Monday, February 28, 2011

Flight to Safety ... in Europe

With turmoil in the Middle East, capital seeking safety, which normally flows to the US in times of crisis, is going instead to Europe--despite Europe's own debt and banking difficulties. And it's not just the Swiss franc:
While the yen and Swiss franc have been driven higher by haven appeal, the euro and the pound have at the same time been supported by increasing expectations that the European Central Bank and the Bank of England will deliver interest rate rises before the US Federal Reserve.
On the dangers of such shifts in capital flows, see here (based on an IMF report):

(1) Large current-account deficits, by definition, require the economy running them to import a lot of capital from abroad. If, for some reason, the foreign capital stops coming suddenly, “these evidences often lead to large financial disruptions” that can affect many countries. This, they say, argues for “surveillance”–among the IMF’s favorite words–not only on the magnitude of current-account deficits but on a broader set of indicators.


Thierry Desjardins sheds some light on the nomination of Gérard Longuet, a political has-been with jail time for assault, youthful associations with the violent extreme right, and a record of involvement in several scandals (though there were no convictions), to be defense minister. He is the brother-in-law of Vincent Bolloré--the man who lent Sarkozy his yacht for that post-election "meditation period" on the Mediterranean. So, the Union of the Mediterranean has indeed been revived: the Sarko-Bolloré link is reaffirmed.

Truly, the wonders never cease in this government.

France Sends Aid to Libya

From the Times:
The French prime minister, François Fillon, said that two French planes were flying on Monday to the eastern city of Benghazi, the revolt’s birthplace, with doctors, nurses, medicines and medical equipment.
“It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories,” Mr. Fillon said on RTL radio. The French government is studying “all solutions to ensure that Colonel Qaddafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power,” he said.
Looks like Sarko is aiming to make up for lost ground. 

Moïsi on "The Diplomacy of the Blind"

Without naming names, Dominique Moïsi critiques the performance of diplomats:

When regimes lose legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens, it is not reasonable to derive one’s information mainly from that regime’s servants and sycophants. In such cases, diplomats will too often merely report the regime’s reassuring yet biased analysis.
Diplomats, instead, should be judged by their ability to enter into a dialogue with all social actors: government representatives and business leaders, of course, but also representatives of civil society (even if it exists only in embryonic form). With proper training and incentives, diplomats would be better equipped to anticipate change.

But he does not paint all with the same brush:

The United States managed to get it right, albeit very slowly, whereas many European countries erred on the side of the status quo for a much longer time, if not systematically, as they refused to see that the region could be evolving in a direction contrary to what they deemed to be in their strategic interest. Historical and geographic proximity, together with energy dependency and fear of massive immigration, paralyzed European diplomats.
But there is something more fundamental underlying diplomats’ natural diffidence. They are very often right in their readings of a given situation – the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, for example, include a slew of masterful and penetrating analyses. But it is as if, owing to an excess of prudence, they cannot bring themselves to pursue their own arguments to their logical conclusions.

Dans la mesure où ...

Fillon on Alliot-Marie:

«La voix de la France n'était plus audible, parce que Michèle Alliot-Marie faisait l'objet d'une campagne injuste, dans la mesure où c'est quelqu'un d'intègre».
Now, I find this a very interesting locution. To be sure, dans la mesure où has become, in le français courant, a frequent synonym for parce que or puisque. But its root sense is "to the extent that," "insofar as." So the subtext of Fillon's apparent endorsement is actually a covert critique: the campaign against her was unjust insofar as she is a person of integrity. But is she? Fillon is hedging his bets, under semantic cover, as it were.

What's Left?

Alain Juppé, who has been outspokenly critical of several aspects of Sarkozy's presidency, most notably the attack on the Roms last summer, is now foreign minister. And the post was reportedly offered to archrival Villepin, who turned it down. Jean-François Copé, a man who is too glibly supple in his positions to be considered a critic of Sarkozy--or perhaps who should be seen as an enemy of everyone but himself--is now the head of the party. An embittered Jean-Louis Borloo remains outside the government, and Fillon remains inside, which is not necessarily where the president wanted him. So Sarkozy is looking increasingly isolated among the heavyweights of the right.

In addition, one way of interpreting the shift of Guéant, une créature of Sarkozy, from the Élysée inner circle to the post of interior minister, is that Juppé demanded it, because Guéant was seen as Sarkozy's man on foreign policy within the palace (along with Levitte, who has largely dropped out of sight). If true, then Juppé will have eliminated a potential source of friction and established his independence from the start.

The days of the hyperpresidency are long since forgotten. Sarko no longer has the stage to himself, and most of his recent appearances have been pratfalls. He has become the comic relief; the serious men are back in charge.