Thursday, September 26, 2013

Duflot Attacks Valls on Romani

Manuel Valls is the most popular Socialist minister, more popular by far than either the president or the prime minister. He had harsh words the other day for the Romani--les Roms--living in France: "their way of life is extremely different from ours." Cécile Duflot, minister of housing, refused to let this pass, despite strong support for Valls from a number of Socialist mayors.

This little passe d'armes is more than just another episode in France's contentious relationship with its Romani population. It is a manifestation of a new cleavage in a Left already deeply divided over economic issues, European integration, and environmental concerns. The Romani are but the latest symbol of l'insécurité. Beyond that, as I noted yesterday, Duflot is in the process of reasserting her control over EELV, which lost its leader Pascal Durand yesterday. She is very likely preparing to leave the government (a sinking ship) to return to active political life at the helm of the Greens, a role in which she will be free to criticize the sitting government. This salvo at Valls is a first indication that she will not pull her punches once she leaves office.

Meanwhile, Valls is positioning himself to become the heir apparent to the failed Hollande leadership. He has staked out a distinctive position among the young contenders. His critics may see this position as nothing more than "Sarkozy lite," if not "Le Pen lite," but it's popular not only in the polls but also with Socialists governing at the local level, which is where l'insécurité lives. At the national level, the Socialist Party is now rubble, with Hollande's approval rating running in the low 20s, but at the local and regional level the Socialists remain a force to contend with. And that is where Valls is building his candidacy, while potential rivals like Montebourg court an imaginary constituency.

So what happens when the Front National emerges from next year's municipal elections with, perhaps, more votes than the UMP? Hollande might well turn to Valls as the next prime minister as a way of telling the French "Je vous ai compris."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Greens Decompose

Pascal Durand will not seek a second mandate as head of EELV. Noël Mamère announced he is quitting the party. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, former Green, said "I told you so." Dominique Voynet, former party leader, accused Mamère of not playing the "collective" game and simultaneously lashed out at Cohn-Bendit and Hulot, two other "great solitaries" of politics. And behind the scenes, they say, it's all Cécile Duflot's doing, as she maneuvers to take back the reins of a party that has become too critical of the government in which it participates and she is a minister. All in all, a not very appetizing spectacle.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chantal Mouffe on "Post-Politics" and France

The same thing exists in other countries. For instance, in France at the moment we have a socialist government, but François Hollande is not really doing anything which is different from Sarkozy. The same thing happened in Spain with Zapatero. So this is basically what I call ‘post-political’: the fact that there is no real alternative, there is no choice given to citizens. And I don’t think that this is something which is good for democracy.

Of course some people have been arguing that it is good for democracy, this blurring of the line between left and right, because democracy is supposedly more ‘mature’. I disagree with this. For instance in my book, On the Political, I’ve tried to explain the development of right-wing populist parties as a reaction to the lack of choice which is given to citizens. Right-wing populist parties are, in many countries, the only parties who argue that there is a real alternative. Now the alternative that they propose is unacceptable, would not work economically, and on top of that often reflects some form of xenophobia, but they give the possibility of mobilising passion toward change.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Green Week" Shrouded in Smog of Vagueness

This week is supposedly "green week" in France, although the season is nearly autumnal. "Orange is the new green" might be the government's motto. Its rhetoric is stirring, but whether anything is actually happening is difficult to make out through the smog of words. There is to be "une fiscalité verte" sometime soon, but not too soon. And the regressive consequences of whatever form this green tax takes will somehow be compensated--but exactly how is to be left to future arbitrages. "It's still under discussion." The president has said that "for every additional tax, there will be one tax eliminated," but perhaps une contribution is not un impôt. But never mind the details. The government's heart is in the right place, et même si on n'a pas le monopole du coeur, on peut toujours faire semblant.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

France's Demographic Advantage

That France has a "demographic advantage" over Germany is well-known, but Paul Krugman (via the OFCE) has data and graphs showing just how big a role demographics will play in the years ahead.

Unfortunately for François Holland, the rewards will come too late.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The UMP Veers Hard Right

For the second time, François Fillon has made it clear that he will not be outbid on his right flank by either Copé or Sarkozy. Jean-Louis Borloo, speaking for the center-right, expressed his dismay that all 3 heavyweights of the UMP have now signaled that they believe the UMP has no choice but to harden its rhetoric in order to appeal to FN voters. Within the UMP itself, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, speaking for many others, has expressed his alarm that the party's very identity is at stake. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen's popularity continues to rise dramatically on the right, even if 65% of the French still consider her unacceptable as a national leader:
La popularité de Marine Le Pen augmente très fortement parmi les sympathisants de droite, en passant de 34 % à 56 % (+ 22 points).

Communists In, Greens May Be Out

It looks as though the PCF will stick with Hollande, despite J.-L. Mélenchon's wish that they go their own way. But EELV is looking for a sign of commitment from Hollande to some semblance of a green program ... or else.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

German Voter Flows

Germany votes later this month and Die Zeit online has a fascinating graph of voter flows into and out of the various parties since 2005. I wish there were a similar graphic for France. In any case, note the substantial flows out of the center-left SPD and into the extreme-left Die Linke as well as the Greens and the abstainers, and, more surprisingly, the CDU/CSU, and the equally substantial flows out of the center-right CDU/CSU into the FDP and the abstainers. The big difference is that there is almost zero flow from CDU/CSU into SPD, but SPD members will cross over to CDU/CSU.

Death of Jean Véronis

Jean Véronis, the linguist and analyst of political language, whose work I cited frequently on this blog, has died in a car accident. Very sad news. (h/t Eloi Laurent)

An Explanation for Hollande's Timidity?

It is often said that François Mitterrand was afflicted with Allende Syndrome: he feared that the US would somehow contrive to remove him from power if he became too independent. Perhaps François Hollande is suffering from Berlusconi Syndrome. It seems that, according to former ECB executive council member Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, Berlusconi was removed from power because the Troika insisted on it:
Ex-ECB insider Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi has quietly dropped a few bombshells in his new book Morire di Austerita(Dying of Austerity), worth a read if you know Italian.
Mr Bini-Smaghi – until recently on the ECB's six-man executive council, and for many years Italy's man in Frankfurt – states that Silvio Berlusconi was toppled as Italian premier in November 2011 as soon as he began to rattle the EMU cage in earnest.
(h/t Glyn Morgan)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Union Action Against Pension Reform Fizzles

Two unions, the CGT and the FO, had called for today to be a "day of action" against the government's proposed pension reforms, but the movement was "almost invisible." Why? In part because the reform is minimal (and therefore insufficient):

Cette réforme à minima a évité tout ce qui était susceptible de fâcher (et donc de mobiliser) la fonction publique et les entreprises publiques. La CGT et FO ont même salué comme une "avancée" ou un"progrès" la création d'un "compte pénibilité". Et les syndicats se gardent bien de demander le retrait du projet et visent essentiellement son amélioration.
But there is an even deeper reason for this failure: hopelessness. When large numbers of people turned out to protest the Fillon government's reforms, there was hope that someday they would elect a Socialist who would come up with a different plan. But a Socialist was elected and came up with ... a plan that effectively ratifies the Sarkozy-Fillon reform but adds a little window-dressing. So France limps on, but I suspect that the next elections will show a fairly substantial number of desertions from the Socialist party, if not to the Parti de Gauche or the Front National, then to the growing ranks of the abstainers. Hollande's presidency has been most effective at demobilization--not entirely by design, but a demobilized population suits Hollande's managerial style of governing just fine. A hot autumn might have forced a change in the government's approach, but the French are tired and resigned, employed workers are happy to have jobs and pensions that will be good enough for themselves (even minor changes have been postponed to 2035), while the unemployed do not turn out for union-inspired demos.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sheep and Wolves

The wolf is back in France, and shepherds are not happy about it, Scott Sayare writes:
“If you ask me, when they talk about ‘environmentalism’ today, it’s meant for city people,” Mr. Bruno said. “You go talk about the bear, the wolf, about nature that’s a bit wild, and you send them all off dreaming.
“Come ask us, the shepherds, about putting sharks in the Mediterranean,” he added wryly. “You’ll get 99 percent in favor. I don’t go swimming, I don’t give a damn!” France’s wolf population is hardly Europe’s largest, at about 250, but it is likely to be the most contentious. There is little uninhabited wilderness to speak of here, and many of the country’s most rugged expanses — habitats suited to the wolf — are occupied by farmers and their animals.
“We’re not in a big country,” said Serge Préveraud, the president of the National Ovine Federation. France’s six million sheep, Mr. Préveraud said, cannot reasonably be expected to “cohabitate” with wolves.

French Fiscal Outlook Improves

France will have a primary budget surplus this year. The government has achieved this goal by raising taxes rather than cutting spending. EU Commissioner Olli Rehn thinks it should have been the other way around. Simon Wren-Lewis and Paul Krugman argue that Rehn is revealing the true aim of EU-enforced austerity: to pare back the welfare state. Both would prefer a counter-cyclical rather than pro-cyclical fiscal policy, but given that France has agreed to the latter, they think that a government elected to raise taxes rather than cut benefits should be permitted to do so without interference from the EU.