Monday, November 26, 2012

Mittal-Hollande Summit

Arnaud Montebourg, who has made a specialty of undiplomatic and unproductive pronouncements, accused Lakshmi Mittal of reneging on commitments made to France, precipitating a crisis. Mittal is on his way to France to thrash the matter out with President Hollande. Now, it is true that Mittal has closed certain operations in Gandrange and Florange that he had promised some years ago to keep running and even beef up with new investments, but his promises were contingent on certain economic conditions, which have not been met. European steel consumption has declined sharply in the crisis, and this may or may not justify Mittal's decisions, depending on the precise nature of the understanding he had with Sarkozy.

Beyond the narrow issue, however, is Montebourg's apparent general view that virtually nothing can justify a plant closure. At a time when the government is emphasizing the need for pro-competitiveness measures, such a position seems short-sighted. I won't pronounce on the economics of the steel industry or the proper way to address overcapacity in steel production. There are complex factors to be considered. But it is economically suicidal for France to insist that capital that could be invested in cutting-edge sectors be poured down rabbit holes. Is there any reason to believe that Mittal is acting in bad faith? If so, I haven't seen it. If Hollande wishes to establish his bona fides with business interests, he must rein in Montebourg, who is serving his own interests with his ill-advised jawboning and not the interests of the government or even of Mittal workers.

A Discussion of the Euro Crisis

Five noted scholars debate the euro crisis and its political ramifications at Harvard's Center for European Studies:

Guest Post: Brent Whelan on Italian Elections

Although this blog is devoted to French politics, the wider European context is always of interest and particularly so in this time of trans-European crisis. Although I try to follow political developments in other countries besides France, an illness for which I am currently undergoing treatment has diminished the time available for keeping abreast of the news. So I am pleased today to present this guest contribution from Brent Whelan, a Boston-based observer of the European political scene and frequent commenter on this blog. As will be clear, Brent's political views differ from mine, but his particular perspective is helpful in illuminating the current state of play in Italian politics.
European political observers accustomed to regarding the Italian electoral system as a comic sideshow might want to take a closer look after yesterday's Democratic Party primaries. What is gradually taking shape in advance of the March/April national legislative election is a classic face-off between two highly credible spokespersons: on the center-right, the darling of the European financial class and its conservative 'reform' program, Mario Monti, on whose behalf strenuous efforts are underway to keep him as premier without the messy business of standing for election; while on the center-left, Pier Luigi Bersani, a reconstructed Communist, centrist minister in Prodi's reform cabinet, and chair of the PD, seems headed toward nomination in next Sunday's runoff. But first Bersani must finish off the frankly Blair-ite mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi (who prefers to call himself an 'Obamist'), a generation younger, post-ideological, and indisputably charismatic. (Renzi spent the morning of yesterday's first-round election running a half-marathon before greeting voters at the polls.)

Much of the interest in that run-off concerns Nichi Vendola, the not-so-reconstructed Communist, fervently Catholic, openly gay and radically environmentalist governor of Puglia, whose small Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party is officially affiliated with the PD and whose 15% in the first round will provide the margin of victory for Bersani or Renzi. And Vendola is already exerting that leverage, promising to 'listen carefully' ("ascolteremo con puntigliosa attenzione le parole di Bersani e di Rienzi e orienteremo il nostro sostegno di conseguenza") before throwing his support to either candidate. Will Vendola succeed in pushing Bersani far enough to the left that Italy has a real Left/Right showdown in the spring (the one that Hollande seems determined to avoid in France as he turns his back on the Front de Gauche and promotes austerity policies)? As both Bersani and Vendola are deeply committed to the European project, will they team up to define the 'Other Europe' that Mélenchon and the FdG allude to but seldom describe? With Bersani already leading in national polls, will Italy be the site of a resurgent Left, or its last hurrah? Some though not all of these questions will be defined as Vendola makes his move on Bersani in the next few days.


Fillon and Copé must hate each other with a passion to have chosen the suicidal course that is undermining both of them and their party with it. In normal times, one assumes that political passions run across party lines. To be sure, Sarkozy threatened to hang Villepin from a butcher's hook, and the Right has numerous fratricidal episodes in its past. Those seemed different, however, because the protagonists were heavyweights. Fillon and Copé are still politicians of the second rank hoping to make the passage upward. Perhaps that's why their contest is so bitter. Others are calling for a new vote, and the result might indeed be different, because so many militants are disgusted with the leadership that they might sit this one out, if they have not already resigned.

Curiously, the PS treated us to a similar spectacle a few years ago. Few now remember that in the leadership contest to succeed Hollande, Aubry and Royal ran neck and neck, and, then as now, there were widespread (and credible) allegations of fraud. Yet eventually Royal withdrew. She seems to have been promised nothing for her sacrifice, and to have gotten nothing, although we can't be sure that there wasn't a deal involving DSK and Aubry, in which Royal would have gotten a ministry under a DSK presidency. But any such deal would have been rendered moot by subsequent events. The problem for the UMP is that Fillon has already served as prime minister for five years. The only job he wants now is the top one, and Copé is not about to give it to him.