Friday, November 11, 2016

Paul Magnette

It's hard for an American to think right now about anything other than the dark times ahead, but for that very reason I think it's important to mention one small glimmer of hope across the pond: the emergence at long last of a lucid and intelligent social democratic voice, that of Paul Magnette, the prime minister of Wallonia, who is interviewed today in Mediapart (unfortunately paywalled).

Magnette is worth paying attention to for many reasons. For one thing, he knows the difference between populism and social democracy:

La différente entre un socialiste et un populiste de gauche, c’est que nous avons vocation à gouverner la société. Je dis cela tout en étant convaincu que la fonction tribunitienne est très importante.
And note that even as he recognizes the difference, he also pays tribute to the power of the populist voice to articulate grievances that parties of government fail to heed at their peril.

Magnette is also praiseworthy for his ability to recognize the coercive tactics that the institutions of the EU employ to eliminate political "frictions" in order to ensure that the machine runs smoothly and without impediment. He concedes the power of those tactics and never imagines that a small region like his can smash the machine and take its place. But he also sees how the very need to keep the machine running smoothly creates opportunities that can be exploited in order to strengthen the forces of opposition until the balance of power can be reversed.

Et puisqu'il n'y a plus que vous, vous allez forcément céder. On a dit non. Et là, ils nous disent qu'ils veulent bien discuter, mais uniquement jusqu’à telle date, et sous telles conditions, et uniquement sur tels aspects. Tout l'enjeu pour nous, tout au long des discussions, c'était de rouvrir l’agenda, et de rouvrir le calendrier, pour trouver à chaque fois la manière de ne pas se laisser enfermer. 

And then, having seized the opportunity, he was smart enough not to overplay his hand. Knowing the he could not have everything, he concentrated all his energy on getting something worth having.

To be sure, CETA was relatively small potatoes. But there is at least hope in the emergence of such a strong and intelligent social-democratic voice. I just wish he were French, where the Socialist Party is desperately in need of someone who is neither nostalgic for some vanished Old Left nor hell bent on "modernizing" by adopting a Third Way that, après le déluge, is smelling equally foul.