Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Les voeux de Hollande

The New Year's voeux of the président de la République have become a tradition as tedious as it is inescapable, like the American president's State of the Union address. It is difficult for any president to live up to expectations. I've grown tired of criticizing Hollande: on substance the criticisms are predictable and should be directed more at the constraints of the situation than the will of the individual, whereas on style the inevitable complaints about absence of charisma, failure to incarnate the function, want of gravitas, whininess of voice, and sing-song phrasé are no less tiresome for being accurate and, in their way, devastatingly unanswerable. But there's a boorishness in going on about these things that Hollande is powerless to alter: it's like attacking someone's physical impairment. Surely there's something more spirituel to say.

One could of course concentrate on the production values. Le président normal has, on the no doubt sage advice of his media consultants, reinstalled himself in the gilt precincts of the Elysée, in the hope that the majesty of the place will reflect from his earnest forehead and imploring eyes. The gestures were impeccably rehearsed and timed to coincide with the savant switches of perspective from close to medium to wide shots, from high angle to reveal the rich red of the uncluttered desktop to eye-level when sincerity has to be driven home, reinforced by the discreetly pointed index finger of the right hand, hovering just above the surface of the desk. The words were delivered as flawlessly as they can be by a speaker said to be more comfortable with the sarcastic one-liner than with the Ciceronian period.

The familiar presidential anaphora, common to both Sarkozy and Hollande, was of course unmistakable, this time falling heavily on the syllables "la France," repeated in a crescendo of platitudes meant to evoke the themes of the remaining years of the Hollande presidency rather than the disappointments of the years already elapsed to no good purpose.

By contrast, Sarkozy, in his voeux, all slick and commercial, struck again and again the theme of rassemblement, as well he might. He was jaunty and relaxed, whereas the incumbent was all esprit du sérieux.

Montebourg and Filippetti: What Passes for a Left Critique in France

Quel beau couple! Arnaud Montebourg and Aurélie Filippetti, anciens ministres et amoureux actuels, ended their year by tweeting nearly identical jabs at Hollande, who in their view lacks the courage displayed by Matteo Renzi in Italy. What courage? Renzi nationalized the Ilva steel mill. In the view of Montebourg and Filipetti, he thereby "saved" 5,000 Italian jobs. On another view, however, he saddled the Italian state with an obsolete plant that makes losses of €80 million a month--nearly a billion euros a year--and is such a polluter that it causes 10-15% excess deaths in the neighboring towns. For Montebourg and Filippetti, this solution--subsidizing 5,000 jobs at a cost of €200,000 per job per year (!!) while polluting the environment in a Europe already saddled with steel production overcapacity--is the progressive answer to Italy's problems, one that France ought to emulate. And as in the case of Florange in France, Arcelor-Mittal is hovering overhead, ready to swoop in to pick up whatever bargain it can persuade desperate politicians to offer. The politicians aren't yet desperate enough, however, to offer the steel magnate a sufficient enticement to part with any actual cash, so thus far the burden is entirely on the taxpayers.

This is what passes for opposition from the left. They do make a glam' couple, though.