Sunday, April 30, 2017

Desperation Time

Le Pen's internal polls must be really bad. She has now announced that she is abandoning the centerpiece of her campaign, her plan to drop the euro. Presumably this also means she will abandon her promised Frexit referendum, since it's hard to see how a country remains in the Eurozone without being a member of the European Union. If she remains in the EU, she can not raise the tariff barriers with which she has promised to protect French jobs, and she cannot reclaim the budgetary sovereignty she claims has been ceded to Brussels. In short, nothing remains of her economic program. On this evening's televised news, she made this announcement comme si de rien n' était. "I promised to end the single currency, not the common currency." The ruse her is apparently that the euro will be retained for "international transactions," while the franc will be used for "everyday transactions." How one relates to the other she did not explain.

To make such a drastic change only a week before the final vote suggests panic in the Le Pen camp. Macron should be able to capitalize on her incoherence in the final debate. Let us hope.


Mitch Guthman said...

At long last, something that Art and I can agree on. Just focusing on the horserace aspects, the whole campaign is strange to me—not at all what I expected. This race is something that MLP surely must have been preparing for since it became clear, probably two years ago, that she was destined to make the second round. Yet, she seems to have stumbled very badly right out of the gate—she didn’t have a media and/or surrogate blitzkrieg ready to make the election a referendum on the EU flaws, austerity, immigration, globalization and also make Macon the face of everything wrong in the world (which is what any marginally competent campaign professional would have had in place).

Instead, her campaign began with what must have been a carefully thought out own goal. She resigned as head of the FN? But why? What was the point of a multiyear campaign by herself (and Sarkozy) to de-demonize the FN if she was going to resign on the first day of the election and be replaced at the FN by exactly the guy that she’s been keeping locked up in the attic? I never saw any logic in this way to start her campaign.

Similarly, she’s had years to seriously consider the political implications of proposing a return to the franc and leaving the EU. She’s had years to refine her plan to get the maximum political benefit with the minimum of downside political risk (essentially, something like describing them as aspirational rather than immediately implementable). Yet, she waits until the last two weeks to acknowledge that her plans would basically destroy the French economy and then abandon key pieces of her manifesto in the most humiliating and politically inept way possible.

And it isn’t like Macron’s running a brilliant campaign that got her panicking. Yes, he's still probably 20 points ahead even after the business at the Whirlpool plant. And even after the minor sensation of having his victory dinner at La Rotonde, because, I guess, Fouquet’s was booked. He should have consulted with Juppé, whose dining choices are one of his few endearing qualities.

I really expected a really tight, hotly contested election with lots of fireworks. Instead, Marine Le Pen turns out to be a damp squib—totally unprepared to run the presidential race for which she’s presumably been preparing for her entire adult life. I'm wondering if her problem is that she is running an in-house campaign using people who don't have much actual experience of a presidential campaign or who don't understand how to whittle away at an opponent's lead by keeping the media spotlight on his negatives, while trying to persuade people that she isn't her father's daughter.

Macron seems to be keeping a low profile in anticipation of his coronation—which turns out to be quite sensible since MLP’s campaign seems to be self-destructing before he’s even fired a respectable salvo in her direction.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading and enjoying your blog for the last few months and I thank you for it. I just want to tell you that some bits in your last posts are a bit annoying ("Let us hope", "(hopefully) sinking ship").

I will vote for MLP and I have no problem with your criticism of her candidacy, but these tiny bites are just annoying to read.

Anonymous said...

Je ne vois pas pourquoi Arthur devrait s'abstenir d'exprimer son espoir de voir la défaite d'une candidate aussi méprisable et incompétente que MLP. Tiny "bites".... lol. Une faute de frappe ou un aveu d'impuissance?

Lapinot said...

And yet English-language journalists keep writing with excitement about a Le Pen presidency. It's almost as if they don't bother to read a damn thing before writing.

Although few produce pieces as as silly as this:

Anonymous said...

I hope you're right, but the dual currency thing is nothing new -- only about 30 years ago France had a "Financial Franc" and a "Domestic Franc" (I'm not sure I remember the name of the domestic Franc correctly, it doesn't matter). The relationship between the two was capital controls -- that's probably what she has in mind. It wouldn't be consistent with the EU either, but it means she hasn't given up *all* of her economic ideas.

Passerby said...

@Anonymous: could you please clarify what you are referring to when mentioning a "Financial Franc" and a "Domestic Franc", ~30 years ago?
Or may be find the exact names?

I'm trying to see what you are referring to, but nothing rings a bell.

Bill said...

My apologies. I can't find the right search term for "Domestic Franc". "Financial Franc" is right though. The idea was that there was one accounting in terms of interest and exchange rates for the capital accounts and another for transaction accounts. Thus, a French importer, for example, would (figuratively) take his "domestic" francs to the central bank to acquire financial francs to settle an import letter of credit. The financial francs were freely traded (well, with lots of intervention) on international markets, but the domestic/financial exchange rate was controlled. Thus, imports were controlled. The other side of the coin was shown with FDI -- if a US company wanted to invest in France, it could invest and also receive profit remittances in financial francs. For local purchases it could "buy" domestic francs. And before remitting profits it would have to "buy" financial francs. Figurative, because there was never any difference in the francs -- what was different was what you could do with them via which types of bank account. I think this idea may still exist in the former French colonies, who still have a CFA Franc (for local transactions) and a Financial Franc (for trading with France)but I could be wrong about this.

jean said...

@Anonymous May 1, 2017 at 5:59 AM

Rejoice! If MLP manage to get elected, French pupils won't learn English or any foreign language in elementary school ("roman national" oblige). Et voilà, problem solved for the next generation: they won't have to endure these annoying "tiny bites".

Mitch Guthman said...

I've tried to find details about the new plan and any links would be appreciated. It sounds like the kind of currency controls that the U.K. had after the war that drove everyone crazy in which case it wouldn't achieve any of the claimed benefits of leaving the eurozone (ability to evade austerity and enact stimulus) and wouldn't seem to avoid the economy destroying bank runs and other difficulties that make the return to the franc impractical.

It also speaks volumes about volumes about MLP's difficulties in transitioning from a fringe politician who occasionally engages in successful guerrilla theatre to a national political leader who is taken seriously. The return to the franc was the centerpiece of her nationalist oriented economic policies. Her proposed return to the franc has been extensively critiqued sir at least a year and the problem of leaving the euro dominated the Greek crisis. How could she not have considered how her proposal would play on a national stage long before this election?

1stAnonymous said...

@ Anonymous: Je t'invite à relire mon message. Je n'ai pas dit que l'auteur du blog ne devait pas s'exprimer. Je lis son blog depuis plusieurs mois et je remarque juste que dans ses derniers messages il exprime clairement ses espoirs. Ce n'est pas forcément ma tasse de thé. Pour moi, c'est comme si Laurent Delahousse disait au JT qu'il espérait la victoire de MLP. Je rappelle juste le sous-titre du blog : "An American observer comments on French politics".

Quant à la faute de frappe, elle devrait te sembler évidente puisque j'ai écris la même expression de deux manières différentes, non ?

@ Jean: Can you explain how teaching the "roman national" excludes teaching a foreign language?

@ All: About the dual currency, the most recent example of commun currency that I can think of would be the European Currency Unit (ECU).

bert said...

I remember, not very long before the euro came in, coming across a document listing the various exchange rates used to administer the Common Agricultural Policy.
The 'Ecu' - the European currency unit - had been introduced as an accounting unit during the various efforts at monetary coordination (EMS, ERM, etc). Because of difficulties maintaining a stable distribution of payments over time and between countries, a separate 'green Ecu' was introduced, which varied separately against the main Ecu. Further administrative complications led a short time later to the introduction of separate Ecus for each of the support programmes, so there was a wheat Ecu, a barley Ecu, a sugar beet Ecu, each varying independently​ against each other and against the national currencies of the member states.
I still have a copy of that list of rates somewhere. It ran to several pages, was updated weekly and was circulated internally in the Commission's Agriculture Directorate. It was mainly long columns of numbers; the text, though, was in French.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous May 1, 2017 at 1:10 PM

Je t'invite aussi à relire ce que j'ai écrit.Bien sûr que tu n'as pas dit que l'auteur du blog ne devait pas "s'exprimer"! Je me suis demandé pourquoi (selon toi) l'auteur ne devait pas exprimer son espoir.

Ce n'est pas ta tasse de thé... d'accord. Cela me semble tout à fait normal de la part d'un observateur engagé bien qu'étranger, d'autant plus qu'une victoire du FN serait une catastrophe pour la France et l'Europe. D'ailleurs Arthur n'a jamais caché ses opinions politiques, ni son appréciation des vices et des vertus des autres candidats.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous May 1, 2017 at 2:34 PM

Tout simplement parce que l'auteur se présente comme un commentateur de la vie politique française (raison pour laquelle je lis son blog) et qu'il entend faire de son blog un espace pour l'analyse et la discussion. Si je te dis que j'espère que MLP va gagner l'élection, je ne suis ni dans le commentaire, ni dans l'analyse, ni dans la discussion.

Art Goldhammer said...

Cher ami, je suis un spectateur engagé, comme dirait l'autre. Je livre mon analyse, c'est à prendre ou à laisser. Je livre aussi mon opinion. Vous êtes libre de vous en détourner si ça ne vous plaît pas. Ou de ne pas me lire.

Robinson said...

Well, I certainly hope Macron takes it to Le Pen in the debates. I remember Farage making mincemeat out of Nick Clegg in two UK debates about Europe. People forget it because of his friendship with Trump and his general buffonishness, but like Le Pen and unlike Turmp Farage is rhetorically agile and has a great command of policy detail. Like Le Pen's (as Art said in a pervious post), Farage's mastery of the dossiers was purely rhetorical, but that is all that matters in a debate. Particularly when your opponent, who knows that his promises will be tested against what he can deliver in power, is constantly equivocating. Macron may not be France's John Lindsey, I hope he is not our Nick Clegg.

jean said...

@Anonymous: The "roman national" is a deeply worrying thing in itself, but it is not linked to Le Pen's assault on teaching foreign language. For the record, here are the two main changes that she would like to see implemented:

- forbid teaching in a foreign language at the university. The direct casualty would be English. See this link for a comment (in French):

- remove the "international sections" optional curriculum where pupils can learn an extra foreign language during elementary school. The idea of these sections is to enable kids from immigrant families to acquire a better command of the language spoken at home. The main casualties of removing this law would be: Arabic, Portuguese and Turkish. See this link (in French) that explains in what consists the system in place today:

Le Pen's political program might hit her weakest point on education... but of course, she might as well change it tomorrow, so why should we even bother discussing it ;)

Anonymous said...

It's by no means certain that Le Pen's "flailing." The situation's very fluid. Neither of the major parties advanced a candidate to the runoff for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic. So most voters are looking for a new home, and either candidate could crystallize a winning coalition. Not sure the polling's capable of taking this into account, given the short timeframe.

Le Pen's smart to play down fears of a euro exit. Older, socially conservative Fillon voters probably won't be turned off in significant numbers by her bigotry and xenophobia--they are deeply hostile to Muslims and immigrants, paranoid about terrorism, security, and the demise of "traditional values." But they're worried their pensions will evaporate after de-euroization. That's the one reason they might not vote for the FN.

She's reassuring them that won't happen. Her reassurances are incoherent, but no matter--what matters is she's making the effort. The electorate's in the mood where it wants to be lied to. As long as they hear the lies they want to hear, they'll be satisfied.

Le Pen has one very simple thing in her favor: brand recognition. Macron's new and unfamiliar, and people are suspicious of new and unfamiliar things. In the end, perhaps many will feel they don't really know what En Marche stands for. Is it just a vehicle for Macron's ambitions? A means for the more centrist elements of Hollande's administration to continue in government, as Le Pen alleges?

En Marche is "un-French" in many ways: liberal in economics, not statist. Openly embraces multiculturalism instead of reserving a special place for old Catholic France. Emphasizes internationalism instead of French sovereignty. The modernity of Macron's program makes it unfamiliar and strange.

The FN's been around for forty years, it's familiar, with high brand recognition. You may argue that the brand is toxic, so this is a negative. But that's no longer true, after Le Pen's six years of "dédiabolisation." People are more and more comfortable with it. What's more, Le Pen has successfully coopted the "traditional" French values: strong statism, sovereignty, "classical" French cultural values. When she urges "choisir la France," people may agree and choose the familiar over the unfamiliar.

Obama successfully persuaded Americans to take a chance on him and jump into the unknown. But that was a different era. Macron is trying to run an Obama-style campaign of being something "new" and "fresh" in a time of reactionary backlash against the new, against openness, modernity, and cosmopolitanism. He has a much harder row to hoe. And in the end I'm not sure he'll be able to make the sale.

Anonymous said...

@ Jean : I fail to be convinced by your arguments about "Le Pen's assault on teaching foreign language":

(1) "forbid teaching in a foreign language at the university": There is a difference between teaching a foreign language and teaching *in* a foreign language. Teaching neurobiology in english as little to do with teaching english. It is more about attracting foreign students if I believe Fioraso: "Si nous n’autorisons pas les cours en anglais, nous n’attirerons pas les étudiants de pays émergents comme la Corée du Sud et l’Inde".

The article you refered to talked about the Fioraso bill that allowed curses in foreign language in universities. It then follows that before that law, there was a constant assault on teaching foreign language. Isn't that a bit ridiculous? Also, I hope your criticism isn't solely focused on MLP on that issue. Afterall, MPs of FdG, LR, UDI voted against the law. The Académie française also opposed the law.

(2) ELCO : It seems to me that there isn't many people to defend that system. Vallaud-Belkacem annunced their end:

The Haut Conseil à l'Intégration published a study on these teachings:
"Enfin en 2004, la commission de réflexion sur l’application du principe de laïcité dans la République, dite commission Stasi, demandait à son tour, dans ses conclusions, la suppression des ELCO et leur remplacement progressif par un enseignement des langues concernées, intégré au cursus ordinaire."
"Dans un rapport de 2011, "Les défis de l’intégration à l’école" [10], le HCI consacre un chapitre aux ELCO qui se conclut par la proposition suivante : "Le Haut Conseil à l’intégration a toujours préconisé la suppression des enseignements des langues et cultures d’origines tant ils lui paraissent contraires à l’objectif d’intégration"
"Sans attendre que différents pays ne finissent par se retirer d’eux-mêmes de ce dispositif, conviendrait-il que le gouvernement français propose lui-même à ses partenaires d’aller vers une suppression "progressive concertée, maîtrisée" des ELCO."

Also, it is important to remind that the context that justified their creation is now quite different: "L’instauration de ces enseignements s’inscrivait clairement comme la volonté de maintenir la connaissance de la langue d’origine *dans une perspective de retour.*"
"En ce qui concerne ce dernier argument, nous savons au moins depuis le début des années 80 et la succession de "marches pour l’égalité", que la perspective du retour a fini par céder le pas à celle de l’intégration en France parmi les jeunes générations."

Xenophobic people who are against integration/assimilation should actually be against the end of the ELCO. MLP wants the end of these curses and thus isn't xenophobic or in favor of kicking children of immigrants. CQFD?

Anonymous said...

I have to admit (in English) that I'm with Le Pen on the question of English in French Universities. Of course there should be any number of exceptions, but French university education should be in French. It will be a sad say when all academic work is written in English. It will sap the independent intellectual life of Europe. In 1914 the French and the Germans knew quite a bit about each other: today one gets the sense that the intellectual life in those nations is turned inwards and towards the United States. The same is true of smaller cultural zones - like Scandinavia, Switzerland and the Dutch-speaking world - which had benefited from being at a crossroads between several rival academic cultures. As I see it, the major non-Anglophone academic traditions in Europe are in France and Germany, with Italy and the smaller northern nations an impressive second tier and Russia a world to itself. The independent academic culture of eastern Europe was destroyed by communism; what is being re-built there has an understandable American stamp. For a variety of reasons the academic culture of Iberia was weak in the 19th and 20th centuries, although there is much hope for this region in future thanks to its cultural links with Latin America.

All are under siege by the English language, in danger of becoming satellites of a global academic culture centered in the United States. Make no mistake: no French university will ever be able to compete with the Americans on their own terms; the effort to turn Sciences Po into an American style university will produce at best an inferior American style university. What is of value is the fact that the French university encourages ways of thinking and career paths that are not directly comparable with what comes from the Anglo-Saxons. So much of what was best in the intellectual life of the 20th Century came from French and German universities. In America almost all of the humanities, and half of the social sciences, was decisively inspired by "major" thinkers from France or Germany. If the great native traditions of France and Germany are destroyed, the independent intellectual life of these nations, and of all of Europe, will erode dramatically. The Germans, in part for very good reasons, have no desire to defend their language, and the modern academic cultures of Italy and the smaller nations have always, understandably, been outward looking. So the task falls to the French.

Of course this is no reason to vote Le Pen, and of course (alas this does not go without saying) the president of France ought to know English. However, France's often mocked linguistic particularism is worthy of defense.

Anonymous said...

It is all well and good to argue that the humanities or social sciences should be taught in French, but this ignores one of the principal arguments in favor of teaching classes in English at universities (especially at the level of the Master's, which is often the case) -- the hard sciences and mathematics. Like it or not, and with very few exceptions, English is the language of publication, research, international conferences, and teaching for these disciplines. Limiting their teaching to French only is a disadvantage not only in attracting foreign students/researchers to France, but to French students who want to have careers in these fields (where, traditionally, France has been quite successful).

Anonymous said...

Bilingualism, the ability to express oneself well in two languages, is rare. The idea that French university students should have to write in English is not only insulting, it is unrealistic.

I am bilingual, but that is because I attended schools in the US and France to the post-graduate level (Ph.D.) I see no reason why French universities should surrender their marvelous language and traditions of academic discourse to accomodate foreign students. If they come to France they should at least master the language!

Anonymous said...

^ the above shows complete misunderstanding of what the English language programs are.
Of course basically all majors are taught in French.
However certain programs are bilingual or entirely in English * for the specific population that seeks them, applies for them, and is admitted to them. *
They include international law with an English common law component, studied in English. Philosophy /English or History/English includes the reading, in English of major texts in the history of ideas from Britain and the US. 'International CS' includes one STEM class in English and prepares students for a year abroad.
There are also some programs designed specifically for students who were educated abroad, plan to study abroad, or come from outside the French system. Indeed, the prepa system is uniquely French, impenetrable foe internationals, and less popular with French students, especially those who have international opportunities. When they're able to choose between EPFL, University College at Rotterdam, Warwick, St Andrews, and McGill, these students don't want the prepa experience and would rather have an international experience. Grandes ecoles have responded with courses taught in English with a requirement to learn French or another world language, such as the ESSEC BBA in international business or Polytechnique 's Bachelor. It allows international students to join French students while developing French universities'name/brand abroad.
Closing these programs would be a great disservice to France.

Anonymous said...


I was responing to this comment by anonymous:

"English is the language of publication, research, international conferences, and teaching for these disciplines. Limiting their teaching to French only is a disadvantage not only in attracting foreign students/researchers to France, but to French students who want to have careers in these fields (where, traditionally, France has been quite successful)."

I am not against teaching English at university for those who want to pursue international careers outside France. But I do not think that English can or should be the language of French scholars and intellectuals. It is one thing to promote globish because it has become the language of business and diplomacy. It is another thing to promote English as THE language of culture and research. It isn't.

Anonymous said...

^But it *is*, because so many peer-reviewed journals are in English... and because it "counts" for global rankings.
However, this only matters to scholars and researchers. Most students will never be taught in English. Those who choose to do tend to be more driven than average and some may well become professors and researchers. Obviously French should be used for French publications, but any serious scholar knows they have to know English if they want to publish outside of French journals.
I find it WAY more problematic when a company decides all its meetings in France, with French people, should be in English. It effectively silences a lot of people.
BTW, many students *like* to learn in English (or in German, where those tracks exist), because it brings them another way of looking at things, other examples, other ways of learning and working.

Anonymous said...

No kidding. I had no idea students like to learn English or German or any other language:). I should make an exception for Americans who seldom learn any language, including their own. I have met professional American historians who can barely manage French.

Any serious scholar in the humanities or social sciences who writes in a language not his own, unless he is bilingual (see above definition), is at a disadvantage. That is true even for good scientists. I don't put much store by global rankings, or by the quantity of publications, but it is true that English is the lingua franca of research. It is not my impression that globish has had altogether beneficial influence of the quality of English.