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.