Saturday, November 8, 2014

Doesn't Anyone Here Know How to Play this Game?

There are moments when any observer of French politics must shake his head in disbelief. Today, Le Monde reveals that in June François Fillon sought a lunch with Jean-Pierre Jouyet, secretary-general of the Elysée, in order to tell him to "strike quickly" against Sarkozy by accelerating the investigation of wrongdoing in the Bygmalion affair. According to Jouyet's account, relayed to two Le Monde journalists in September, Jouyet took this request to Hollande (who had been informed of the lunch beforehand and insisted that it take place outside the Elysée), but the two men agreed that, of course (wink, wink), the judicial branch in France is independent and nothing, absolutely nothing, must be done to interfere.

This story raises any number of questions. If the executive is really as pristine as Jouyet suggests, then why did Fillon, who also knows a thing or two about the inner workings of government, make the request, knowing that if it became public it would make him look like a vindictive rival out to sink a feared opponent for the leadership of the UMP and the 2017 presidential candidacy? Why did Jouyet reveal this sensitive information to Le Monde? Why did Le Monde sit on the story for two months only to publish two weeks before the UMP leadership election. Why did the Le Monde reporters record their discussion with Jouyet, apparently without his knowledge, since he later denied what he told them? Who is manipulating whom and for what purpose in this affair?

I find it quite believable that Fillon, upon joining the triumvirate that replaced Copé as head of the party, was outraged by what he discovered of the Sarkozy-Copé depredations at the UMP. His desire for vengeance against Sarkozy is perfectly comprehensible. He might well have believed that Jouyet, one of those chameleon figures who was as comfortable serving Sarkozy or Jospin as he is serving Hollande, was the right conduit. Taking Sarkozy's own derisive view of him to heart, he might even have decided that de l'audace was precisely what he lacked to be worthy of the presidency, and contacting Jouyet was certainly an audacious move.

But what is Jouyet's game? Why did he talk to the press? And what is Le Monde's game? Why is it publishing now? Does it want to sink Fillon? To what end? To abet Juppé? To elect Bruno Le Maire as head of the UMP, on the theory that both Fillon and Sarkozy are discredited by these allegations? Everything about this affair points to the less savory features of the French political class: the connivance between politicians and journalists, the selective publication of information with timing suggesting occult ends, the betrayal of confidences (first by Jouyet, then presumably by Le Monde, which I have to think received Jouyet's information "off the record" yet recorded his words to back a carefully timed revelation several months later), etc.

To be sure, there is little enough confidence left in the country's political institutions anyway, but this episode only reinforces the partisans of tous pourris--and we know where that sort of thinking ends up. I am flabbergasted.

UPDATE: Fillon is suing the 2 journalists who broke the story in their book for slander. And they claim that they recorded Jouyet with his consent. Whether his remarks were supposed to be off the record or not remains unclear.


Mitch Guthman said...

Everything about this affair is silly. Everybody's motives are inscrutable but apparently childish. The entire business seems unbelievably juvenile, particularly the idea that it would make a difference whether the conspiratorial lunch was eaten at the Elysée or in a restaurant.

One thing did occur to me: The ostensible purpose of the meeting makes no sense. Surely, by now Hollande and his advisors need no advise from the likes of Fillon on how to operate the levers of power. And why would a secret appeal by Fillon move Hollande one way or another to put a thumb on the scales of justice if he wasn’t already so inclined. But, in any case, Fillion had already communicated his advise or whatever, so if the objective was as described in the article, it was accomplished even before Fillon hung up the phone.

Why, then, did Hollande authorize this ridiculous lunch? He had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose. I have a pretty low opinion of him but not that low. So, why? The only thing I can think of is that Fillon brought something to the table that Hollande was worth the risk. But I have no idea what that could be.

Michael Metz said...

Too bad the title of your post doesn't translate well ...

Anonymous said...

Mitch, I wondered the same thing as you:
" The ostensible purpose of the meeting makes no sense."
Why in the world would François Fillon need to say such a thing to JP Jouyet?
The lunch did take place, but no one has any clue what it was about - for all we know, Jouyet made up that Fillon request to cover something up he didn't want to disclose. Or is he friends with Nicolas Sarkozy and would lie to journalists?
It doesn't make sense to me that Fillon would say/do such a thing.
(Doesn't mean he didn't, but... makes no sense to me).
This is ugly. Is it supposed to make Nicolas Sarkozy appear as a victim? Hollande appear as a great, fair leader? Jouyet as a powerful man?
The only clear thing here is that Fillon has been hurt by the allegation. Therefore I don't think he's the one behing the reveal. Who's the winner? Sarkozy who can claim all the law suits against him are political? (..which I really don't think they are, I remember seeing in Canard Enchainé 5 years ago that things were surfacing already and the justice system was not Hollande's then).
I saw a France2 reporter today who said she listened to the tape, that JP Jouyet has a distinctive voice that can easily be recognized, that indeed there was consent. WHAT WAS JOUYET THINKING? was it on purpose? Did he "slip"? Is the incestuous relation between journalists and politicians, in France, so "tight" that he thought they wouldn't reveal their information? Why sit on that information for so long? Who is manipulating whom?

FrédéricLN said...

My humble understanding : Fillon and Jouyet, old friends who served in the same government, had a quite normal lunch. During which Fillon expressed astonishment (maybe as a joke, maybe candidly) that the Hollande administration was so slow in prosecuting Sarkozy in all affairs he's concerned by, esp. the UMP one. Quite normal : Sarkozy was trying his best to control the judicial system, while Hollande way of doing is, keeping informed and let things happen their own way.

But even knowing that, I share Mr Fillon's astonishment. Mr Sarkozy obtained a special interpretation of the Constitution, according which neither the President nor his staff may be prosecuted while in office (I make it short). Therefore, it should be the duty of Justice to double speed when the same persons are not any more in office — it is just about equal rights between citizens. But it seems a full new mandate (5 years) may take place before serious developments in judicial investigations related to the Sarkozy presidency.

Cincinna said...

From some of the comments it is obvious that Sarko derangement syndrome (SDS) similar to Bush derangement (BDS) syndrome has kicked in big time. My take is that Fillon and Hollande (via Jouyet) believe they have a common enemy in Sarko, whom they want to take down by any means possible; they are too naive and driven by vengeance, to realize that the real enemy is Marine le Pen.
In French politics, as in American politics, the pendulum always swings. In America, after six years of incompetent leftist government, high unemployment in a bad economy, with an unpopular president, America voted last Tuesday, and there was a near landslide for Republicans: keeping the House of Representatives, making gains in the House, taking the Senate, governor's races and state legislatures all over the country.
In France, after years of socialism and failed leadership, the pendulum will most assuredly swing to the right. The far right in France is nothing like the right in America. The US and France are both fundamentally center right countries, but Marine Le Pen and her far right neo-fascist National Front are far outside the usual leftist rightist model. I hold to my very early forecast about Hollande, a failed and totally incompetent leader, now in a death spiral, at 13%. The chances that he would ever make it to the second round are close to zero.

Anonymous said...

Cincinna, I think one draws parallels between US and French politics at their peril. Just a few things I take issue with in your comments:

1) The US hasn't had a leftist government for the last six years, it's had a centrist president atop a moderate-left congress for two, then a wave election to the right, where it's stayed. Congress and Senate in the US are more powerful than in France.
2) The US being essentially a two-party system means that the more-powerful House and Senate can game the system to far more destructive ends than in France. Minor parties have some actual power in France as well, where for all intents and purposes they don't exist in America. In France, part of the pathetic spectacle we're currently witnessing is due to there being many lefts and many rights, all fighting amongst themselves over crumbs.
3) The Tea Party that currently runs the Republican party in the US (because they caused a shift so far to the right that the GOP has basically become the Tea Party itself) is actually very similar to the Front National. It's economically very populist (albeit at a 3rd grade level), generally noninterventionist and anti-"free trade," and totally based on identity politics.
4) The lack of campaign spending restrictions in the US after Citizens United means Sarkozy's illegal shenanigans would be perfectly legal. It is very easy there to buy elections there, and happens out in the open all the time. In France, one has to take a few extra precautions. France also has a much higher rate of participation and doesn't tend to electioneer for over two years like in the US (though the level of speculation in the French media today has me wondering if they weren't wishing such a thing could happen here...)

Politics often do swing on a pendulum but since Hollande has executed a program that's not all that far from Sarkozy's, any pendulum shift would be on the level of political branding alone. I think it's no question we'll have a right-identified party in power after 2017, and given the desperate need to reform in France, that may not be an entirely bad thing, provided whoever it is doesn't feel the need to suck up too much to Le Pen.

But the comfortable assumption that the French will never vote the FN into the Elysée will go to the grave as soon as the WW2 generation does too. The French need to stop assuming "republicanism" has any power in itself. The effects of and reactions to austerity are much, much more powerful than any gentlemanly notion of fair play as institutions across the world break down on an unprecedented level.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Frédéric,
I think yours is a sensible, even a plausible explanation of what might have happened. The idea that Fillon was just having lunch and chatting with an old friend about something in the news that’s important to them both explains everything pretty well. This is essentially the explanation that I believe Felon himself will eventually give.
I believe, however, that your explanation is at odds with what’s described in the Le Monde article and with what people who claim to have listened to the tape say that Jouyet told the reporters. So, since the questions arise based on Jouyet’s own account of what took place among himself, Fillon and Hollande and, assuming that Le Monde’s reporting is accurate and there are no others present during these conversations, all of these questions we’ve been asking about this affair would still be valid.
Also, even if your explanation is correct, the quite different question of what possessed Jouyet to speak with these reporters and say what he apparently said (or to believe that they would take the fall for him when he denied having said these thing) obviously remains unanswered.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Cincinna,
I suppose that everything is a matter of perspective but I think it is fair to say that neither the USA nor France is currently being governed by “socialists” of any stripe. Except in minor details at the margins, both Obama and Hollande have followed programs very close to those of their conservative predecessors. Indeed, Hollande is basically out of the closet as a man very much of the center-right who has been a very strong advocate for the idiotic austerity policies that are destroying Europe’s economic and social institutions. Believe me, “supply creates its own demand” are not the words of a socialist.
As for the “Sarkozy derangement syndrome” on display in this comment thread, I fear that you must be seeing the world through Sarkozy colored glasses. There has been none that I can see. On the other hand, if the FN’s rise is a cause for worry, you might want to ask yourself if a little bit of SDS isn’t an appropriate response for the politician who is most responsible for legitimizing the FN and bringing it into the mainstream of French politics.

FrédéricLN said...

@ Mitch Guthman "I believe, however, that your explanation is at odds with what’s described in the Le Monde article and with what people who claim to have listened to the tape say that Jouyet told the reporters." -> Sure. But we haven't heard the tape itself, and even Jouyet in the tape may have exaggerated Fillon's word — this is what otherwise "clever" people often do when they talk to an audience, esp. journalists.

I think this is a very small, small, small affair, compared to the Clearstream 2 (Villepin-Sarkozy) conflict, where Villepin had to admit his lies, and his wrongdoings against Sarkozy were much worse than pushing the Justice to wake up. Yet Villepin stayed in office, as well as his Nr.2 Sarkozy at Ministère de l'Intérieur.

This said, you may well be fully right, and this childish affair may cook Jouyet and Fillon together. Well, as competent as the may be, I wish a government with an average age under 40, so…

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Very well spoken Anon: "But the comfortable assumption that the French will never vote the FN into the Elysée will go to the grave as soon as the WW2 generation does too...The effects of and reactions to austerity are much, much more powerful than any gentlemanly notion of fair play as institutions across the world break down on an unprecedented level."

Large amounts of blame lie with the banksters and their political co-conspirators. Four years ago Henry Farrell was warning of the global political fallout that would follow the GFC economic disaster ... and here we are!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, my fellow Anon. I'd also add that the French political class, whose antics put even the Americans to shame in terms of amateurism, boorishness, tone deafness and obvious elitism, have done plenty to deserve this too. The longer I'm in France, the more aghast I am at every development in this shit-show. How on earth do the French put up with it? Probably the same way the Americans do, they just get on with life. But it seems to me the clock is ticking. The Fifth Republic has got to go. Does anyone lay odds on this happening in our lifetimes though?

Anonymous said...

@fellow anon: on yes indeed discussions are well underway about a 6th Republic, it was raised on a France 24 debate just last week. Likely catalyst will be when it looks like le Pen is about to pull of a presidential win. Meanwhile read Lexpress last week, the elites are worried.

Anonymous said...

@fellow anon: If they are only worried now then we're in more trouble than I thought. I will look up these articles you mention. If you happen to fall upon a link, by all means!

Anonymous said...

PS fellow anon: I read the link you posted above, and was interested to see it picked up in Le Figaro today as well. The date on the thing is end of October, why are you both finding it now? Just curious. It was a really good read. Please God let some of this sink in.

Cincinna said...

@Mitch Guthman

The man responsible for raising the profile of the National Front was François Mitterrand, when in 1984, as president, he interfered in French media and RTL and wrote a now famous letter requesting that Jean-Marie le Pen be given airtime on French radio and television. In the interview video with Guillaume Durand, below, former minister of foreign affairs, Roland Dumas, admits that Mitterrand told him that he did it for "electoral reasons" to divide the right and to raise the profile of the FN. The comments of the other panelists are interesting as well. The uber- elitist Dumas, in his usual arrogance, confirms that Mitterrand was the one who let the FN genie out of the bottle. It was Mitterrand not Sarkozy, who was responsible for unleashing those forces on the French people way back in 1984. His daughter MLP is still reaping the benefits of the cadeau empoisonné that Mitterrand bequeathed to the French people.

Roland Dumas : Mitterrand a fait monter le Front National par tactique - Emission Face aux Français~

A quick googling of "Mitterrand" "Front national" will serve up treasure trove of information,

Anonymous said...

@Cincinna I think the social and economic pressures that give strength to the FN are entirely bigger than one man. That genie would have been let out in any event, due to events that are far bigger and more macro than any President of France, be he Sarkozy or Mitterand. To name just a few: the European Union, the economic crisis, the inability of France to accept multiculturalism, the tendency of the elites of both right and left to want to sweep social problems under the rug...

Anonymous said...

Anon @ November 10, 2014 at 4:21 AM wrote: 'the comfortable assumption that the French will never vote the FN into the Elysée will go to the grave as soon as the WW2 generation does too.'

Are you talking about the generation that gave us Vichy and the colonial wars?