Thursday, February 9, 2012

Back to the Workhouse

President Sarkozy appears to be launching his campaign with an interview granted to Figaro Magazine, to appear this Saturday. Le Monde outlines the major points. I can only describe the tenor of this program as Bonapartist. Apparently, Sarkozy has taken the comparisons with Napoléon le Petit to heart and is proposing to become Napoléon encore plus petit.

His conception of reform in his second term is predicated upon a series of great referenda, in which proposals for fundamental change will be submitted to the people, whom the Prince-President assumes will back him, bolstering his legitimacy and autocratic power through a series of plebiscitary confirmations. The first of these fundamental changes is an overhaul of the system of unemployment compensation. After a few months out of work, recipients of unemployment benefits will be required to sign up for job retraining in exchange for further benefits. The unemployed will be required to choose from a menu of "qualifying employments" to be defined by a national committee. Training may indeed be a useful thing to offer to the unemployed, but what purpose is served by making it compulsory? The idea seems to be to transform unemployment compensation from an insurance program offering protection against the vagaries of the economy to a disciplinary tool. Many so-called job retraining programs exist already, and often they are useless and misguided. The reform will make submission to the useless and misguided compulsory and deny the unemployed the freedom to choose how they wish to adapt to changing market conditions.

The second major reform concerns immigration: Sarkozy wants to transfer all competence in matters of immigration to administrative bureaus and to subject applicants for residence permits on the grounds of marriage to housing and means tests.

The third major reform will be in the area of education. Details are scanty, but it seems that he wants to tighten the "working conditions" of teachers, whose vacation time he may be seeking to shorten.

Curiously, after five years in power, Sarkozy seems to be saying that the major problems that France faces are best addressed by discharging responsibility onto scapegoats: the unemployed, the immigrants, and teachers. In 2007 he came into office promising to evaluate the performance of government and to fetch "growth with his teeth." Now, he says nothing about whether government has passed or failed its test, and the problem of unemployment due to lack of growth is to be dealt with by cracking down on unemployed workers and immigrants.

It is hard to see what constituency he thinks will respond to this appeal.


Anonymous said...

These are called political Hail Mary passes. He has almost nothing else to go on at this point. They're clearly getting desperate in the Elysée. If this doesn't up Sarko's poll numbers, then they'll try something else. That's the way Sarko operates.


Anonymous said...

I don't think French people really know what a "workhouse" was. It'll be interesting to bring this up. :)

Right now, the professional training budget is the same as for higher education in France, yet 92% people who REQUEST training do not get it. So if you make it compulsory, I fail to see how they'll be able to create enough courses, find professors for the training courses, the space to teach them, the machines and tools, etc. Wouldn't it make sense to satisfy those who request training first? Isn't it a set up whereby people will be forced to take courses that aren't offered and hence crossed off the unemployment benefit list? Hence my sense, along with yours, that the idea is punitive and not at all designed to help people find jobs through training schemes.

I see a small problem with the "teacher" proposal: currently, French teachers aren't paid for their vacation days. If the students are off, they're off. Unless schools start running year round, it's pretty obvious why the system is in place.
I've heard various explanations but the bottom line is that teachers, like all French employees, are entitled to 5 weeks paid vacation. The rest of the vacation time is unpaid. So that they're not left without a salary for the summer, their 10-month salary is spread over 12. Considering French teachers make very little compared to their European peers (I'm not sure exactly but I was shocked enough to remember it was below $20,000/year) is Sarkozy proposing to pay them for the extra days or is he saying they'll have to work these extra days without pay? Is it legal to make people work without pay for many days? Does he expect that'll pass muster? (I know he doesn"t care if teachers protest but the creation of a legal precedent may give other people pause.)
If it's work without pay, does he expect it'll help in finding the teachers the country needs (the recruitment pool has been divided in two in the past 5 years and they don't have enough candidates to fill the positions, something that was brought up when Hollande said he'd hire more teachers: where would he find them?) If he's suggesting to pay for the extra days, how does that fit in with his general outlook of budgetary caution?

I get the rationale: teachers and unemployed people won't vote for him anyway, so using them as scapegoats is win-win. (And immigrants don"t vote at all). But as you said I fail to see what constituency would like these proposals.

I'm kind of puzzled as to what sort of campaign Sarkozy thinks he's running. I'm seriously wondering whether he'll be in the 2nd round.

FrédéricLN said...

@ Art : all true.

What constituency? Well, the "possible" majority of those who would easily think that, if we fail, it's because of some treason. The traitors are the usual suspects: foreigners, judges, teachers, all these lazy people living at our contributions' expenses. Shorter: Ms Le Pen's constituency. And possible — but unlikely — majority.

Anonymous said...

Schneiderman asks and answers