Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sarkozy: Trous de mémoire?

Chirac had a bit of a cerebral commotion in 2007, so he had an excuse for not remembering things. Sarkozy, who one of my regular commenters thinks is more "focused" this year than he was in 2007, seems to be having trouble remembering things without any physiological alibi.

Nicoals Sarkozy aurait-il des problèmes de mémoire ? Selon le, M. Sarkozy n'était pas député au moment du vote de l'Acte unique en 1986 et n'a donc pas pu soutenir le projet de François Mitterrand. Pas plus qu'il n'a voté la création de la monnaie unique en 1992 : il n'a pas pris part au vote.
Lors de son entretien sur le JT de France 2, mercredi 22 février, le président-candidat a assuré qu'il avait "voté des textes de François Mitterrand sur l'Acte unique, sur la monnaie unique" pour mieux critiquer les socialistes qui se sont abstenus sur le Mécanisme de stabilité financière.

This wouldn't be the first time that he just made things up. He does frequently in regard to German economic policy, where he simply attributes to Germany whatever he would like to do in France and then ascribes German economic success to whatever imaginary policy he has invented. It's the sort of argumentative style that works well in the Café du Commerce but tends to run into trouble at the level of presidential politics, where facts are inevitably checked.

Le Pen Progresses in Nord-Pas de Calais

The poll suggests that the party is gradually gaining genuine adherents and not just protest voters, but some of the questions seem vaguely worded, so there is reason to wonder about the quality of the data.

Pas très Joly

I don't understand Eva Joly. Her claim to be a legitimate presidential candidate is a reputation for integrity as a judge. To capitalize on such a reputation, one would think that she would conduct herself with measure, decorum, reason, and a certain "judicial temperament," as we say in the States. Instead, she responds to criticism with invective worthy of a fishwife:
"Et Corinne Lepage qui dit que vous désertez la promesse écologique, vous lui dites quoi à Corinne Lepage ?", demande-t-il à l'ex-juge d'instruction et eurodéputée, après l'avoir relancée à maintes reprises sur les sondages. Réponse d'Eva Joly : "Je l'emmerde." Invitée en direct de Canal +, Corinne Lepage a réagi en souriant : "C'est très élégant !" "Je ne commente pas les grossièretés." Pourquoi cette agressivité ? "Peut-être parce que je ne suis pas à 0,5 % dans les sondages mais plutôt à 1,5 et qu'elle n'arrête pas de descendre."
It's almost enough to make you wish the Greens had gone with Hulot. Almost. Actually, they should have listened to Cohn-Bendit and negotiated a decent agreement with the PS, one less obsessed with nuclear power and more concerned with molding the power of the majority on a broad range of issues.

Problems of the French Health Care System

Analyzed by the OFCE.

Santorum Demotes Sarkozy

President Barack Obama, Santorum said, "actually went to France a year or so ago and was with Nicolas Sarkozy and said that, 'Here I am with the French Prime Minister, our best ally in the world.' Now think about this. Name one time in the last 20 years that the French stood by us with anything. But in Barack Obama's eyes, that makes them our best ally, because they fought what was in the best interest of our country."
Sarkozy l'Américain will no doubt be disappointed to learn that he has been demoted to the level of his collaborateur, François Fillon. More serious, as Justin Vaïsse notes,
Santorum’s "clock stopped in 2003," added Justin Vaïsse, senior fellow and director of research at the Center on the U.S. and Europe at the Brookings Institution.

In fact, France has sometimes sought more stringent sanctions against Iran than some of its allies. "On Iran sanctions, the French are actually on a tougher line than the Obama administration -- a hard line that would be closer to Republican candidates like Santorum and Romney, and Congress in general," Vaïsse said.
Well, yes. Of course a cynic might respond that France would like nothing more than to halt Iran's nuclear program in order to sell Iran a few EPRs from Areva, but cynicism is not always the best guide to analyzing foreign policy. Suffice it to say that Santorum is out to lunch--but that's news of "dog bites man" dullness.

This Time the Charm?

A note about that ill-fated poster, the one with the Aegean Sea in the background and the slogan "la France forte""

#PRESIDENTIELLE "La France forte", C'est le slogan de Nicolas Sarkozy. Notre journaliste Bastien Hugues vient de remarquer que cette formule a également été utilisée en 2002 par Lionel Jospin, comme le montre cette photo prise à Paris le 3 avril 2002. avait déjà souligné que le slogan avait été utilisé en 1981 par Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, et repris en 1988 par deux autres candidats, Raymond Barre et Jacques Chirac. Point commun entre tous ces candidats ? Ils ont été battus. Nicolas Sarkozy n'est visiblement pas superstitieux…

More seriously, it seems more than a little careless for Sarkozy's campaign staff to have chosen a slogan already used so many times. I take this as yet another sign that they're just not putting in the maximal effort that they demonstrated in 2007. Speculating wildly, one might even wonder if there isn't an element of sabotage at work: Copé now controls the party apparatus, and Copé has good reasons to hope that Sarkozy will not be re-elected. And revenge may be too sweet to resist: Copé expected a ministry in 2007, never got it, even after several remaniements, and had to claw his way to the party leadership--just like Sarkozy--in the face of a hostile president. So he may well be thinking, "Casse-toi, pauvr' con!"

Nora Berra, UMP Minister, Accuses the UMP of "Discrimination"

Now, here's an item you don't see every day. Nora Berra, secretary of state for health, and one of the last examples of Sarkozyan "ouverture" to visible minorities after the ouster of Fadela Amara and Rachida Dati, says that party bosses won't give her the seat she wants in the 4th district of Lyon because of her "Algerian origins."

Double Whammy

As if austerity were not enough, Europe is now suffering a second trauma, a "regional oil shock" due to the combination of rising oil prices on the global market and a falling euro. The price of crude on the continent has surpassed its historic peak, set in the pre-crisis commodity price runup. World markets are not as tight now as they were then, but the euro is almost 20% lower.

This should be setting off alarm bells across Europe, which still remembers previous oil shocks that sent unemployment to levels from which the European economies still have not recovered. And that was in a time when there was more fiscal headroom for cushioning job losses and easing the transition to a higher rate of structural unemployment. There is not much "give" in European economies at the moment, hence this oil shock may be even more difficult to absorb than previous ones. And what are Europe's two biggest economies, France and Germany, doing? They are dismantling--or in the case of France, proposing to dismantle--nuclear generating capacity in the wake of the "Fukushima shock." This is a terrible, terrible mistake. Whatever one thinks of nuclear power, this is not the time to make this move. It is simply astonishing to me that the German Iron Lady about whom I wrote in the previous post, who will hang tough in the face of withering criticism of her economic policy, was so quick to concede on nuclear retrenchment.

Merkel Nixes the Big Bazooka

Meryl Streep is playing the Iron Lady on the big screen, but the real Iron Lady (Eisenfrau?) is living in Berlin. Frau Merkel has denied the need for a larger European Stability Mechanism. In case you can no longer distinguish your ESMs from your EFSFs and LTROs and TARGETs and what not, suffice it to say that this particular pot of imaginary cash was to sit in readiness to ward off any speculation against troubled sovereign debt in the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain), who have become wards of the FANGs (France, Austria, Netherlands, Germany). What Merkel is saying is that the PIGS may owe trillions, but their defense fund will have to content itself with half a trillion to ward off any rambunctious speculators. The IMF, US Treasury, Nicolas Sarkozy, and other interested parties would like to see a bigger bazooka in readiness just in case, but Merkel, for whom moral hazard is more than just twelve letters, is willing to play chicken with the markets.

Merkel was reportedly furious when she heard that François Hollande wanted to renegotiate the treaty if he is elected president. His first days in office will no doubt be made memorable by an icy blast from Berlin, even though Merkel knows full well that this "renegotiation," should it take place, will merely add a few pious wishes about "growth" and "employment" to the clauses about budgetary oversight. The real clash will come when the budgetary rules are violated, as they will inevitably be. What recourse will there be then?

On this point the agreement is vague, and the retaliatory wherewithal of states is limited. Markets, on the other hand, can react, but would-be enforcers will run risks that could stay their hand. For now, however, Frau Merkel is hanging tough, and Schaüble tougher. Peer Steinbruck, who could be the next chancellor, was apparently more optimistic and conciliatory when he spoke at Harvard the other day (I didn't hear him). So when the French elections are over and the German campaign gears up, we can expect President Hollande to lend his support to Steinbruck, just as Merkel and Cameron have lent theirs to Sarkozy (despite the latter's ostentatious snub of Cameron a few weeks back). We thus see the beginnings of a transnational politicking among European heads of state and government, a necessary prelude to the emergence of a fiscal superstate, which, I believe, is the ultimate way out of the present crisis.