Wednesday, December 14, 2011

La Finesse de François Hollande

As predicted here many months ago, François Hollande has now "clarified" his position on the so-called "âge légal de départ à la retraite":
En tout état de cause, pour François Hollande, le rétablissement, pour tous et dans tous les cas, de l'âge légal de départ à la retraite à 60 ans n'est désormais plus d'actualité.
 Actually, Hollande has been saying this all along, and behind the scenes his advisors have been saying it even more clearly. Indeed, the candidate said on TV in 2010 that "Il y a un principe qui doit être posé : chaque fois que l'espérance de vie s'allonge, il n'est pas anormal que la durée de cotisation suive."

The problem, of course, is that the Socialist platform doesn't say this, and PS leaders were content to let those who protested against the most recent UMP tinkering with the retirement regulations believe that if they came to power, all the Sarkozy and Fillon "reforms" would be rolled back to the status quo ante of the halcyon days of Mitterrand. It was a convenient fiction then but an inconvenient one now, and Hollande is trying to shed it. For his sins, however, François Fillon has called him a "liar," igniting a mini-kerfuffle and some huffing and puffing in the press and on the blogs.

So let us stipulate that voters assessing the candidates had better not hope to differentiate between right and left on the basis of their positions on retirement reform, because when it comes right down to it, there is no discernible difference, and even if there were, there is no guarantee that it wouldn't succumb to expediency after the election--expediency and the need to reduce the budget deficit, to which both sides are committed.

You may not like it, but this horse has left the barn: the French will be working longer to collect their retirement benefits.

Quiggin on the Euro Crisis as Kremlinology

In one respect, the EU agreement was anything but subtle. The fact that the Eurozone countries and those aspiring to join them were prepared to go ahead without the UK (and a few others) suggests that they have something serious in mind. But what – the announcement is pretty much a restatement of the Growth and Stability pact, and under present circumstances, the deficit targets can only be seen as aspirational.

Applying one of the approaches that used to be standard in Kremlinology (not necessarily a reliable one, then or now) I’m going to assume that the EU leaders are acting with some sort of coherent goal in mind and work from there. In particular, I’m going to assume that everyone who matters now recognizes the need for a big monetary expansion and the use of newly created money to resolve, or at least stabilize, the debt crisis.

There are a bunch of obstacles to this:
(i) The desire of the ECB to save face, to avoid admitting its large share of responsibility for the crisis and, if it can, to hold on to its central position and to the inflation targeting system
(ii) The belief of the German public (and some others) that they are being made to bail out a bunch of feckless Southerners, rather than (the reality) saving French and German banks from the consequences of their bad decisions, and preserving the European economy on which the Germans depend as much as anyone else from the disastrous regulatory failures of the Euro-elite, including the ECB, European Commission, financial regulators and so on
(iii) the problems with EU treaty amendments requiring unanimous consent

Can Sarkozy Win?

Gérard Grunberg thinks it will all depend on where FN votes go in the second round--assuming the president makes it to the second round (a possibility that Grunberg does not discuss).

Financing the French Social Model

The French welfare state is expensive, and how to pay for it in a time of austerity will be a central campaign issue. Le Monde reviews some of the proposals. Seven think tanks offer their suggestions as well.