Thursday, May 31, 2012


I just came upon this interesting dialogue between Pierre Rosanvallon and François Hollande, which took place last year, at the beginning of the primary campaign season. In it, Rosanvallon chides "the Left" for its abstractness:

P.R. Si vous prenez des livres sur la société française qui ont rencontré le succès – Le Quai de Ouistreham de Florence Aubenas ou Les Tribulations d'une caissière d'Anna Sam –, vous voyez la différence. Ces livres sur la précarité résonnent avec le vécu de la société. Si on se contente de dire « il faut lutter contre la précarité et l'exploitation », « développer plus de solidarité », on dit des phrases justes, mais abstraites, à la surface des choses, coupées de l'expérience quotidienne. Il est à mes yeux urgent d'inventer en politique une conceptualisation « sensible » sur laquelle fonder un nouveau langage. D'autant qu'il y a de la concurrence : la phraséologie populiste qui repose sur une conceptualisation simplificatrice et une vision magique de la volonté politique. Elle ne donne consistance au « peuple » qu'en l'opposant par en haut aux élites et par en bas aux immigrés… Le défi pour la gauche dans cette campagne, c'est de trouver un langage où chacun sente que son histoire est prise en charge.

F. H. : Je m'amuse de l'inversion des rôles. Vous êtes le philosophe, je suis le politique, et vous me mettez, à juste titre, en garde contre la conceptualisation et le risque d'une trop grande abstraction des discours politiques. Le danger, en effet, est grand d'oublier de nommer les choses et les gens. Le langage politique cherche, et c'est son honneur, des solutions. Mais il fait comme si les problèmes étaient déconnectés des individus, comme si tout était global et rien n'était personnel, voire charnel, ce qui fait que l'écoute est perdue. La première condition de la crédibilité politique est de partir des situations vécues, de les reconnaître avant même de chercher une issue pour les régler. Il ne s'agit pas de se mettre à la place de chaque individu – la caissière ou l'ouvrier –, mais de parler en leur nom, d'arriver à une proposition politique donnant une perspective à toutes ces expériences singulières.

Draghi Lays It on the Line

Mario Draghi, less reticent than his French predecessor J.-C. Trichet, has blasted the political leadership of the eurozone and put political leaders on notice that things cannot go on as they have for the past two years. The ECB will support solvent banks with liquidity but not insolvent ones. Spain's Bankia is clearly in the line of fire, and Draghi is warning that the next step is up to the politicians.

Bunds with Negative Yields

The flight to safety in Europe has reached such proportions that buyers are taking some German bonds at negative interest rates. Apparently, for some European investors, if they have cash, they'd rather pay to store their money in bunds than to put it in any European bank, whose promises to convert deposits into cash on demand are deemed less credible than Germany's promises to redeem their bonds in five years' time (or else are counting on rising fears to run up the secondary-market price of bunds still further). France has also benefited from the flight to safety (or is it a flight from Germany's negative yields to something slightly less safe but more remunerative?). Despite Sarkozy's warnings that French borrowing costs would rise if Hollande was elected, yields on French bonds have in fact fallen. Compared to the PIGS, France looks solid enough to invest in.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Doomsday chorus!

The doomsday chorus is getting louder. Read Martin Wolf and Joschka Fischer (h/t Bernard). Both blame Germany. The diversity of German views is actually wider than one might think, but expression of them is blocked by the apparent consensus within the current government and with the Bundesbank and ECB. Will this consensus crack if Spanish banks fail? Perhaps, but it may be too late to do anything useful in response.

EC Warns France

With Spain on the brink of banking collapse, the European Commission's warning to France will not get much attention. How many battalions has the EC anyway? Still, it would be wrong to dismiss the EC's concerns as merely another expression of "neoliberal" orthodoxy. French wages have been rising faster than productivity. French global market share has been falling. French industrial competitiveness has suffered. French social spending remains extremely high. And after five years of Sarkozy's "battle against all conservatisms," the French labor market remains much as it was under Chirac. With high and rising youth unemployment, one does indeed have to think twice about raising the minimum wage. With a budget deficit still too high, one does have to think twice about pushing the early retirement age back to 60 for hundreds of thousands of people.

Not that the Socialist government was unaware of these dilemmas before receiving the EC report. And not that being told to do these things by the largely discredited and disrespected EC is very useful in actually getting them done. But Hollande has been very reticent in explaining exactly where he would like the French economy to go. In his appearance last night on France2, he repeated the themes of his campaign but added no strategic direction. He was at pains to emphasize his "normality" by pointing out that he came to the studio rather than having the TV cameras come to the Elysée, but of course this was anything but "normal" for a president. What he really meant was that he intends to maintain his "simplicity," to govern as he led the party and ran for office, without giving himself airs. He is now president, however, even without the monarchical trappings. That makes him responsible. He may prefer to "lead from behind," but he still has to lead. As refreshing as the change of style is, he must take care, lest "simplicity" turn into emptiness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hollande Expels the Syrian Ambassador

François Hollande annonce l'expulsion de l'ambassadrice de Syrie en France

La France a décidé d'expulser l'ambassadrice de Syrie à Paris, Lamia Chakkour, a annoncé mardi 29 mai François Hollande, lors d'un point presse à l'Elysée. Le président français a également déclaré que le "groupe des amis du peuple syrien" se réunirait à Paris début juillet.

Pressure for international action in Syria is building. France has taken the lead.

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Les classes populaires ont changé"

Serge Guérin and Christophe Guilluy argue that social differentiation in France has assumed a new "spatial" configuration, with a sharp division between "cosmopolitan" major cities and smaller towns, exurban areas, rural areas, etc. They believe that this requires a specific response from the state in the form of a reconfiguration of social services. That may be, but I think the larger issue is to try to figure out why the costs of globalization and Europeanization are so unevenly distributed and then to remedy this economic "mal-santé." If that is done, addressing the social "mal-santé" they describe would be both easier and less costly.

German Internal Politics and the Euro Crisis

The European Council on Foreign Relations provides a document that usefully summarizes the positions of the various German parties with respect to the euro crisis. (h/t JS)

What Do the Unions Expect?

A five-minute audio survey of what the unions expect from the Hollande-Ayrault government.

Harvard: A French Obsession

The French seem to have become rather obsessed with Harvard all of a sudden, or perhaps I should say yet again. The immediate pretext seems to be the book published by Stéphanie Grousset-Charrière, which I mentioned here a while ago. This was followed by two articles in Le Monde.

Inevitably, I suppose, things will look quite different from the perspective of Cambridge, Mass., than that of Paris, France. But even superficial observers of Harvard must have noticed that the university seems lately to have been gripped by a certain anxiety, which these French commentators seem to miss entirely. Take two recent initiatives: the creation of a Harvard Innovation Center and an agreement with MIT to produce on-line courseware that will be distributed free of charge. Both are signs that Harvard authorities are nervous about the future role of the private liberal arts college in a world where the function of higher education is increasingly seen as advanced vocational training and entrepreneurial incubation. In short, Harvard is suffering from Stanford- and MIT-envy, while France seems to be suffering from envy for a Harvard it has taken from the pages of The Education of Henry Adams.

Éric Dupin Contemplates Hollande's Victory--and His Predicament

Coralie Delaume reviews Éric Dupin's forthcoming book, based on extensive interviews with French voters during the campaign. Dupin paints a picture of a resigned electorate, rejecting Sarkozy but unenthusiastic about his replacement. He also portrays Hollande as a lucid candidate, well aware of the dangers of victory by default:

Mais on découvre au détour de l’ouvrage que François Hollande est parfaitement conscient de tout cela. La perspicacité du candidat, que l’on constate à l’occasiondu déjeuner qu’il partage avec Dupin, est frappante. Il sait notamment qu’au delà du simple fait de gagner, les conditions de l’exercice du pouvoir dépendront fortement de celles de la victoire. Hollande sait qu’une victoire dans un mouchoir de poche n’équivaut pas à une victoire franche et massive. Et qu’une élection par défaut n’offre pas les mêmes marges de manœuvre qu’une large adhésion. Le candidat affiche tout à la fois une détermination sans faille, et une prudence sagace : « à la différence de 1981, cette victoire est sans attente immense, c’est quand même un changement considérable » puis d’ajouter : « toute victoire a sa part de poison ».
This suggests that Hollande will initially be even more cautious than his naturally prudent manner would suggest. But we shall see. Apparently, the eurobonds idea has begun to gain some traction, and Hollande's entourage has indicated a readiness to explore many variations on the theme. This is an encouraging sign.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Feldstein on the Euro

Martin Feldstein, an opponent of the euro from the beginning, reviews its history with considerable restraint and understatement.


Antonio Fatás (h/t Mark Thoma) asks what would have happened if Spain, say, had been able to devalue its currency in response to the crisis? By comparing the trajectory of Spanish and British GDP, he questions the conventional wisdom that control over currency is the key to adjustment that is lacking in the Eurozone member states. He admits that the comparison is highly imperfect, and indeed it is. One might ask, for instance, if it wasn't the Cameron government's commitment to draconian austeriy measures from the time it took office in 2010 that accounts for the abrupt end of what looked to be a fairly robust initial recovery compared with Spain's.

Still, it's worth asking exactly how much improvement in the current account deficit of Spain or Italy or Greece or Portugal could be achieved by devaluation. Price, after all, is not the only area in which the PIGS export sectors are deficient. Their economies, unlike Germany's, aren't really built around making what the rest of the world wants (Italy is something of a special case). And therefore austerity, which is designed to bring about "internal devaluation," won't make these economies more competitive. It will, however, reduce imports by contracting their economies. This is a perverse adjustment path.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Has the Eurozone Already Fragmented?

The invaluable Gillian Tett raises an interesting question. Despite the enormous concern about the possible breakup of the euro, divorce proceedings may already be under way in the dark recesses of bank portfolios. Risk managers, preparing for an eventual collapse, have realigned their portfolios, Tett reports, so that assets are matched to liabilities. In other words, if a French bank has lent money to entities in Spain, the bank will have attempted to secure Spanish financing for those loan assets. Previously, this was not the case. A French bank might lend to Spain against short-term financing from Germany, say, or the United States. This promoted a free flow of capital and made financing of loans to the periphery cheaper and more plentiful, but also vulnerable to sudden stops and, in the event of a breakup and reversion to national currencies, currency risks. Under the new "asset-liability management," or ALM, procedures, this is no longer the case. In short, one of the benefits--a problematic benefit, as we have seen--of the euro, namely, cheaper capital for the periphery, has already been lost, a casualty of past irresponsible lending and intoxication with what, in principle, should have been a good thing.

Succession Crises

Both the UMP and the CGT are having difficulty settling on a new leader.

The UMP's predicament is of course no surprise. If I were casting a film, I probably wouldn't choose Copé for the role of party leader, because his ambition is so naked, raw, and obvious that he isn't quite believable in the part. Sarkozy was no less ambitious, surely, but he had the knack of projecting into his portrayal a little authentic concern with something other than his own success. His principal rival is the dark Iago of French politics, François Fillon, who is less enamored of the cameras but still a consummate player behind the scenes. And now, presenting himself as a fallback and proposing that the party leader should not be the standard bearer in 2017 (a position that must be driving Copé mad with rage) is the perennial Alain Juppé, a most capable fellow, once considered too arrogant to lead anything but rather humanized by a long traversée du désert in the Canadian wilderness following his conviction on corruption charges and declaration of ineligibility.

At the CGT, Bernard Thibault is leaving after what seems like an eternity at the helm, and he would like to choose his own successor. What's more, he wants her to be a woman, and this doesn't sit well with some of les gars. I'll be sorry to see him go. I've always enjoyed his haircut and blunt talk, although I harbor a sneaking suspicion that he was a little too susceptible to the flattery of the powerful to be a really effective union leader.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Apologies, Prize, etc.

I apologize for my absence these past two days. I was in New York to accept the French-American Foundation Translation Award. I shared this year's nonfiction prize with Richard Howard. So I think you'll grant that I had a good excuse.

Meanwhile, Europe seems to have moved a step closer to the brink, and I'm feeling quite glum about the prospects for a good outcome. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Post-Sarko UMP: De pire en pire

Jean-François Copé is everywhere these days, emulating his mentor Nicolas Sarkozy's route to the top via ubiquity. "Que je ne sois pas populaire auprès de l'ensemble des Français, c'est normal : je suis un repoussoir pour la gauche." He also claims that Fillon has no support within the party. And to top things off, he has chosen Christiane Taubira as an ideal target to win back FN voters: she is black, she's a woman, and her first move as minister of justice was to abolish criminal court trials for young delinquents, so that Fillon can appeal to concerns about "security" while warning FN voters that a vote for the FN is "a vote for Taubira."

This is the low road, but Copé thinks it will take him to the summit. Unfortunately, he may be right.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crédit Agricole Threatened by Greek Collapse

Crédit Agricole, which purchased the Greek bank Emporiki in 2006, has suffered huge losses over the past two years. Stockholders have lost a great deal of money and are angry at management.

More interesting employment data


Precarious Employment Mostly Affects the Young

According to this study:

Répartition de l'emploi selon le statut et selon l'âge
Unité : %
15 à 29 ans30 à 49 ans50 ans et plusEnsemble
Non salariés4,511,516,911,5
Dont salariés en contrat à durée indéterminée63,280,877,676,4
- du privé53,962,757,059,4
- du public9,418,120,620,6
Salariés précaires32,37,75,512,1
Dont intérimaires4,21,50,71,8
Dont apprentis6,70,00,01,4
Dont salariés en contrat à durée déterminée17,35,23,97,3
- du privé, hors contrats aidés12,13,32,64,9
- du public, hors contrats aidés5,21,91,32,4
Dont stagiaires et contrats aidés4,01,01,01,6
- du privé3,00,60,51,0
- du public1,00,40,50,6
Source : Insee, enquête emploi en continu 2010, Population active occupée.

On the Road Again

I will be in New York for a couple of days, so blogging will again be light.

Front de Gauche Welcomes Tspiras to Paris

The Front de Gauche welcomed Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Greek radical left Syriza party, to Paris.

Analysis of FN Vote in Basse-Normandie

It's exurban workers who made the difference.

Ayrault: More "Sobriety"

Prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has warned several of his ministers that they'd better demonstrate a little more "sobriety" in their management of the media. Concertation is the watchword. This is no accident. Hollande clearly believes that one of Sarkozy's fundamental errors was that he spoke too loudly and too often. He will underscore the contrast between himself and his predecessor by speaking softly and--presumably--carrying a big stick. So he held firm on his commitment to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan while speaking rather softly about the move so as not to ruffle too many feathers.

To be sure, some have said that he didn't actually hold firm, that he waffled on leaving about half the French contingent behind as "trainers" and will contribute to a fund for training Afghan police and soldiers. This sort of quibbling misses the point, which is that France's commitment to the Afghan war was more symbolic than substantive (with no disrespect to the real sacrifices of French soldiers, but the French contingent amounted to about 2% of the NATO force), and its withdrawal is equally symbolic. Hollande is stating firmly that he, and most French voters, believe that the mission has lost its purpose and should be ended. He deserves credit for acting on an accurate judgment of the situation.

Real Friends

You know who your real friends are when you're out of power and they still suck up to you. For Sarko, it looks as though Hortefeux and Estrosi are willing to go down with the ship.
Au sein de l'UMP, cependant, M. Hortefeux n'exclut pas d'organiser un courant sarkozyste, faisant "la synthèse des idées populaires et sociales", autour de la thématique de la "droite forte". Par précaution, l'association va aussi recevoir l'agrément de la Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques.
L'association devrait constituer son bureau avant la fin mai. Outre M. Hortefeux et M. Estrosi, probable futur secrétaire général, il devrait inclure des personnalités de diverses sensibilités, comme l'ex-ministre de la ville Maurice Leroy (Nouveau Centre) ou l'ancienne ministre du logement Christine Boutin (Parti chrétien-démocrate).
This does not look like a club with much of a future. As for Sarko himself, he's in Marrakech with the wife and baby, soaking up the rays. After that, he's said that he wants to make money, not sit around with Hortefeux and Estrosi reminiscing about the glory days.

The FN in the Legislatives

The Front National could win 5 to 8 seats in the next National Assembly.
Il faudra donc suivre avec une attention particulière les circonscriptions où Mme Le Pen est arrivée en tête au premier tour de la présidentielle. Et notamment les douze où elle a devancé Nicolas Sarkozy, le 22 avril : la 5e de l'Aisne, où la députée sortante, Isabelle Vasseur (UMP), peut être en difficulté, la 12e des Bouches-du-Rhône, la 2e du Gard, la 6e de l'Hérault, la 2e de Haute-Marne, la 1rede la Meuse, les 5e et 7e de la Moselle, la 2e de l'Oise, la 2e des Pyrénées-Orientales, les 3e et 4e du Vaucluse.

Un autre cas de figure sensible est celui où Mme Le Pen est arrivée en tête et devant François Hollande au premier tour de la présidentielle. Cela concerne 11 circonscriptions : la 3e de l'Aisne, les 13e et 16e des Bouches-du-Rhône, la 4edu Gard, la 4e de Meurthe-et-Moselle, la 20e du Nord, la 1re de l'Oise, la 11e du Pas-de-Calais (celle de Mme LePen), la 2e de la Haute-Saône, la 2e des Vosges et la 5e de la Somme. Là, on suivra avec attention l'attitude des électeurs - et des responsables - de la droite.

A Comparison of French and American Healthcare

More similar than you might think. (h/t Arun Kapil)

The European Impasse in a Nutshell

All options will be on the table when European leaders meet this week, including euro bonds, Mr. Moscovici said. “Each one has his own point of view, but at the same time, François Hollande has said that it is important to put everything on the table,” said Mr. Moscovici, referring to his boss, the newly inaugurated president of France.

The German side:
But the German government is staunchly opposed to euro bonds until deeper integration and harmonization of budgetary and public spending policies have been achieved. Most Germans see euro bonds as another way for fellow European states to benefit from, and ultimately drag down, Germany’s unblemished credit rating.

Mr. Schäuble’s deputy, Steffen Kampeter, was much more forthcoming in reiterating German opposition to any such proposal. Mr. Kampeter called the joint bonds “a prescription at the wrong time with the wrong side effects,” in an interview with German public radio.
And so the train, which had been headed for a cliff, but which slowed briefly for the French elections, has now resumed its headlong rush to doom, punctuated by cheerful paeans to "Growth!" sung to the tune of "The Ode to Joy," Europe's anthem.

ADDENDUM: On the other hand, the OECD has joined the call for eurobonds, saying that they are necessary to make the euro work.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The UMP Will Violate the Parity Rule

J.-F. Copé assume, mais sans "gaité de coeur":

"Je plaide coupable avec regret, c'est un arbitrage que nous avons eu à rendre et qui était difficile dès lors que nous avions 317 députés sortants [en réalité 305 en fin de législature] et qu'une bonne part d'entre eux se représentent", a reconnu le secrétaire général de l'UMP sur BFM TV et RMC. Citant l'ancrage local des candidats sortants, il a ajouté qu'"il était extrêmement difficile de les sacrifier".
"Voilà pourquoi j'ai pris avec mes amis de l'UMP cette décision qui nous coûtera en termes d'amendes. Chacun doit comprendre que dans la période qui est la nôtre, il nous faut absolument avoir le maximum de députés et que cela passe par le poids, l'ancrage local de beaucoup d'entre nous", a-t-il ajouté."Ce n'est pas de gaité de coeur. Je pense que cette loi est bonne", a-t-il poursuivi.

Hollande Abroad: Sans Faute

François Hollande did so well in his baptism by fire on the international scene that Jean-François Copé was downright apoplectic about it. In a rather unhinged press conference, Copé tried to play down the significance of Hollande's easy rapport with the president of the United States by suggesting that banter in front of the cameras is one thing, hard international bargaining over serious interests is another.

And of course Copé is absolutely right. The atmospherics of summit meetings tell us nothing about the actual state of the world. It's a pity that the UMP ignored this when Sarkozy was president, taking every gesture of politeness as a mark of Sarkozy's mastery of diplomacy and triumphal reassertion of France's influence (remember the "France is back!" rhetoric of 2007?). Poor Jean-François: he doesn't know about sour grapes, I guess. And if his agitated performance is any indication, we have lost Sarkozy only to gain a more annoying copy. Omni-Copé will be harder to take than the omniprésident.

In any case, cold, hard interests remain cold, hard interests, and what if anything transpired at the G8 and NATO meetings will become clear only later. But if the UMP was hoping that the rejection of Hollande that marked the campaign season would continue after the election, it was sadly mistaken. Hollande is now one of "the club"--to borrow Copé's own metaphor--and the rules of the game require that France's interests be filtered through Hollande's preferences, whether Copé likes it or not. Hollande, for his part, eased his acceptance by fellow club members by minimizing his differences with them and refraining from provocation.

The bar was set low, to be sure, but he jumped it easily.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Unions Get a Little Taste

Another of my predictions was that unions would quickly test Hollande's resolve on matters such as retirement reform. And sure enough, Marisol Touraine has indicated that the rollback of the early retirement age to 60 will be slightly more generous than anticipated, because maternity leave will be counted in the required 41 years of cotisations. The unions want other concessions, including the counting of military service. But all of this is subject to approval by the prime minister, who raises the specter of "budget constraints":

Car devant la grogne croissante des syndicats qui mettent la pression afin d'élargir le périmètre des bénéficiaires, Marisol Touraine a déjà commencé à lâcher du lest. «Les congés maternité ou de service militaire seront comptabilisés», a pour la première fois reconnu la ministre, qui est cependant restée assez floue sur les périodes de maladie et de chômage qui - c'est justement l'objet des discussions avec les partenaires sociaux - pourront être «intégrées sous certaines limites». La ministre s'est bornée à rappeler l'objectif par an de ce retour à la retraite à 60 ans (150.000 bénéficiaires) et son coût (1 milliard d'euros). «Je rendrai un arbitrage en fonction des contraintes financières», a de son côté nuancé Jean-Marc Ayrault. Bref, rien n'est calé et les discussions à l'intérieur du gouvernement n'ont pas non plus débuté.


I guess we'll soon need a word for it, so I propose "Montebourgisme." Montebourgisme consists in the ringing proclamation of thumping banalities, yoked together in illogical clusters (full interview here). For instance:
"Ensuite, il faudra inventer des soutiens de toute nature : recherche et développement, financement, fiscalité, réglementation, prix de l'énergie", a poursuivi le nouveau ministre avant de rappeler que la future banque publique d'investissement "sera le bras armé du redressement productif, avec la création du livret épargne-industrie qui financera des projets".
Yes, indeed: we must "invent" R&D, because, otherwise, you know, like, no one would ever have thought of the idea that research and development might contribute to le redressement productif. And just having a public investment bank isn't good enough, it will have to be a bank that is "le bras armé du redressement productif," because, like, you know, military metaphors make it sound as if you mean business, whereas the "creation" of a "livret épargne-industrie" means, like, you know, it's going to be everyman who's doing the financing, rather than le monde de la finance, which, as we know, is "the enemy." If it's everyman's passbook that's paying the bills, then it's socialism, and all is right with the world. Except, of course, when the financed venture fails, as many do, in which case le livret épargne-industrie will have to be topped up by the government, because ordinary citizens can't be allowed to lose money on the mistakes of "capitalists."

And just to make sure that there will be losses, we are advised that the first investments of The Ministry of Productive Reinvigoration (how's that for a translation?) will go into sectors that have resisted all efforts to revive them to date:
Pour des secteurs en difficulté comme le raffinage ou la sidérurgie, M. Montebourg a plaidé pour des "solutions viables et durables". "Je ne considère pas que les batailles sont perdues d'avance. Elles n'ont encore pas commencé", a-t-il affirmé.
Yes, "the battles have only just begun." The French steel industry has been shrinking for 40 years, but we have not yet begun to fight. With state aid, we can ensure that it will go on shrinking for another 40 years.

Of course Montebourg is in the government to remind us that, if the Right is néolibéralisme décomplexé, the Left is néolibéralisme complexé. If Montebourg represents the id, then the prime minister is the superego, who will effect the necessary arbitrages to ensure that not too much money is poured down the drain. Only just enough to keep vain hope alive. Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer.

I think French social democracy would be stronger if it could cure itself of Montebourgisme, which, if it had existed at the time, I'm sure Flaubert would have included in Bouvard et Pécuchet.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Noiriel Analyzes the FN Vote

Historian Gérard Noiriel analyzes the FN vote. Key point:
A partir des années 1980, la bureaucratisation de la société et la crise de la grande industrie ont liquidé les mouvements de masse entraînant une perte d’autonomie du politique au profit des médias. La « démocratie de partis » a laissé la place à la « démocratie d’opinion ». Le retour de l’extrême droite sur le devant de la scène est à mes yeux une conséquence directe de ces mutations. Le triomphe de la politique-spectacle a créé en effet des opportunités dont s’est saisi Jean-Marie Le Pen, en développant la stratégie des « petites phrases » conçues comme des « bombes médiatiques » qui prennent leur place dans l’actualité au côté des crimes, des catastrophes, des procès etc.
Les journalistes, pris dans les rouages de cette machine médiatique, sont contraints d’accorder de l’importance à ces poseurs de « bombes », contribuant ainsi à l’héroïsation des leaders d’extrême droite. Puisque ces derniers sont devenus des personnages centraux du récit médiatico-politique, les électeurs se sentent autorisés à voter pour le Front National. La réputation sulfureuse de ce parti séduit tout particulièrement ceux qui n’ont plus rien à perdre et qui cherchent à exprimer de la façon la plus radicale possible leur refus d’une société qui ne leur fait pas de place.
This argument strikes me as superficially appealing but empirically unfounded. Is it really true that that the FN "particularly attracts those who have nothing more to lose?" There is a good deal of evidence suggesting that the answer is no. The FN has found support in many segments of society, including retirees and small businessmen who definitely have something to lose. Its working-class support has been increasing, and some of that may come from the unemployed, but some of it also comes from the employed, who have their jobs to lose and fear losing them to immigrants willing to work for lower wages.

What Noiriel wants to call attention to, I think, is the fact that most of the public discussion of FN voters is conducted by "the political-media complex," a fancy term for people like himself and me, who speak of FN supporters as the Other and have no direct contact with the milieux in which a vote for the FN is a live option. We impute attitudes and emotions we do not really fathom: hence the "suffering" narrative, which Noiriel rejects as confabulation. That may be true, but in what respect is "the nothing more to lose" narrative an improvement? Isn't it just another name for the same thing?

Where I think Noiriel is right is in his perception of the way in which Lepenist barbs and provocations, echoed by the media, are used to construct an anti-systemic image. For voters whose judgment is that "the system" has failed them, the response is to seek the candidate whose provocations seem most disruptive of what they see as the routinized and ritualized exchanges that constitute the mainstream discourse. In the ensuing surenchère of acerbic attitude, anti-system candidates compete with each other in a closed rhetorical universe that hives itself off as a separate realm of what Noiriel calls the "democracy of opinion," in which one opinion is deemed as good as another simply because it is voiced and without need for the kind of justification once provided by ideology in the "democracy of parties." Hence the intense media interest in the Le Pen-Mélenchon face-off in Hénin-Beaumont. Nothing of consequence will be decided here, but the battle of provocateurs will surely défrayer la chronique.

Who's Bluffing?

Henry Farrell has some wise words about the high-stakes poker game being played out over Greece:
It’s plausible that Greece is relatively indifferent to breakdown at this point – years of grinding austerity inside EMU seem barely preferable to the costs of exiting the euro. In contrast, Germany could see the collapse of the euro (and consequent very serious economic costs) if a Greek exit leads to the collapse of confidence in Spanish, Irish, and worst of all, Italian banks. If I were to lay a bet on which side is likely to fold first, I’d be putting my money on the Germans.

No PS-FG Accord for Legislatives

Negotiations between the PS and the Front de Gauche over the legislative elections have broken down. It seems that the Communists favored an agreement, but the Parti de Gauche balked.

Hollande and the Universities

Another prediction of mine seems to me coming true. I said that Hollande would not reverse the Law on the Reform of the Universities, better known as the Pécresse Law, if elected. The nomination of Lionel Collet, president of the U. of Lyon I and of the Council of University Presidents, as chief of staff under higher ed minister Geneviève Fioraso, seems to confirm this. Collet was not an opponent of LRU. Nor was I, although the details of implementation must be monitored carefully.

Mélenchon, parachuté chez les Ch'tis

Was it really necessary for Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is hardly familiar with the town in which he has chosen to run for parliament, Hénin-Beaumont, to say this about the local FN, which has been tilling this ground for years:
Mais il ne peut s'empêcher de décrire à des journalistes le FN local comme "quatre alcooliques et dix dégénérés". "Au visage de la haine", il veut opposer celui de la "fraternité et du partage".
Mélenchon in a nutshell: the grand gestures to humanity--fraternity and sharing--on the one hand, the contemptuous dismissal of his opponents on the other. And the particular choice of words, "four alcoholics and ten degenerates," is especially unfortunate in light of the incident in a soccer stadium a while back, when a banner was unfurled that read "Pédophiles, chômeurs, consanguins : bienvenue chez les Ch'tis." Linking "degeneracy" with this region of northern France is really not something that a politician who wants to combat the prejudices that are the stock-in-trade of the FN should be doing.

Problems with European Banking

Nicolas Véron looks at what needs to be done to make European banks healthier.

Article in TNR Online

I've got an article on Hollande on The New Republic Online. An error has crept into the second paragraph, which should of course state that Mitterrand was president "from 1981 until 1995 (he died in 1996)."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Obama, G8, NATO--Whew!

Two weeks ago, François Hollande was nobody on the international scene. Now is he about to meet Obama and take part in the G8 and NATO summits. His rise has been almost as stunningly sudden as DSK's fall. Suddenly he counts. Somebody from France Inter called the other day and asked if I thought Hollande and Obama would get on better or worse than Obama and Sarkozy. I hadn't really thought about it, since I don't view international relations as hinging on the kind of speed dating that goes on at international summits, but my answer was that at bottom, as far as an outsider can judge, Hollande and Obama are more alike than Sarkozy and Obama: both are even-tempered or at least prefer to project calm as a public persona; both are well-educated, reflective, and analytical in their approach to policy; and both have to deal with a shrill opposition (though the UMP is a long way from the American Republican Party's contempt for realism and logic) and stiff criticism even within their own party. They should get on well enough.

Hollande's pledge to accelerate France's withdrawal from Afghanistan is a minor matter by this point: this mission impossible is destined to remain half-finished forever. Obama would cut his losses if he could, but it's more difficult to extricate an elephant from a swamp than a fly. On Europe, the US has an interest in moving Germany off its position, as does France, but it will probably be Monti who takes the lead--proof that even the technocrats can read the handwriting on the wall and that the opposition to austerity is not just political. Cameron will scold, but the UK is not in the eurozone and was not a party to Merkozy, so his ire will be discounted.

On NATO, France is in, no thanks to the Socialists, but it will stay in, as Le Drian has already announced and as I have been saying all along. I do not know what Hollande will say to Obama about Iran or Palestine, but I suspect he will be more forceful than Sarkozy in urging caution on the former and action on the latter.

Bravo Christiane Taubira!

Christiane Taubira, the new justice minister, will rewrite the law on sexual harassment that was struck down by the Conseil Constitutionnel on grounds of vagueness. An excellent first step by the new Garde des Sceaux to efface the memory of her party as the party of DSK.


One doesn't have to like Alain Minc to appreciate his shrewd and deliciously tart aperçus:

Avez-vous approuvé la campagne orchestrée par Patrick Buisson ?
Quand, au mois de janvier, M. Sarkozy fait la campagne que j'aime - sur le rattrapage de l'Allemagne, la compétitivité, la TVA sociale -, il ne gagne pas 1 point. Quand il fait la campagne "buissonnière", il en gagne 5 à 6. Cela me désole, mais cela en dit long sur la France. Le diagnostic de M. Buisson n'est pas complètement faux. Le candidat PS a fait la même chose en se gauchisant au fur et à mesure : la taxation à 75 %, ce n'est pas le Hollande de la primaire PS.

Ce rôle de visiteur du soir ne témoigne-t-il pas d'un dysfonctionnement au cœur du pouvoir ?
C'est la contrepartie de la monarchie française. Dans un système démocratique vous n'avez pas besoin de visiteurs du soir, vous avez des pouvoirs, des contre-pouvoirs. Dans le système monarchique, le roi a besoin de liens hors de système. J'ai envoyé des gens chez M. Sarkozy qu'il n'aurait jamais vus autrement. L'Elysée c'est une toute petite PME, qui court à hue et à dia. Le tableau de commande n'est pas à l'Elysée, mais à Matignon, qui gère l'Etat.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

An Interesting Observation about the Government

Bernard Girard makes an interesting observation about the government that I haven't heard anywhere else:

Il est intéressant de comparer ce gouvernement et le premier de Pierre Mauroy : on y trouve plus de femmes, plus de ministres issus de la diversité mais aussi plus d'agégrés et, surtout, d'héritiers de la bourgeoisie intellectuelle, de cette bourgeoisie du savoir qui a accumulé un capital universitaire, des postes dans l'université et pour certains au moins une réputation internationale : les pères de Moscovici et Touraine sont des intellectuels de grand renom, Peillon (qui a été directeur de recherche au CNRS) est le neveu d'un professeur au Collège de France… Mauroy recrutait, lui, plutôt des infirmiers et des profs de l'enseignement technique.

Girls Behaving Badly?

DSK gave French men a bad reputation. Is misbehavior in high places rampant among French women as well? The Daily Mail would have you think so. British bias or wanton defamation?

Aubry Will Be Leaving the Leadership of the PS

It's inevitable, says her close collaborator François Lamy, who will be in the Ayrault government:
"La logique voudrait qu'elle parte après les législatives,dit M.Lamy. Mais elle sera attentive à ce que ce ne soit pas "après moi, le déluge"

Announced candidates for the leadership post are Harlem Désir and Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. If these are the two candidates, please let it be Désir.

Duy Sums Up

Tim Duy sums up the current state of play in Europe. If David Cameron can appear clairvoyant, that says something about the persistent denial of reality in other European capitals:

On the issue of internal fiscal transfers, British Prime Minister David Cameron is joining the chorus of policymakers calling on Continental leaders to understand the extent of their problem:
“Either Europe has a committed, stable, successful eurozone with an effective firewall, well-capitalised and regulated banks, a system of fiscal burden sharing and supportive monetary policy across the eurozone or we are in uncharted territory which carries huge risks for everyone.”
That pretty much summarizes the situation. The institutional structure, the fiscal plumbing, simply isn't present in the Eurozone to adequately adjust for asymmetric shocks. End of story. Either get that structure in place or accept that the project is a failure. Can Europe make such a transition fast enough? Yes - with German leadership to offer a mix bilateral transfers, Eurobonds, and ECB commitment to stand as lender of last resort to all the region as a whole. Economically possible and politically possible, however, are two different things.

B+ or Incomplete?

After reading the Mediapart reportage on the Ayrault government, Arun Kapil raised his grade from B+/B to unambiguous B+ (see links in two previous posts). I had the opposite reaction. What does it matter if the government includes a dynamic nanotechnologist or an outspoken proponent of gay rights if it fails to articulate a clear position on the major issue of the day, which is the "euro crisis"? I put the words "euro crisis" in scare quotes to indicate that this is shorthand for a whole host of other issues: How to revamp EU institutions, how to redress internal European imbalances, how to enhance the competitiveness of French firms to that end, how to redistribute the gains from global trade more fairly, etc. etc.

What I see in the Ayrault government is exactly what I saw in 11 years of Hollande leadership of the Socialist Party: a meticulous distribution of rewards among competing currents with no attempt to make a judgment about the ultimate purpose of the power that is so carefully subdivided. So, Fabius, as Arun puts it, still has a substantial "coterie" of support within the party; better to keep him on board. Montebourg got 17% of the primary vote, so invent a ministry for him. Lots of Socialists voted No in 2005, so put Cazeneuve in charge of European affairs, and don't worry about the symbolism of the Fabius-Cazeneuve tandem because Ayrault speaks German and is the boss man anyway. And if the No faction was a reaction against the overemphasis on liberalism in the "social liberal" current of the party, balance that off by putting Economy and Finance in the hands of Moscovici, who is un tantinet more liberal than the president himself.

This idea of politics as fine-tuning, careful calibration, and sage counterbalancing is, I submit, what kept the Socialist Party out of power at the national level from 1995 to 2012. It is what the old Hollande stood for, which I hoped the new Hollande had left behind. The presidency is the summit from which one hands down the tablets, but instead of writing a new Bible, Hollande seems intent on weaving the old traditions together into a syncretic compromise. This is not the time. He must choose.

Mediapart Reviews the Ayrault Government


Two observations worth mentioning:

Ministre délégué aux affaires européennes : Bernard Cazeneuve
Le député de Cherbourg, spécialiste de la défense, rapporteur de la mission parlementaire sur l'attentat de Karachi, hérite des affaires européennes comme ministre délégué. Il n'en est pas à proprement parler un spécialiste. Proche de Hollande, il fut lui aussi, comme Laurent Fabius, un partisan du “non” au référendum européen de 2005 et a également voté contre le traité de Lisbonne. C'est ainsi un signe fort adressé aux autres pays européens: les partisans du non sont désormais les acteurs principaux de la nouvelle politique européenne.

Ministre de l'économie et des finances : Pierre MoscoviciLa nomination de Pierre Moscovici à ce poste est l’une des surprises de ce nouveau gouvernement. D’abord parce que celui qui a été le directeur de campagne de François Hollande durant la campagne présidentielle n’était pas le favori pour devenir le patron de la forteresse de Bercy. C’est Michel Sapin, ami proche du nouveau chef de l’Etat, qui semblait prédestiné à hériter de ce très important maroquin.
Mais la surprise ne porte pas que cette question de jeu de chaises entre les dignitaires socialistes. Elle est plus profonde que cela. Car Pierre Moscovici, qui aura donc la haute main sur la politique économique, incarne une sensibilité qui n’a pas toujours été celle de François Hollande. Une sensibilité peut-être un peu plus libérale ou droitière… Ce constat doit certes être manié avec précaution, car le nouveau président de la République a lui-même conduit une campagne qui, en matière économique, ne s’est pas distinguée par ses accents radicaux. Et Pierre Moscovici y a donc pris sa part, sans le moindre état d’âme. De surcroît, les deux dirigeants socialistes ont longtemps été des amis proches : au début des années 1990, ils ont ainsi fait ensemble un cours en commun à l’Institut d’études politiques de Paris, et ont prolongé ce travail en tandem en en faisant un livre L’Heure des choix (Editions Odile Jacob, 1991).
Il reste que Pierre Moscovici est une pièce rapportée dans la “famille hollandaise”. Longtemps, il a été le plus proche collaborateur de Dominique Strauss-Kahn et a donc été l’un des défenseurs du courant social-libéral que l’ancien patron du Fonds monétaire international (FMI) a voulu incarner. L’installation de Pierre Moscovici dans l’un des ministères les plus puissants doit-elle être interprétée à l’aune de ce parcours ? Suggère-t-elle que la politique économique conduite par le nouveau gouvernement sera globalement très peu hétérodoxe, ou si l’on peut dire, un tantinet libérale ?
Ministre délégué au budget : Jérôme Cahuzac
D’autres signes peuvent le suggérer. Il y a d’abord le choix de Jérôme Cahuzac au budget. Celui-là était, certes, beaucoup plus attendu. Ancien président de la Commission des finances de l’Assemblée nationale, il maîtrise parfaitement à ce titre tous les rouages de la politique économique et fiscale et n’aura pas besoin de rodage pour prendre en main le ministère dont il a la charge. Il a de surcroît joué un rôle clé dans nombre de batailles conduites à l’Assemblée par le Parti socialiste, et tout particulièrement celle pour faire la clarté sur le scandale Tapie. Il a manifesté dans ce cas une formidable pugnacité.
Il n’empêche ! Lui aussi était un proche de Dominique Strauss-Kahn et défend de longue date des priorités de politique économique d’inspiration également plutôt libérale ou sociale-libérale.
Cela s’est d’ailleurs remarqué pendant la campagne présidentielle puisque Jérôme Cahuzac s’est à plusieurs reprises distingué en donnant des interprétations très libérales du programme de François Hollande et notamment en suggérant que la réforme fiscale prévoyant la fusion de l’impôt sur le revenu et la CSG n’entre pas en vigueur.
Le tandem Moscovici-Cahuzac se charge donc d’un sens politique indéniable : il ne sera pas de nature à apaiser les craintes de la gauche du Parti socialiste et encore moins du Front de gauche. C’est plutôt une sensibilité droitière qui est investie de pouvoirs très puissants.

Arun Kapil Reviews the Ayrault Government


A French Professor Looks at Harvard

Stéphanie Grousset-Charrière has wrriten a book based on her year as an assistant professor in Harvard's sociology department: La Face cachée de Harvard 
"A Harvard, on ne forme pas que les étudiants, on forme aussi leurs enseignants, les façonnant à l'image qu'ils se doivent de dégager. On n'a pas le droit d'être malade et, même avec 39 °C de fièvre, on assure ses cours ; on doit être bien habillé, souriant, avenant, et montrer l'exemple. Ponctualité, amabilité, serviabilité, compréhension, efficacité, disponibilité, compétences, performance, rigueur sont autant de qualités attribuées au personnage de l'enseignant."
This makes Harvard sound a bit like China. I put in my time across the street from the Sociology Department, at the Center for European Studies, where one does have the right to be sick and where work is less regimented than work at Foxconn. Dress ranges from slovenly (me) to elegant. There are frowns as well as smiles. Friendliness is valued but not required. I hope that Prof. Grousset-Charrière's work demonstrates the rigueur she acquired at Harvard, but the superficiality of these observations makes me less than confident.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Greece: The End in Sight?

So many people, Mario Draghi not least among them, have begun talking about a Greek exit from the euro that the prophecy is becoming self-fulfilling. There has been a slow run on Greek banks for some time now, as Greek savers transferred a part of their savings to other European countries, but the run has accelerated in recent days and has now reached the unsustainable level of 800 million euros per day. The euro fell to $1.27 against the dollar.

Meanwhile, as Bernard pointed out in comments, France conducted a successful bond issue, selling 8 billion euro at a lower interest rate than the last sale, thus giving the lie to Sarkozy's prediction that markets would tank if Hollande were elected. Unfortunately, Bernard's interpretation, that this successful bond sale means that I am exaggerating the severity of the euro crisis, is wrong. What it signifies is that investors are shifting funds to the stronger sovereigns, such as Germany and France. It is neither a vote of confidence in the Hollande government nor a vote of confidence in the eurozone. It's just a sign of flight to the deepest pockets as Greek destitution looms.

Merkel and Hollande made some comforting noises about rekindling growth in Greece and holding the eurozone together, but behind the scenes the talk grows darker by the day. I don't know about Hollande, but I'm fairly sure that the Germans have decided that Greece is hopeless and have chosen to make their stand in Spain. For Greece, whatever comes will come. It will be impossibly hard on the Greeks either way, stay or go, and the political system may not hold. Anything is possible, and the election and its aftermath showed that impending doom has not concentrated the mind, as Dr. Johnson believed it would, but has rather unleashed the wildest fantasies and the most uncontrollable passions.

History did not end in 1989. Far from it.

On Defense Policy

Continuity for Hollande, criticism from his left.

Reading Tea Leaves

So what does it all mean? A proponent of the "Non" in 2005 as foreign minister? A glib baratineur at Economy and Finance, arguably the most important post in this government? A woman of color from l'outre-mer at Justice? An advocate of "de-globalization" at Redressement productif, which ought to mean finding a way to ensure French competitiveness in the global arena but under Montebourg might well mean finding a way to keep failing businesses on life support. A Green, Duflot, at "Equality of Territories," whatever that is, and a specialist in public finance, Nicole Bricq, at ecology. Sapin, supposedly so close to Hollande, way down the list at labor, when he had been touted for Economy and Finance.

It's not necessarily a good idea to try to read policy choices from personnel choices, but it's not necessarily a bad idea either. The parity promise was kept. The Greens got a bone, the Front de Gauche did not. Moscovici's nomination provides a conduit from DSK, persona non grata but still probably the best economic head on the left, to the government. Hollande owed Fabius nothing but paid him handsomely anyway, a choice I don't understand. It will take some time to absorb all this. For the moment, I'm not thrilled. I would have preferred to see a frank recognition that the euro crisis is the paramount issue of the day. I don't see that priority reflected in the composition of the government.

Complete List

Affaires étrangères : Laurent Fabius
Education : Vincent Peillon
Justice : Christiane Taubira
Economie Finances: Pierre Moscovici
Affaires sociales et Santé : Marisol Touraine
Egalité des territoires : Cécile Duflot
Intérieur : Manuel Valls
Ecologie : Nicole Bricq
Redressement productif : Arnaud Montebourg
Travail : Michel Sapin
Défense : Jean-Yves Le Drian
Culture et communication : Aurélie Fillippetti
Enseignement supérieur : Geneviève Fioraso 
Droits des femmes et porte-parole du gouvernementr : Najat Vallaud Belkacem
Agriculture : Stéphane Le Foll
Réforme de l'Etat et décentralisation : Marylise Lebranchu
Outre-Mer : Victorin Lurel

Délégué Sports, jeunesse : Valérie Fourneyron
Délégué Budget : Jérôme Cahuzac
Délégué Réussite éducative : Georges Pau-Langevin
Délégué Relation avec le Parlement : Alain Vidalies
Délégué à la Justice : Delphine Batho
Délégué Affaires européennes: Cazeneuve
Délégué Personnes agées : Bernard Delaunay
Délégué Economie sociale : Benoît Hamon
Délégué Famille : Dominique Bertinotti
Délégué Personnes handicapées : Marie-Arlette Carlotti
Délégué Développement : Pascal Canfin
Délégué Français de l'étranger : Yamina Benguigui
Délégué Transports et économie maritime : Frédéric Cuviller
Délégué PME et innovation : Fleur Pellerin
Délégué Anciens combattants : Kader Arif

A Government!

Les ministres du premier gouvernement de Jean-Marc Ayrault ont été nommés : Laurent Fabius aux affaires étrangères, Pierre Moscovici à l'économie et aux finances, Vincent Peillon à l'éducation, Cécile Duflot à l'égalité des territoires et au logement, Arnaud Montebourg au redressement productif. 

Surprises galore!

Ayrault's First Major Problem

Via Arun Kapil on FB and Bloomberg News:

When spoken, his family name is colloquial Arabic in many countries for the third-person singular possessive form of the male sex organ.

The PS and Karachigate

Mediapart has another revelation: the Socialists knew about financial irregularities in the sale of submarines to Pakistan, and they knew that the kickbacks had been used to finance the Balladur campaign. But they chose to sit on that knowledge rather than blow up the political system by transmitting the information to an investigating magistrate. It will be interesting to hear their reasons. To be sure, they were cohabiting at the time with Jacques Chirac, Balladur had used the money to try to defeat Chirac, and Jospin no doubt thought it might ease his relations with the president to transmit this bombshell information to him and let him decide how to use it. Assuming he didn't already know. Fascinating story.

Aubry Out

Martine Aubry will not join the new government. She makes it pretty clear that she's miffed:
"Nous avons discuté de cela lundi avec François Hollande. Il m'a dit qu'il avait fait le choix de Jean-Marc Ayrault. Nous sommes convenus que, dans cette configuration, ma présence au gouvernement n'aurait pas de sens."
She describes the choice of Ayrault as both "a political choice" and one that is perfectly comprehensible given Ayrault's closeness to Hollande. So what are we supposed to infer from this? That the "political choice" of the party's candidate is such that the party's leader cannot envision herself as part of his government? Or that Martine is a prima donna who, having already served as no. 2 in Jospin's government, as she reminds the interviewer, will not settle for anything less than no. 1? Neither interpretation is very flattering to Aubry.

So Hollande will have to build his own base of support without any help from the leader of his party. He seems to have chosen his course for accomplishing that goal: he will demonstrate his modesty, eschew the monarchical trappings of the presidency, and reach out to ordinary people. The symbolism is good for now: the press is commenting abundantly on the modesty, sobriety, and seriousness of the new president and contrasting these qualities with the grandiosity, pugnacity, and erratic behavior of his predecessor. But a general needs to be able to keep his troops in line, and Aubry on day two already seems to have chosen her own drummer and headed off in her own direction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hollande's First Presidential Speech

Discours de M. François Hollande en hommage à... by elysee

 No one would mistake the new president for the old one. With Sarkozy, the partisan leader was never far from the surface. He could break into fighting mode at the turn of a phrase. Hollande, by contrast, has put his campaign mode aside. He has donned a new persona to signify that he is president of all the people. Gone are the Mitterandian gestures, the hoarse shouts, the hyped-up intensity. As president, he is all sobriety (the TV commentators couldn't help remarking on his gravity), and his first speech as president was intended to consecrate the value of education, which he intends to make a centerpiece of his quinquennat. (Rumor has it, by the way, that Aubry will be named Minister of State in charge of education, youth, and communication, a signal of Hollande's priorities.)

But--how to say this without seeming condescending?--let's be candid. The speech is a bit boring. More than a bit, in fact. It not only celebrates the glory of the Third Republic's crown jewel, l'école gratuite et laïque, it re-enacts a century of fusty school prize speeches. It celebrates education in such a thoroughly pedestrian way that it surely must have reminded more than one former élève of watching the classroom clock and waiting for the hour of liberation to strike. It's a schoolmasterly speech but far from a masterly piece of rhetoric, and it somehow seems fated that Jean-Marc Ayrault, a former German teacher, has been named prime minister.

That said, I'm surely pleased that France has a president who is capable of praising education without attacking teachers, who is capable of praising Jules Ferry and reminding his audience of Ferry's faults in the same breath, who can praise the Third Republic and at the same time denounce the "moral fault" of colonialism. Hollande's intentions are surely good, but somehow I couldn't stop thinking about what it is that good intentions pave the road to. And the speech was only 15 minutes long--much less than five years, and infinitely less than eternity. We may have reason to be grateful that Hollande says he will be a self-effacing president. Too much of such unrelievedly good things as this speech contained could easily become unbearable. And one thing you can say for Sarkozy: he was seldom boring to listen to. Rage at least quickens the heart.

Meunier: Why Foreign Policy Didn't Count?

By Sophie Meunier.

A Normal President with a Normal Bank Account

Arun Kapil debunks the Daily Mail's attempt to paint François Hollande as a wealthy hypocrite. I particularly like this bit:

The Mail then drops this bombshell
Among other assets are three current accounts in French banks – two with global giant Societe Generale and one with the Postal Bank – and a life insurance policy.
Wow, GLOBAL GIANT Société Générale! I guess that really does mean President Hollande is rich. Just like me having an account in the global giant Bank of America must mean that I’m rich… (though if one saw my current balance one would readily understand that I am very, very far from being rich). 

Yes, indeed. In fact, it's a little frightening to realize that I am a good deal wealthier than the president of France, what with my account in (precarious) global giant B of A, not to mention my 401k at (hopefully not precarious) Fidelity Investments. Yes, investments: I am a capitalist, O hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère! As untrustworthy as the shifty Hollande with his Postal Savings Account. Geez. You'd think the Mail would have learned something after losing libel suits to Elton John and Tony and Cherie Blair.

The Gods Are Against Him

L’avion d’Hollande touché par la foudre Mis à jour le 15/05/2012 à 18:14 | publié le 15/05/2012 à 18:07

Touché par la foudre en plein trajet pour Berlin, l’avion de François Hollande, , a dû regagner la base aérienne de Villacoublay (Yvelines), selon une source présidentielle citée par Reuters. Le président a changé d'avion et est reparti en direction de l'Allemagne, où il devrait arriver avec plus de deux heures de retard sur l'horaire prévu.

L'avion qui transportait le chef de l'Etat avait décollé peu après 17 heures de la base aérienne de Villacoublay (Yvelines) à bord d'un Falcon 7X présidentiel pour prendre la direction de Berlin, où François Hollande doit rencontrer la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel en début de soirée.

(h/t TexExile)

Flash! Ayrault is PM

Just announced.

Advice to the President

Jérôme Creel, Xavier Timbeau and Philippe Weil of the OFCE offer economic advice to the new president. Their assessment is quite balanced, I think, and a good point of departure for making policy.

So, What's Up with the Codes Anyway?

I don't know if this will strike anyone else as peculiar, but I've been amazed to read at least half a dozen stories over the past few days about the "secret nuclear code." France2 had a story last night about the code that featured pictures of a military aide carrying a large satchel, supposed to contain the precious code, or red button, or whatever it is. But Le Figaro tells us that Mitterrand left "the code" on a slip of paper in a jacket pocket. Why, one wonders, did he become aware of his lapse? Did he have a moment when he felt like dropping an A-bomb on someone, reached into his pocket, and realized he had left the code at home? If so, where was the military aide with the famous satchel?

When a new president takes office in the US, we aren't treated to such stories. I conclude that the French obsession with "the code" must signify some basic anxiety about the bomb. Maybe the French think that they don't really have a bomb, that their nuclear arsenal is a Potemkin arsenal like Saddam Hussein's famous WMD. That would explain the recurrent code stories: if there is an actual slip of paper on which Sarko jotted down the code to hand over to Hollande, then there must be a bomb, and Parisians can rest easy.

But what if Sarko really believes that his successor is as feckless, mou, and nul as he claimed in the campaign? Would he really hand over the actual code to un capitaine de pédalo? Maybe he transposed a few digits. So when François attempts to bomb Athens tonight after his dinner with Merkel, nothing will happen. And tomorrow, when the irate president awakens the ex-president, wherever he may be (on a Bolloré yacht? on the Côte with Carla?), to complain, Sarko can plead dyslexia: "Désolé, mon pote, tu sais, j'aurais dû écrire 517483 mais j'ai inversé l'ordre 483517. C'est presque biblique: les derniers seront les premiers."

No État de Grâce, Part Two

As for le président sortant, the news greeting his departure is almost as bleak as the storm that soaked Hollande at the Arc de Triomphe. His former collaborator Thierry Gaubert has been mis en examen. No sooner has Sarkozy returned to normal citizenship status and equality before the law than he must feel the judicial noose tightening around his neck:

Affaire de Karachi : Thierry Gaubert annonce sa mise en examen

L'ancien collaborateur de Nicolas Sarkozy a été mis en examen pour blanchiment aggravé dans le volet financier de l'affaire, a-t-il annoncé mardi. Interrogé à la sortie du bureau du juge par l'AFP et iTélé, il a qualifié cette décision d'"absurde". (AFP)

Dommage, M. l'ex-président. It seems that no one will have an état de grâce in 2012.

No État de Grâce, With a Vengeance

I turned on the computer this morning and there was François Hollande, newly inaugurated, standing out in the pouring rain in a soaking wet suit, in front of the Memorial for the Unknown Soldier. Wasn't he just there last week, with Sarkozy, in the sun? Well, tradition is tradition, I thought, but what an inauspicious beginning to his presidency. And now he must fly to Berlin, with Greece about to erupt and the Germans in a panic about losing everything they have invested in shoring up the crumbling Greek state. The cost to France alone of "Grexit," Greek exit from the eurozone, has been put at 66.4 billion euros, 3% of GDP, or roughly the cost of the entire French educational system, while the cost of keeping Greece in remains unknown. Not a pretty picture at all.

Welcome to the presidency, M. Hollande. Not even an inaugural ball, let alone a party at Fouquet's. Just a cloudburst and a ruined suit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Neo-Atlanticism? Gaullo-Mitterrandism?

Le Monde chooses to describe the choice of foreign minister facing François Hollande as a choice between "neo-Atlanticism," championed by Moscovici, and "Gaullo-Mitterrandism," represented by Fabius. This alternative hardly does justice to the array of challenges that French foreign policy faces today. It harks back to a bipolar world in which the primary choice was whether to side with the West or stake out an "independent" position. The virtuosity with which one oscillated between these positions defined one's mastery of diplomatic statecraft.

Today's world is, first of all, multipolar and, second of all, far more in flux. The BRICs have become key players in the global economy. Africa is growing apace, even if its influence has yet to match its economic potential. Eastern Europe has managed its transition to capitalism better in most cases than its transition to democracy. Competition over raw materials including energy will loom large in the years to come. And America's focus has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

For all these reasons, Le Monde's opposition seems to me too narrowly conceived. That said, I see little reason why Fabius should get the nod. He supported the No in 2005, he is no friend of Hollande's, and he served him badly in the campaign with his poor performance in debate against Sarkozy. He is a man of the past. Moscovici, on the other hand, may be too much of a smoothie: long on glibness, short on substance.

Perhaps there are other options, but Hollande does have a debt to Moscovici, who ran his successful campaign, at least nominally. Behind the scenes he may have demonstrated a competence not visible to outsiders. So he may be the choice after all, but not, I think, because he represents a "neo-Atlanticist" option. At this point I think Hollande's main goal should be to demonstrate his boldness, forcefulness, and independence--not only of the US but of the forces within his own party. So perhaps he has a more imaginative nomination in mind, someone from outside the ranks of the elephants. We'll soon know.