Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Sad Compendium of "Quenelles"

It looks as though those of us who were unaware of the "quenelle," now lamentably made famous by Anelka, have had our heads in the sand. (h/t PB)

This is truly shocking, and saddening.

Monday, December 30, 2013


An aggressive foreign policy has its rewards. Le Monde is speaking of a "honeymoon" between Paris and Riyadh, Alstom will build the Riyadh metro, and Arnaud Montebourg is rubbing his hands together over the prospect of selling some nuclear goodies to the Arabs--and not so long after France lost out to a Spanish firm on the contract to build a high-speed train from Mecca to Medina.

Suddenly France's interest in backing the Syrian rebels appears in a new light. The rebels are the Saudi team, and France chose the winning side in the commercial war, even if turns out to be the losing side in the civil war.

One can hardly blame the Iranians for feeling picked on: France isn't as keen to see Iran build nuclear power plants on its own as it is to sell French power plants to the Saudis. "It's just business," as the Godfather says in the film.

And all that flak from the EU about the French need to improve its competitiveness. In Brussels they may have been thinking about wage cuts and labor market reform, but France has found its own way to compete.

Inequality in France: The Contribution of the Grandes Écoles

Interesting statistics:

La réalité est plus triviale : alors qu’ils représentent 29% des bacheliers, seuls 5% d’enfants d’ouvriers sont inscrits en classes préparatoires, et leur part tombe à 2,5% des élèves des écoles normales supérieures et des grandes écoles commerciales. Ce chiffre n’a d’ailleurs cessé de décliner depuis vingt ans. Rappelons aussi que le nombre élevé d’heures de cours en classe préparatoire (une quarantaine, soit deux fois plus environ qu’à l’université), couplé à un système de bourse insuffisant, exclut de fait les élèves les plus défavorisés souvent obligés de travailler pour payer leurs études ; et que, enfin, ce sont en réalité quatre ou cinq lycées, en préparant aux concours, qui, derrière les statistiques rassurantes de la Conférence des grandes écoles, assurent à eux seuls le recrutement des élites de la République.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

"La quenelle" d'Anelka

Who knew what a "quenelle" was (apart from the dinner table, of course) until the French striker Nicolas Anelka, who plays for the British football club West Bromwich Albion, used the gesture twice to celebrate goals in a game on Saturday? It turns out that the touching of the right shoulder with the left hand while the right arm is stretched straight down at one's side is a gesture used by the anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonné, allegedly as an inverted parody of the Hitler salute. The French interior minister Manuel Valls has threatened to ban performances by Dieudonné on the grounds that they may occasion public disturbances:
Il annonce qu'une circulaire sera adressée aux préfets « dans les prochains jours, en tout cas avant la tournée » de l'humoriste qui commence à Nantes le 9 janvier. « A l'occasion de chaque spectacle, ils devront apprécier si le risque de trouble est caractérisé et justifie d'interdire la représentation », explique le ministre, qui note toutefois qu'« arriver à l'interdiction peut prendre du temps ».
Anelka's coach pretends that the player did not know the significance of his gesture:
“I’m aware of it, but it has got nothing to do what is being said,” Downing said at his postgame news conference. “It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well. He uses it in his act and I think speculation can be stopped now. It is absolute rubbish really. He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around. He is totally surprised by it.”
This, alas, is disingenuous at best, since if Anelka "knows [Dieudonné] very, very well," he cannot be unaware of the comedian's sulfurous reputation. The whole episode reeks in every respect. One can only shake one's head at the absurdity of a black athlete and black comedian borrowing a gesture associated with the Front National, which must regard them, to borrow the Stalinist phrase, as "useful idiots." And of course the interior minister's reflex, which is not peculiar to Valls but is a common reaction in France, to respond to Dieudonné's provocations by banning him only allows him to play the victim of the "Establishment" to which he claims his "quenelle" is a riposte.

What a sad commentary on the state of the European mind 75 years after Kristallnacht.

Addendum: See here for Dieudonné and Anelka together doing the "quenelle." (h/t Martin O'Neill).

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"Vous" Is Back

"Je dis 'vous' à ma mère, je dis 'vous' à mon père." That line, spoken by the marquis de La Chesnaye in Renoir's La règle du jeu, has always stayed with me. And I have a couple of colleagues at Harvard who have known each other for 50 years but still vouvoyer. So I was amused to read in Rue89 that le vouvoiement is making a comeback among young couples, who find it more "respectful," slightly "aristocratic," and even "erotic":
La psychosociologue Dominique Picard, auteure de « Politesse, savoir-vivre et relations sociales » (éditions Que sais je ? , 2010), assure que « Le phénomène se développe » :

« Cela relève d’une volonté de retrouver des valeurs de respect que l’on pense perdues et d’une identification à une certaine classe sociale – l’aristocratie – qui aurait maintenu ces valeurs. Cela peut être aussi une volonté de repousser l’usage du “tu” à outrance vécu par certains comme une intrusion violente dans leur vie. Enfin, l’usage du “vous” peut passer par une volonté de se démarquer des autres et de singulariser sa relation. »
Dans les faits, le « vous » peut être un garde-fou. Ses adeptes assurent qu’il limite l’usage de mots vulgaires et les attitudes blessantes :

« Avec le “tu”, il y a l’idée que l’autre nous appartient, que l’on est naturels et donc plus amoureux, mais rien n’est plus faux. On n’aime pas 24 heures sur 24. Il y a de la violence dans une relation amoureuse. Afin de la canaliser, certains couples, souvent jeunes, utilisent le vouvoiement. »

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Some articles to read ...

Why are Germans wedded to ordoliberalism? Stephen Alamowitch provides an answer in Contrelignes.

In the same issue of Contrelignes, there is an interesting comparison of the US Democratic Party and the French PS by Jean-Claude Pacitto:
On a beaucoup reproché à Clinton l’abrogation du Glass-Steagall Act en 1999 et donc de la séparation des activités bancaires, ce qui a incontestablement favorisé ce qu’il convient d’appeler la financiarisation de l’économie. Oublie-t-on que la gauche française l’avait fait dès 1984 et que c’est sous le ministère Bérégovoy que cette financiarisation de l’économie atteindra son paroxysme. De la même façon, si Clinton a beaucoup œuvré pour la ratification de l’Alena, les socialistes ont milité pour l’immersion de la France dans une Europe dont ils ne pouvaient ignorer qu’elle était très largement le produit d’une matrice libérale37
Pourtant, et au-delà d’une remise en cause minimaliste, les socialistes n’ont jamais vraiment théorisé à partir de ces expériences leur nouvelle vision de l’économie. Leur condamnation quasi-unanime du social-libéralisme est pourtant assez contradictoire avec les politiques qu’ils ont effectivement menées. Dire que l’on est devenu réaliste ou moderniste n’a aucun sens si l’on ne s’assigne pas des objectifs précis, un « cap » dirait-on aujourd’hui. Il a été fait beaucoup grief à Lionel Jospin d’avoir révélé en 2002 que son « projet » n’était pas socialiste. On s’est beaucoup moins posé la question sur le fait de savoir si sa politique l’avait été ! La réponse à cette question aurait conduit les socialistes à mieux définir les contours d’une politique économique de facture socialiste au-delà des incantations verbales et des inventions conceptuelles sans consistance.

And finally, in European Ideas, is my own piece on the populist backlash in France.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tiberi Lashes Out

One doesn't have to like Jean Tiberi (and I don't) to relish this exercise in political character assassination:

Tibéri : "NKM s'y prend mal" by Europe1fr

Monday, December 23, 2013

NKM in Difficulty

Nathalike Kosciusko-Morizet's candidacy for the Paris mayoralty is in trouble. There are dissidents everywhere, and the national party isn't giving her the support she expected, perhaps because J.-F. Copé sees her as a future rival for the presidency. Not that it would suit Copé to see dissidents loyal to Fillon get elected. But why not knock off the small fry first? And then there's Charles Beigbeder, a self-appointed ego of the 8th Arrdt, who was at first NKM's no. 2 there but was then displaced and organized a dissident list in a fit of pique. Copé has now disavowed him, but he remains in the field. And as if all that were not enough, Rachida Dati (remember her?) has warned her sister ex-minister that the time has come to take things in hand or face defeat.

The pity of it is that NKM is perhaps the UMP's strongest anti-FN voice. Indeed, that, as much as personal ambition, is perhaps the source of Copé's coolness toward her, since he wants to reposition the party to scarf up as many FN votes as possible (if possible, I should say). Meanwhile, another older head, Nicolas Sarkozy himself, has reportedly delivered himself of a lapidary judgment on NKM's campaign: "Elle ne fait que des conneries."

Hmm. Kinda sorta reminds you of Ségolène Royal's campaign for the presidency in 2007, when the Socialists seemed more intent on putting the female candidate in her place than on winning the election. Could misogyny be the one constant in French politics?

Willem Buiter Foresees Secular Stagnation in the Eurozone

Here (behind FT paywall).

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mitterrand's Reading

Bernard Girard draws my attention to this 1975 broadcast of Apostrophes. I quote Bernard's comment:
En 1975, Bernard Pivot invitait François Mitterrand pour parler des livres qu'il aimait. C'est tout simplement stupéfiant de culture, de finesse, d'intelligence. On peut trouver cette émission ici. Je doute qu'aucun de nos politiques actuels lui arrive à la cheville. Affaire de génération? de formation? de personnalité? de carrière? Je ne sais, mais il faut voir cette émission.

Ayrault's Riposte ...

If Libé is backing Moscovici in the betting on the next prime minister (see yesterday's post), Le Monde, while not exactly backing Ayrault, has at least been willing to make itself the vehicle for his press flacks and allied leakers:
Le premier ministre ne compte pas s'arrêter là. « Depuis le début, Ayrault trépigne, dit un conseiller. Il a toujours voulu aller beaucoup plus loin que le président », dont il dit volontiers en privé qu'il est « moins à gauche » que lui. Cette fois, les freins sont lâchés. Son entourage promet de nouvelles initiatives « fortes » à la rentrée sur la baisse des dépenses publiques ou la politique de décentralisation. Surtout, M. Ayrault plaide, comme depuis des mois, pour la formation d'un gouvernement resserré avant les municipales et les européennes. « Il y a trop de ministres, tout le monde en est conscient », glisse-t-on à Matignon.
As we say in America, "Yeah, right." The picture of a dynamic PM, chomping at the bit and restrained by his overcautious president but at last unleashed by the threat of imminent dismissal to do what he's wanted to do all along--"strong" measures to cut spend and decentralize the government--is a bit hard to swallow. But--whatever.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

About that tax overhaul ...

Remember when PM Jean-Marc Ayrault announced, to everyone's surprise, that there would be a total overhaul of the French tax system? It wasn't that long ago, but it seems the initiative is already dead in the water. Or so this article in Libé would have you believe. Of course, what we are actually reading in this article is an artillery salvo against Ayrault by some of his "internal enemies." Whether he has actually lost the "war against Bercy" is anybody's guess, even if, as Libé points out, Ramon Fernandez, whom Ayrault had apparently decided to sack, is still there at the minister's side.

Watching French politics lately has become an exercise in Kremlinology. Hollande promised to be the "normal" president, but in fact he has become "the sphinx president," since his philosophy of governance appears to be to conceal his strategy from everyone, perhaps even from himself. This version of "normality" might have seemed like a good idea when Sarkozy was president, daily announcing a new battle plan only to replace it with another grand design a few days later. To be sure, there are fewer forced marches and countermarches under General Hollande. Instead, all the troops seem to be running off in different directions. It's "Sauve qui peut!" in an administration that appears to be going nowhere fast, if not actually sinking. Meanwhile, all the second bananas are dreaming of being "the One" who will be tapped to replace Hollande when he bows out of the 2017 presidential contest. And the always dependable media are already handicapping the race. Thus Libé, with this volley in favor of Moscovici and contra Ayrault. Meanwhile, Valls is in the news a bit less than a few weeks ago. Montebourg has entered a quiescent period. Benoît Hamon has become all but invisible. And there are even some outlets speculating that Moscovici has settled in with his 26-year-old girlfriend as a maneuver to steal the virility thunder from Sarkozy (forgetting that the marriage to Carla did not in fact push him over the top in the presidential sweepstakes).

Such is French politics these days, folks. Is it any wonder I'm blogging less?

Monday, December 16, 2013

FT Claims that France Is Holding Back the Eurozone

The Financial Times has a rather pessimistic piece on France today, which makes the claim that France is the sick man of the Eurozone. (I can't quote from the article without violating the FT's rather strict reading of the copyright laws, so you'll have to settle for the link and find your way beyond the paywall). Suffice it to say that the article's stark conclusion is based entirely on the Purchasing Managers' Index, which has been misleading in the past and probably is now as well.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think that the French economy is doing at all well. But to single it out as the weak link in the European economy is wrong, and probably a prelude to louder calls for stricter adherence to austerity by the French, on the grounds that more austerity-minded governments had a better third quarter. This is wrong-headed and short-sighted.

Pissarides on the Euro

Nobel laureate Christopher Pissarides, once a passionate supporter of the euro, now thinks the EMS must either be changed profoundly or dismantled:

The euro should either be dismantled in an orderly way or the leading members should do what’s necessary as fast as possible to make it growth and employment friendly. We will get nowhere plodding along with the current line of ad hoc decision-making and inconsistent debt-relief policies. (Compare, for example, Cyprus and Greece, where the source of problem was similar but the solution very different). The policies pursued now to steady the euro are costing Europe jobs and they are creating a lost generation of educated young people. This is not what the founding fathers promised.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Right-Wing Kaleidoscope

A few weeks ago, all the headlines were about the rapid disintegration of the center-right as it raced headlong in pursuit of the galloping Front National. This week, however, the bit and pieces of the fragmented Right seem to be recomposing themselves in new patterns, rather like a kaleidoscope. And the dominant color is by no means "bleu marine" but rather a sort of pallid powder blue. On the one hand we have the reconciliation of Juppé and Fillon, who fell all over each other extolling the suppression of personal ambition in favor of "the general interest," while on the other hand we have the newly reunited centrists led by Borloo and Bayrou forming an alliance with the UMP's NKM to divvy up the seats on the Paris city council.

All of which means that the presidential election is still a long way off. Juppé and Fillon may yet square off against each other, but first they have to keep Sarkozy from re-entering the ring and keep Copé's ambitions under control. So a tactical alliance is in order. And NKM will need all the help she can get to win in Paris, so putting a little water in her wine is a smart move for her (unless it's MoDem/UDI who are watering their wine, since NKM would seem from certain angles to stand to their left, if the left/right distinction has any meaning in this particular arena).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Et tu, Brute?" Has Hollande lost the teachers too?

Are teachers deserting the Socialist Party along with everyone else? The most unkindest cut of all? Le Monde would have us think so:
« Les changements étalés dans les médias sont des miettes électorales, un saupoudrage de mesures rendues invisibles dans les écoles par l'afflux d'élèves [30 000 élèves de plus en 2013], s'énerve-t-elle. J'entends dire autour de moi : on a voté pour eux, et il ne se passe rien, on s'est bien fichu de nous… L'heure est à la désillusion. »
« Droite ou gauche, c'est la même logique, lâche Denis Pourrat, professeur de français dans un collège ZEP à Vaulx-en-Velin (Rhône). On est brossé dans le sens du poil, sans doute mieux considéré… Mais les conditions de travail ne changent pas, et la misère sociale, qui ne reste pas aux portes de l'école, exacerbe les difficultés. » Son cheval de bataille : « la chasse aux sans-papiers », dont il n'entrevoit pas d'infléchissement malgré la sanctuarisation de l'école promise après les affaires Khatchik et Leonarda. « On doit héberger des familles à la rue avec leurs enfants, les urgences sociales sont pleines à craquer dans le département », s'indigne-t-il.
If this is true, it's the end for Hollande.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"La France en face"

An interesting if somewhat oversimplified documentary about "the new social fracture" and the rise of the Front National:

(h/t EJ)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Front de Gauche: No Enemies on the Left?

The Front de Gauche organized a large demonstration in Paris, gathering some 30,000 participants according to Mediapart. The goal, interestingly enough, was to outnumber the Bonnets Rouges, which FdG leaders have characterized as a corporatist, regionalist, and rightist reaction co-opted by the patronat and the parties of the Right rather than a populist movement. In the presidential election, Mélenchon's goal had been to outdo the Front National, but the enemy of the moment seems to be the Bonnets Rouges rather than the FN. This will no doubt change as the municipal elections approach, unless the BR, who show signs of flagging support lately, rally national support.