Friday, March 30, 2012

Forsane Alizza

Hmmm. So, on the one hand, the police are confident that Mohammed Merah was a lone wolf who exaggerated his ties to organized terror groups, while on the other hand, they swooped in to arrest, in Toulouse and several other cities, 20 members of the group Forsane Alizza, which they say wanted to bring the caliphate to France. No necessary connection, of course. It's good to know that the police are on the job, but it would also be nice to know how Merah accumulated a stockpile of weapons and €26 000 euros in cash while ostensibly under (loose) surveillance by the DCRI.

"Fractures françaises"

A book entitled Fractures françaises by a geographer named Christophe Guilluy is supposed to be the sensation of the campaign season, influential on the campaigns of both Sarkozy and, to a lesser extent, Hollande. And what is its message? That les classes populaires (les classes populaires de souche, s'entend, pas celles issues de l'immigration, bien sûr) are unhappy and that the key to victory is pandering to their concerns (about identity, immigration, jobs, globalization, Europe, etc.).

Listen up, people! The fracture sociale has been rediscovered with regularity in every election season since 1995. The political geographers are always leading the charge. But if any political analyst who looks at the polls for Le Pen and Mélenchon can't tell you that there is a large pool of disgruntled voters disgusted with both major parties and somewhat unmoored from traditional left-right loyalties, then he has to be blind. These are not revelations; they are truisms, which busy ministers enclosed in Parisian cocoons may forget between elections, but really, if they're paying attention, they haven't forgotten. Evidently the profession of political consultant is underdeveloped in France. There's a career opportunity here for an enterprising young person among the "periurban unemployed," whose mood matters for a few months every five years. (h/t Arun Kapil)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Economist's "Denial"

The Economist claims that France is in denial:
It is not unusual for politicians to avoid some ugly truths during elections; but it is unusual, in recent times in Europe, to ignore them as completely as French politicians are doing. In Britain, Ireland, Portugal and Spain voters have plumped for parties that promised painful realism. Part of the problem is that French voters are notorious for their belief in the state’s benevolence and the market’s heartless cruelty. Almost uniquely among developed countries, French voters tend to see globalisation as a blind threat rather than a source of prosperity. With the far left and the far right preaching protectionism, any candidate will feel he must shore up his base.
But The Economist exaggerates. In the previous paragraph, for example, in the previous paragraph, it says:
Exports are stagnating while they roar ahead in Germany. France now has the euro zone’s largest current-account deficit in nominal terms.
But who measures current account in nominal terms? In percentage of GDP, the deficit is 2%, having drifted steadily downward from a surplus of 2% a decade ago. This is not a good situation, but it's hardly as catastrophic as The Economist claims, and France is by no means in the same position as Greece, with little to sell that the rest of the world is buying. The path to balance is clear.

It would be more accurate to say that Europe is in denial and that France just happens to be the country holding the next election, so the denial of Europe's problems is momentarily manifest there. Should French politicians be talking more about the problems of the Eurozone? Of course, but since both major parties are deeply divided, they cannot, and since both face opposition from strong anti-Europe parties on their wings, they would rather avoid the issue altogether. The Economist would like to throw gasoline on the brazier, but concrete suggestions about how to reform European institutions would be more useful. The fact that even a high-stakes gambler like Sarkozy hasn't proposed anything is an indication of how daunting the task is. The Economist, in its usual brisk, no-nonsense, just-get-on-with-it style, seems to think that it's all just a matter of putting one's head down and chugging off in the right direction.

CSA: Sarkozy +4

A CSA poll conducted on March 26-27 gives Sarkozy a 4-point advantage in the first round but still has him losing to Hollande 53-47 in the second. This is the first clear sign of a post-Toulouse bump for Sarkozy, but 53-47 is still a considerable deficit to overcome. Meanwhile, CSA has Bayrou and Mélenchon equal at 12.5 and Marine Le Pen back on top of the second tier with 15.

Polytechnique et Pantouflage

Henceforth, graduates of the Ecole Polytechnique who take jobs in the private sector ("pantouflage," in the picturesque slang expression) must reimburse the state for their education to the tune of €45 000 . Not quite Harvard or MIT tuition but getting up there. And the principle is now established at the very pinnacle of the republican educational system. Sciences Po has been charging tuition to some students for a while, but it's a semi-private institution. X, by contrast, has always been about state service, but in recent years 75% of its graduates have been going into the private sector.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Political Science Looks at the French Elections

An embarrassment of riches, here, here, and here. (h/t Polit'Bistro)

Weaknesses in the European Banking System

The Wall Street Journal worries about the future of European banks (h/t Tyler Cowen). Unlike US banks, the WSJ points out, the Euro banks provide most of the funds for mortgage and corporate financing. In the US, these functions are shifted, respectively, to the "government-sponsored entities" FMAC/GNMA and to the corporate bond market. Consequently, US banks have much lower loan-to-deposit ratios than European banks. The different balance sheet structures leave European banks vulnerable to sudden shifts in money-market sentiment:
The question for European policy makers is whether the European banking model is now permanently broken as a result of the crisis—as the U.S. banking model was broken by the crises of the 1930s and 1980s. Or is the current refusal of markets to fund parts of the European banking system a temporary phenomenon that will pass once the sovereign debt crisis eases? There's some reason to hope the latter: While there is little correlation between bank capital ratios and funding costs, there is a strong correlation between the cost of bank funding and government funding. For example, BBVA, one of the best capitalized banks in Europe, must pay far more for bond market financing than Deutsche Bank, one of the euro zone's most thinly capitalized banks.
But what if funding markets don't recover? The ECB's Long-Term Refinancing Operations bought time, providing banks with cheap three-year loans to replace lost bond market financing. But if time doesn't prove a great healer, the euro zone will face unpalatable choices. It could try to create a U.S.-style system, reducing high bank LDRs by encouraging far greater use of capital markets. But this may require the creation of euro Fannie and Freddie, surely a political non-starter. Or it could brace itself for a repeat of Japan's experience with banks continuing to deleverage until LDRs reach U.S. levels—a process that could take six years and would require them to shed up to €4.5 trillion of assets, reckons Morgan Stanley. Or the ECB could continue to fund the shortfall with yet more LTROs. But that would mean the European banking system remaining in intensive care for years—and doubts over the health of the economy never fully going away.

See also this FT article.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Harris, IFOP, and Ipsos all have new polling results today, but there are no dramatic changes, and the fluctuations look like statistical noise rather than any change in the fundamental situation, which is: virtual dead heat in round 1 followed by a clear Hollande victory in round 2. The Mélenchon "surge" is confirmed, but it's not clear where his strength is coming from. As I put it the other day, he has wiped out the extreme left: Poutou is at 0.5% and Arthaud at 0! Eva Joly is also au ras des pâquerettes. Bayrou continues to poke along, in some polls above Mélenchon, in others below. With Marine Le Pen, those two constitute the second tier of candidates. And there you have it. A roughly 60/40 split in the electorate between the mainstream and those who would prefer something completely different--except that, when push comes to shove, they probably wouldn't want things to change too much.

A few years ago, the historian Perry Anderson ended a brilliant if rather splenetic article about France with the remark, "Ce peuple est encore dangereux." I don't think so. Which is not to say that the next few years may not witness considerable unrest. About which more on another occasion.

Who's For Mélenchon?, true to the contrarian spirit of its American parent publication, is giving Jean-Luc Mélenchon a hard time about his claim to represent "the workers." (h/t Arun Kapil) So let's concede right off the bat that the demographic polling reported in this article is open to considerable skepticism. Slate's view seems to be that Mélenchon is appealing primarily to what used to be called "the aristocracy of the working class":

Selon cette enquête, l'électorat potentiel de Jean-Luc Mélenchon est dominé par les professions intermédiaires du privé (chef d’équipe, technicien, contremaître) et surtout de la fonction publique (instits, assistantes sociales, éducateurs spécialisés, employés des collectivités territoriales, infirmières), qui constituait déjà le cœur du famélique 1,93% de Marie-George Buffet lors de la présidentielle 2007. Le groupe libéral Trop Libre, lui, pointe aujourd'hui le «paradoxe d’un discours ouvriériste qui séduit par tropisme idéologique un électorat assez éloigné de l’univers des ouvriers».
IFOP's polling now suggests that Hollande is getting 30% of the working-class vote, ahead of Mélenchon, and that Marine Le Pen's strength seems to have waned in this category. What seems clear is that there is a substantial segment of the electorate that is unusually unmoored in this election. Marine Le Pen's recalibration of her party's discourse is perhaps one factor in this unmooring: by shifting her target from race and religion to economic issues, she may have prepared some of her former supporters to prick their ears in other directions as well. And now that she has fallen back on a primarily xenophobic line in the wake of Toulouse and Montauban, workers whom she had attracted early on may be turning in disappointment back to the left in one of its incarnations or the other.

OECD Warns Eurozone on Need for Reform

The OECD has told the Eurozone that it needs to undertake "ambitious structural reforms" in order to avoid a further recession. It also warned that the financial backstop might need to be increased. Neither of these things is news, but the OECD statement may give cover to European leaders hesitant about what to do next.

Monday, March 26, 2012

An Imaginary Speech

Jean Quatremer imagines a speech on Europe that François Hollande might have given in order to reveal what he calls the "vacuity" of both major parties in regard to the construction of European institutions. If only history were made by inspiring speeches ...

DSK mis en examen


Dominique Strauss-Kahn a été mis en examen lundi soir pour "proxénétisme aggravé en bande organisée" dans le cadre de l'affaire du Carlton de Lille.

First Post-Toulouse Polling

The latest IFOP "rolling" poll results show Sarkozy with an 0.5 percentage point gain in the second round, but he still loses to Hollande 53.5 to 46.5. These are "rolling" results, however, so that only a part of the sample reflects updated results from post-Toulouse polling. Other poll results should clarify the situation when they are released throughout the week.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Note on House Effects in Polling

I don't have the time or inclination to examine polling differences systematically myself, but those of you interested in polling techniques and possible systematic statistical biases of one method or another may find this post interesting:
Ce qui me frappe est que les écarts concernant Sarkozy sont relativement bien distribués entre sondeurs, sans qu'un impact de la méthode employée apparaisse nettement. Par contre, pour Hollande, l'influence de la méthode semble claire : les 3 sondeurs qui procèdent par Internet voient tous le candidat socialiste plus bas que la tendance et sont en outre plus bas que les 4 autres qui sondent par téléphone. Le constat est le même en prenant les sondages depuis la primaire socialiste (64 sondages au lieu de 44) et la tendance pondérée sur les 20 derniers jours.
Cela ne veut pas dire qu'une méthode de sondage soit nécessairement meilleure que l'autre (le téléphone est par contre incontestablement plus cher). On peut juste dire qu'elles semblent donner des résultats différents, pour des raisons qui ne sont pas évidentes : après le "shy Tory factor", y-a-t'il un "shy non-Hollande factor", c'est-à-dire que certains sondés n'oseraient pas reconnaître par téléphone qu'il ne voteront pas pour Hollande (au moins au premier tour) mais le font plus volontiers si on les interroge par Internet?

Bayrou Relaunches

François Bayrou, whose campaign has been struggling, held a major meeting today at the Zénith. Bayrou invariably makes me think of the Mugwumps. For those who don't know American political history, Mugwumps were Republicans who supported the Democratic presidential candidate, Grover Cleveland, in 1884 against the Republican James G. Blaine, whom they considered corrupt, repellent in character, and morally deficient. Bayrou and his MoDem haven't quite crossed over to the left, but it's not out of the question that they would join a left government after the election.

They share with the Mugwumps a certain sanctimoniousness, especially when it comes to fiscal stringency. So, for example, Bayrou proposes to reduce the deficit by €100 billion, with €50 billion to come from spending cut and another €50 billion from increased taxes. There is already something suspect about the neat symmetry of cuts and taxes, and the lack of specificity about which cuts and which taxes is also characteristic.

At the moment, Bayrou is drawing around 12-13% in first-round polling. At this stage in 2007 he was at 18% . In that year he benefited from anti-Ségolène feeling on the left. Hollande seems to be more acceptable to the left Mugwumps, then, but one might have expected the left of the UMP, social liberals of the right, to flee Sarkozy for a candidate deemed to be less mercurial and "abnormal." Apparently there aren't enough of these to make up for the desertion of the left component of Mugwumpery.

Increasingly, European politics, and not just in France, has become a politics of the marais, as one used to say during the French Revolution. The left and right extremes reject the broad central consensus in favor of the EU and globalization and go their separate ways. In the center there is a substantial majority of voters, roughly 60-65% of the electorate, divided between a party which, for historical reasons, is nominally of the left and another party which, for similar historical reasons, is nominally of the right. These parties divide sociologically  along a number of dimensions (private/public sector employment, age, work/non-work status [retirees favor the right], wealth [richer is righter], urban/rural residence, etc.), but these differences lack the deep identity component of the past. A great deal of emotion therefore settles on personalities: Who is tougher? Who is steadier? Who is more predictable? Who is more tolerant/intolerant of differences? Who is more honest or corrupt?

These are Mugwumpish choices. The grand differences regarding projets de société are a thing of the past. The French language needs a translation of Mugwump. Maraîchers?

Android Poll App

If you're a French political junkie with an Android phone, you'll want this app. I've got mine, and the remarkable thing is that all the polls agree at this point that Hollande will win the second round 54-46. This margin has remained fairly steady for some weeks despite considerable ups and downs in the first-round polling of particular candidates. At this stage in the race, an 8-point margin would seem to be a fairly comfortable lead for Hollande,and the rolling IFOP poll, which includes some post-Toulouse massacre data, shows no surge for Sarkozy. Next week's polls should be more revealing on this score. But for now, if I were a betting man, I'd give odds for Hollande.

But get the app! It's the way to settle any arguments you might get into at the Café de Commerce about who's up and who's down.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Merah Precursor

Arun Kapil posts a fascinating interview with another terrorist whose profile is similar in some ways to Merah's.

The Second Round Is the One that Counts

Nicolas Sarkozy has made headway with FN voters with his sharp right turn, thus cutting into Marine Le Pen's first-round vote. But an IFOP poll shows that la droitisation of the UMP candidate is not working with FN voters drawn primarily to MLP's rhetoric concerning purchasing power and wages. Many of these voters will not vote for Sarkozy in the second round:

Alors que 51 % des électeurs frontistes de PACA se reporteraient sur Nicolas Sarkozy et qu’il bénéficierait également de reports de l’ordre de 42 % en Ile-de-France et en Languedoc-Roussillon et Midi-Pyrénées, les reports ne seraient inférieurs à un tiers dans les régions ouvrières du Nord-Pas-de-Calais, de Champagne-Ardenne / Picardie ainsi que dans le Grand Ouest.
Caveat: this polling was done before the events in Montauban and Toulouse.

Mélenchon Dans Tous Ses États

Médiapart (which is offering free access all day) brings several of its journalists face-to-face with Jean-Luc Mélenchon to discuss a range of issues. M. Mélenchon is an artist of the spoken word, and I would recommend close study of his technique to aspiring politicians. To my mind, he is especially adroit at avoiding questions, a gift most evident in his segment with Laurent Mauduit, a fellow ex-Trotskyist, on the economy and in the passe d'armes concerning his relations with Serge Dassault.

This segment with Edwy Plenel is perhaps the heart of the matter:

Mediapart 2012 - Mélenchon-Plenel, le face à face by Mediapart

De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom?

For one Turk's surprising answer, see here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Proud Dad

My son Zach is a finalist for the HuffPo Joe Jr. prize for the best college journalism. If you like his story, please give him your vote.

Et in Arcadia ego ...

According to linguist Jean Véronis, President Sarkozy, once the champion of the use of the personal pronoun "je," slacked off a bit as he grew into his presidential role, but now that he is campaigning again, "je" has made a powerful comeback in his speeches:
Depuis la campagne 2007, on a beaucoup glosé sur son usage intensif de ce pronom. Le discours de la Porte de Versailles, le 14 janvier 2007 était de ce point de vue un cas d'école : un je toutes les 17 secondes, un quart des phrases commençant par ce mot...

Double Language

No commentary needed (h/t CM)

Mélenchon Conquers All (the Extreme Left, s'entend)

Three figures of the NPA (with the NPA one doesn't say "leaders") have called upon their comrades to vote for the candidate of another party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Front de Gauche, rather than for Philippe Poutou, their own party's standard-bearer:
"C’est avec beaucoup d’amertume, mais aussi de colère, que nous voyons notre parti renoncer à l’engagement pris lors de sa fondation : rassembler tous les anticapitalistes dans un parti de masse. Le NPA, avec son candidat, prend le chemin de la marginalité, qui lui interdira de peser réellement dans une situation politique aux enjeux majeurs", écrivent les trois auteurs, qui concluent leur propos par : "Si nous sommes nombreux à exprimer notre force par notre vote le 22 avril pour la candidature de Jean-Luc Mélenchon, la situation en sera nécessairement positivement bouleversée."
 It's a rather sad state of affairs for Poutou, who is exactly what he seems to be, an authentic worker and long-time militant, but who was thrust into a role for which he was entirely unprepared. So Mélenchon has reaped the benefit and gathered up all the support there is to be had on the far left end of the political spectrum.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Woman Claims to Have Complained of Killer to Police on Several Occasions

Story here.

Second-Round Polling

Despite my previous comments about the first round, Hollande remains comfortably ahead in the second round. And the second round is the only one that counts. Furthermore, Sarkozy's negatives remain extraordinarily high for this late in the campaign.

BVA Poll

Yet another poll, this one from BVA: Hollande leads Sarkozy by 1.5% even though Mélenchon is given 14% in this one!! The difference between this and the CSA poll cited earlier is that Bayrou seems to be declining. So does this mean that Hollande's "blancmange" campaign (as I called it earlier) may be reassuring Bayrou voters that it's safe to cross over to the left? If so, then Hollande's calculations are correct and my criticisms are misplaced. It's not out of the question. But, as I say, let's not overinterpret any single poll. There are still 5 weeks to go.

Bad Speeches

Gérard Courtois agrees with me about Mélenchon's Bastille speech, which he judges to have been frankly bad:
Une fois n'est pas coutume, pourtant : devant les dizaines de milliers de ses partisans rassemblés, ce dimanche 18 mars, place de la Bastille à Paris, Jean-Luc Mélenchon a fait un mauvais discours. Trop gaullien dans le ton, trop mécanique sur le fond, trop court pour être pédagogue, trop solennel pour être mordant. Comme si le moment singulier et la symbolique du lieu l'avaient par trop surplombé. Comme si le succès même de ce rassemblement l'impressionnait, lui qui entend n'avoir peur de rien, y compris de ses propres rêves.
And yet, and yet .... it seems to have succeeded, to judge by the latest poll (see below). Mélenchon is at 13%, far higher than anyone thought he could go. To be sure, he has succeeded by absorbing all of the non-Socialist left: he has wiped out the NPA, reduced EELV to 2% (abetted by an incredibly weak and inept Green candidate, Eva Joly), and incorporated the Communist rump. Can he go higher still? We will see.

And this morning on Facebook I was invited by Arnaud Montebourg, of all people, to read François Hollande's speech about Europe. So I did. Here is the key paragraph:
J’assume des règles. Je revendique la responsabilité. Je reconnais l’obligation du sérieux. Et c’est pourquoi, si les Français m’en donnent mandat, au lendemain de l’élection présidentielle, j’inscrirai dans une loi de programmation budgétaire pour cinq ans le cadre de responsabilité de nos finances publiques conduisant à un équilibre de nos comptes en 2017. Cette maîtrise se fera graduellement, méthodiquement, durablement. Et elle se fera dans la justice, car il n’est pas possible de demander quelque effort que ce soit à nos compatriotes s’il n’y a pas un partage, un partage juste du sacrifice à faire, et notamment du côté des plus favorisés.
Note the prominence of the words "rules" and "responsibility" and "seriousness" (an "obligation," no less--I guess Hollande doesn't catch Paul Krugman's irony about Very Serious People). It's true that this paragraph is preceded by some lip service to a "social democratic union" to take back Europe from the "conservatives," and it's true that it's followed with some blather about financing stimulus via the European Investment Bank, issuing eurobonds (backed by what? and by whom?), taxing financial transactions (Champions of the Tobin Tax, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your blinders!), loosening up structural funds, creating a "European energy community," etc. etc. And this blancmange is typical of the entire Hollande campaign. Another incredibly bad--in the sense of empty--speech.

So, you have two very bad speeches, in my view, and voters have the choice of slipping back and forth between these two vases communicantes. Hollande fails to speak to the structural crisis of the EU, so voters flee to Mélenchon. Mélenchon then gives them the Paris Commune and Louise Michel. But as far as I know, Louise Michel had very little to say about central banks, the austerity consensus, or the problem of igniting growth in a monetary union without a central fiscal authority. Mélenchon has filled that perennial diva role in the Opera of the Left--La Pasionaria--about as well as anyone can in this day and age. Et après? While Hollande, intent on proving what a "normal" president he will be, has forgotten that the presidency of the Fifth Republic was expressly created to be filled by a man of "abnormal" proportions.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy, capitalizing on his "abnormal" ability to monopolize the media in a time of (real or artificial) emergency, is deftly capitalizing on the new threat: domestic terrorism. What a depressing spectacle.

Air Wars

Eloi Laurent and Jacques Le Cacheux see the threatened retaliation against the imposition of a carbon tax on airlines flying into Europe as a move in a commercial war in which shameless exaggeration is a weapon of choice.

Sarkozy Cracks Down on "Indoctrination"

Sarkozy strikes while the iron is hot. As predicted, he recognizes the incontrovertible advantage of being to act on the domestic terrorism front while his adversaries can only stand by and gawk:

Toulouse : Sarkozy annonce de nouvelles mesures pénales contre "l'endoctrinement"

Le président français Nicolas Sarkozy a annoncé jeudi qu'il voulait prendre des mesures pénales pour lutter contre "l'endoctrinement" à des idéologies extrémistes, sur Internet, lors de voyages ou dans le milieu carcéral. Ces annonces interviennent juste après l'opération du RAID contre Mohamed Merah à Toulouse.

Sarkozy +2, Mélenchon at 13!

The latest CSA poll (dated March 22) shows Sarkozy at 30%, 2 points ahead of Hollande. Le Pen at 13.5 slightly leads Bayrou and Mélenchon, tied at 13. Mélenchon 13%! And look at the dynamic. He's the one with the momentum, while Le Pen is down sharply and Bayrou has flatlined.

I don't know whether this polling was done after the slaughter in Toulouse or not. And I hesitate to overinterpret the results of any poll. But I think that this one confirms a trend that has been noticeable for a while now. Hollande's campaign is not cutting it. His strategy--to lie low and say as little as possible, counting on anti-Sarkozy sentiment to put him over--wasn't working before Toulouse and is even less likely to work now. Meanwhile, voters on the right who had deserted Sarkozy have been reminded that while Marine Le Pen's rhetoric may be music to their ears, there are reasons to want to hold actual power, and Sarkozy is the only candidate on the right with a chance of doing that. So if their reaction to Toulouse is one of anger and wanting to strike back (at somebody, anybody), as was the case in the US after 9/11, then they had better vote for Sarkozy. So they are deserting Le Pen and falling back into line.

Meanwhile, on the left, the Mélenchon phenomenon is confirmed. The coverage of the Bastille event gave him a big boost, but even more than that, Hollande's failure to propose, oppose, or impose while the frontrunner has led growing numbers of voters on the left to think that they must register a protest--now or never--in order to light a fire under their feckless candidate. Of course the second-round remains crucial, but the second-round dynamic may have shifted as well since Toulouse. Some of Bayrou's voters have no doubt swung back toward the right, worrying that Hollande is too weak to deal with either domestic terrorism or a reinvigorated extreme left, trade unions, etc. Like it or not, the events in Toulouse work in favor of an executive capable of projecting firmness and strength--and this is not Hollande's long suit.

Portrait of Mohammed Merah

Here. Well done. Much remains to be learned about his international movements and possible connections to various Islamist groups, however, as this article suggests.

The Killer Is Dead

Story here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Political Science Weighs In: Sarko Will Lose

Political scientists think they know how to forecast election results from economic and political data. Martial Foucault and Richard Nadeau analyze the French presidential election in this perspective and predict a narrow win for Hollande (caveat emptor, h/t John Sides):

Who will win the next French presidential election? Forecasting electoral results from political-economy models is a recent tradition in France. In this article, we pursue this effort by estimating a vote function based on both local and national data for the elections held between 1981 and 2007. This approach allows us to circumvent the smallN problem and to produce more robust and reliable results. Based on a model including economic (unemployment) and political (approval and previous results) variables, we predict the defeat, although by a relatively small margin, of the right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round of the French presidential election to be held in May 2012.


Be careful what you read on the Internet (including this blog!). It seems that the police investigating the recent murder spree were led to the suspect via an ad for a motorcycle placed by one of the dead soldiers. The police traced 580 IP addresses that had visited the ad site, and one of them turned out to be the brother of the alleged killer. Another lead involved an inquiry, apparently by the killer himself, to a cycle shop about the possible existence of a GPS geotracker device on his scooter. He wanted to know how to disable it.

The DCRI also had a watch on the alleged assassin because of his two visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010 and 2011.

Remarkable police work, I think.

Villepin Had 600 Signatues!!

According to Le Figaro, Dominique de Villepin had 600 signatures, more than enough parrainages to win a place on the ballot, but he preferred to stand down rather than suffer a humiliatingly low level of support in the first round. Seems plausible to me. I simply did not believe that a former prime minister and close advisor to Chirac over many years could not round up enough signatures to get on the ballot.

Moreover, I was told yesterday by someone who knows Villepin fairly well that the prospect of a mediocre performance in the election was so distasteful that the former PM rapidly formed a clairvoyant view of the pleasures of a life outside politics and that he has turned to the study of poetry while perhaps biding his time for a more opportune moment.

Pascal Lamy Looks at French Attitudes toward Europe and Globalization

Pascal Lamy, head of the WTO, discusses French attitudes toward Europe and globalization with Mediapart (h/t Arun Kapil). I am particularly glad to see this piece because it confirms what I said yesterday at a panel discussion of the upcoming elections at Harvard. The French electorate is deeply divided between those who recognize how much France has profited from globalization and those who believe that they and their country are losers in the process. Lamy:
Premier exemple, « l’Europe, victime de la mondialisation ». Faux. « L’excédent commercial de l’Union européenne en produits manufacturés a triplé au cours des dix dernières années, pour atteindre 194 milliards de dollars. » Contrairement aux États-Unis et au Japon, dont la part du marché global a chuté de six points depuis 1995 (à 12,5 et 8 % respectivement), celle de l’UE (hors produits énergétiques) a bien résisté à la montée des pays émergents (– 1,3 point à 19,4 %). La vérité, reprend Pascal Lamy, est qu’avec« la même politique commerciale, les mêmes conditions externes et, pour certains, la même monnaie, il y a des pays européens qui affichent de bonnes performances et d’autres moins bonnes ».

« L’emploi européen, victime d’un dumping social et environnemental » est un autre de ces mythes, poursuit-il. Ainsi, la France « dont 75 % des échanges commerciaux se font avec les pays avancés (Union européenne, Suisse, Etats-Unis, etc.– ndlr) a tendance à perdre des parts de marché là où cette concurrence sociale et environnementale n’existe pas alors qu’elle en gagne plutôt là où se manifesterait ce nouveau “péril jaune” », explique le directeur général de l’OMC.
 Les chiffres sont implacables : la balance commerciale française s’est détériorée en dix ans de quelque 57 milliards d’euros avec les autres pays membres de l’UE, quand elle s’améliorait de 4 milliards vis-à-vis du monde hors UE. Au demeurant, loin d’être ouvert à tous les vents, le marché européen est protégé, par exemple par les normes phytosanitaires. « Pas un poulet brésilien n’entre en Europe sans respecter ces normes », explique Pascal Lamy. Le résultat, évidemment, est que les agro-industriels brésiliens ont investi massivement pour être au meilleur niveau mondial.

And So It Begins ...

Marine Le Pen has wasted no time in exploiting the identification of the presumed killer:
La présidente du Front national, Marine Le Pen, a placé l'affaire sur le terrain politique en réclamant la guerre contre les fondamentalistes et en affirmant que la France payait le prix de son engagement militaire en Afghanistan. « Au-delà du soulagement, il faut aujourd'hui poser les questions politiques », a dit sur iTélé la candidate du FN à l'élection présidentielle. « Je crois que le risque fondamentaliste a été sous-estimé dans notre pays, que des groupes politico-religieux se développent face à un certain laxisme. » Pour elle, « la sécurité est un thème qui vient de s'inscrire dans la campagne ».

The Effect on the Campaign

If, as seems to be the case (see previous post), the serial killer is a Muslim of North African descent, the impact on the election could be significant. Anti-Muslim sentiment could be exacerbated, and Sarkozy's tilt to the far right might yield unexpected dividends. In any case, one can only hope that the right man has been found and will be brought to justice quickly.

Times story.

Ths Le Point story suggests that the police have the murder weapon, which confirms that they have located the right man. He had been under surveillance by several intelligence services because of his having spent time in tribal regions on the AfPak border.

Killer Surrounded

From Le Monde:

Le tueur au scooter cerné par la police à Toulouse
Un homme de 24 ans se réclamant d'Al-Qaida et fortement soupçonné d'être le tueur au scooter était cerné mercredi à l'aube à Toulouse, dans un quartier résidentiel de la Côte pavée, par le RAID et la police enquêtant sur la série d'assassinats qui ont choqué la France. Ce Toulousain de 24 ans, un Français d'origine maghrébine qui aurait participé au djihad (la "guerre sainte" islamique) dans les zones troublées de la frontière pakistano-afghane, s'est retranché dans un bâtiment. Des tractations sont en cours pour le convaincre de se rendre, a dit sur place le ministre de l'intérieur, Claude Guéant. Il dit "avoir voulu venger les enfants palestiniens autant qu'avoir voulu s'en prendre à l'armée française compte tenu de ses interventions à l'extérieur", a indiqué M. Guéant. Sa mère a été amenée sur les lieux pour le raisonner, mais, a dit M. Guéant, "elle n'a pas souhaité entrer en contact avec son fils, indiquant qu'elle n'avait guère d'influence sur lui". M. Guéant s'est gardé de spéculer sur les chances que le suspect se rende ou préfère mourir, soulignant qu'il ne proclamait pas son intention de mourir l'arme au poing dans ses discussions avec les policiers. Le suspect a néanmoins manifesté sa détermination en tirant à travers la porte sur des policiers venus l'interpeller, blessant l'un d'entre eux au genou. Un autre policier a été légèrement blessé au cours de l'opération lancée vers 3 h 10 dans ce quartier pavillonnaire.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Neo-Nazi Soldiers Didn't Do It

One of the leads investigators were following in the serial killings was that the killer might have been one of 3 soldiers from the Montauban regiment who had been cashiered for neo-Nazi activities. But they have been cleared. (h/t CF)


Panel Discussion on French Elections

Today, 4:15-6 PM
French Presidential Election Panel


Arthur Goldhammer, writer and translator
Gerard Grunberg, Sciences-Po;
Jacques Mistral, Conseil d’analyse économique and IFRI 

4:15 PM - 6:00 PM
Lower Level Conference Room

Seminar on French Politics, Culture, and Society 

Center for European Studies, Harvard Uniersity
27 Kirkland St.
Cambridge, MA
Further details here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ten Candidates

Ten candidates have had their 500 parrainages validated and will be on the first-round ballot. So, I have a question. How is it that Jacques Cheminade, Philippe Poutou, and Nathalie Arthaud, who collectively might have one percent in the polls, can round up 500 signatures but Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister, can't, and Marine Le Pen, polling at 17%, claims she had difficulty? This is a nominating system that makes no sense to me.

What's Up with French Youth?

First the Left lost the workers. Now, the polls say, it is losing the young:
Hollande voulait être le candidat de la jeunesse. Mais il a de la concurrence. Selon un sondage CSA pour BFM TV, il ne recueille que 18% des voix des 18-30 ans contre 25% pour Nicolas Sarkozy et 26% pour…. Marine Le Pen. A l’inverse, il arrive largement en tête chez les 18-22 ans. Selon un sondage Ifop pour l’Association nationale des conseils d'enfants et de jeunes (Anacej), il obtient 31% des voix dans cette population, il est suivi par Marine Le Pen avec 23% puis par Nicolas Sarkozy avec 21%.
And the winner is Marine Le Pen, although it's doubly humiliating for Hollande, who has courted the youth vote, to be bested in this category by both Le Pen and Sarkozy. Of course the strikingly contradictory results for the 18-30 and 18-22 categories are not only puzzling, they suggest that we might want to read these polls with a grain of salt. Still, I suppose that part of the explanation of whatever is going on has to lie in this graph of youth unemployment:

Terrorist, Madman, Neo-Nazi?

The same weapon was used in the murder of French soldiers in Montauban and Toulouse and of four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse. .Three of the soldiers were of North African origin, and another wounded soldier was Antillais. The regiment to which the soldiers belonged was in the news last year when several of its members were exposed as neo-Nazis and expelled.

Speculation based on these bare facts remains speculation. Nothing firm has yet emerged from the investigation, except that the same weapon was used in all three attacks and the killer rode a motorcycle.

Changes in the French News Web

The Le Monde Web site has changed its look. I don't much like it. Too much white space, too much scrolling to find the articles you want to read. On the whole, a dumbed-down front page. Meanwhile, the French HuffPo is up. Here's editor Anne Sinclair's account of Mélenchon's retaking of the Bastille. Not too bad. You'd hardly know she'd ever left journalism or was married to what's-his-face?

What Possessed Mélenchon?

More than one person listening to Jean-Luc Mélenchon yesterday turned to his or her neighbor and said, "On dirait de Gaulle!" It was the somewhat lugubrious rhythms of the speech rather than the quality of the prose, I'm afraid, that recalled the general, who would probably have recoiled from sentences like "Chaque matin qui se lève, la lumière étend son domaine dans la journée. La nuit se replie. Vient le temps des cerises et de jours heureux." This wasn't the incandescent Mélenchon of the average party rally. But what exactly was it? Judge for yourself.

Meeting de Jean-Luc Mélenchon by LCP

Slaughter of the Innocent

First, three French soldiers gunned down by an assassin on a motorcycle in Montauban and Toulouse. And now, in Toulouse, a teacher and three children killed by an assassin on a motorcyle in front of a Jewish school. Are these incidents related? Police think they might be. In any case, both Sarkozy and Hollande have flown to Toulouse, the campaign is on hold, people are frightened, and all of France wonders whether there are more killings to come. In the meantime, one can only grieve for the victims and wait.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Mélenchon Rally at the Bastille

Arun Kapil has pictures and commentary.

The Polls

There's been a lot of discussion of polling on the net these past few days. For an introduction to the many critiques, start here. The writer makes a point I've often wondered about: why is there no French equivalent of Nate Silver's Nate is a statistics maven who analyzes all the polls and corrects for the deficiencies of each to arrive at a "meta" prediction. He has a pretty good track record. France needs its own Nate Silver.

Desjardins on Hollande and Mélenchon

Thierry Desjardins:
Alors qu’aujourd’hui François Hollande était au cirque (d’hiver), Jean-Luc Mélenchon, lui, reprenait la Bastille. Les symboles sont évidemment un peu faciles à trouver. Mais il est vrai que l’un faisait le clown en jouant les funambules devant des artistes très parisiens et que l’autre faisait la révolution au milieu du peuple du gauche.
Au-delà de l’anecdote, on est bien obligé de reconnaitre que si Hollande s’enlise un peu dans les sondages et les banalités socialistes, Mélenchon, lui, apparait déjà comme « la »surprise de cette campagne présidentielle et, si personne, bien sûr, n’imagine une seule seconde qu’il puisse être élu, tout le monde commence à se demander s’il ne sera pas le vrai vainqueur de ce premier tour de scrutin, avec un score totalement inattendu qui obligera aussitôt Hollande à donner un véritable coup de barre à gauche, puis, élu, à appeler Mélenchon au gouvernement et à donner quelques maroquins à des communistes.

Grunberg on Mélenchon's Rise

For Gérard Grunberg, there are limits to Mélenchon's rise: if he approaches the 15% that the extreme left won in 2002, there will be strong pressure for a "vote utile" that will drive some of his supporters back to Hollande.

DSK at Cambridge

Another important note from Bernard Girard, who points us toward the paper that DSK gave at the University of Cambridge, "A Tale of Three Trilemmas." In it, the former IMF head considers the Mundell-Fleming trilemma, the Dani Rodrik trilemma, and the Jean-Pisani Ferry trilemma concerning, respectively, open-economy macroeconomics, the politics of globalization, and the governance of the European monetary system. He draws the consequences of recent crises and says that we have learned that new institutions are required to deal with problems of globalization that cannot be resolved by the market.

This paper makes me regret all the more the political loss due to DSK's disqualification from politics, which cannot be undone. If he had been the left's candidate instead of Hollande, there might have been a genuine debate over the nature of globalization rather than what we have now: avoidance of debate and/or pandering to the extremes by simply denouncing globalization as if it could be reversed or moderated at will. As a politician, DSK had many shortcomings, but his grasp of crucial issues might have elevated the level of discussion, win or lose. Hollande seems to want to occupy the part of the spectrum that DSK once occupied, the center left, without assuming the responsibility of developing a clear center-left alternative to the ill-begotten austerity consensus forged by Merkel and Sarkozy. A pity. Perhaps even a tragedy.

Merkel Is Furious with Sarkozy

Via my blogging confrère, the always excellent Bernard Girard. I'm glad to see that somebody besides me was outraged by Sarkozy's Villepinte pandering.

Arun Kapil Offers a Nuanced View

Arun Kapil defends Hollande's campaign against my criticisms. A good corrective. The job of a campaign strategist can't be an easy one. There are so many ways to read the tea leaves.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Rise of Mélenchon

Take a look at the poll comparator and focus on Jean-Luc Mélenchon's recent performance. He's up sharply in all the polls in recent weeks and is now approaching the 11% level. All the papers are repeating the story of Sarkozy's droitisation of his campaign and its success in taking votes from Marine Le Pen. But the real story of Sarko's convergence with Hollande, now confirmed by 3 polls, is that Mélenchon has been taking votes from Hollande. No one would have given him a chance to get 11% a couple of months ago, but there he is, a result of both his own dogged campaigning around the country and Hollande's dispiriting caution. For the second round, it doesn't matter. All, or nearly all, of Mélenchon's votes will go to Hollande by default, although there may be a substantial abstention. But it's a symptom of the listlessness of Hollande's campaign that Mélenchon is evidently peeling off voters who once thought they would go for the Socialist. This isn't a vote of adhesion to the extreme left; it's a protest vote against the Socialists, who aren't meeting the expectations of their rank and file. No surprise there. They haven't been meeting the expectations of the rank and file for decades. But it doesn't bode well for the future in case of a Socialist victory, and centrist voters may be paying attention. The last thing cautious middle-of-the-road types want is a Socialist who doesn't inspire respect in his own camp.

Hollande Plods On

In what might well be an unwitting summing up of Hollande's campaign to date, Le Monde wrote:
Ceux qui attendaient des surprises auront toutefois été déçus. Le candidat socialiste s'en est tenu, en effet, à une sorte de synthèse de ce qu'il avait déjà dit plusieurs fois ces derniers mois.
A mauvaise langue might even go so far as to say that the 75% tax on incomes over €1 million was announced as a sort of counter to this criticism: at least we couldn't say we'd heard this before. Not having anything new to say wouldn't be a major flaw if a coherent alternative to "more of the same" had been in place since 2007, or since the global collapse, or since the advent of the euro crisis, but that isn't the case. What Hollande is offering is not something new and different but a promise to be a bit better and, above all, a different manner of execution from the other guy's. There are signs that voters have begun to tire of this and are looking for something a little more robust from the candidate that a good many of them would like to vote for if only he would give them one good compelling reason. If he doesn't, he may find that the late-campaign onslaught, when Sarkozy veers back toward the center and starts pounding away with the heavy artillery of "realism" and "fiscal responsibility," is too much for him, especially with the enemy closing in recent polls to within hand-to-hand combat distance. There had better be one or two surprises up those gesticulating sleeves.

UPDATEA l'image de sa prestation àl'émission "Des paroles et des actes", jeudi, M. Hollande semble avoir pris le parti de continuer à éviter toute prise de risque. Pour certains, là est peut-être le problème. "Ça tourne à vide. Il a usé quasiment toutes ses cartouches. L'équipe avait quand même théorisé l'idée que la présidentielle était gagnée et qu'il fallait en faire le moins possible", s'inquiète anonymement un responsable du PS, qui ajoute : "François fait semblant de faire campagne. Il fait du François Hollande."

UMP Reaches the Godwin Point

Jacques Béhague, UMP VP of the conseil général of Hautes-Pyrénées, has touched the Godwin Point:
"J'accuse Monsieur Hollande de faire renaître ces mêmes haines qui ont conduit l'humanité dans ce que nous avons connu de plus effroyable et de nauséabonde,poursuit-il, tout dans la mesure. J'accuse monsieur Hollande de prôner le nettoyage ethnique de tous ceux qui auraient le malheur de 'trop' gagner d'argent, soit par la confiscation de leurs biens et de leurs revenus, soit par l'incitation à l'émigration."
To be sure, Béhague is neither the first nor the highest UMP official to compare the Socialist candidate to Hitler: a smiling Claude Guéant already observed that the Front National was both "national" and a "Socialist." Of course the PS had already accused Guéant of being a Nazi for his remarks about a hierarchy of "civilizations."

Boys will be boys.

Germany Overcomes Its Reluctance to Lead

With news that Angela Merkel is pressing her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, to assume the chairmanship of the Eurogroup, as the collective gathering of 17 Eurozone finance ministers is known, it is apparent that Germany is overcoming any reluctance to assume a public leadership role in the resolution of the euro crisis. To be sure, Germans haven't been exactly bashful to date, but it has been said that Germany preferred to "lead from behind," to borrow a phrase, because it didn't want to arouse undue resentment in smaller states by throwing its weight around. Meanwhile,
France outraged other shareholders in the bank this last week by making a move to install its own candidate at the top of the bank, according to two people briefed on the matter. That prompted Britain and Poland to nominate their own candidates.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bruegel Is Blogging

Bruegel, the European think tank, has begun blogging. Add its site to your blog readers. And to whet your appetite, here is their announcement of a very useful new database.

Meanwhile, the European Left Dreams ...

So, while Angela Merkel is plotting the future of Europe (see previous post), left-wing leaders from across the continent will meet in Paris to consider an alternative future. François Hollande will deliver an important address, in which it seems he will characteristically confine himself to vague generalities and refrain from taking any position that might "bind" him in the case of actually having to govern:
Si la séquence réussit, elle pourra faire office de réponse au «pacte» supposé des conservateurs. «Nous allons montrer que nous ne sommes pas isolés, y compris sur la renégociation du traité», espère Simon Sutour, le président de la commission des affaires européennes au Sénat. La quasi-totalité des exécutifs en Europe (23 sur 27) penche aujourd'hui à droite, et les socialistes espèrent que l'élection de François Hollande sera vite imitée sur le continent.«Cela nous permet de dire que demain, si l'on gagne en France, puis en Allemagne et en Italie derrière (en 2013 - ndlr), nous aurons des gens au pouvoir, qui se connaissent, qui ont travaillé ensemble, et qui ont un projet commun», veut croire Philip Cordery, le secrétaire général du Parti socialiste européen (PSE).

Hollande doit prononcer samedi son discours sur l’Europe, écrit par l’ex-plume de Lionel Jospin, proche d’Arnaud Montebourg, Aquilino Morelle. Un discours qui devrait être «équilibré» d’après le député Christophe Carèsche, membre du pôle Europe de l’équipe de campagne. «Il devrait assumer la position du PS sur le renforcement de l’Europe mais ce ne sera pas un catéchisme européen, promet-il. Il devrait y avoir deux éléments : la renégociation qui sera au cœur du discours et l’Europe politique. Mais il devrait être assez mesuré entre le renforcement des institutions communautaires et un rôle des Etats assumé.»
En revanche, Hollande pourrait renoncer à l’annonce d’une«déclaration de Paris», dont une version de travail a pourtant déjà circulé, signée par les principaux dirigeants européens, déclinant leurs propositions face à la crise. «C’est encore en discussion mais François n’a pas envie d’être lié. Chacun a ses contraintes intérieures», explique Stéphane Le Foll, chargé de l’organisation de sa campagne.
(emphasis added)

Germany Reflects While France Elects

The euro crisis has set German elites to reflecting on what needs to be done to fix the European Union. Angela Merkel has been holding low-key high-level discussions with other leaders. Such a leadership role is new for Germany and potentially significant:

While France is absorbed with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s tough re-election battle against his Socialist challenger, François Hollande, the German political class is engaged in serious discussion about how to deepen economic and political integration without running afoul of an electorate weary of crisis and bailout or a hawk-eyed German constitutional court. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Loulou chez les Sarkozystes

Gérard Depardieu has for a long time now been a caricature of himself. His recent declaration in favor of Sarkozy should have embarrassed rather than pleased the president. Romain Pigenel deftly demonstrates why.

Times Joins Journal in Condemning Sarkozy's "Low Road"


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gérard Grunberg Analyzes the Right


Gérard and I will be appearing along with Jacques Mistral on a panel to discuss the upcoming presidential elections at Harvard's Center for European Studies, 27 Kirkland St., Cambridge, MA, next Tuesday afternoon, 4:15 to 6 PM. Readers in the Boston area are cordially invited to attend.

Arun Defends the Polls

My always excellent fellow blogger Arun Kapil defends the polls against their detractors.

WSJ Accuses Sarkozy of "Economic Illiteracy"

When you're a right-wing politician and you've lost Rupert Murdoch, you know you're in trouble:

Mr. Sarkozy, by contrast, argues that "at a time of economic crisis, if Europe doesn't control who can enter its borders, it won't be able to finance its welfare state any longer."
This is an ugly thought, not only for the ugly sentiments on which it plays but also as a textbook example of economic illiteracy. Not least among the threats to France's welfare state is an aging (and increasingly long-lived) population and a birth rate that—while the highest in Europe—is still below the replacement rate. Barring fundamental cultural changes, only immigration can maintain an active work force large enough to pay for the growing rolls of pensioners and dependents.
To add insult to injure, the WSJ editorial is entitled "Nicolas Le Pen."

Piketty on Failure in Higher Education Reform

La croissance réelle atteint alors péniblement 7%-8% sur cinq ans, soit à peine plus de 1% par an. On peut se consoler en notant que c’est légèrement mieux que la croissance du PIB sur la même période. Mais si l’on ajoute à cela que le nombre d’étudiants a lui-même progressé d’environ 5% (passant de 2,2 à 2,3 millions), alors la conclusion est claire. Au cours du quinquennat2007-2012, malgré les discours, l’investissement dans le capital humain a presque stagné en France.
En tout état de cause, ce n’est pas avec ce type de quinquennat que nous allons rattraper notre retard sur les pays les plus avancés. En attribuant les moyens des organismes de recherches aux étudiants (ce qui est douteux), on arrive péniblement à une dépense totale de l’ordre de 10 000 euros par étudiant en France, quand les Etats-Unis dépassent les 30 000 euros. A ce rythme, il faudrait plusieurs siècles pour combler un tel fossé ! Que l’on ne s’y trompe pas : c’est grâce à cet investissement dans leurs campus que les Etats-Unis conservent leur suprématie économique et leur influence intellectuelle et culturelle, en dépit des failles de plus en plus évidentes de leur modèle politique et social hyperinégalitaire. Pour que la France trouve sa place dans le XXIe siècle, nous devons enfin faire le choix du capital humain et fixer des priorités budgétaires claires. Avec 6 milliards d’euros, on peut augmenter de 50% les moyens de toutes les universités et écoles - et cela nous préparera bien plus efficacement pour l’avenir que les 6 milliards dépensés chaque année pour subventionner les heures supplémentaires, ou bien les 6 milliards de recettes annuelles perdus en ISF et en droits de successions. Il est plus que temps que la campagne s’empare de cette question avec des engagements précis.

French Campaign Finance Laws

A researcher from ABC News called me yesterday to ask whether a contribution to Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign by Muammar Qaddafi (if made as alleged by Mediapart) would be illegal under French campaign finance laws. I didn't know the answer at the time, but I have since discovered a good (US!!) source on French campaign finance laws, which gives an ambiguous answer:
Foreign states or foreign legal entities cannot make direct or indirect donations to a political candidate.[26] No restriction is mentioned regarding foreign physical persons, and there is no provision regarding the requirement to raise all or the majority of funds within a candidate’s home constituency. Political parties also are prohibited from receiving contributions from foreign states or foreign legal entities.[27]
So, if you're reading, ABC researcher, check out this source.

Arno Klarsfeld Wants to Build a Wall Against the Barbarian Hordes

Arno Klarsfeld is president (who knew?) of the Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration, appointed to that post by Nicolas Sarkozy. Yesterday he suggested building a will between Greece and Turkey.
Interrogé afin de donner des précisions quant à la construction dudit mur, Arno Klarsfeld a aussitôt répondu : "un mur c'est fait avec des fils, des barbelés, un mur quoi, comme à Rome, il y avait un mur. La paix a duré quatre siècles", en référence au mur qui marquait les limites de l’Empire contre les barbares venus du Nord.
A schande for the Klarsfeld name, as my grandmother would have said. If you don't speak Yiddish, you can look it up.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Was the IFOP Poll Truqué?

Two accusations, here and here. You can tell the campaign is now in full swing: the charges are flying high and low. (h/t FrédéricLN)

To Cross or Not To Cross

As one might have predicted, another poll is out, this one from TNS-Sofres, and in this one the famous "crossing of the curves" does not occur. Hollande is still ahead by 4 in the first round. So, you pays your money and you takes your chances, as they say.

I will be on France24 evening news in 10 minutes to discuss all this, but for a very lucid overview, see Arun Kapil.

The Poll Comparator

If you use the poll comparator, the story of recent polling is fairly clear: Hollande is losing ground to Mélenchon, while Sarkozy is gaining against Le Pen.

Buisson's Analysis

Patrick Buisson lays it on the line: Sarkozy's victory depends on capturing the Front National's votes after eliminating Marine Le Pen in the first round. He says--and he may be right--that the predictions of a resounding victory for Hollande in round 2 depend on the abstention of a large number of FN voters, who would presumably have to conclude that they hate Sarkozy more than they fear Hollande.

Hence Sarkozy's strategy, according to his chief strategist--himself a product of the extreme right--is to do whatever it takes to persuade FN voters that this time he means it, the last five years don't count, and if re-elected he will realize their fantasies of an étranger-rein Europe in which France dominates Germany, capital is meekly subservient to the wishes of the French president, public swimming pools are republicanly gender-blind, and school cafeterias are safe for wine and sausages. Buisson's view of policy as an extension of the political struggle is cold-blooded, ruthless, and quite possibly well-calculated. His political arithmetic is as precise as Karl Rove's, and the knives he proposes to use for slicing and paring this or that tranche of voters away from the opposition have been honed over many years of labor in the back-kitchens of politics.

What is of course missing entirely from his discourse is any positive vision of France's economic or geopolitical future. That doesn't mean he doesn't have one, but such luxuries are for after power is seized. Until then, the focus must be single-minded on those hatreds, prejudices, fears, and fantasies that can be tapped to win a dozen votes here and a score of votes there for reaction's chosen tool. Buisson represents everything that is most hateful in our politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sarkozy Wins But Still Loses

A new IFOP poll has Sarkozy barely edging out Hollande in the first round (28.5 to 27) but still losing badly, 54,5 to 45.5 in the second round. Bayrou's voters go heavily to Hollande, and Sarkozy doesn't get enough of Le Pen's votes to make up the difference. One-third of Le Pen's voters dislike him so much that they will abstain in round 2 rather than vote for the left.

Still, this first post-Villepinte poll shows that the president still has some fight left, and this should galvanize the troops. It may also galvanize the opposition, which had been falling into a certain complacency about the outcome. Hollande must now step up his game or risk further slippage.

Le Pen Has Her Parrainages

Marine Le Pen has collected the necessary 500 signatures and will therefore be on the ballot. Bad news for Sarkozy, good news for democracy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Qaddafi and Sarkozy

Did Col. Qaddafi contribute to Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign? Before his death, Qaddafi himself hinted that he did. Now Mediapart claims that it has seen proof. Another campaign season low blow or the culmination of a long investigation? Who knows?

A Eurozone Crisis Primer

From Peter Baldwin. (h/t Arun Kapil, whose comments you should read as well).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

From Saving the Euro to Sinking Europe

In the early stages of the presidential campaign, it looked as though Sarkozy's theme was going to be "I saved the euro." Merkel appeared at his side and gave him her nihil obstat. Here was a genuine European, a statesman, above the sturm und drang of party politics and prepared to make the decisions that only a "tough" and "seasoned" leader could make. The contrast with Hollande, "le mou," was supposed to be stark and to need no explanation.

The only problem is that it didn't work. Sarkozy had saved the euro, but in doing so he had associated himself ever more closely with the European Union, which is less popular now in France than it was in 2005, when the treaty referendum was defeated. And he had thrown in his lot with Germany, whose contempt for "lazy southerners" may have been directed first at Greece but also resounded in the ears of the French who had been exhorted to "travailler plus pour gagner plus" yet find themselves worse off than they were before.

So the president and his men have evidently decided to change tack. At Villepinte today, he called for "protection" if not protectionism. He threatened to renege on the Schengen agreement while announcing that Europe should cease to "threaten" French workers and instead become their "protector." The result is total and complete incoherence. Having accepted a nonsensical "golden rule" for the sake of European unity, having extolled Europe as the sole means to secure France's future both economically and militarily, he now retreats behind the walls of "conservatism in one nation" already erected by Marine Le Pen. Sarkozy's Europeanism had been one of his better traits, but now he's shed his skin like a snake and donned another, at least for the length of the campaign.

The danger, of course, is that this sham anti-Europeanism will prove more effective than the real thing, dispiriting Europe's true supporters while inviting nothing but mockery from Europe's enemies. It was pleasant to think that even if the euro failed, Europe would survive, but anti-European sentiment is chipping away at the foundations of the faith in the core countries. More and more Germans see Europe as an invalid whose care will be their burden to bear for decades to come, while more and more French see it as camouflage behind which the Germans are coming yet again. The climate deteriorates by the day, and Sarkozy, who in 2007 had seemed to model himself on Bush, now seems to have become as chameleon-like as Romney. Quelle mascarade!

Girard on Villepinte

Bernard Girard was not impressed with Sarkozy's performance at Villepinte:

Nicolas Sarkozy donne de plus en plus le sentiment d'un canard qui continue de courir alors qu'on lui a coupé la tête. Il a toujours autant d'énergie et de talent. Son discours était bien tourné, bien donné, mais il n'a plus d'idées, plus d'ambition, plus de projet. Ce n'est pas tant la faute de son bilan, qu'il ne défend même plus, que de la crise dont il n'arrive pas à nous faire un récit convaincant.

Racist EU Ad

A racist ad promoting the European Union has been withdrawn from circulation, but the embarrassment remains:

By now, the viral disaster of a European Union TV ad, wherein various non-Western martial artists confront a white brunette, who symbolizes Europe, has made its way around the internet a few times. The European commission recalled the ad Tuesday and apologized for any offense. Here it is, above, an ugly masterpiece of stereotypical dualities. Male to female. Armed to unarmed. Barbaric to civilized. Brute force to intelligence (the men menace with sword and muscle; the woman thinksherself into a circle).
(h/t MR)

Sarkozy vs. Schengen

#sarkothon Tiens, tiens! President Sarkozy, after sharply criticizing François Hollande for his "irresponsible" criticism of the recent budgetary discipline agreement--"France gave its word, one doesn't renege on a promise made in the name of la patrie"--announced today at Villepinte that he intends, if reelected, to renegotiate the Schengen agreement. So apparently the word of France in financial matters is one thing, but the word of France in regard to the free circulation of human beings is something else again.

So one might ask whether immigration has reached such proportions in France relative to other European countries that France should be taking such a measure. And the answer can be seen in the graph below.


"Alors les accords de Shengen ne permettent plus de répondre à la gravité de la situation, ils doivent être révisés. On ne peut pas laisser la gestion des flux migratoires aux seules mains des technocrates et des tribunaux, a-t-il déclaré. Il faut une discipline commune dans les contrôles aux frontières. Il faut pouvoirsanctionnersuspendre ou exclure de Schengen un Etat défaillant. Si je devaisconstater que dans les douze mois qui viennent il n'y avait aucun progrès sérieux dans cette direction, alors la France suspendrait sa participation aux accords de Schengen jusqu'à ce que les négociations aient abouti."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The History of the Hallal Controversy

Romain Pigenel retraces the history of the hallal controversy. What emerges from his account is a picture of a candidate who is improvising his strategy from one moment to the next. Sarkozy first raised the hallal issue in connection with the proposal to grant immigrants the right to vote in local elections. Marine Le Pen raised the ante by alleging that all meat slaughtered in Ile-de-France was hallal. That was on Feb. 18. Three days later, Sarkozy tried to cut the controversy short. But polling evidently showed that this was an issue with legs, so Sarkozy shifted his stance, proposing a "right to know" how one's meat had been slaughtered. Then Fillon got into the act. But others in the UMP, from NKM to Raffarin, seemed to distance themselves from the new issue. As Pigenel comments,
Que les ténors de l’UMP, enfin, ont intégré qu’ils allaient perdre et qu’ils jouent déjà le coup d’après, en cherchant à prendre leur distance avec le radeau de la Méduse sarkoziste, et à se démarquer les uns des autres. Du coup, leur prophétie risque bien d’être auto-réalisatrice, tant ils brouillent et rendent inaudible la parole présidentielle.
Indeed, I spoke with a UMP politician this week, who, though he continues to campaign actively for the president, thinks that he will lose. When pessimism takes hold within a party, members start making their own calculations, and what was uniform support becomes à la carte support: we'll back you on issues we think will do us good in the long run, but we won't follow your tactical zigzags on issues with which we don't want to be associated in the future. Hallal meat seems to be one of these. The disciplined UMP of 2007 has thus degenerated into a party in which every man and woman is out for him or herself.

Rama Yade Abandons Sarkozy

Rama Yade, who had already joined Borloo's abortive splinter party, will not join Sarkozy at Villepinte, even though Borloo apparently will. In 2007, Yade was a spokesperson for the campaign and a symbol of "ouverture," but she has been alienated by the droitisation of the UMP:
"En 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy dictait le tempo, imposait les débats. Aujourd'hui, nous avons le sentiment, nous, les républicains, d'avoir le pistolet du FN sur la tempe." Les propos sur les civilisations ou sur la nature national-socialiste du FN, tenus par Claude Guéant, ne sont pas passés.
The intellectuals who contributed to the 2007 campaign also seem to be deserting the sinking ship.

Franco-German Differences

From the Times:
Ms. Lagarde, 56, and Ms. Merkel, 57, appear to be opposites, the glamorous, Chanel-clad French extrovert and the grounded German introvert, recently spotted doing her own grocery shopping in the same suit jacket she had worn to sign the new European fiscal pact in Brussels earlier that day.
Try to imagine Sarkozy doing his own grocery shopping. But the more important Franco-German difference is not Chanel vs. whatever Frau Merkel wears, nor is it the difference between Lagarde and Merkel over the size of the emergency backstop for the euro (Lagarde is right). It is rather the difference between the French and German governments about the need to promote growth and how it should be done (Lagarde and the IMF are closer to France, I believe). For tactical reasons, Sarkozy has soft-pedaled his differences with Merkel on this score, but they exist. Remember this when Sarkozy attacks, as he surely will, Hollande's call for a "renegotiation" of the euro agreement. Sarkozy has painted this position as irresponsible, as he must, but he, like Hollande, cannot leave Germany's beggar-thy-neighbor inclinations unchallenged.

The Eurozone needs stimulus, rebalancing, and structural reform, and Germany is one of the few countries that can afford to spend in the current situation. The announcement by Volkswagen of a substantial bonus (up to €7 500) for workers in its various divisions is a promising sign. One wonders if the German government played a role in VW's decision to distribute its record profits and boost the spending power of its workers. In any case, it's good news for Europe, and one would hope to see more of the same out of Germany. On her next shopping trip, in addition to groceries, Frau Merkel should buy Greek olive oil, Italian shoes, and French pharmaceuticals.

Mélenchon Shuns Quatremer

The leader of the Front de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, seized the opportunity when Marine Le Pen refused to debate with him. He demonstrated both impressive debating skills and an instinct for the jugular in capitalizing on Le Pen's refusal to debate with an opponent she detested. But now we learn that Mélenchon himself feels that he can pick and choose his debate opponents. Invited to appear on Salut les Terriens!, he refused to go on the show if the journalist Jean Quatremer was included in the panel as scheduled. It seems that there is an old bone of contention between the two, having to do with Quatremer's criticism of the position of the Front de Gauche toward Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.

I don't know what Quatremer said or what Mélenchon's position on Lukashenko is. An open debate might have clarified the matter for me and others in the dark about this, but Mélenchon, who is given to occasional outbursts against members of the press he does not like, preferred to avoid the confrontation.

UPDATE: More details here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

France Adopts Biometric ID Card

France has adopted a biometric ID card with a smart chip that will record fingerprints, eye color, height, weight, address, and other data. Some see a potential threat to civil liberties. (h/t CW)

Whiner or Martyr?

In a comment to this previous post, Bernard, taking Sarkozy to task for his self-pitying comments, asks, "Who needs a whiner for president?" Yes, it's possible to read the president's recent self-presentation in these terms. But it's also possible to read his remarks as both a campaign tactic (as Romain Pigenel does here) and a deeply-held belief about himself. How often have we heard Sarkozy refer over the years to the immense burdens of his office? How often have we heard him describe himself as a martyr, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (the economic crisis, for starters) and obtuse opponents ("tous les conservatismes") for the sake of his fellow Frenchmen? So his latest foray, excusing his mistakes by invoking a dolorous personal narrative (which Bernard Girard finds "almost indecent"), is only a variant of the perennial theme of martyrdom and self-sacrifice. There is a certain pathos in his self-portrait: you know how much I love lucre, he seems to be saying, yet I have forgone the colossal sums I could have made in the private sector to suffer for your sins, vous autres les Français (que des veaux, comme disait l'Autre). And now you are about to forsake me.

It's worth remembering that when Sarkozy accepted Bolloré's yacht, his original plan had been to retreat to a monastery to prepare for his presidential askesis. I think it's not at all far-fetched to say that he thinks of the presidency as a kind of martyrdom, or at any rate thinks he can sell it as such to a certain part of the electorate. Hence his evocation of his "suffering" may not be "whining," as Bernard suggests, but a dramatization of the stations of his cross: Fouquet's, the yacht, the flight of Cécilia, casse-toi pauvr' con. Were these really such grievous sins, he is asking, that after them there can be no forgiveness? I am the only Son of de Gaulle in this race, he is reminding voters (de Gaulle being the model of the president as ascetic and martyr). The other guy wants to be "a normal president," but in France there is no such thing. Either you are prepared to die at the stake for your beliefs or you are not worthy of the office. Hence the warning to voters that a vote against their redeemer is a spear in his side, a sponge soaked in vinegar, another nail through the hand. You will kill me, he says, and return me to the fallen world in which I will be condemned to live out my days in cosseted luxury, a sinner like the rest of you. Unfortunately, the note of contempt for the ordinary run of humanity rather spoils the offer of redemption through self-sacrifice.

Jean Sarkozy Resurfaces

So, the elder Sarkozy may be leaving politics if he loses the election, but the younger seems poised to begin his long march through the institutions. The Figaro reports that he may not be a dunce after all:
Aujourd'hui inscrit en master I, Jean Sarkozy a découvert en allant récupérer le détail de ses notes qu'il était le major de sa promotion avec plus de 15,048 de moyenne. De quoi faire taire certains sarcasmes.
Freed of the burden of taking over EPAD, the story goes, he buckled down to his studies and made good. And why not?