Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Political Cookery

From Elaine Sciolino:
“It is our national responsibility to cook and to eat well,” Ms. Branget, a deputy from the center-right party of President Nicolas Sarkozy, said as she washed sand from fat, spongy morels at her kitchen sink. “There are no political parties around the dinner table. By creating this book, male and female deputies are defending their regions and carrying out their political mandate.” 
One could hardly imagine an American member of Congress making such a proclamation. But food is so much a part of France’s identity that the government led a successful campaign last year to win United Nations recognition of the French meal as a national treasure. Elected deputies can rise and fall on the extent to which they protect the terrains of their grape growers, the subsidies of their milk producers, the clean water of their oyster cultivators and the rights of their recreational hunters.
Seventy-two of the 111 female deputies (who make up about 18 percent of the Assembly) chose not to participate in the cookbook project, including two who hope to win the Socialist Party nomination for next year’s presidential election: Martine Aubry, the head of the party; and Ségolène Royal, the party nominee who lost to Mr. Sarkozy in 2007.
The presidential hopeful François Hollande from Corrèze, Ms. Royal’s former partner and the father of their four children, by contrast, related with gusto and a long explanation a recipe for “farcidure grillée du pays d’Egletons,” a potato-based dish with many versions that looks like a latke crossed with a Spanish omelet. He also defined it as women’s work, which may not help him with the women’s vote. “Voilà how for so many years on end women fed their families with almost nothing” except this “farcidure,” he wrote.

French banks downgraded

As expected, Moody's has downgraded Crédit Agricole to Aa2 and SocGen to Aa3. BNP Paribas remains unchanged on negative watch status.

Slings and Arrows

The atmosphere is turning nasty on the Socialist side of the spectrum as well. Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who is now advising Hollande after having been in charge of European affairs under Sarkozy (and under Jospin before him), has accused economist Daniel Cohen, who advises Aubry but is also a consultant to Lazard Frères, which advises the Greek government, of advocating for Greece at the expense of the French taxpayer. The issue is the issuance of eurobonds by a eurobank, which some see as the solution to the debt crisis. But Jouyet, wearing his politician's hat, is attacking Cohen for conflict of interest.

Sigh. There is a genuine debate to be had about eurobonds. There are moral hazard issues, in that fiscally undisciplined states will be rewarded with lower borrowing costs than they would otherwise enjoy, while better-managed states will have to pay higher costs. And without an enforcement mechanism of some kind, the formula is a recipe for a future disaster. But the issues will never be reached if two men who know each other well as colleagues at Cepremap and undoubtedly respect each other's expertise descend to this level of mudslinging.

For my part, I am glad to hear that Cohen is talking to the Greeks, and I would hope that Jouyet would be talking to them as well. They need all the advice they can get.

Free at last!

Dominique de Villepin's acquittal in the Clearstream affair has been upheld on appeal, just in time for Villepin to fend off allegations by Robert Bourgi that he received suitcases of cash from African dictators while serving Jacques Chirac. Although Bourgi claims to have been motivated by a desire to clear his conscience after a long career as political bagman, one suspects a darker motive. Perhaps President Sarkozy's "friend of 28 years" was assigned to send a warning shot across Villepin's bow, just in case Villepin is thinking of some coup de théâtre, such as revealing what he knows about the financing of Édouard Balladur's 1995 presidential bid, of which Nicolas Sarkozy was treasurer.

It's all rather unseemly and frankly a bit old-fashioned in the age of electronic capital transfers. These suitcases full of cash are downright vieux jeu. But there has always been something rather earthy about Villepin, who reportedly swears like a guardsman and likes to mingle with shady characters such as Jean-Louis Gergorin. Despite his matinee idol looks, he sees himself as one of Napoleon's generals when he isn't writing poetry and may be spoiling for a fight now that he has returned, like Col. Chabert, from a long exile. I doubt that Bourgi will be enough to silence him. So the little guéguerre on the right might quickly heat up, further alienating the ordinary Frenchman from the political class, if such a thing is possible.