Thursday, May 29, 2014

An Optimistic Note from Olivier Roy


Vous n'êtes donc pas inquiet pour l'avenir ?
Non, les Français sont des pleurnichards. Le modèle français d'intégration fonctionne bien mieux que celui de l'Allemagne, des Pays-Bas, de la Suède ou du Royaume-Uni, mais c'est vrai qu'il est plus conflictuel. La société est beaucoup plus mélangée, plus mixte. La France possède une législation plus favorable à l'intégration et un modèle républicain qui séduit les nouvelles classes montantes. Dans les autres pays, la situation est plus compliquée encore : l'Allemagne est confrontée à une crise démographique importante et les Pays-Bas ont un faible taux de mariages mixtes. Aujourd'hui, nous ne sommes plus dans des structures d'immigration mais dans des structures de circulation, en tout cas dans l'espace méditerranéen.

Roy also has an interesting observation regarding the Socialists' treatment of Muslim elites:

Ces élites musulmanes se détournent donc de la gauche ?
Ces nouvelles élites sont souvent opportunistes, elles veulent devenir des notables républicains. Beaucoup sont entrés en politique au PS, ils ont servi pour coller les affiches, mais quand ils ont demandé des positions éligibles, on leur a répondu que le PS était contre le confessionnalisme, en brandissant l'argument d'une prétendue crispation identitaire. Ils ont l'impression de s'être fait avoir, d'avoir adopté la démarche républicaine et de se faire renvoyer à la tête qu'ils sont communautaristes. Beaucoup sont passés à droite.

What Causes Europhobia?

Alain Frachon sees a parallel between Europhobic parties in Europe and the Tea Party in the US:
Chez tous ceux que la globalisation malmène, on retrouve le même cocktail de colère et de peurs : sentiment de déclin, de déclassement ; rage devant la montée des inégalités et l'impuissance de l'Etat.
Mais le mélange n'aurait pas pris sans un ingrédient essentiel : la nostalgie. Elle est le carburant qui a propulsé le Tea Party hier, et alimente aujourd'hui le FN. Une formidable nostalgie pour l'époque révolue des « trente glorieuses ». Le Tea Party pleure l'Amérique telle que la peignait Norman Rockwell, celle des années 1950 ; le FN veut ramener la France à l'ère prémondialisation. C'est un sentiment qui ne manque pas de charme, la nostalgie. En politique, il est mortel.

Kevin O'Rourke on the Euro

Sobering thoughts from O'Rourke:
Europe is now defined by the constraints it imposes on governments, not by the possibilities it affords them to improve the lives of their people. This is politically unsustainable. There are two solutions: jump forward to a federal political Europe, on whose stage left and right can compete on equal terms, or return to a European Union without a single currency and let individual countries decide for themselves. The latter option will require capital controls, default in several countries, measures to deal with the ensuing financial crisis, and agreement about how to deal with legacy debt and legacy contracts.
The demise of the euro would be a major crisis, no doubt about it. We shouldn’t wish for it. But if a crisis is inevitable then it is best to get on with it, while centrists and Europhiles are still in charge. Whichever way we jump, we have to do so democratically, and there is no sense in waiting forever. If the euro is eventually abandoned, my prediction is that historians 50 years from now will wonder how it ever came to be introduced in the first place.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Italy Shows the Way

From Bruegel:
Second, in Europe Italy has clearly chosen a pro-European side. This should not be underestimated, as it was not at all obvious before the elections. The electoral campaign has been fought by many on an anti-EU basis and the risk of a Eurosceptic drift was in fact substantial, but it has not materialised. This may partly be due to the attitude that Italians traditionally have vis-à-vis Europe. As previous analysis has shown, in Italy, confidence in the European institutions has decreased over time but the positive confidence gap between European versus national institutions has remained the largest since the start of the sovereign crisis. Third, the contrast with neighbouring France, is striking. Two countries that are frequently compared in terms of economic indicators, France and Italy could hardly look more different in terms of preferences expressed vis-à-vis Europe. The victory of Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU Front National – which affirmed itself as the first party with an unforeseen 25% - is impressive, in a country that has been among the founding fathers of the European project. Coupled with Holland’s approval rating being in the doldrums, this electoral result could slow down the traditional Franco-German engine for European integration and prelude to a reassessment in the geography of alliances. In this process, Italy should play a role and put itself forward as a decided leader in the project of more European integration. 
By the way, I think the Italian result is much more significant than the narrow Syriza victory in Greece. Greece has been an outlier throughout the crisis: a very small economy with a very high sovereign debt, quite atypical of other "Club Med" countries (Spanish debt was private, not sovereign, before the crisis, and Italy's high sovereign debt was contracted in the pre-euro years, not as a result of the euro as in the Greek case). Those who think that Alexis Tsipras is going to lead Europe to a sustainable order are dreaming. Italy, on the other hand, is about to assume the rotating council presidency. To be sure, Italy is in great need of substantial structural reform and is hardly a model of government efficiency. But there are positive signs.

Out of Ammunition?

Françoise Fressoz, Le Monde's political correspondent, blogs that the president is "out of ammunition." Her comment follows Hollande's televised speech last night on the 8 PM news. I saw the speech. It wasn't just that he was out of ammunition--that is, had nothing concrete to propose to his anxious countrymen. It was that he seemed like an automaton, undoubtedly because he had been overcoached and had practiced too long in front of a mirror making gestures meant to be "forceful" but which in the event only emphasized his powerlessness. In the end, his message to the French was simply, "Je vous ai compris [slices the air aggressively with his left hand]... mais que voulez-vous que je fasse, on continue droit dans le mur [places both palms flat on the table in a gesture meant to convey well-meaning sincerity]."

Fressoz ends her blog with a typical piece of exaggerated French pessimism:
Deux ans après son élection, la France est devenue la grande malade de l’Europe. C'est pourquoi elle a divorcé d'avec ce président trop placide qui continue de lui promettre que «la réussite de tous» est au «bout du chemin »
No, France is not the sick man of Europe. Hungary is prey to neofascists and democracy is in danger there. Greece is far worse off economically. Unemployment is higher in Spain. But the French political class has not distinguished itself with imaginative responses to the crisis. The danger is compounded this morning by the apparent and astounding collapse of the UMP, the main opposition party, which has just ousted its leader Jean-François Copé after revelations of apparent campaign fraud on a massive scale. The scandal also threatens to engulf the former president and future UMP hope, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Hence there is a gaping void at the center of the political system. This void was the real reason for Sunday's vote: the French are gasping for air, not endorsing an exit from Europe or a veer to the far right. Sooner or later a political leader other than Marine Le Pen will recognize that fact and capitalize on it. I hope it's sooner.

In case you missed the (awful) speech:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Social Breakdown of the FN Vote

Here. The young, the less educated, the less well-paid white- and blue-collar workers voted Front National. Abstainers stayed away from the polls because "voting doesn't change anything."

And as for the familiar charge of tous pourris--if the news about the false invoices used to drain tens of millions of euros from UMP coffers illegally to finance Sarkozy's campaign had been announced the day before the election rather than the day after, the FN might have gotten 30 percent instead of 25.

More details here.

Copé's chief of staff falls on his sword

Jérôme Lavrilleux, Copé's chief of staff at the UMP, has assumed responsibility for "missteps" in the handling of Sarkozy's campaign finances. Conveniently enough, his confession exonerates both Copé and Sarkozy. I find it difficult to believe that he is solely responsible, however.

The European Tragedy

As I survey the wreckage across Europe, I keep thinking back to May 2012, when there was still hope of renewal. I trace yesterday's dismal outcome back to the original sin of the Hollande presidency: Hollande's reneging on his promise to renegotiate the TSCG. This is what his voters expected. He had told them he would do it. And then he didn't. It's as simple as that.

Consider the counterfactual. Suppose he had bucked Germany on the TSCG and hence on austerity. Even if he had failed to persuade the Germans, he would have taken a stand, and because he would have shown some backbone, things would look very different today--even if he had failed to persuade the Germans in 2012 (as he undoubtedly would have failed). With Matteo Renzi's strong showing in Italy and unexpected stirrings on the left in Spain, Hollande could have joined forces with progressive elements to the south to exert renewed pressure on Germany. Instead, his presidency is a flamed-out wreck, and Renzi is left without the support that a feisty France could have provided.

It is clear that voters across Europe want change. Instead, they will get Juncker and a reinforced Merkel--the twin pillars of the calamitous status quo. And Hollande has now committed himself so deeply to austerity that a change in course will only make him look weaker still. He has no choice but to dig in. Of course Valls might rebel, might deliver an ultimatum to the president that he will resign unless he is allowed to stake out his own European policy. In which case Hollande might as well abdicate. But if he persists on his present course, he is doomed to impotence for the foreseeable future. His territorial reform has countless enemies whom he cannot defeat in his weakened state. His spending cuts will increase unemployment, sending still more of the working class over to the FN. His efforts to divert attention to Africa will look more and more ludicrous as Europe crumbles around him. And the justification of all this--to maintain the Franco-German alliance that is at the heart of European union in Hollande's estimation--will become more and more hollow as the Union is threatened with disintegration as a consequence of Franco-German policy choices.

Hollande has modeled his whole career on that of his mentor, Mitterrand. But Mitterrand when elected in 1981 kept his promise to nationalize, even though many advisors told him it was unrealistic. And it was, in the narrowly economic sense, but it was an act of pure political realism to satisfy the deep desire of those who had elected him for a concrete commitment to a change of direction. True, the price paid for the education of the electorate by bitter experience was high, but it was necessary. Hollande wouldn't even have had to pay such a high price for putting up a fight in 2012. Germany's responsibility would have been clear. Instead, he made German (and UMP) policy his own, and now he cannot escape from his identification with its failure.

Mélenchon overwhelmed

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, deeply upset by the results of the election, let his emotions show last night. The irony is that FdG voters turned out in more substantial numbers than PS voters (the abstention rate was remarkably low), but there just aren't enough of them.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

My Succinct Summary of the EU Elections

No one in Europe is satisfied with the status quo, except the Germans, who are the only people capable of changing it.

As I predicted ...

... Copé's rivals have wasted no time in bringing out the long knives.

Official results by département


FN Wins Big

The polls have long pointed to an FN victory, but the margin is even larger than predicted: the FN outpolled the UMP by 5 points and the PS by 11. Once again the word séisme is being used, but the metaphor seems ill suited to the inexorable progress of the FN, which may have won a majority of working-class votes in this election. Rather than attempt an instant analysis, I'll wait until more data are available. The outlines of the story are familiar in any case. The main issue is how to sort out the percentage of the FN vote that is a protest against the mainstream parties and the percentage that represents a true "vote of adhesion." This is of course an impossible task, and as time goes by a more and more futile one, since the FN with its second-generation "bleu marine" ideology has become a fixture of the landscape that will not be easily removed, having succeeded in its generational renewal by electing many young candidates and in its geographical expansion by extending its influence beyond its traditional bastions.

One immediate consequence may be a challenge to the UMP leadership of J.-F. Copé. Already under attack from within the party for alleged malversations, Copé is now in the position Harlem Désir was in after the municipals: his electoral strategy has been shown to be a dismal failure. This may strengthen the hand of those who would like to unseat him. Time will tell.

As for the PS, its dismal showing follows and perhaps exceeds its dismal showing in the municipals. It is a party disavowed whose president still has 3 years to serve. This spells trouble.

Friday, May 23, 2014

European Elections

The polls continue to show the Front National in the lead:
Il en est de même pour les intentions de vote : la hiérarchie entre les six listes principales est restée à peu près stable. Depuis dix jours, le Front national est crédité du meilleur score et se maintient en tête, avec 24 %, dans la dernière enquête du 22 mai. Il est particulièrement présent chez les moins de 35 ans (30 %), chez les employés (32,5 %) et surtout les ouvriers (51 %), chez les électeurs ayant un niveau d’études inférieur au bac (40 %) et dans les petites villes de moins de 20 000 habitants (34 %).
The strong showing of the FN among the young is the most worrisome of these figures. This suggests that the party is here to stay and will therefore inevitably shape the evolution of the broader right wing of the political spectrum. The majority support of workers for the FN also suggests that "right" and "left" are terms that can no longer be used in their traditional sense.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bouvet on Le Pen and Mélenchon

The political scientist Laurent Bouvet compares the extremes of right and left, rightly dismissing the idea of a convergence of the two extremes. His more interesting point is that Mélenchon has had difficulty achieving political traction because he is seen as the representative of a party whose base consists of people protected from the ravages of globalization yet promotes an anti-globalization platform:
Le problème politique de Jean-Luc Mélenchon peut finalement se résumer à cette difficulté: il est perçu, à tort ou à raison, comme le représentant politique d'une partie des «protégés» de la mondialisation (c'est-à-dire à la fois les agents de la fonction publique qui sont aussi ses électeurs et les migrants dont il défend la liberté de circulation) alors qu'il tient un discours critique de la mondialisation et qui entend s'adresser à ses «victimes».

Monday, May 19, 2014

Unhelpful Polling

Le Monde tries to divine Euroskeptical sentimen in France, but the poll seems to me poorly devised. What is one to make of a population of which 73% wish to remain in the euro but only 39% respond that the EU is a good thing? The answer is clearly that another 39% say that membership of the EU is "neither a good thing nor a bad thing." Indeed, I'd say that myself, and I'm staunchly pro-European. Membership is not a good or bad thing in itself; everything depends on what one does with the union. The point is not to emote toward the EU but to change it (to borrow a line from Karl Marx, suitably updated). Indeed, the Marx reference is apt, because the EU is now in a sense the world: the changes needed to make the EU work are the changes needed if France is to adapt to the profound alterations of the global economy. The crudely worded poll questions cannot get at the tumultuous mix of emotions that these alterations actually occasion in the minds of voters. The problem is that the polling instrument itself becomes a kind of propaganda tool, suggesting that there is an alternative to adaptation for which "EU membership" is a kind of surrogate. That is false: those who want nothing to do with the EU would, if their wishes became reality, simply be adapting to global change in their own suboptimal way.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The (Not So) New Extreme

Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre argue that the Front National has become the party of opposition to neoliberalism:

L'ancienne topologie des camps politiques vole en éclats. L'ère de la droite libérale opposée à la gauche sociale-démocrate, tancée d'un côté par le FN et, de l'autre, par l'altermondialisme, a laissé sa place à un autre schéma. Le « drame bourgeois » a fait place à une nouvelle tragédie. Libérale dans les années 1980-1990, l'extrême droite monopolise aujourd'hui l'essentiel de la critique du néolibéralisme. C'est elle qui tient le discours qui rencontre le plus d'échos sur l'exploitation et la domination. C'est elle dont le discours sur la fracture entre le centre et la périphérie, les ilotes et les élites, les « prolos » et les « bobos » gagne le plus d'audience.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Arun Kapil on the History of the Euro

Arun directs attention to a TV show and FT series devoted to the history of the euro and the euro crisis, respectively. Both are fascinating subjects about which much has been written, and the sources Arun notes are good introductions to a vast literature.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Economic Patriotism" Is Back

Arnaud Montebourg:
« Le choix que nous avons fait, avec le premier ministre, est un choix de patriotisme économique. Ces mesures de protection des intérêts stratégiques de la France sont une reconquête de notre puissance, explique M. Montebourg auMonde. Nous pouvons désormais bloquer des cessions, exiger des contreparties. C'est un réarmement fondamental de la puissance publique. La France ne peut pas se contenter de discours quand les autres Etats agissent. »
Left GaulloLiberalism?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Krugman: ECB Should Set Higher Inflation Target

Two percent is not enough.

Racism: The Roma Bear the Brunt

Anti-Muslim feeling in France isn't as bad as one might think, according to a new poll, but anti-Roma sentiment is worse. And good news for the Jews: anti-Semitism isn't what it used to be (except in Greece (!) and Poland).

Monday, May 12, 2014

Juppé-Guaino: The Night of the Long Knives

So Alain Juppé invited Henri Guaino to quite the UMP, whose line on Europe he does not support (Guaino styles himself a proto-Gaullist "Europe of nations" nationalist, while Juppé is a social liberal). Copé has backed Juppé in this cat fight. What's really at stake? Two anti-Sarkozystes ganging up against a Sarko-epigone in anticipation of 2017? Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Doit-on voir un positionnement stratégique dans cette sortie d'Alain Juppé. Est-ce une manière de se poser en «gardien du temple» et peut-être de s'opposer à Nicolas Sarkozy?
Non, je ne le pense pas. Ce n'est pas la première fois qu'Alain Juppé, dans les déchirements de l'UMP, exprime une recommandation conforme à ce qu'il croit être l'intérêt du parti. Encore récemment, il demandait par exemple à Jean-François Copé un pilotage plus collégial. En ce sens, c'est une erreur d'analyse de systématiquement ramener ses prises de position à l'échéance présidentielle de 2017. Du reste, en même temps qu'Alain Juppé a invité Henri Guaino à quitter l'UMP, il a répétitivement marqué sa loyauté envers Nicolas Sarkozy.

Emergency Meeting of CoNRS: Crisis in French Research

The Comité National de Recherche Scientifique will meet in a special session called at the request of a majority of section heads alarmed at the difficult employment picture faced by young researchers:

Le PDG du CNRS, Alain Fuchs vient de donner son accord à une réunion extraordinaire du Comité national de la recherche scientifique. Une réunion en séance plénière, un événement rare, réclamé par les présidents de section du CoNRS (Comité national de la recherche scientifique). Une réunion qui ambitionne de lancer une bataille, en direction du gouvernement, pour éviter une évolution catastrophique des recrutements de jeunes chercheurs.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Génération Identitaire: Vigilantes in the Métro

An extreme-right groupuscule called Génération Identitaire has begun what it picturesquely calls tournées antiracailles in the Paris Métro, having tested the practice in Lille and Lyon. These vigilante patrolmen wear yellow plastic jackets and distribute leaflets. They claim not to be looking for trouble, their only desire being to call the attention of the authorities to what they say is a mounting problem of security on the subway.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

ECB May Swing in France's Direction

Mario Draghi hinted that the ECB will lower its main rate in June, acceding to increasingly insistent demands from France that the bank do something to decrease the value of the euro and raise the inflation rate. It's about time.

Turmoil at Le Monde

Seven of eleven top editors of Le Monde have resigned, expressing a lack of confidence in the paper's leadership.

Two Years of Temporizing

After two years in office, François Hollande has disappointed almost everyone. Médiapart unsparingly reviews the wreckage:

Pour Hollande, tout est à reconstruire. Sa parole n’a toujours pas retrouvé de sens. Il parle de « changement qui s’inscrit dans le changement ». Il dit : « Ce que j'ai appris, c'est que la France compte si elle a de bons comptes. » Ou bien : « Je n'ai pas été élu parce que j'avais un programme étincelant. » Sa majorité, ses électeurs l’observent avec méfiance. Les conseillers partis sont parfois taraudés par le doute. Leur inquiétude, palpable, se résume en une question : et s’ils avaient vécu l’ultime échec de cette gauche en laquelle ils croient ?

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Failure of University Reform

The reform of the universities undertaken by the Sarkozy administration under minister Valérie Pécresse had some promising features. Decentralization of university administration might have led to more efficient management and greater circulation of scholars among universities. But to have succeeded, funds would have had to be made available to university administrators. This did not happen. The result is predictable: strapped universities, left to their own devices, have no choice but to close important facilities, such as libraries. They are expected to make do with what funds they have, with no emergency backstop. Decentralized management is a fine idea if decentralized fundraising yields necessary funding. Without it, failure is inevitable.

Friday, May 2, 2014