Friday, March 29, 2013

France Misses Deficit Target

The French budget deficit for 2012 was 4.8% of GDP, higher than the 4.5% target agreed with the European Union. The president in his TV interview yesterday said little about how to reduce government spending, except to say that "the shock of administrative simplification" would go a long way toward meeting the goal. He did not mention the deficit figure, although he surely already knew about it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hollande's Apologia pro vita sua

François Hollande sparred with David Pujadas for an hour and fifteen minutes today. I watched the whole thing but spent most of the time wondering why I don't feel more enthusiasm for this president who certainly knows his dossiers, who is quite capable of mounting a vigorous defense of his actions to date, which are more substantial than I might have given him credit for, and yet who somehow fails to convince me that he is the man to get the job done.

He claims to know where he's headed: toward growth, toward a smaller and more nearly balanced state budget, and toward a more competitive France, thanks mainly to a series of labor market reforms and tax reductions. But no one can promise growth, and he gave no analysis of what he thinks has sapped French growth in recent years. One has to divine that analysis from the nature of his proposed reforms, and when one does that, the result is that there is not much difference between his analysis and Sarkozy's, except that the latter owned his neoliberalism, while Hollande is forced to disguise his by reinstating the 75% tax on high salaries, already rejected by the Conseil Constitutionnel in the form of an income tax, but now reborn in the form of a corporate surtax. This is a pointless symbolic measure, which muddies the waters and only reinforces the "anti-business" canard that has been raised against him.

Hollande will also end universal family allocations, adjusting allocations by income. This is a good move. He will extend the period of pension contributions, after denouncing the Right for doing the same. He will pull most French troops out of Mali, because their mission has been accomplished. He will not cut the defense budget, because this is essential to France's "national autonomy."

So much for the substance. What about the form? I think Hollande was ill-served by his PR people (if in fact they chose or approved the venue). He should have taken advantage of the impressive surroundings of the Elysée. On this garish TV set of blue and white lozenges, he looked like a game show participant opposite a quizmaster. Pujadas was more pointed than usual in his questions, and Hollande was quick enough and well enough organized in his answers.

Yet something in this president's personality fails to pass through the TV screen, at least to my eyes. Pujadas pressed him at both the beginning and end of the interview about his supposed lack of "authority." I'm not sure that "authority" is the right word. But he does lack a certain rapport with the camera and a certain gift for using the medium to advantage. This needn't be an inevitable flaw in a president. I don't think Chirac was very good at television either. But it does limit the usefulness of television as a means of escaping from a difficult pass, and Hollande right now finds himself in a very difficult pass. If there were other levers of power he could pull, his failure to master TV wouldn't matter, but I'm not sure how much leverage he has with parliament or the bureaucracy or the principal actors of civil society. With this bid to turn things around, he seemed to be acknowledging that nothing else was working, so why not wager everything on this televised hour? If that was the calculation, I don't think it worked. But I hope I'm wrong. There is still a long way to go in this quinquennat.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hollande Sinks Among Young, Workers

President Hollande stands lower in the approval ratings at this stage of his presidency than did his predecessor. He is faring particularly badly with the young 18-24, only 30% of whom express confidence in his leadership, and with workers, 32% approve (a shocking 10 percentage points lower than a month ago).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tension Between Trade Unions

Tensions are running high between the CFDT and CGT. The latter, under new leadership elected just weeks ago, has adopted a more radical rhetorical posture, calling the former a "renegade" union of "social traitors." Ah, the good old days--the vocabulary is almost as "dru et cru" as Mélenchon's.


It looks as though Jean-François Copé has decided that there will soon be a ministerial shakeup and that Manuel Valls will become the next prime minister. Why else send his troops out to destroy Valls' reputation as an effective interior minister whose policies are similar to those of Sarkozy?

Indeed, with Hollande sinking in the polls (latest approval rating hovering around the 30% level) and no fresh ideas in sight from the current government, it may be time for a cabinet reshuffle. Hollande's travels around the country do not seem to be triggering groundswells of support, and whatever bounce he may have received from the Mali operation is now dissipated as that effort winds down. This is a difficult pass for the government, and the old ploy of redistributing ministries is tailor-made for situations like this, where the actual margin for maneuver is small (or at least perceived to be so by the government, which may be myopic) but the need to change the headlines is great. With today's news that unemployment is up yet again to record levels, pressure is building.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The FN Poised to Capture Medium-Sized Cities

A number of small cities (population 10 to 30,000) are in the sights of the Front National:
Même si le FN entend se présenter partout et ne pas abandonner le chantier des grandes villes, ce sont les villes moyennes – entre 10 000 et 30 000 habitants – qui constituent la cible prioritaire du Front national. C'est dans cette catégorie que se trouvent les villes "prenables", comme Hénin-Beaumont (Pas-de-Calais), Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône), Carpentras (Vaucluse) ou Beaucaire (Gard). Mais, dans un parti qui manque de cadres, il faut partir très tôt en campagne, notamment pour pouvoir remplir les listes électorales aux municipales.

Are the French Taught to be Unhappy?

Claudia Senik of the Paris School of Economics argues that, by objective criteria of well-being, the French ought to be happier than they are. She blames the school system for socializing them in gloom. I'd like to know more about this latter claim. The article is skimpy on detail. (h/t SR)

UPDATE: The paper in question is here. I haven't read it yet.

Mélenchon Attacks Moscovici

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has drawn criticism from all sides for his blunderbuss attack on finance minister Pierre Moscovici, whom he described as "un petit intelligent qui a fait l'ENA" et qui "ne pense pas français, qui pense finance internationale". For Harlem Désir, this remark place Mélenchon beyond the limits of respectability: "C'est un vocabulaire des années 1930 que l'on ne pensait plus entendre de la bouche d'un républicain et encore moins d'un dirigeant de gauche",

Saturday, March 23, 2013

France Will Call for Arming Syrian Rebels

My old friend Justin Vaïsse, who is now director of policy planning for the French Foreign Ministry, says that France will call for the EU to supply "vetted" Syrian rebel commanders with ground-to-air missiles in order to "level the playing field," which is currently tilted because Russia is supplying the Assad regime with arms while the western powers remain paralyzed for fear of supplying weapons that will end up in the hands of Islamists.

Hollande has evidently decided to take an aggressive and risky position on the Syria question. Of course the US is also currently reassessing its position on arms shipments and may be leaning toward a similar decision. The decision cannot be an easy one, and one shudders at the thought of these weapons ending up in the possession of people who might use them against civilian airliners. One can only hope that the intelligence, for once, is good. France has always prided itself on its knowledge of Syria, and it may feel that its intelligence services are in a better position to assess the reliability of the various rebel factions than, say, the CIA.

But think back to the beginning of Sarkozy's presidency, when the French strategy was clearly to bet on Assad as an Arab leader amenable to reason and capable of brokering a peace with Israel. France wanted to set itself up as Syria's privileged interlocutor (since Syria and the US were not on speaking terms) and thus to increase its influence over the Middle East peace process, such as it was. Clearly it bet on the wrong horse back then, although at the time the idea seemed plausible enough. I would like to know more about the basis of France's confidence that it knows who can be trusted among the Syrian rebels.

I wish Justin all the best for success in his new job.

Populist Parties in Europe

Anthony Painter has published a study of the rise of populist parties in a number of European countries. (h/t Laurent Bouvet)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sarkozy Formally Charged in Bettencourt Affair

Nicolas Sarkozy has been mis en examen by the investigating magistrate in connection with the Bettencourt affair. The charge is that he took advantage of the diminished mental capacity of Mme Bettencourt to obtain money for his campaign. Le Monde calls the charge a "thunderclap."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cahuzac Resigns

The Ayrault government has lost its first casualty to scandal. Jérôme Cahuzac, minister of the budget, has been placed under investigation for suspicion of tax fraud and money laundering and has been replaced by Bernard Cazenave, who was minister delegate for European affairs.

Cahuzac was brought down by a bizarre recording of a phone call that was mysteriously connected via his business manager's office to a third party, who recorded it and eventually transmitted the recording to one of Cahuzac's political rivals. The latter put it in the hands of Mediapart, which published a transcript. A technical analysis confirmed that the voice on the tape was Cahuzac's, who nevertheless denies that he has committed any crime.

My Latest Translation

Lucien Jaume, Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Thibault Era Ends at the CGT

I'm old enough to remember the Georges Séguy era and to have met Henri Krasucki, but it's fair to say that most people of prime working age can scarcely remember a time when Bernard Thibault was not the head of the CGT. With his Beatles haircut incongruously preserved in this era of rap, he did not look the part of the "modernist reformer," which Le Monde assigns him. Of course there's a certain perversity in such a designation, since "reformer" is a word that still bears overtones of "social traitor" in CGT circles, even if the age of Communist dominance of the union is long gone. Still, Thibault was ahead of many of his colleagues in recognizing irreversible changes in the world of work and in the global economy. He tried to prepare his union to confront them, not always with success.

One measure of his failure is his inability to pass the leadership on to a designated successor. He wanted a woman for the job, but none of the several women who enjoyed his favor was able to impose herself on the organization, and in the end he was succeeded by Thierry Lepaon. Lepaon, though not handpicked by Thibault and not well-known, nevertheless seems determined to carry on with a "reformist" agenda that still dares not speak its name, so in that sense perhaps Thibault was more successful than some would give him credit for. But these are difficult times for organized labor, which is strongest in some of France's worst-performing industrial sectors and which faces a Socialist government hamstrung by its commitment to budgetary austerity and with limited influence over the decisions of financially strapped firms.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Industrial Conflict in Amiens

Steven Erlanger analyzes the different fates of the Goodyear and Dunlop tire plants in Amiens. Labor conflict in the former has been much in the news, and the contrast between one factory, in which workers were willing to accept more flexible working hours and other concessions on labor discipline, and the other, in which they stood firm and eventually lost, seems to be a ready-made object lesson. Perhaps the story is more complicated than it seems, but this simple morality tale is one that is being told over and over again in France.

Contrast Germany, where BMW just announced that its workers would receive a bonus of €7,630, or about 30% of their average annual wage. VW and Mercedes previously announced similar bonuses. These bonuses can be seen as quid pro quo for worker agreements to wage restraint and tighter workplace discipline. It is interesting to note, however, that BMW workers outside of Germany did not receive the bonuses, suggesting that political, social, and cultural factors shape economic incentives.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Lèse-Majesté contre le Pingouin en chef

Rumor has it that Carla Bruni's new song, ostensibly about a penguin, is in fact about her husband's successor at the Elysée. If so, Mme Bruni has an inspired eye: there is a remarkable resemblance between President Hollande and a penguin: the gait, the bodily habitus, the rounded form, the stiffness of demeanor, the rather awkward sadness. Ms. Bruni's lyrics go beyond affectionate metaphor, however. She seems to dislike the man: "Il prend son petit air souverain, mais j'le connais moi, l'pingouin, n'a pas de manière de châtelain... Hé le pingouin! si un jour tu recroises mon chemin, je t'apprendrai, le pingouin, je t'apprendrai à me faire le baise main. ... "Ni laid ni beau, l'pingouin, ni haut ni bas, ni froid ni chaud, l'pingouin, ni oui ni non..."

Disobliging, to say the least. When critics took after Carla, the former president understandably took offense, but somehow it's hard to imagine him telling Carla to cool it lest she be accused of lèse-majesté.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Robert Castel Is Dead

The sociologist Robert Castel is dead at age 79. I translated his Psychiatric Society many years ago.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Modest Constitutional Reforms

François Hollande will propose several constitutional reforms, but according to Médiapart they will be modest in scope. The four measures include elimination of the Cour de Justice de la République (currently charged with trying government ministers accused of infractions related to their official function), reform of the Conseil Supérieur de la Magistrature, elimination of ex officio appointments to the Cour Constitutionnel (so that former presidents will no longer become justices automatically), and a ban on ministers holding local or regional executive functions.

Hollande will not attempt to ban all forms of le cumul des mandats, however, nor will he try to grant non-citizens a limited right to vote in local elections, eliminate the word "race" from the Constitution, ratify the European charter on regional languages, or enshrine laïcité as a constitutional principle. And the penal status of the president of the Republic will not be touched.

In short, the reforms that will be proposed are the most limited and least controversial of the proposals floated since Hollande's election. This is a sign that he doesn't feel he has much political capital to expend on controversial constitutional reforms right now.

Kuisel's "The French Way" Reviewed

Dick Kuisel's study of evolving French attitudes toward the United States, The French Way, is reviewed by a roundtable of scholars here. (h/t SM)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Le Maire, Un Brin Séguiniste

Bruno Le Maire, one of the brighter young lights on the right, has taken a rather nationalist turn. This is hardly surprising. The constraints on French sovereignty are so tight that the number of viable political positions is shrinking. The extreme right and extreme left have made inroads into the centrist position by proposing simply to repudiate those constraints. France should simply reassert its sovereignty and go its own way. This option is not open to the center-right.

Meanwhile, Hollande's embrace of the constraints that the center-right itself once endorsed (such as the TSCG, the commitment to a balanced budget by a date certain, etc.) has weakened the appeal of that route to the right. It is hardly credible to say, "We'll do what he's doing only better," when a) what he's doing doesn't seem to be working and b) voters don't like it.

So a middle-of-the-roader like Le Maire is obliged to walk a fine line. He launches an n-ième attack on "Brussels" while at the same time asserting that Germany needs France because German economic power cannot do without French political and diplomatic vision. This is hardly a novel idea, but in present circumstances it has taken on a new luster. So we have Le Maire's robust defense of the Germans (he is a Germanist by training).
Cette interprétation est fausse. Contrairement à ce qu'on dit beaucoup, les Allemands n'ont pas l'intention de dominer l'Europe. Ils ne veulent pas assumer le premier rôle politique en Europe. Ils veulent des partenaires crédibles. Ils ont besoin d'une France forte. C'est pourquoi nous devons retrouver très vite une crédibilité économique. Nous n'y parviendrons pas sans proposer un modèle économique et social nouveau.
One might expect this to be the place in Le Maire's discourse where the rubber hits the road. Exactly what will this "new economic and social model" look like? Alas, he disappoints us. We are left to guess where the ax would fall in reducing social spending to "responsible" levels, since Le Maire confines himself to blasting Hollande's allegedly profligate spending and reliance on new taxes (which, he falsely claims, are driving the wealthy away). Such vagueness, reminiscent of Paul Ryan in the United States, is disappointing in an Enarque.

In any case, Le Maire has a new book out, Jours de pouvoir. I enjoyed his last book, about his time as an aide to Villepin, so I've ordered this one. To date, his literary flair is more impressive than his political flair.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Did Buisson Engineer the Sarkozy Interview Leak

Rue89 reports that Sarkozy's entourage is enraged at Patrick Buisson, who is held reponsible for the publication of the former president's chat with journalists from Valeurs actuelles. Sarkozy allegedly believed that his remarks were off the record. This does seem plausible, given the number of stunning headlines generated by this one brief interview--an indication that its candid avowals of Sarkozyan ambition and blunt criticisms of Hollande did indeed go beyond the usual norms of this sort of exercise. But what exactly was the point of this exercise if it was to have remained off the record?

Sarkozy Disses Mali Op

Has one brief interview ever generated so many headlines? In addition to heralding his political comeback, Nicolas Sarkozy broke with republican tradition to criticize his successor on a matter of foreign policy, indeed of war and peace:

"Que fait-on là-bas ? Sinon soutenir des putschistes et tenter de contrôler un territoire trois fois grand comme la France avec 4 000 hommes ? La règle, c'est qu'on ne va jamais dans un pays qui n'a pas de gouvernement." 
 Yet this is the same Nicolas Sarkozy who intervened in Libya when its government had broken down and who vowed never to allow "a terrorist or Islamist state to emerge in the heart of the Sahel." Indeed, it's hard to imagine a Sarkozy in power and not intervening in Mali under the circumstances that existed at the time--almost as hard as it is to imagine Hollande intervening after his statement during the campaign that "France cannot and will not intervene in Mali in the place of the Africans."

So this is difficult territory, mined with contradictions. Even granting that, Sarkozy seems to have crossed a line in the sand. And if he wanted to provoke, he succeeded: Hollande responded to the former president's remarks without naming him during a ceremony at the Invalides honoring a fallen French soldier. One can imagine how withering Sarkozy's scorn would have been if the situation had been reversed. Hollande is not as good at expressing contempt, but one felt that despite the limitations of his instrument, his intention was clear.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stiglitz and Fitoussi Dissociate Themselves from Grillo

Beppe Grillo's economics advisor had been dropping the name of Joe Stiglitz in recent days, prompting Stiglitz to deny that he is counseling the Italian populist:

Fausse alerte. Malgré les avances du conseiller économique de Beppe Grillo, Mauro Gallegati, les néo-keynésiens ne sont guère tentés de voir leurs noms associés à la gestation du programme économique du Mouvement Cinque Stelle (M5S). Et le font savoir. Son nom ayant été largement cité dans la presse italienne depuis plusieurs jours ( «Les Echos » du 4 mars ), le Nobel d'économie Joseph Stiglitz (Columbia University) prend soin de souligner qu'il n'est «pas un conseiller de Beppe Grillo», même s'il s'est souvent exprimé sur le blog du fondateur de M5S par le passé et a participé au Woodstock 5 Stelle en septembre 2010. Son collègue et ami Jean-Paul Fitoussi (IEP de Paris), lui aussi cité par Mauro Gallegati dans une interview à «La Stampa» du 1er mars, est encore plus catégorique.

Sarkozy and Gay Marriage, and Chirac Advises Hollande

Nicolas Sarkozy is not only daydreaming about the presidency again; he seems to be concocting new schemes to divide and conquer as a means of getting there. Gay marriage being the cause of the hour, Sarko has taken it in his mind to worry about "the traceability" of the offspring of same-sex couples. The secrecy shrouding the biological parents will become a social problem, he claims. Such tender solicitude for the traditional family may seem a trifle insincere in a man divorced many times, but any wood is good to make a bonfire.

Meanwhile, France TV has been at work on a new series called "La dernière campagne," which will feature Bernard LeCoq as Jacques Chirac, Thierry Frémont as Nicolas Sarkozy, and Patrick Braoudé as François Hollande. It seems that Chirac, in order to avenge himself on Sarkozy, has decided to offer political counsel to François Hollande. In this amusing clip, for example, we witness the inception of the 75% tax on individuals earning over €1 million a year.

Extrait "La dernière campagne" de Bernard Stora by france3aquitaine

"The Adjectival Left" and the "Right of Return"

Laurent Bouvet has some fun with the manifestos issued by various would-be factions of the "new" Socialist Party, which seek "to exist" by inscribing arresting adjectives on a banner, hoisting it up the flagpole, and seeing who salutes. Thus we have "la gauche forte," "la gauche populaire," and "la gauche durable."

Meanwhile, on the right, Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly begun to muse about the fatal moment when the question will no longer be whether he "wishes" to return to politics (meaning: run for president, since there is no other kind of "politics" for one who has tasted the ultimate power) but rather whether he has any choice other than to throw his hat once again into the ring. Faire don de sa personne à la France, as it were. The various presidential plotters in the UMP have thus been put on notice: a sort of Night of the Long Knives could well be in preparation. Of course it's never a good idea to warn the potential victims of a conspiracy that their days may be numbered.

Sarkozy's remarks are intended to create a certain aura of inevitability around his eventual return to power. It is no longer a possibility that he evokes but a veritable "right of return," as though a renewal of his lease on the Elysée were his historic right as a man unjustly evicted by the current occupant of the place.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


First retirement, now overtime. Yes, two of Sarkozy's signature reforms, attacked by Hollande in his successful presidential campaign and rolled back or modified once he took office, are back in the news. On retirement reform, it seems that the continuing crisis will force the Socialist president to retreat, indeed to lengthen the working life even more than Sarkozy did.

And now the repeal of tax rebates on overtime pay has many of the 9 million workers who benefited from the measure up in arms. This, too, was predictable, even though the finagling with overtime was in large part a failure: it proved very costly to the state without triggering a surge of new hires, as it had been intended to do.

Yet even bad policies can be popular, and Sarkozy's overtime policy was popular with those who reaped the reward. For the most part they were comfortably employed insiders, who saw their pay envelopes fattened as employers took advantage of the tax benefits.

One feels for Hollande. Clearly, an unsuccessful policy deserves to be rescinded, but making good on the promise seems to be costing him even more precious support at a time when his approval rating is already testing new lows. Although it is tempting to try to plug the hole in the state budget with some of the €9 billion saved by repeal, some of that money will now need to be used to placate the angry losers.

It would be best if some nice "Keynesian" use could be found for the money. It would be more likely to be spent, for example, if it were redirected to "outside" workers rather than the "inside" ones who inadvertently albeit predictably became the chief beneficiaries of the Sarkozy reform. But as Sarkozy discovered, such precise targeting is not easy to engineer.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hollande Will "Explain Himself"

The president has noticed the vertiginous drop in his approval rating, which fell even more rapidly over his first year in office than did Sarkozy's. What does he plan to do about it? The usual. He will criss-cross France in a series of major trips designed to allow him overnight face time with local notables and politicians. He will prepare a major media event of some sort in order to explain his policies to the French and propose reasons to hope for better in the months ahead than already experienced in the months behind.

Thus described, the salvage program seems rather anemic. It might make sense as a temporizing scheme, if the president felt that basically his policies were on the right track and only needed more time to succeed. Does he believe that? If so, he doesn't have much company, so he has set himself a tall order in proposing to explain his reasoning to the majority of doubters. Perhaps he will surprise us, but in all honesty, not much about Hollande's presidency has been surprising. And in the end, that failure to surprise, a consequence of the president's fundamental cautiousness and of the very insistence on a "return to normalcy" that won him the office in the first place, may prove to have been his greatest weakness.

Will he not even dare the standard remedy of presidents unsure of which way to turn, namely, a cabinet shake-up? Rumors of Ayrault's demise have been circulating for some time. Some see Valls as the successor, others Moscovici. Either would likely be a less tranquil force than the soporific Ayrault has proven to be. But what would be the policy significance of such a change of personnel? It's hard to say. Neither man is associated with any sort of bold alternative to the status quo. A shake-up would simply advertise more of the same but under new management. The electorate is likely to remain underwhelmed.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

Guest Post: French Labor Law Threatens Future of French Academic Research

French Politics is pleased to publish the following guest post by David Sassoon, who details objections to a new labor law that will impose hardships on foreigners who come to study in France and seek academic employment there. I share his concerns.

French Labour Law threatens young scientists and the future of French academic research

by David Sassoon, Director

UMR S 787 Inserm
Université de Pierre et Marie Curie-Sorbonne Universités
105 bd de l'Hôpital
75634 - Paris Cedex 13

France will soon enact a new employment law that will have an immense impact upon academic research in France. “The Sauvadet Law’, named after its principle author (1), limits the length of time a temporary contract worker can be employed by a public body. The law directs public institutions to transform a temporary contract into permanent employment by 6 years. Of course, the devil is in the details and there remain many ambiguities as to how interpret years spent in the public domain, therefore the major public research institutions have imposed a 3-year limit for temporary employment to avoid absorbing thousands of postdoctoral fellows and technical staff as permanent employees. There is no agreement from the political right or left as to how to resolve this issue that has already led to the firing of thousands of young scientists with little to no advanced warning and is likely to trigger the firings of thousands more. Charitably viewed, it is an example of good intentions gone bad.

In response to this situation, French scientists have signed a petition (2) to ask for a suspension of the application of the Sauvadet law in the academic research sector.

The major reasons for this request are outlined below:

1-Three years are, in large part, insufficient to obtain a permanent job in academia anywhere in the world. It is impossible to initiate a project, obtain results and have a paper published in a high impact journal. Training abroad is certainly to be encouraged, however it would become the only viable route thereby discriminating against those who choose or need to stay in France for personal reasons.

2-It is unrealistic at a time when governments are looking at budget reductions to imagine that the ranks of civil servants will swell with thousands of young scientists. Given that permanent employment is imposed by the law, the end result will be that young scientists are hired and fired on a routine basis with no real hope for meaningful career advancement. Should the government create thousands of postes similar to what occurred in the early 1980’s, this would solve the problem, but again, this seems unlikely in today’s economic climate.

3-The attractivity of postdoctoral studies in France will be diminished. Foreign scientists would choose not to come to France during their postdoctoral career. In contrast, a young researcher from France can go to other countries for years, which is a win-win situation for both scientist and lab. The young scientist has sufficient time to generate the data and publish high quality papers and the laboratory reaps the benefits of the time investment for training. A French brain drain will begin in earnest.

4-A generation of French scientists will be lost. If a person in France dreams of becoming an academic scientist and has the rare talent to do so, he or she will have to leave the country. Many will be dissuaded from such a career due to an environment that offers little to no promise for their future. Options such as the USA, presently viewed here as harshly Darwinian in nature with prolonged career precarity until the age of 40 will now seem attractive, if not generous, in terms of salary and time afforded to achieve one’s goals.

5-The Sauvadet law will have profound negative mid to long-term economic impact on France. France has to compete harder to maintain prominence in the sectors it used to dominate whereas biotechnology and other emerging sectors hold immense economic promise for those that join the game. Understandably countries such as China and India have invested heavily in biological research ranging from biomaterials to stem cells, but are still far from enjoying the infrastructure of countries such as France. Our best students, trained at immense cost to the public will leave and make their contributions elsewhere and the benefits of France’s investment will be reaped by countries that did not train them. Coupled with the loss of foreign scientists coming to France, the projected economic loss could be staggering. The negative cultural impact is depressing to consider.

It is not the intention of this commentary to make a political statement for or against the government, the unions nor the public institutions, but rather to spell out in simple terms what a 3-year limit to temporary employment will engender in France. We hope that all parties involved will find rapidly a pragmatic solution and in the meantime, suspend the application of the Sauvadet Law in the academic sector until a viable and realistic solution is found.



Sciences Po Picks Its Man

Surprise, surprise. The favorite son of the powers-that-be, Frédéric Mion, has been selected to head Sciences Po, replacing the late Richard Descoings. The FNSP preferred him by 24 votes to 1 over Jean-Michel Blanquer, a candidate who had previously been excluded from the short list of finalists for the job. Blanquer was brought back into the picture after one of the chosen finalists, Louis Vogel, withdrew his candidacy, alleging that the process was rigged and that the selection committee was ignoring its own stated criteria. The third finalist, the American Andrew Wachtel, received no votes, lending some credence to Vogel's allegation that the outcome was wired from the start.

Mion is not in, however, until the government approves this choice. Since the previous selectee was rejected, it is by no means certain that the government will go along, except that yet another round in this melee is likely to open the process to even more ridicule and animosity that it has already aroused.

Here is a tick-tock of the events leading up to today's vote.

Abu Zeid Killed

The Mali operation continues to go France's way. Abu Zeid, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, was apparently killed by French forces in recent days, along with 43 of his men.

François Hollande is no doubt grateful for the news, since he hasn't been faring as well on the domestic front. Still, the political "bounce" from the African intervention seems limited.