Friday, January 13, 2012

S&P Downgrades France

Well, now the government can stop worrying about being downgraded and get on with the business of actually reviving the economy.

Analysis of Attitudes Toward FN

Bernard Girard digs into the poll results reported yesterday by Le Monde indicating a sharp increase in sympathy with the ideas of the Front National. As I suggested yesterday, these results, in contradiction with the declining support for FN candidate Marine Le Pen, cried out for further scrutiny, which Bernard provides. His conclusion: there is less there than meets the eye.

Grunstein Assesses Sarkozy's Foreign Policy Record

Judah Grunstein, editor-in-chief of World Politics Review:

Elsewhere, Sarkozy’s record is little better. His courtship of India, conducted with great pomp and circumstance, has resulted in few concrete gains. In Brazil, his heavy-handed interference torpedoed what had seemed like a done deal for the first foreign sale of the French-built Rafale fighter jet. Relations with China have been prickly, and his global summitry has often highlighted the limits of France’s influence rather than its power.
If there is any consolation for Sarkozy, it is that the hapless Hollande is unconvincing in the guise of a global leader. Hollande emerged from the Socialist Party’s primary with impressive poll numbers, but saddled with a saggy image and a party campaign platform that lacks credibility. His first foreign policy declaration was to promise to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, despite a consensus among France’s coalition partners to remain through 2014. His second was to promise, in the immediate aftermath of the EU’s last-chance summit in late-December, to renegotiate the resulting “fiscal union” deal that, though flawed, came at a time when many wondered whether the euro would survive the holidays. Both declarations, though defensible on the merits, showed something of a tin ear for diplomacy.

The Readiness Is All

This morning's Le Monde puts me in mind of Shakespeare:

"There ’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’t is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is ’t to leave betimes?" Hamlet V.2

The paper examines the timing of shifts in presidential vote sentiment over 5 previous election cycles, going back to 1981. In all of them the crucial turn seems to occur around mid-January to early February. And what we see now is two striking convergences: Hollande's early lead in the first round is evaporating, as his vote converges with that of Sarkozy. Marine Le Pen has begun a slow decline from her peak, which came in late November, while François Bayrou has been rising sharply since early November.

These trends are contradictory in import. Le Pen's slide, if it turns out to be real, obviously profits Nicolas Sarkozy. But Bayrou's rise is ambiguous. As in 2007, voters may be turning to the centrist because they have never liked Sarkozy but, having looked over the Socialist candidate, aren't pleased with what they see and want to keep their options open. On the other hand, the Bayrou total may be swelled by center-rightists who, when faced with the moment of choice, can't accept another five years of Sarkozy. No doubt there is a mixture of both in the MoDem vote, and we won't really know how it shakes out until the second round.

Some strategic maneuvering may lie ahead as well. Bayrou, who apparently contemplated a deal with Royal in 2007, might be more likely to go through with a bargain with Hollande, a more predictable partner than Royal would have been. It's hard to imagine a Bayrou-Sarko deal, since Bayrou has spent the last five years attacking every aspect of Sarkozy's reign, but, well ... Paris vaut bien une messe.

Interesting to speculate, but of course hindsight--which is what Le Monde's charts represent--is always more perspicacious than foresight.