Saturday, November 18, 2017

Castagne sur Castaner

Christophe Castaner has been named and duly "elected" head of REM. "Named" is putting it mildly and "elected" putting it generously. He was in fact imposed from on high--I would say by Jupiter himself, except that I am tiring of the Jupiter metaphor, with which the president flattered his own pretensions for apotheosis. This was a politician's power move, not an act of god. It rankled at the base. A few hundred Marcheurs have quit the party, and a few local chapters have expressed their discontent. But for the moment there is no fronde, and even those who have quit tend not to blame Macron but rather "the party," which of course has no existence other than as a Macron vehicle, so this is a distinction without a difference.

But the real fissures in REM will not emerge until the first remaniement, which may be coming soon, or the first high-profile resignation, which could well be Nicolas Hulot. Some of REM's young followers believed that the nomination of Hulot was a promise that all contradictions could be reconciled, that deregulation and regulation would be dosed out with an even hand, a labor code reform here, a nuclear plant decommissioning there, etc. This has proved more difficult than they bargained on. But for the moment disillusionment has been held in check. A reckoning is coming.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Ni droite, ni gauche, ni Plenel, ni Charlie: Macron and "le terreau de la terreur"

On Nov. 9 Emmanuel Macron spoke about France's neglected banlieues. It was a good speech, in which Macron repeated the argument that had earned him the enmity of Manuel Valls when Valls was prime minister, namely, that the Republic had failed some of its citizens by relegating them to ghettos, allowing their housing and schools to disintegrate, and permitting discrimination against them in the workplace.

But this admirable willingness to stare directly at one of the open sores on the body politic came in the midst of one of the sadder spectacles of recent years, the absolutely vicious polemic between Charlie Hebdo on one side and Mediapart on the other. I will not rehearse the history; Le Monde does a good job here for anyone not au courant, even as it calls, no doubt futilely, for a truce.

Now it remains for Macron to transform his words into flesh and launch an urban politics worthy of the name. When it comes to repairing social ills, the government cannot do everything, as Lionel Jospin once said in another context, but that is no excuse for doing nothing. This will be one test of Macron's readiness to be something more than a supply-side reformer. This is where he can earn his social liberal spurs. I wish him success. French stability will depend on it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Seminar at Harvard

If you're in the Boston area, you might want to consider attending this on Monday, Nov. 20:

4:15pm - 6:00pm Center for European Studies, Harvard, 27 Kirkland St., Cambridge
Contemporary Europe Study Group — Panel on the Implications of the French and German Elections for the Future of the European Union
  • Adrien Abecassis – Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; Diplomat, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, France
  • Hans-Helmut Kotz – Visiting Professor of Economics, Harvard University
  • Niels Planel – International Consultant, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
  • Chair Arthur Goldhammer – Chair, Visiting Scholars Seminar: New Research on Europe, CES, Harvard University

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Personal Is Political

So Emmanuel Macron and Frank-Walter Steinmeier embraced the other day over the graves of the WWI dead. Physical demonstrativeness has been part of the Franco-German relationship for a long time now. De Gaulle didn't embrace Adenauer--not his style--but he did invite him home to Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, the only world leader ever so honored. Mitterrand and Kohl famously held hands. Sarkozy kissed Merkel, to her apparent annoyance. Hollande bussed her cheek. Macron swerved from Trump to Angela, who received his heartfelt accolade. All this touchy-feely-ness is meant to say, "Never again!"

Scratch the surface, however, and you find that deep suspicion remains, for all the convergence that has taken place. At some level, France and Germany are destined not to understand each other. Perhaps it's the Catholic-Protestant thing, which Macron evoked in his Der Spiegel interview. I'm inclined to think that the religious difference is secondary to a linguistic difference. I've been reading Der Zauberberg, slowly, over the past few months. German rewires the brain. It doesn't come naturally to the Latin mind. As a native speaker of English, I should be wired both ways, but I've been deformed by too many years of immersion in French.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Les déçus du hollandisme

After six months of unemployment preceded by five years of anticipation, the veterans of what RTL's Les Grandes Gueules used to mock as "le pays de Hollande" are publishing their memoirs. Two more are due to appear today. I think I shall spare myself the task of reading them. I'm halfway through Cambadélis's memoir, having already, even before the final debacle, read Aquilino Morelle's and of course the Confessions of the man himself to Davet and Lhomme. One's appetite for misery is not unlimited.

There are recurrent themes, of course. The odd thing is the president's almost pathological passivity. Cambadélis puts it down to a lack of preparation: Hollande had expected to be DSK's prime minister rather than president and had not theorized his presidency. This is a weak defense. What did he expect to be doing as prime minister. There is of course betrayal: both Morelle and Cambadélis stress the debacle of Florange, but from opposite sides: Morelle believes that Hollande knifed Montebourg in the back, Cambadélis believes the opposite. Both are correct, but this serves only to highlight Hollande's irresolution, on which everyone agrees. He was the decider who refused to decide: if gouverner, c'est choisir, Hollande never governed.

Cambadélis, falling back on the alibi of all failed politicians, blames the media. Gantzer and Feltesse invoke the affairs, especially Cahuzac and Closer, and Camba could not agree more. Then there was Leonarda, the Roma adolescent who dissed the president on national TV. And there was La Trierweiler, whom Camba evidently despises, but he can't refrain from revealing his contempt for the henpecked president-elect who allowed his mistress to oblige him to overcome his natural reserve by ordering him to bestow an election-night kiss on national television.

In the end, all agree that the presidency, the culmination of Hollande's life in politics, served only to reveal his unfitness for the job. It could have gone differently, all these commentators suggest, if only Hollande had been a different person. Cambadélis's resentment of Macron is evident, but at bottom his book is a resounding brief in favor of Macronism: the French people will put up with anything in their president except a void. Contradictions are tolerable; mollesse is not.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Jupiter Takes On Homer