François Hollande, notamment pour "amplifier" l'avance qu'il a prise dimanche dernier sur ses rivaux. (AFP)

Interesting. Very interesting.

France Will Protect Its Banks

It isn't clear whether this is a French plan or a European plan that has been prematurely announced by France:

Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister, told the National Assembly that several leading French banks like BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Société Générale, which are deeply exposed to the sovereign debt of Greece and other Southern European countries, would move to increase their capital reserves, initially by using their own revenue or through the financial markets. Money from the government would be drawn upon only as “a last resort,” he said, according to Reuters.
But Mr. Juppé said that the move, which was agreed upon with Germany during talks on Sunday, meant the banks’ best buffers against losses — so-called core Tier 1 capital — would increase to 9 percent or higher, from 7 percent, by 2013.
It was unclear whether any of that money might be drawn from the proposed euro zone bailout fund rather than directly from French government funds.
The issue is particularly sensitive in France because of fears that the country could lose its triple-A credit rating if it had to inject billions of euros into its banks. That would be a huge political setback for the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who faces election next year.

Mélenchon Answers Montebourg's Letter

It wasn't addressed to him, but Jean-Luc Mélenchon is answering anyway. Since Montebourg is poaching on his terrain, he figures the quarry is his. So he's offering "a maximal ecological relocation of our agricultural and industrial production." The theory here seems to be that transporting goods is polluting, so we should produce as much as possible as close to home as possible. To this end he proposes issuing a "social and ecological visa" to prevent anti-social, anti-ecological outsourcing. Who could ask for anything more?

This "locavore" solution to the world's problems seems to be intended in all seriousness, but when I try to imagine myself in the position of Minister of Social and Ecological Visas, I find myself facing a host of knotty problems. Think of all those Parisians who are fond of poulet de Bresse. Shall I issue visas to hundreds of Bresse poultrymen to build coops somewhere near Rungis? That would certainly cut down on the fuel used to transport chickens from Bresse, but then I think of the railway cars full of chicken feed, and wonder how many times its own weight a chicken eats before it is ready for the oven. Hmm, perhaps this isn't such a good idea after all. Maybe we'd better issue visas to the Parisians of the 18th Arrondissement and ship them all to Bresse instead.

But this is unfair, you say. The social and ecological visa will be denied only in egregious instances of social and ecological dumping: when Renault wants to build cars in Hungary, for example. How offensive to the environment to build automobile subassemblies in Hungary and burn fossil fuel to ship them back to France. To workers employed in export industries, however, the idea of building things here to ship there doesn't seem quite so illogical. Indeed, it's their bread and butter, and there are quite a few of them, since France is a major exporter and wishes it were exporting even more.

How will "social and ecological visas" be allotted to French exporters by a government of the Front de Gauche? As Visa Minister, I suddenly find myself courted by all sorts of people eager for the S&E visa. But of course I'm immune to their blandishments, because I have taken to heart M. Mélenchon's admonition: "Quant à la corruption, je la tiens pour un symptôme de la décomposition de notre République." Of course the victory of my party would put an end to such corruption, because "elle est la conséquence de l’accumulation de richesse par quelques-uns." Once I have the power to issue the sociological and ecological visa, however, you can be sure that the accumulation of wealth will be limited to quelques autres.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Arun Kapil's Discussion of the PS Primary


Montebourg's Letter

Arnaud Montebourg has thrown down his gauntlet. You can read the content of his challenge here. And then you can imagine how Aubry and Hollande will try to finesse the differences tomorrow night. Regulating the financial system (par. 1) is the easy part: both will say they're for it without committing themselves to anything specific. Par. 2, "European protectionism," is harder. Montebourg here abandons the vagueness of "démondialisation" and calls a spade a spade. Protectionism is all his posturing comes down to, and if either candidate embraces the word, despite the European qualifier, some votes will be lost while others may be gained, if Montebourg's voters take the bait. What "European protectionism" actually means is of course as vague as what financial regulation actually means. And then comes, par. 3, a grab-bag of "Sixth Republic" reforms, some good (independent parliamentary investigations, vote for foreign residents), some bad (term limits, popular initiative).

Frankly, I think this is a softball, and the principal interest of the exercise will be to see how the candidates handle it, how adroit each of them proves to be in saying nothing seductively--an art at which Montebourg excels. He concludes with a curious statement that his program is feasible and not very costly and, what's more, if the Socialists don't propose it or something like it, Sarkozy will. Indeed, he's right. What we're likely to hear from Sarkozy is gestures in each of these directions: financial reform, protection of domestic industry, and modest changes in governance. And we'll hear the same thing from the Left. There is nothing radical in Montebourg's letter, and there will be nothing radical on offer from either party--unless financial collapse or social unrest comes sooner rather than letter.

Electoral Demographics

Mediapart corrects some false impressions of the distribution of votes in the PS primary:

C'est le principal enseignement du premier tour. Comme lors des derniers scrutins européens et locaux, la mobilisation électorale dans les quartiers populaires est très, très faible. Malgré un fort nombre de bureaux de vote (estimé à près de 1.000, sur 9.500), l'échec est patent. Un rapide regard sur quelques bureaux de vote emblématiques montre l'ampleur de la désaffection: Villiers-le-Bel, 190 votants ; la cité des Cosmonautes à Saint-Denis 44 votants ; 178 à la cité des Francs-Moisins ; à Ogermont-Epinay 228 votants ; à la cité Vert-Galant de Tremblay 297 votants ; 94 à Bobigny ; Les Ulis-République recueillent 87 votes ; 139 voix à Grigny-Salle des fêtes, 130 à Vaulx-en-Velin Mairie...
Le clivage grands centres urbains/zones rurales et villes moyennes
Hollande pointe en tête dans plus de 90% des départements, mais il fait surtout ses voix dans les villes moyennes (par exemple Angers, Limoges, Le Mans, Laval ou Cherbourg) et les zones rurales, particulièrement dans l'ouest et le centre du pays. Dans son entourage, on aurait toutefois espéré de meilleurs résultats, avec des écarts plus grands (notamment dans les campagnes) et davantage de votants, histoire d'assurer une large victoire nationale.
Frédéric Sawicki préfère parier sur «un clivage générationnel entre "20/30 ans" et "plus de 40 ans"», que sur une opposition réductrice entre «vote bobo et vote de périphérie». «Dans l'est parisien, il n'y a pas que des bobos. En revanche, la sociologie des grandes villes regroupe un public d'étudiants et de jeunes actifs. Quand on grandit et qu'on forme une famille, on quitte le centre…», explique-t-il. Selon lui, «le vote Aubry semble plus intellectuel, type "métiers de la culture et communication", face à un vote Hollande plus "terroir et rassurance économique"». Même s'il n'a pas affiné ses remontées de terrain, un responsable du MJS indique que «très clairement, les jeunes ont essentiellement voté dans les villes universitaires», les mêmes où Aubry réalise ses meilleurs scores.

The Paris Vote

The map of Paris voting is quite interesting. Hollande took the western part of the city, including the wealthiest arrondissements, while Aubry took the east, running up some of her highest percentages in the most populaire districts. Montebourg did somewhat better in the east than in the west as well, but he had respectable scores in the west. Valls did best in the 16th Arrdt.

So, while it's foolish to say that Martine Aubry was the candidate of le peuple de gauche, she did outpoll Hollande in areas with strong working-class and issue de l'immigration representation.

The Montebourg Moment

Bruno Roger-Petit compares Arnaud Montebourg's week-long star turn to François Bayrou's two weeks of glory between rounds of the 2007 presidential election. And where is Bayrou now, runs the unspoken refrain? Indeed, Montebourg may be overplaying his hand. He seemed just a bit smug on France2 last night. But then again, what can he do? He took a position sharply different from both of the frontrunners and did better than expected. So it would be unseemly if he suddenly pivoted to support one of them. He has to play out his hand, and even he has no idea whether people voted for him because they are "démondialistes" or because they'd rather have anyone but Aubry or Hollande as their candidate. He represents a new generation, as Ségolène did in 2006. He's good-looking. He speaks well. And he has sounded a different note. So he has 17% of 2.5 million votes and for the next few days will be sitting pretty. After that, the moving finger will have moved on.

"Les deux impétrants"

Arnaud Montebourg caused a bit of a stir by referring to his two successful rivals as "les deux impétrants." Bernard Girard comments wryly that Montebourg likes to give himself an air of cultivation, but the word isn't all that rare, as it has become, somewhat improperly, a synonym for "applicant," reflecting, as Bernard notes, the proper sense of the term, which denotes a person who has received a favor from a competent authority. The dictionary's illustrative quotes suggest an almost ironic intent to Montebourg's usage:

Il adressa au pape une supplique pro apostasia (...) le pape lui octroya gratis (...) la composition des bulles d'absolution. Il n'en coûta à l'impétrant que l'expédition (A. FranceRabelais, 1909, p. 108). Une fois l'impétrante relevée et embrassée par la princesse, celle-ci se rasseyait, se remettait à sa patience (ProustGuermantes 2, 1921, p. 455). ... Les certificats d'aptitude relatifs au second examen, signés par le doyen, sont transmis au recteur de l'académie, qui, par délégation du ministre de l'Éducation Nationale, les ratifie et les délivre aux impétrants (Encyclop. éduc., 1960, p. 213).− P. plaisant. Ledit autobus était complet, plus que complet même, oserai-je dire, car le receveur avait pris en surcharge plusieurs impétrants (QueneauExerc. style, 1947, p. 43).

In any case, I expect François Hollande, whose wit is perhaps his best quality, to solicit the approval, as premier impétrant,  of le premier des recalés. This would counter the charge of the Aubrystes that he is mou (which, as Bernard Girard also observes, may not be altogether to his disadvantage).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Montebourg Sets Terms

Arnaud Montebourg wants the finalists to show their cards:

"Si les deux candidats veulent obtenir un geste de ma part et de celle de mes amis (...) il faudra certainement qu'ils renoncent à un certain nombre des recettes gestionnaires du passé, qu'ils ont défendues dans leur campagne", a-t-il ajouté.
Wednesday's debate is shaping up to be make-or-break.

Morelle Warns Aubry

Aquilino Morelle, a lieutenant of Arnaud Montebourg, links Aubry to DSK in an apparent effort to drive a wedge between his candidate and the party leader. Does Morelle speak for Montebourg? À suivre.

Regional Voting in the PS Primary

Here is an analysis of the regional vote in the PS primary. Long story short: Hollande in the countryside, Aubry in the cities, Montebourg in his own part of the country.

Was the Montebourg Vote Personal or Ideological?

I, along with many other analysts, have interpreted the Montebourg vote as a sign of ideological discontent, a protest from the left wing of the Socialist Party. But is this correct? Some observers, including François Hollande, suggest that the Montebourg vote was primarily an endorsement of Montebourg's personality, his good debate performance, his polished rhetoric, etc. This may be. I didn't see enough of the debates to assess how strong his performance was, but the press was certainly favorable. No doubt the truth is a mixture of both interpretations.

Funny. I met Montebourg a couple of years ago, even had dinner with him. I found him quite charming, a good conversationalist, but not terribly well-versed in economic policy issues. Indeed, having spent some time with Ségolène Royal as well, I thought that, despite her reputation as a relative lightweight, she had actually spent more time thinking about economic policy than Montebourg, or at least had been better briefed. A colleague and I left the Montebourg dinner together. As we walked out into the cold Beacon Hill air, we turned to each other and said simultaneously, "Awfully nice guy, but needs work if he's going to run for president." Just goes to show you what informed opinion is worth. Democratic politics is full of imponderables.

What the Right Is Thinking?

How would the Right like the PS primary to turn out? It would have been hard to tell from listening yesterday to Jean-François Copé, who vied with Pierre Moscovici in rudeness yesterday on France2. Copé had one point to make--that the 2.5 million Socialist voters were an unrepresentative and insignificant sample of the French electorate--and he made it as loudly, repeatedly, and unpleasantly as he could, while Moscovici was intent on painting "a great victory for democracy, the Left, and the Socialist Party," as if Sunday's better-than-expected turnout would somehow go down in history alongside the Popular Front demonstrations of 1936 or the 1981 liesse following the victory of Mitterrand. Those two almost made Laurent Fabius look like a sage--no mean feat.

But what does the Right really think about yesterday's results? If Aubry captures the Montebourg vote and absorbs any part of the Montebourg line, Sarkozy would probably be pleased. There would be plenty of contradictions to attack. Sarkozy could probably mount a stronger campaign against Aubry than against Hollande. On the other hand, working-class FN voters may be tempted by this more protectionist, anti- --or, pardon me, de- --globalization left. Even without the anti-immigrant line, this would be a more "populaire" left, likely to frighten some on the right who have grown weary of Sarkozy. So the net effect might be to weaken the FN in the first round while modestly strengthening the UMP vote--both to Sarkozy's benefit, since his worst nightmare has to be a first-round loss to Le Pen. In the second round, he would no doubt emphasize the "gauchisme" of the alliance of Mme 35 Heures with Arnaud "Mélenchon." A lot would then depend on Aubry's poise as a candidate, both on the stump and in debate. Perhaps we'll get an idea of how she would perform in this week's crucial debate with Hollande.

Bank Talks Continue

Meanwhile, Dexia has been nationalized by France and Belgium, and Sarkozy and Merkel have agreed on the need to support other threatened banks but are still dickering over how to do so.

A French Huffington Post

Le Monde and the Huffington Post will join forces to create a French version of HuffPo.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What next?

I'm still waiting for a firm vote count, some regional breakdowns, and so on, but what is clear at this moment is that the PS remains a deeply fragmented party without a clear direction. Arnaud Montebourg chose to run a campaign clearly marked to the left of the party, taking positions that could easily mesh with those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and he won his bet. His score, close to 20 percent, exceeded all expectations and puts him in a strong position to negotiate terms with one of the leading candidates, more likely than not Martine Aubry.

Hollande, despite winning the first round and finishing well ahead of Aubry, clearly did not convince a majority of the more than 2 million voters that his centrist positioning, designed to pick up as many disappointed right-wing and centrist voters as possible, has won favor with the left.

The biggest loser of the day is Manuel Valls, whose attempt to define a third way on the very right wing of the party failed to attract the kind of support that Montebourg's diametrically opposed strategy did. The other loser is Ségolène Royal, whose decline, long evident in the polls, has now been confirmed at the ballot box.

But an "all against Hollande" coalition now seems likely, and we know that even DSK, whose space Hollande tried to fill, voted for Aubry. What Aubry is prepared to offer Montebourg remains to be seen and will probably remain private, and whether Montebourg's voters will follow his consigne, if there is one, is of course never certain, but logic suggests that they are more likely to vote for Aubry than for Hollande. The same is true of Royal voters. So it would not be at all surprising to see a narrow Aubry victory in the second round, on the order of 52-48.

And that would make for an interesting ballgame, more interesting a priori than a Sarkozy-Hollande contest. But it will also make the next six months of European policymaking extremely difficult. An Aubry-Montebourg victory would make it very difficult for Merkel to know what to expect from France after May 2012, and if there is anything the hesitant and cautious Merkel does not need, it is more uncertainty to cope with. Furthermore, the famous markets will not be happy with this outcome, and that could complicate the task of trying to maintain confidence in the banks and the euro.

A very interesting Sunday, and proof yet again, if proof were needed, that the French people can never be taken for granted.

First Results: Montebourg as Spoiler

  1. Hollande 37%
  2. Aubry 28%
  3. Montebourg 20%
  4. Royal 8%
  5. Valls 6%
  6. Baylet 1%
The big surprise: 20%. Note that Montebourg + Royal + Aubry adds up to 56, vs. Hollande + Valls at 43. So this is not a done deal. A stunning performance by Montebourg, if these figures hold up.

Socialist Primary Draws Good Turnout

Primaire PS : plus de 740 000 votants à la mi-journée

Harlem Désir, premier secrétaire du Parti socialiste par intérim a annoncé les premiers chiffres de la participation du premier tour de la primaire : a la mi-journée, et d'après les chiffres de deux tiers des bureaux de vote, 744 527 personnes avaient votés. (Le Monde)

This suggests that the bar of 1 million voters will easily be reached, so there will be no embarrassment to the party. And the good turnout has to be a bad sign for Sarkozy. Enthusiasm to choose his likely successor is at least as high as predicted.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Third Socialist Debate

I didn't see it, but Arun Kapil has an excellent rundown.

Changes in French Universities Noted in US

This will not come as news to regular blog readers, but changes in the French university system have begun to attract attention in the US.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sixty: The Magic Number

So, the Socialists have had their third debate, and the field still looks pretty much the same. All except Valls and Baylet seem to think that "the legal retirement age of 60" is carved in stone and promise to abide by the Socialist platform, which pledges to return to it.

Ah, but there is fine print in the statements of the frontrunners. Sure, you can retire at 60, but only if you've paid in to the system for 41 to 41.5 years, which means starting work at 18.5 or 19, if math serves, and not missing any quarters because of unemployment, illness, childbirth, etc. And there will of course be exceptions for women and those whose work is difficult, but we'll talk about those things later ... which of course opens the door to all kinds of wheeling and dealing with this or that union when it comes down to brass tacks. So, in short, what you'll get is not what you see, but don't expect anyone to come clean on this issue. Don't even expect them to discuss the principles that might figure in their calculations. This is just too sensitive a topic, discussion of which might upset any number of applecarts. In other words, business as usual--and in the end, not much difference between the Aubry/Hollande position and the latest round of reform from the government. The crux of the matter is whether it will be necessary to go further, and if so, how far. On these questions the candidates are silent.