Thursday, February 2, 2012

Monti Monte au Créneau

Is Mario Monti replacing Nicolas Sarkozy as Angela Merkel's privileged interlocutor? Mediapart suggests as much and goes on to say that Monti's technical competence and persuasive but low-key style have been helpful in persuading Merkel that austerity alone cannot save the euro and risks provoking a political explosion:
« Assiste-t-on à l'émergence d'un nouveau duo, en amont de la campagne présidentielle française ? Il est encore trop tôt pour le savoir », modère Piotr Maciej Kaczynski, un chercheur au sein du CEPS, un centre d'études à Bruxelles. Principal atout de Monti, aux yeux de ses défenseurs : sa crédibilité en Europe. « Il a un CV que personne n'a au Conseil européen », tranche Sylvie Goulard, une eurodéputée libérale (Modem). « Pour la première fois depuis le début de la crise, nous avons en poste quelqu'un qui travaille ces questions depuis 40 ans. »
If this is correct, and Monti succeeds in moving the Germans off their entrenched position, Europe will owe him a debt of gratitude, along with his fellow Mario, Draghi, who seems to have stanched the sovereign debt hemorrhage that threatened the banks.

The Virtue of Europe's Mistake

The Economist argues that Europe's gigantically mistaken belief in expansionary austerity has at least one virtue: it has persuaded American naysayers to stimulus such as John Cochrane and (not-quite-American) Niall Ferguson that they were wrong about the US stimulus package, although neither man can quite come right out and say "Krugman was right, I was wrong."

Is Sarkozy Coming Unglued?

President Sarkozy's behavior in recent weeks has been puzzling. He seems to be shedding the presidential carapace that had confined him for the past two years. Gravity is not his natural element. Among other signs that he has broken free I might mention his notorious voeux to the press corps, which Mediapart labeled "la cérémonie des adieux." Then there was his multinetwork press conference, in which he seemed to be proposing Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel for high office in France. And now comes word that he has lambasted his own ministers for disloyalty, double-dealing, and preparing secretly for his downfall.

These are perhaps signs of desperation. A more measured response to his low standing in the polls is the return of Emmanuelle Mignon, the "idea person" of his 2007 campaign, to the Sarkozy team. It's a bit late in the day, however, for the kind of in-depth candidate prep at which Mignon excelled in the period 2005-7. In any case, if 5 years of on-the-job training hasn't been enough to prepare the candidate, a 2-month crash course is not going to do the job. Nevertheless, Sarkozy is projecting confidence, going so far as to say today that Hollande had "expended all his cartridges" already. It may comfort the president to think so, and indeed, it seems to me that Hollande has chosen quite deliberately a "campaign light," mostly devoid of substance, which is the prerogative of front-runners everywhere: why raise divisive issues when there is no need? Hollande is keeping his powder dry for the simple reason that his opponent seems to be blowing up on his own, as the shrapnel flying in so many directions suggests.

Nevertheless, I expect Sarkozy to pull himself together for one last campaign, if only because his amour-propre has been wounded by the fact that so many in his own entourage assume he is going to lose. This is what explains his extraordinary outburst at Bruno Le Maire: "Ce n'est déjà pas facile d'avoir une stratégie, alors ceux qui en ont deux…", a-t-il dit. This, apparently in retaliation for Le Maire's admission that "mistakes had been made" on Sarkozy's watch. The president's ire is a little difficult to explain in rational terms: Hadn't he himself owned up to errors (such as the rebate on mortgage interest) in his press conference? Yes, of course, but it's one thing for the monarch to admit to fallibility before God and the People; it's another for a mere hireling to commit lèse-majesté. Sarkozy will bring everything he has to the fight to prove them all wrong. Cassez-vous, pauv' cons.