Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Smith on French Intervention in Mali

Another useful analysis of the French intervention in Mali by Stephen W. Smith. Mysterious and mysteriouser.

A Gallic Shrug for the Automobile

Monsieur Hulot is no longer going on holiday. Or, rather, if he is, he's taking the train. The French have fallen out of love with the automobile, it is argued here, and therefore the French auto industry is threatened.
“But the French carmakers, all the European actors, should plan their turnarounds on the assumption of no growth,” Mr. Houchois said.
“It’s hard to make a case for growth in Europe.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sciences Po: La Lutte Continue

Le Monde has an interesting interview with Pierre Mathiot, who will NOT be a candidate this time around to become the new head of Sciences Po. Reading this, one has the impression that the intended audience is not the general public, despite the appearance of the interview in a public format. Mathiot speaks in veiled words of a "power elite" to which he does not belong. He says that he has divined the unfavorable situation that he would face if he were a candidate and has therefore decided to bow out. He attacks Sciences Po Paris as a small and unrepresentative institution that plays a disproportionate role in the formation of the French elite and suggests that this is an abnormal and unhealthy situation that exists nowhere else in the world. And while he grants that Richard Descoings was trying to do something about this, he hints that Descoings's solution was not the one he would choose, though without explaining why.

In short, this interview is not of much use to an outsider in understanding what Mathiot's diagnosis of Sciences Po is. It reads more like a declaration of secession: to the "power elite" that he believes has rejected him, he is saying that he wants no part of their show. They can choose a new leader, but they cannot bring him and--by implication--a whole faction of other faculty to support their system, no matter how they reform it. The emphasis on equality between Parisian and provincial IEPs hints an anti-elitist movement of some sort, but we have to imagine the sins of the elite and the way in which decentralization would remedy them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kapil on Mali

Arun Kapil professes lack of expertise on Mali, but I found his long and informative post on the situation in Mali (with many links to external sources) quite useful.

The UMP and the Pieds-Noirs

Bernard Girard calls our attention to an appearance by Michèle Tabarot, the UMP's no. 2, on Laurent Ruquier's television program. Tabarot resisted attempts by journalists to have her repudiate the violent methods employed by her father and his friends in Algeria, where the elder Tabarot was a senior OAS official in Oran during the most violent phase of the war.

According to Bernard, the interview lifts the veil on the Buisson-Sarkozy-Copé strategy for the UMP, which was and remains to rely on associations of pieds noirs in southeastern France, a strategy already employed with great success by the FN. Of course one would want to see this hypothesis explored in greater depth. To pin such a sweeping indictment to a variety-show interview is to suspend it by a slender thread of evidence, as Bernard recognizes:
Est-ce que cela peut marcher? Les nostalgiques de l'Algérie française sont aujourd'hui très âgés et leurs enfants, bien intégrés, ont pour l'essentiel, retrouvé les réflexes politiques de leurs grands-parents qui étaient plus au centre et à gauche qu'à droite.
Ceci dit, on aurait aimé savoir pourquoi cette anti-gaulliste de conviction a rejoint la famille libérale plutôt que le FN.
And why did Buisson move from the FN to the UMP? Can this really be the future of the French Right, and, if so, how does it relate to neoliberalism in economics? Or was neoliberalism the transient political culture of decades past, now in the process of being replaced by deeper instincts of nationalism, authoritarianism, militarism, and xenophobia?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Franco-American Fictions

So what else is new? Americans are grousing about French foreign policy, and the French are complaining about grudging American support. The immediate issue is Mali where
Mr. Obama’s aides say that the model under way in Mali now — with the French taking the lead, and a force from the region backing them up — is exactly what they want to encourage. But some officials say they believe the French went into Mali hastily, in the words of one official “before they understood exactly what they were biting off.”
Indeed, both assertions are true. The US has encouraged other countries to take the lead in providing regional security, and the French acted in Mali under the pressure of rapidly evolving events, which left them between a rock and a hard place: stand by and watch Bamakou fall to Islamist insurgents, or act before the implications for the long term could be fully assessed. But the die has been cast, and both Washington and Paris must deal with the situation as it is. Although Washington complains about the cost of the Malian operation, it can't amount to much compared to the cost of other operations in which we are engaged. I suspect that the greater fear is that the French can't manage the increasingly complex international aspects of the conflict, which has drawn in many neighboring states and threatens to destabilize the whole of north and central Africa, in which case the cost of holding the line in Mali will seem insignificant. But is there any reason to believe that the US can manage things better than France, or than international institutions? France has deeper knowledge of the immediate region, although its bitter history there may complicate matters unnecessarily.


In defense of the mother tongue, a French commission has decreed that the word "hashtag," which, as everyone knows, is a word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (thus: #yourhashtaghere) and used by Twitter to organize gazillions of random tweets, should not be used in France. Instead, they propose "mot-dièse." But as Scott Sayare points out in the Times, dièse is the the musical sharp symbol, so that mot-croisillon might be a better choice in French.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Decline, Contradiction, Authoritarianism

Le Monde today published the results of a new poll on the French state of mind. The picture is not pretty. Large majorities believe that France's economic power and cultural influence have declined over the past decade. Although only a quarter of the French want to withdraw from the EU, two-thirds believe that France needs to limit the EU's power and take a stronger stand in favor of its own interests. (See yesterday's discussion about similar self-contradictory beliefs in Britain and Germany in the post on David Cameron's referendum announcement.) Three-quarters believe that French democracy is not working well. Sixty-two percent believe that all politicians are corrupt, etc.

Authoritarianism draws astonishing support. To the question "Does France need a real leader to restore order," more than 70% of members of all parties reply in the affirmative. Is it surprising that the parties of the right favor the authoritarian solution even more strongly than those of the left? (70% yes for the PS compared with 84% for MoDem, 97% for the FN, and 98% for the UMP!) To be sure, the question is rather vague. Do voters simply want a clearly defined policy to be pursued vigorously by whichever party they favor, or are they calling for a man on a white horse to save France from its demons? Le Monde seems to favor the darker interpretation. Michel Winock introduces a note of interpretive caution, however:

Comparaison n'est pas raison, on le sait. Les deux précédents évoqués se situent dans des contextes historiques très différents du nôtre. Ce qui me frappe simplement, c'est la résurgence de stéréotypes connus, fondés à la fois sur des aspects de la réalité et sur des fantasmes : l'idée de la décadence (déclin de la France "inéluctable"), le rejet des élites politiques (corrompues), le voeu d'un retour à l'autorité, la demande de protectionnisme, la xénophobie (trop d'étrangers en France), et la substitution de l'islamophobie à l'antisémitisme.
Les ingrédients du populisme sont là et dépassent les rangs des électeurs de Marine Le Pen. C'est une rude réalité avec laquelle doivent se colleter les partis républicains, de droite comme de gauche. En même temps, la "droitisation" de l'UMP peut y trouver sa justification, au risque d'aggraver l'affrontement entre "deux France". Mais l'histoire est imprévisible : on ne peut inférer du passé les lendemains qui nous attendent.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Curious Photo

Bernard Girard comments wittily and perspicaciously on the photo above. I would note one additional point. Some weeks ago a leak from the Elysée revealed that Hollande's staff was worried that in photographs of the president, his tie was never straight. Apparently, some modifications were made to the presidential wardrobe, involving a device to fix his tie to his shirt in such a way that he would appear somewhat less askew. Alas, the device seems to have failed him.

But the real point of this photo, as Bernard notes, is the descent into bathos, from tragedy to farce: the Kohl-Mitterrand handholding commemorated the consummation of the EU as the culmination of a generation's effort to ensure that "never again" would war and genocide darken the history of Europe. A generation later, however, and Europe is once again in grave crisis, if not yet close to war and genocide then at least close enough to the conditions that made intra-European conflict and ethnic hatred thinkable that one cannot help feeling that the feigned insouciance of this staged photo op stands as a warning of the failure of European leadership to recognize, let alone grapple with, what is at stake in Europe's institutional maladjustment.

Football or Rugby?

David Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership within five years if he is reelected. Although he will give British euroskeptics their say, he will campaign wholeheartedly for continued UK membership but on somewhat altered terms.

The European action was predictably negative. Laurent Fabius, who has evidently been honing his wit for the occasion, came out with this remark for the ages:
“You cannot do Europe à la carte,” said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France. “Imagine the E.U. was a soccer club: once you’ve joined up and you’re in this club, you can’t then say you want to play rugby.”
No, but you can change the rules of soccer, and the rules of European membership have been continually and some would say surreptitiously modified over the entire history of the Union. Indeed, rules-changing has been the EU's sine qua non. But then again, what polity has endured for any length of time without adapting its rules for any number of reasons, some good, some bad.

Cameron's move should intensify the Eurodebate that has been raging for several years now. The next year promises to be a fascinating time for Eurowatchers.

UPDATE: Kathleen McNamara sees Cameron's proposal as a "non-starter" but also takes it for granted that the tighter political integration without which the EU cannot in her view survive is in fact achievable. German voters may now be as euroskeptic as UK voters, as German elections this fall will likely show. Cameron may just be the advance guard of a movement whose strength and transcontinental variety have yet to be gauged.

Jean Sarkozy, Professor of Law

Jean Sarkozy, the former president's son, failed his second-year law school exams twice, but he has now been chosen to teach a course in corporate law. To be sure, his fortunes as a student improved over the years, and his experience at EPAD may come in handy:
Après avoir redoublé deux fois sa deuxième année de droit, il est sorti major de promo à sa licence, en septembre 2011, 7 ans après avoir eu son bac. Entre temps, il a failli diriger l'Epad, l'organisme chargé de l'aménagement de La Défense, mais a dû reculer face à la polémique.

Shahin Vallee Reviews the Euro Crisis

Vallee's account of the crisis as a consequence of flaws in the Maastricht architecture designed by Jacques Delors is a useful overview for observers of the euro crisis. Although he adds nothing new to numerous similar retrospectives, his statement of the case is brisk and concise. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, of his embryonic recommendations for overcoming the problems of the euro. Here his recipes are not concise but vague and at times hyperbolic. What is one to make of a statement like this, for instance:

For the Economic and Monetary Union today, one could consider the recent mutual insurance tools and the associated mutualisation as forming the basis of a proto-budget. Formalising this would require integrating the sum of ad hoc mutualisation instruments into a new compact that would lay the foundation of Europe’s fiscal federalism.
This is tantamount to suggesting that something like the Constitution of the United States might have evolved from the rules and regulations of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Not only is the mechanism of such an evolution unspecified, but the very idea of it seems to conclude, in true technocratic fashion, that the problem of a constitution is technical rather than political. There is a category error here, not just a lack of specificity.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Former President Seeks Employment--in London

According to Mediapart, Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking, with help from his éminence grise Alain Minc, to set up an investment fund with a capital of €1 billion. It will be based in ... London. Guizot admonished the French, Enrichissez-vous. Sarkozy says simply, Enrichissez-moi. He hopes to make good on his promise to make money by enlisting investors from around the world, including Asian and Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds. If the reports are true, his actions will raise a storm of protest and a host of questions about conflicts of interest, the ultimate in insider information, and legal thickets. Can a principal in an investment fund sit on the Constitutional Council, for instance?

As always with Sarkozy, his move is not lacking in audacity and even a certain shrewdness. As investment prospectuses standardly warn, however, "Past performance is no guarantee of future success." Nor is past failure necessarily a harbinger of future disaster. But Sarkozy would be entering uncharted territory here, and I'm not sure that people with money to invest will see him as the ideal advisor on where to invest it. His name may open some doors, but his reputation for impetuosity, lack of attention to detail, and failure to follow through in dealing with practical complexities may close others.

One thing has to be said about Sarkozy, though: he does have a gift for generating headlines, even when, as in this case, he might prefer not to.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

That Didn't Take Long

From triumphant intervention in the desert to hopeless quagmire in under a week: that didn't take long, and it must be some kind of record. In fact, the maneuver phase of this war is not yet over, however, and the postwar statebuilding has not yet begun:
In a column Friday in Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrède wrote that the French endgame is unclear. “In launching itself militarily in the front line, France also takes on a responsibility” for the reconstruction of the state, she said. “The after-intervention — we have seen it elsewhere in the world — is the true headache of interventions. The ultimate test will be there.”
True, but the war has to play out first.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"La palme du misogyne beauf"

« Misogyne beauf », « nana » : échanges... by publicsenat

Special Issue of FPCS on 2012 Presidential Elections

The Winter 2012 issue of French Politics, Culture & Society (vol. 30, no. 3) is out, and it contains a special section on the 2012 presidential elections that may be of interest to many blog readers.

Background on Mali

Do the US and French views of the situation coincide? The Times thinks not:
But the surprise French assault last Friday to blunt the Islamists’ advance upended those plans and set off a cascading series of events, culminating in a raid on Wednesday by militants on a foreign-run gas field in Algeria. That attack threatens to widen the violence in an impoverished region and drag Western governments deeper into combating an incipient insurgency.

And yet the rush of events has masked the fact that officials in Washington still have only an impressionistic understanding of the militant groups that have established a safe haven in Mali, and they are divided about whether some of these groups even pose a threat to the United States.

Moreover, the hostage situation in Algeria has only heightened concerns that a Western military intervention could transform militant groups that once had only a regional focus into avowed enemies of the United States — in other words, that the backlash might end up being worse than the original threat.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The EC Gets Something Right for Once

According to Jonathan Portes.

The Reform to End all Reforms?

As long as I have been involved in the study of French politics, I have been hearing about the reform to end all reforms: the banning of the cumul des mandats. It is telling indeed that French has a phrase for the holding of multiple offices that rolls so trippingly off the tongue, whereas any English circumlocution gives the reader pause. Is le cumul des mandats simply illegal in, say, the United States? I doubt that any law exists that would prevent someone from serving simultaneously as, for instance, Mayor of Indianapolis and representative in Congress. It's just that it's-well, not the done thing.

In France, however, it is not only the done thing; it is practically a necessity of political life. If a man or woman wants to be a player at the national level, it's essential to have a local power base with patronage powers that can be used to groom a loyal staff, a cadre of backers, and bridges to important resources in civil society. Banning le cumul would indeed constitute a major reform, just because it would disrupt so many vested interests. Whether it would achieve any useful goal beyond altering the status quo has never been so clear to me as to the idea's many staunch supporters. Would the quality of representation be increased? If so, why? Might reform not widen the distance between the national and local levels and therefore have the opposite of the desired effect?

In any case, François Hollande has now promised to make good on his campaign promise to deal with the question of le cumul. Eventually. The agenda remains vague. In the same speech, Hollande promised to seek a constitutional revision that would end the practice of granting former heads of state automatic membership of the Conseil Constitutionnel. Once again, the rationale of this maneuver is open to question. Former presidents are no doubt political animals, but the CC has never made any claim to be above politics or to represent an independent legal logic. The CC is too new an institution, and its traditions are still too tenuous, to say just what kind of judicial appointment would best serve the court's ostensible purpose of establishing a measure of judicial review. The American Constitution clearly envisioned the Supreme Court as a check on the presumed excesses of democracy, and the French have always had doubts about the need for or wisdom of such a check. Former presidents have some claim to have represented "the will of the people" in some past state, whereas judicial nominations by a sitting president can claim to represent the same will in a more current state. The latter might therefore seem a more "democratic" procedure and thus more in keeping with French rather than American ideas of the highest court in the land. But the entire logic of the French court is so different that such an argument hardly seems conclusive.

Sciences Po

For those who have not been following the evolving Sciences Po affair, Scott Sayare has an excellent recap in The New York Times.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bell on the State of France

David Bell offers an excellent concise summary of how things stand in France since the advent of the Hollande administration.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Flanby, le Martel de l'Infidèle

François Hollande was going to be a "normal" president. But French presidents aren't "normal," countered his opponent Nicolas Sarkozy. The French presidency was conceived as an exception, a supreme arbiter standing outside and above the petty and squalid bickering of the politicians. He was sovereign in the sense of Carl Schmitt: free to declare the exception to normality, to claim additional "emergency" powers in a situation that only he was authorized to define as an emergency.

Less than a year later, we have Hollande declaring an emergency in Mali and sending in French troops, while commentators seized immediately on the transformation of his image from soft and indecisive compromiser (who was saddled with the sobriquet "Flanby," borrowed from the name of a squiggly custard dessert) to hard-charging Rough Rider prepared to take on the west end of the Islamic crescent.
“This is the first occasion Hollande had or seized upon to act decisively, without the sort of waffling that had appeared to be his trademark,” said François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “So in that sense, it changes his image instantaneously.”
In the hyperventilation that often accompanies these sudden image infusions, some commentators began to trace a genealogy of the new Hollande, who, it was said, had previously shown signs of backbone in other negotiations over labor market reform, gay marriage, taxation of the wealthy, etc. Why, before you know it, "Flanby" may have to be rebaptized "Hyperpresident II."

I counsel a little calm here. That war in Mali has only just begun, and already its difficulties are apparent. The territory to be pacified is vast; the ranks of the rebels include former government forces and weapons; France was invited into Mali by the feckless Malian government itself, whose reliability as a partner in French designs is open to question; and, finally, French military capabilities may not be up to the burdens of guerrilla warfare in remote desert terrain. What sort of sacrifice for Mali can Hollande ultimately justify, if vital French interests are not threatened? Support for "African democracy," mentioned prominently in Hollande's weekend announcement, may wear thin as the French learn more about the true nature of democracy in Mali. As French public opinion evolves, so, too, will the positions of neighboring African states.

I don't know if it is possible to have a quagmire in a desert, but Mali may offer an example.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

French Surprised by Strength of Mali Rebels


The unnamed Elysee Palace official quoted by AFP said on Sunday that French armed forces had been surprised by the fighting quality of the Islamist militants they were up against.
"What has really struck us is how up-to-date their equipment is, and the way they've been trained to use it..." the official said.

"From Libya they have got hold of a lot of up-to-date sophisticated equipment which is much more robust and effective than we could have imagined.""At the start, we thought they would be just a load of guys with guns driving about in their pick-ups, but the reality is that they are well-trained, well-equipped, and well-armed.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The New Social Model

Was it an "historic pact" or mrely an "almost historic pact?" Le Monde's editorial writers were in some doubt this morning. To be sure, the CGT and the FO have both rejected the accord, and the CFDT was joined in acceptance only by the relatively less significant CFTC and CGE-CGC. In short, the agreement merely ratifies the status quo among the social partners: employers want more "flexibility" in hiring and firing, the CFDT, however reluctantly, is willing to give it to them, but much of the labor force remains wary of concessions, no matter how often France's declining competitive position is invoked.

Of all the social partners, it is the employers association (MEDEF) that seems most pleased, along with President Hollande: "Un succès du dialogue social", s'est félicité M. Hollande, qui voit valider sa méthode sociale-démocrate fondée sur le compromis social." But what else would he say? Of course the details will matter as the pact is turned into concrete legislation, and praise for the agreement seems to rest on the hope that it will change the tone of discussion of these details. Le Monde concludes with a remark that has the ring of a warning to Socialist deputies:
M. Hollande s'est déjà engagé à "transcrire fidèlement les dispositions d'ordre législatif prévues dans l'accord". Jean-Marc Ayrault a tenu le même langage. Et Harlem Désir, au nom du Parti socialiste, a apporté son soutien. Mais le plus dur est à venir : obtenir des élus socialistes le même respect de la démocratie sociale.
Hollande had committed himself, hence it is up to the part to support him in the name of "social democracy." This demand for a blank check is rather exorbitant, given that the situation remains more or less as it has stood since 1992. The PS has never been un parti godillot. The fundamental assumption--which may be correct, but then again, it may not--is that France's competitiveness problem can be resolved through concessions on the front of "flexibility." But what if this is wrong? What if France's decline is more a result of bad industrial policy, mistaken strategic decisions on the part of capital, and government failure to channel resources and funds into dynamic growth sectors? The fearful worker clinging to his status quo as insider and rejecting all productivity-enhancing investment is a myth. Unfortunately that myth is reinforced by the comprehensible but short-sighted action of some workers when plants are closed (at Gandrange or Aulnay, for example). Insiders do sometimes try too hard to save themselves at the expense of outsiders. But that is not the whole story, and greater "flexibility" is not the whole solution.

The War in Mali

The French have already lost a helicopter pilot in the Malian invasion, undertaken at the behest of the Malian government. At stake, for François Hollande, are the survival of Mali as a state, the security of the Malian people, the safety of some 6,000 French citizens in Mali including a number of hostages, and, more broadly, the ability of African states to withstand attacks by insurgent groups embracing an anti-development agenda.

Here is the analysis of Paul Quilès, who served as defense minister in 1985-86:
Au-delà des frontières maliennes, le risque est grand de voir s’établir un vaste sanctuaire pour les groupes islamistes radicaux s’étendant de la Mauritanie au Nigéria. AQMI a fait école et les groupes qui lui sont affiliés, implantés localement, sont autant de risques de déstabilisation pour les pays ouest-africains, d’autant plus que les capacités militaires comme la légitimité démocratique de nombreux gouvernements de la région sont limitées.
A crucial issue here is Mali's uranium resources, which are coveted by any number of players. Hollande needs a quick resolution to the current unstable situation, but it is hard to see how a quick resolution can be achieved without a much more substantial commitment of resources than has been made to date.

Friday, January 11, 2013

France Sends Troops to Mali

French helicopter gunships launched attacks on jihadist rebels in pickup trucks in Mali, where a growing insurrection in the north has suddenly shifted its focus southward. President Hollande promised to halt the rebel advance. His move thus far seems to enjoy broad support across the political spectrum.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Is the Labor Reform Pact Doomed?

J.-C. Mailly has announced that the FO will in all probability vote no (behind paywall). Two outcomes seem most likely at present. Either there will be no agreement, or the CFDT will accept a minimal pact (after extracting a few more concessions from the government) and induce some smaller unions to follow suit. The CGT has already said that it will not accept the accord, indeed, that it will combat it. But the FO's decision is crucial for the following reason:

La décision de FO pèsera lourd quand il s'agira de transposer un éventuel accord dans une loi, comme s'y est engagé le gouvernement. En attendant que la réforme de 2008 sur la représentativité syndicale produise, avant l'été, tous ses effets, c'est la loi du 4 mai 2004 qui joue.
Elle prévoit que "la validité d'un accord interprofessionnel est subordonnée à l'absence d'opposition de la majorité des organisations syndicales de salariés représentatives". En d'autres termes, pour que l'accord soit valide, il faut que trois centrales sur cinq signent.
And as unions go, the FO is a very interesting organization, whose rank-and-file broke down as follows in the 2012 presidential elections:
Au premier tour de la présidentielle de 2012, selon un sondage IFOP, 31 % des sympathisants de FO ont voté pour François Hollande, 25 % pour Marine Le Pen, 14 % pour Nicolas Sarkozy comme pour François Bayrou et 12 % pour Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
I would not relish the task of trying to figure out, as a negotiator, what kind of deal would be likely to please such a créature contre-nature, which resembles something out of Borges more than a traditional "trade union."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Investors Grow Wary of Europe

According to the Financial Times, 25% of US corporations have increased investment in Asia since the euro crisis began, but only 3% have increased spending in Europe. Shopping for bargains in distressed European assets has diminished, while even the financial sector, in which Europe was thought to enjoy a comparative advantage, has shifted its focus.

Is an anti-austerity faction beginning to emerge among European business leaders? The article quotes Sergio Marchionne, who heads Fiat in Europe and its Chrysler subsidiary in the US, to the effect that more rather than less government intervention in markets is needed. To be sure, Marchionne's position may be determined by conditions in the auto industry, where global overcapacity and misallocation of resources is a problem. But there is a broader feeling that Europe is entering a phase of stagnation similar to that of Japan. At least one element of business sentiment is thus moving close to Paul Krugman's view that Europe has sacrificed too much to the banks while doing too little to revive the animal spirits of entrepreneurs.

The problem, however, is that a workable political coalition in favor of European stimulus will depend on the geographic distribution of discontent CEOs. To put it in a nutshell, not enough German executives share Marchionne's view that governments need to spend more at home in order to stimulate demand.

Arun Kapil Recommends "La Droite Brune"

My fellow blogger Arun Kapil recommends Renaud Dely's new book La Droite brune for an authoritative discussion of how the right was transformed under Sarkozy. I haven't read it myself, but I intend to.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Times Expresses Impatience With Hollande

The New York Times thinks that François Hollande is moving too slowly on economic reforms. After all, the piece suggests, Hollande could simply overhaul French labor laws, end "corporate welfare," increase carbon taxes (as Ireland has done), and subsidize shorter working hours without reduction in pay (as Germany does with its Kurzarbeit program). The life of the editorial writer is so easy: he or she needn't recall that a higher carbon tax ran into a buzzsaw of opposition under Sarkozy; that "corporate welfare"--not only in France but also in the United States--is entrenched by powerful networks of interests, and that subsidizing shorter working hours may conflict with the imperative--which the Times writer fully acknowledges--of reducing French borrowing from financial markets. In sum, the Times editorial is little more than an exercise in nostalgia for the decisiveness of the Sarkozy years, when the president was so full of certitudes that the country lurched from one set of goals to another without so much as a moment's pause to catch one's breath in between.

Yes, Hollande is rapidly losing the support of many of the people who elected him. Yes, the prospect of a collapsing center is alarming to many intermittent observers of the French scene. And yet to propose that it's high time that the French simply "get on with" reforms that everyone knows must come is disingenuous in its utter neglect of the reasons why "stalemate" has been so characteristic a feature of French politics for so long and abject in its implicit comparison with the United States, which is silently portrayed as a place where people know how to get things done. And yet this same editorial writer may well have been working a day or two ago on a piece about the fiscal cliff deal as a classic exercise in kicking-can-down-road politics. Rather than blame "Flanby" for his mushiness, it might be better to recognize that mushiness is inherent in the structure of the crisis itself (and in welfare state retrenchment more generally).Is there a new world waiting to be born, or a field strewn with wounded lions awaiting opportunities to pounce as soon as they've regained the last necessary increment of strength? Multiple equilibria no doubt exist, with the conditions permitting transition from one to another murky at best.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Nothing Wrong That a Little PR Can't Fix

When Sarkozy was president, PR was a regalian function. Not that it did him much good. The coup de comm' is a dangerous weapon: the more often it is wielded, the more tempting it becomes for commentators to read every act of governance as a symbolic strike in the war of communications. Everything solid melts into air. Political action must be deciphered as ironic narrative.

François Hollande has apparently decided that his PR operation needs shoring up, so he has brought in Claude Sérillon, a newsman who anchored a prime time broadcast in the '80s, to advise him on such matters. We'll see what changes this brings. The problem is that Hollande's initial coup de comm' was to characterize himself as a president who would favor substance over framing, the long game over winning the news cycle, and a vision of governance as a collective rather than an individual effort. Perhaps Sérillon can find a way to dramatize these values, but their appeal lies precisely in their being undramatic, even anti-dramatic, but ultimately more effective than cheap histrionics. No doubt Hollande is disappointed that what he takes to be his quiet virtues have not been sufficiently recognized, but can he enhance their appeal by selling them a little more vociferously?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Obama Appoints Duflo

President Obama has named French economist and MIT professor Esther Duflo a member of the Global Development Council. Congratulations, Esther!

Bardot, Depardieu: Citizens of Humanity

During the French Revolution the Prussian nobleman Anacharsis Cloots became a "citizen of humanity." Today, we have the spectacle of Brigitte Bardot following the lead of Gérard Depardieu in seeking Russian citizenship. No doubt Depardieu's and Bardot's motives are as honorable as Cloots's: the former admires "Russian democracy" and is flattered by the attentions of that great democrat, Vladimir Putin, while the latter wishes to halt the impending euthanasia of two ailing elephants in the Lyon zoo. Let no one think for a moment that vulgar considerations of tax liability have anything to do with this sudden outbreak of interspecial solicitude. But surely the latest developments in this affair warrant the addition of a third term to Marx's famous sequence, "first time tragedy, second time farce." We are now through the looking glass.

What a blow to French vanity, though. If Bardot epitomized the French sensuality of the 60s and Depardieu with his ample loins represented the quintessence of Gallic lust in the 70s, time has not been kind to either of these specimens of "humanity." A cruel director, wishing to sum up French decline since 1968, could do worse than to cast a film featuring this rather forlorn couple as an exemplum warning of the dire consequences of lust unbridled and unredeemed by the slightest moral elevation. And to think that Depardieu once played Danton, de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace. With his paean to Putin,, he has crossed the line between audacity and foolhardiness, and now Bardot, giving her all for the tuberculous elephants, has followed him over. Où sont les neiges d'antan?

Daniel Gros: Deeper Integration Is Not the Answer

For Daniel Gros, deeper integration of the EU is not the answer to the current woes of the euro or slow European growth.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Désir's Desire

At the Congress of Toulouse, Harlem Désir, the leader of the PS, pronounced these prophetic words: "Socialistes ouvrez grandes les portes du parti, occupez Solférino, et invitez-y les Français." Today, an association of undocumented immigrants took him at his word and attempted to occupy the party's headquarters on rue Solférino.