Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Social Europe?

Emmanuel Macron has got his way on the posted workers issue. The victory will have little impact in economic terms, but its symbolic importance outweighs its economic significance. It is an achievement to which the president will point as evidence that his mixed cooperative/combative approach to the EU and above all his close relationship with Angela Merkel is yielding concrete benefits. He can present himself as the defender of French workers against any "invasion" by the famous Polish plumber and his many comrades in the construction industry. With this victory in hand he can move on to his next target, the unfair competition waged by East European trucking firms that send their truckers westward to do local hauling.

All this is in keeping with Macron's larger strategy, which is to maintain a constant sense of forward motion by winning small victories on matters of great importance to specific constituencies. Given the unlikelihood of progress toward major institutional reform of the EU after the advent of a Jamaica coalition in Germany, this is smart politics. The EU will help give a "social" dimension to Macron's reforms, which will (he hopes) mitigate the impression that Mélenchon is trying to create that he is the "president of the rich." Mélenchon, despite having voted for Maastricht in 1992, is coming on increasingly as anti-EU, in part because he hopes to profit from the post-election disarray of the FN. The next elections in France are EU elections, and JLM stands to do well if he can mop up disaffected FN voters. Each EU victory for Macron is another obstacle to the strategy of France Insoumise.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

An Official "Celebration" of May '68?

The word is that Le Marcheur en Chef wants to organize an official celebration of May '68. Exactly how to do this is to be worked out in conjunction with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a 68-er made good. I guess this is the final confirmation that my generation is about to be shuffled--ceremoniously, to be sure--off the stage and into the dustbin of history. 'Twas bliss in that dawn to be alive/but to be young was very heaven, and of course the last thing anyone young and alive at the time would have wanted was an official commemoration.

Will Johnny Hallyday be invited? The president is said to like his music (Brigitte doesn't), but Johnny supported Sarkozy. Johnny et Sylvie en même temps--another triumph for La République En Marche! Les deux France, at last reconciled.

Quelle mascarade! as the General would have said.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sarkozy-Kadhafi

The journalists Fabrice Arfi and Karl Laske have been on the trail of the link between Sarkozy and the late Muammar Kadhafi for six years, during the course of which Mediapart has published many articles purporting to show that the latter finance the former's 2007 presidential campaign only to be murdered in the course of a military operation instigated in large part by the man he helped to make president. If the story is true, it's one of the great political scandals of modern times. Arfi and Laski have now collected their evidence in a 400-page book entitled Avec les compliments du Guide. Perhaps it will provoke the French authorities to pursue the case.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Magnette on Macron

Paul Magnette, the former prime minister of Wallonia, has published an interesting analysis of Macron's Sorbonne declaration on Europe. For Magnette, Macron's European vision is all about establishing borders, both internal and external. Internally, there is to be a two-speed Europe. Macron, as Magnette sees it, has not only embraced the German antipathy to a "transfer union," he has also come up with a method for enforcing the insider/outsider division: insiders must harmonize their tax regimes, outsiders will be punished by a loss of access to structural funds. The two-speed Europe will also be furthered by new restrictions on posted workers and heightened sanctions against illiberal, anti-democratic regimes.

Externally, Europe will reinforce its borders not only by increased spending on border security but also by imposing duties on polluting regimes, namely, China and the US. By contrast, Europe will "cooperate" more closely with developing countries in Africa, both to reduce the number of potential immigrants and to develop an external market, which Magnette sees as a latter-day reproduction of the Gaullist vision of a "Françafrique."

This is not the vision of Europe that Magnette would prefer, but he seems nevertheless to credit Macron with a fine sense of realism: This is a Europe that can be achieved in the current configuration of the Franco-German couple.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Bordelgate

By now everyone throughout France and Navarre knows that Emmanuel Macron accused some obstreperous workers of seeking to "foutre le bordel" instead of looking for work. Hence Jupiter, who wants to be compared de Gaulle, has been increasingly compared to Sarkozy. The lofty words of the Sorbonne speech on Europe, meant to inspire a generation, have been replaced by the overheard ejaculation at GS&M and compared to the "casse-toi pauvr' con" of two presidencies past.

Cruel fate. The French feign to have forgotten the de Gaulle who said "La réforme oui, la chie-en-lit non." A certain military bluntness was part of the general's character. Macron seems to want to appropriate this side of de Gaulle as well, the de Gaulle whose often gruff table talk was faithfully reproduced by Alain Peyrefitte. Macron's provocations are too frequent to be accidental. The man himself is too disciplined to let slip words like illettrés and fainéants and foutre le bordel. He is a man of many voices, one when he is flattering Paul Ricoeur, another when he wants to ingratiate himself with CEOs (and project firmness to the nation beyond--he could hardly have failed to notice the boom mike hovering above his head when he made his "off-the-record" remark).

The many Macrons have yet to coalesce into a single clear image, which may never arrive. The scattered oppositions are trying to hang various images of their own around his neck. For France Insoumise he is "the president of the rich." Meanwhile, as Thomas Legrand perceptively noted this morning, the Republicans are trying to paint him as un déraciné, harking back to the language of Maurice Barrès. They have formed a new mission, "La France des Territoires," as the spearhead of their quest to reclaim the voters lost to the Front National. They see their new majority in rural and small-town France, which they contrast to the "rootless cosmopolitan" France that, in their telling, elected Macron. Echoes of the 1930s overlay the Barrèsian imagery.

Meanwhile, François Baroin has made himself the apostle of the communes of France, combining the identitarian thrust of La France des Territoires with the resentment many local officials feel because of Macron's drastic cuts in the budget for local and regional assistance. He appeared on RTL this morning singing this tune while Legrand was reading his editorial on France Inter. For him, Macron is the ultra-Jacobin "recentralizer," against whom he is raising the banner of Girondin resistance. The eternal recurrence of certain narrative clichés promises a revival of la société bloquée.

Thus the "social fractures" between urban and rural France, between globalized and protectionist France, between thriving and suffering France, so evident in the voting returns, have begun to find expression in the rhetoric of resistance to Macronism, as everyone tries to foutre le bordel un peu partout.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Restoring the Balance

As if he had read my previous post on his unbalanced presidency, President Macron went yesterday to Amiens to underscore his commitment to workers. Or perhaps it was Thomas Legrand's radio editorial, which made the same point I did. Or Marcel Gauchet:
« C’est la limite actuelle du macronisme : il parle à la France qui va bien, mais il n’a pas grand-chose à dire à l’autre », met en garde le philosophe et historien Marcel Gauchet dans le numéro de septembre-octobre de la revue Le Débat.
Or maybe it was just the promise he made in the heat of the campaign to return to Amiens, the site of his dramatic confrontation with Whirlpool workers whipped into a frenzy by the prior visit of Marine Le Pen.

In any case, here was a golden opportunity to keep faith with the spirit of en même temps. Firms will get tax breaks, but at the same time they will create more jobs. In Amiens the theory has supposesdly been put to the test: the Whirlpool plant has found a buyer, who has agreed to save some jobs, and Amazon, though being dunned by the EU for taxes, has agreed to open a new installation. Was this a response to Macron's policies or to the high unemployment rate in Amiens, which ensures a decent supply of workers ready to work for whatever wage Amazon is willing to pay? Who can say? The economists have yet to do their regressions. In the meantime, Macron can take credit. His friendly reception suggests that he may not have alienated the entire working class, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon claims. His approval rating has bounced back a bit off its low. But most of all, the new president has shown an ability to learn from his mistakes and correct his course. This was a successful coup de comm', as they say, but it may also be something more: an indication that the president really is willing to meet the opposition half-way.

Monday, October 2, 2017

En même temps, mais pas tout de suite

Emmanuel Macron's habitual use of en même temps during the campaign (essentially in order to convey "balance": je suis de gauche mais en même temps de droite) has become the butt of ridicule, even as his economic policy has tilted decisively to the right, deferring whatever was supposed to happen en même temps either to later or to the European empyrean, where all good things will come, but mañana.

His champions say, But he is doing precisely what he promised to do, which is more or less true when it comes to the wealth tax (ISF) but not quite true with the equally symbolic, if rather risible, slashing of the housing allowance (APL). The wealth tax remains on real estate but not on stocks, bonds, or--rather notoriously--yachts, private jets, show horses, or racing cars. These constitute le capital mobilier, which is supposed to be set en marche! by tax relief, where it will create jobs (for butlers, jockeys, and yacht salesmen?).

Budget minister Darmanin views this trickle-down stimulus as "Sarkozy en mieux," and I'm afraid this is an apt description. The Medef is cheering the labor-code reform with full throat, but Jean-Claude Mailly's leadership of the FO has been challenged from within his own ranks.

Macron has no doubt heard the criticisms. Further success depends on his ability to respond constructively, and not by calling his opponents "fainéants" or insisting that he knows best. The time for balance is now.