Thursday, February 11, 2016


The remaniement is one of the more tedious rituals of French government. It reminds me of the singing of the national anthem before American baseball games. One expects it to happen, one expects it to be all but meaningless, and one can't wait until it's over so that the players can get on with the game. Today's remaniement is a classic of the genre. Fabius is out (of his own volition, headed to the Conseil Constitutionnel and the irrelevance of immortality), Ayrault is in. Three--count them, three--ecologists have somehow been persuaded to lend their cover to a government that desperately needs to shore up its left flank. An énarque by the name of Audrey Azoulay replaces Fleur Pellerin at Culture. Who knows what offense Pellerin gave to be punished this way, or what service Azoulay performed to be so rewarded (she is said to be a friend of Julie Gayet, and perhaps that counts as service enough). Nothing changes in the regalian ministries or in the economic portfolios. Jean-Michel Baylet, a faithful old retainer, has been pressed into comforting service in the untranslatable office of aménagement du territoire--after the last major territorial reform has been fully consecrated by the regional elections.

Ho hum. Bottom line: all is well, stay the course, success is just ahead, but let us pay homage to the importance of the environment and kneel in reverence to the good works of Laurent Fabius, tel qu'en lui-même enfin son départ le change, by taking on board some Greens and thus strengthening, perhaps, the president's hand in the coming primary challenge from the left. As General de Gaulle is said to have remarked when France's "victory" in World War II was celebrated with a Te Deum at Notre-Dame, "quelle mascarade!"

Etat d'urgence?

I'm just back from a 10-day stay in France, during which I spoke to dozens of people and spent a fair amount of time nosing around Paris. While I was in the air on the way home, the National Assembly voted yes to a constitutional amendment allow la déchéance de nationalité, as Hollande and Valls apparently succeeded in persuading deputies on their side that preserving Hollande's crumbling authority was paramount, while Sarkozy apparently convinced deputies on his side that ideological consistency was more important than dealing yet another blow to an already damaged presidency.

Among people I spoke to there was a consensus, nevertheless, that the country wants neither Hollande nor Sarkozy for its next president. The problem is how to get there, when both the current and the former president, for all their failings as presidents, remain clever political operatives and in possession of the means to compete in intraparty infighting. Many people who normally vote left seem prepared to vote for Juppé, if only he can find a way to be nominated, but no one seems confident in his skills as a candidate or a primary competitor. Meanwhile, Hollande is sure to be challenged on the left--if not in an open primary of "all the left," as has been proposed in a petition signed by Piketty, Rosanvallon, Cohn-Bendit, and others, then in the primary to which the PS is committed by its own by-laws, in which it is clear that Arnaud Montebourg is prepared to mount a challenge (openly discussed in the most recent Canard enchaînée). We shall see where these initiatives go.

And now there has been a remaniement, with Ayrault returning to the government as foreign minister. Fabius leaves on a high note, having succeeded with the COP21, a laudable initiative that he pursued with passion but that to my mind looks like one of those laudable initiatives that history will remember in the breach rather than the observance (Kellogg-Briand pact, anyone?).

I was impressed, finally, by the Parisian stiff upper lip in the face of last year's terror attacks. The état d'urgence continues, but life seems to have returned to normal. Occasionally one runs into a heavily armed contingent of troops guarding this or that site,  but people aren't looking right and left in the Metro, where the police presence actually struck me as lighter than usual. There are fewer tourists, people say, with a consequent dent in the chiffre d'affaires of hotels and department stores, but the restaurants and cafés are full, there are still lines at all the museums, and Charlie Hebdo is as cheeky as ever (most recently with its Hanouna cover).