Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Macron Seeks More Clout in Brussels

According to the Financial Times, Emmanuel Macron is seeking to have Bruno Le Maire replace Jeroen Dijsselbloem as head of the Eurogroup, the committee of finance ministers who set Eurozone policy. Failing that, he'd like to see Odile Renaud-Basso become the head of the so-called Working Group within the Eurogroup. Meanwhile, he's also pushing for the creation of the post of Eurozone finance minister--a move to which the Germans may accede. Agreement on any of these proposals would signify progress toward a Franco-German entente on Eurozone policy, which is long overdue. But any decision may be delayed until after the German elections in the fall.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The New New Left and the New Old Center

La France Insoumise would like to replace the near-defunct PS as the party of the left. In keeping with its "insoumis" label, however, it is encountering difficulty in achieving the kind of party discipline necessary to such a role or even to resigning itself to the fate of becoming a party rather than a movement:

Cette soif démocratique sera nécessairement débattue à Marseille. Sur une note de blog publiée le 28 mai, Jean-Luc Mélenchon assure que des processus de « démocratie interne » sont à l’œuvre mais il veille à ne pas en faire un « sujet de conflictualité interne » : « Il n’y a donc pas de “majorité”, de “minorités”, pas de plates-formes concurrentes, pas d’orientation générale opposée aux autres. Autrement dit : le mouvement se soucie d’abord d’être inclusif et collectif davantage que formellement “démocratique”, sachant à quelles violences et dérives conduisent les soi-disant pratiques “démocratiques” organisées par les règlements intérieurs des partis traditionnels. Le mouvement n’a qu’une référence idéologique commune à tous ses membres : le programme. »
Rather than learn the lessons of Occupy Wall Street, La Nuit Debout, Les Indignés, Los Indignados, etc., LFI seems intent on repeating their mistakes. The energy of youth brings with it the illusions of youth--or the rhetoric of the rusé Jean-Luc, who knows the meaning of democratic centralism and evidently prefers the swooning obedience of un parti godillot to the "violences et dérives [auxquelles] conduisent les soi-disant pratiques “démocratiques” organisées par les règlements intérieurs des partis traditionnels..." One does have to love that soi-disant. But who am I to give advice to such an expression of le peuple authentique?

Of course, the difficulties of organizing a party among the legions of the (tolerably) like-minded are as nothing compared with the difficulties of organizing a government capable of dealing with the multiple conflicting interests that the polity comprises. Coping with the latter is the challenge facing La République En Marche, a challenge that it has met with the varying degrees of success to be expected after the dramatic changes that swept over French political life in May and June. I am therefore forbearing in my criticism, unlike any number of you readers, who have leapt to the conclusion that Macron has either already failed or, if you are of a somewhat different ideological bent, succumbed to the contradictions inherent in the ideology of "en même temps" supposedly embodied by the neoliberal weasel.

Heavens! There is still a long way to go, even if the first 100 days have elapsed, requiring the usual outpouring of overwrought assessments. Steady as she goes. Fluctuat nec mergitur. We shall see what happens when the general strike called for Sept. 12 takes place. On that day I am supposed to be in France taking a TGV from Paris to Bordeaux. If the scene at the station is sufficiently bordélique, I may join the chorus of doomsayers. Until then I say, Keep your shirts on. Nothing much has happened yet. France has commenced its fermeture annuelle and transhumance of the vacationing classes, the newspapers are devoid of actual news, all the political commentators are away on holiday, and even the president seems to be making himself scarce after his round of partying with the likes of Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Vladimir Putin, Mr. and Mrs. Trump, and Rihanna.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

French Employment Picture Improves

The Financial Times notes a marked improvement in the French job market. An annual survey by
Pôle Emploi shows that hiring intentions of French employers are up 8.2 percent over last year. In the increase is 22.5 percent. The paper attributes the increase to labor market reforms initiated under Hollande (when Macron was minister of the economy).

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bye-bye Solférino

It looks likely that the PS will sell its headquarters on rue Solférino in order to keep the wolf from the door. The decimation of the party in the presidential will cut deeply into its revenues, and there's just not enough money to keep the lights on at Solférino.

Some Socialists are trying to put the best possible face on this debacle. It will help the party reconnect with its "popular base," says Olivier Faure, and this is supposedly hard to from a "power neighborhood" like the 7th Arrdt. A mauvaise langue might point out that having its HQ in the 19th hasn't done much for the PCF, but let's not be churlish. The Socialists are hurting, and if they want to pretend that the impending eviction from Solférino is a matter of choice rather than necessity, who would want to stop them?

Friday, July 28, 2017

"Hey, How'm'I doin'?"

When the late Ed Koch was mayor of New York, he was famous for approaching people on the street and asking "Hey, how'm'I doin'?" Emmanuel Macron, seeking to emulate the august aloofness of Charles de Gaulle, eschews the folksy Koch touch, but he is no less keenly interested in how he's doing. And the signs from the month of July have not been good: a sharp fall in approval rating (not only for Macron but for Edouard Philippe as well), a polemic over the firing of a general, some dissension in the REM ranks, stiffening union resistance to his labor code reform plans, a perception that budget cuts have taken precedence over everything else, and a dust-up over a 5-euro a month cut in the housing allotment.

Now, it's possible to defend the new government's actions on all these matters. Budget minister Gérald Darmanin, for example, offered a pretty good defense of the APL cut after it was attacked in characteristically showy fashion by Mélenchon's lieutenant Alexis Corbière, who in his speech referred to Mélenchon as le président Mélenchon (he is president of his parliamentary group, after all!), a nice rhetorical touch. Corbière used as props a collection of items that could be purchased for 5 euros, the amount of the APL cut. Good theater, even if the collection itself was unlikely to impress even le peuple d'en bas at whom it was aimed. Nobody missed the real point, which was that this was, in symbolic terms, a stupid move by the government.

And Macron appears to have taken the point. He called a meeting today in which he asked everyone concerned to reconsider their approach not so much in terms of substance as in terms of optics, which had become too "Bercyized," as one wag put it. The point is not to meet quotas in budget reduction; it is to persuade people that the ultimate outcome will be positively redistributive. But the question that remains as to what meaning Macron attaches to "positive." Does he intend to redistribute upward, to the richest, or downward, to the poorest. The APL cut lent itself to the former interpretation, and the Mélenchoniens were quick to seize the opportunity. Macron cannot much longer remain in the ambiguity of en même temps upward and downward redistribution. Gouverner, c'est choisir.

And in one respect, at least, a choice has been made. That there are limits to Macron's neoliberalism is now clear. Lemaire has nationalized the shipyards to ensure that jobs will not be lost to Italy--much to Italy's dismay. There will also be export subsidies for grain growers. The free market is a wonderful thing, except when it isn't. This is France, and le nationalisme économique is always on the agenda, no matter who is in power. This, too, is part of the Gaullist legacy in which Macron wishes to wrap himself. Today's meeting marks a first and necessary course correction. He is learning on the job. Reports of his early demise are greatly exaggerated. But no one is still describing the transition from Hollande to Macron as sans faute.

How is he doing? OK so far, but he's gotta keep his eye on the ball.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

General Hullaballoo

It's a very simple story, really. General de Villiers, brother of the far-right politician with whom Macron flirted on the campaign trail, forthrightly told deputies he would "not allow [himself] to be fucked like that,"  meaning by Macron's announced budget cuts for the military. Macron just as forthrightly told the general he didn't appreciate such airing of differences in the public square, much less in such salty language, and reminded the old soldier that, despite his youth, he was his commander-in-chief. The general resigned, as was inevitable. And now all of Macron's enemies, from Mélenchon, who can hardly be suspected of wishing that generals should get as much money as they want, to Ciotti to Le Pen, are accusing the president of caesarist pretensions.

Let's all get a grip. Of course the general wants more money and says that the army's ability to carry out its mission depends on it. He may even be right, but that's no reason to take him at his word: generals always say that. Macron was right to forcefully reassert civilian supremacy over the military: this is a fundamental principle. Of course he may be a bit overfond of wielding the prerogatives of his office, but he wouldn't be the first president to become so intoxicated. A new chief of staff has been appointed. He, too, will insist that he needs more money to carry out his mission. He may even get some. And life will go on.

Tyranny has not yet come to France, though you'd hardly know it to hear the politicians flocking to microphones to seize what they perceive as a first major chink in Macron's armor. They're wrong. The Boy Wonder comes out of this looking more in command than ever. The dogs bark, the caravans pass.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Macron's Remarkable Vel' d'Hiv Speech

Jacques Chirac was the first French president to acknowledge France's responsibility in the Holocaust, but Emmanuel Macron is the first to attempt to school the French in the precise nature of their responsibility while at the same--en même temps, as he likes to say--recognizing the courage of those who refused to stand idly by:

Les 16 et 17 juillet 1942 furent l’œuvre de la police française, obéissant aux ordres du gouvernement de Pierre LAVAL, du commissaire général aux questions juives, Louis DARQUIER DE PELLEPOIX et du préfet René BOUSQUET.
Pas un seul allemand n’y prêta la main.
Je récuse aussi ceux qui font acte de relativisme en expliquant qu’exonérer la France de la rafle du Vel d’Hiv serait une bonne chose. Et que ce serait ainsi s’inscrire dans les pas du général DE GAULLE, de François MITTERRAND qui, sur ce sujet, restèrent mutiques. Mais il est des vérités dont l’état de la société, les traumatismes encore vifs des uns, le déni des autres a pu brider l’expression.
Les déchirures vives qui traversaient la société française ont pu faire primer l’apaisement et la réconciliation. Nos sociétés ainsi s’offrent de ces répits pendants lesquels le travail de la mémoire reste souterrain, pendant lesquels les peuples reprennent leurs forces et doivent se réconcilier peu à peu pour reconstruire, avant de trouver les mots de vérité qui les guériront vraiment. Avant aussi de retrouver le courage collectif d’affronter les fautes et les crimes.
C’est pourquoi nous n’avons pas à juger ici le parti choisi par ces deux chefs de l’Etat, tous deux acteurs de la Seconde Guerre mondiale et de ses complexités. Mais rappelons-nous aussi que c’est François MITTERRAND qui institua cette Journée du souvenir ; et rappelons-nous surtout durant toutes ces années le combat souterrain de tant et tant pour que rien ne soit oublié.

That is a remarkably balanced and nuanced summation. The remainder of the speech equals it in gravity and solemnity.

Macron has been accused, not least by the left, of being pas seulement un banquier mais un banquier de chez Rothschild.  The antisemitic intent of the charge needs no underlining. With this speech he has responded to the antisemites. Just as Bill Clinton was said to be the first black president of the US, Emmanuel Macron might be honored as the first Jewish president of France. Anne Sinclair was said to have coveted this honor for her ex-husband, but Macron is no doubt a more suitable person for the position.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Blogger's Holiday

Dear Readers,
I haven't forgotten you, but I am on vacation in the south of France and enjoying my time away from the keyboard. See you next week.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Silly Season

This is the silly season of political commentary. The umpire has called play ball, the first pitch has been thrown--a little wild, some say, without the pitcher's usual stuff, clocking well under 90 on the radar gun--and the batter is still patting his cleats with the fat part of the bat and hitching up his trousers before stepping back into the batter's box. So there is not much to write about but the team photos. Or so they say.

While on the subject of photos, it's rather uncanny that Édouard Philippe's official photo strikes the same pose as Macron's: he's backed up to his antique desk, which he grips with his palms, while emphasizing his lean physique by leaving his suit buttoned and pulled tight across his abdomen. Sarkozy jogged and biked before the press, but these rookies strike more dignified yet still sportif poses, having learned that showing sweat is not a good way of establishing the proper distance between rulers and ruled (ou ceux qui ont réussi et ceux qui ne sont rien, as the president indelicately put it in a moment of revealing wardrobe malfunction--his mask slipped).

On to more serious matters: the president's "state of the Union" speech at Versailles. I'm not kidding: it's Macron himself who likened this inaugural address to the SOTU. Perhaps that's why so many commentators have been misled into calling it "vacuous" and "boring." Most SOTUs are precisely that. I suppose I would have found it so too if I'd watched it, but the Paris weather was perfect yesterday, and I had better things to do. On the other hand, I can't imagine a SOTU in which the president announces that he is going to eliminate the seats of more than one-third of the Congress, as Macron did. This would spark a riot, and the august legislators would tear the supreme but incautious leader limb from limb. But between the French president and the representatives of the nation there is none of the false bonhomie that one sees in the US Congress, where the president's entry is heralded by a sergeant-of-arms and accompanied by much glad-handing, back-slapping, index-finger pointing, and toothpaste ad smiles. The deputies just sat there in louisquatorzien splendor and took it on the chin without reacting.

The commentators who found the speech boring apparently failed to notice the other constitution-upending obiter dicta buried in the text. For example, the president indicated that the job of the legislature henceforth would be not to legislate but rather to "evaluate" the "action" of the government. Action on the one side, passive awarding of grades on the other. To make this evaluation more pertinent, the shrinking of the Assembly would permit greater means to be lavished on technically "competent" parliamentary assistants. In short, no more hiring of wives and mistresses. Henceforth, the lean and mean AN will be shepherded by sportif énarques, men just like the Pres and the PM themselves, who will look good in tightly tailored suits, grip antique desks as firmly as they shake the hands of foreign leaders, and present their legislator fronts with neat spreadsheets indicating in color-coded type where the men of action have kept within their budgets and where they have gone astray and require encore un effort. Une Révolution, as promised in Macron's campaign tome.

How dare anyone calls such a Technocratic Manifesto boring!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Le Silence

There is nothing quite like the silence of Paris early on a rainy summer Sunday morning. It is a nostalgic silence, full of something almost like reverence for a time when actual reverence existed, when Sunday was actually a respite from getting and spending to be consecrated to higher things, rather than simply a pause.

The silence this Sunday morning is almost eerie. There is not a trace of an echo of the secondary explosion that occurred yesterday, when the beleaguered remnant of the Socialist Party detonated, or rather popped like a lanced boil, with Benoît Hamon's announcement that he will strike out on his own. His traversal of the desert is likely to last more than 40 years. With him are Yannick Jadot and Cécile Duflot, whose presence at the Pelouse de Reuilly made the occasion more green than pink.

Meanwhile, what remains of the non-Macronian, non-Mélenchonian, non-Hamonian left will apparently be contested by Arnaud Montebourg, who fancies himself the left wing of the rump (if rumps have wings), and Stéphane Le Foll, who has appointed himself the night watchman at the Hollandiste Memorial Cemetery, where those who fell in the Phony War on Finance lie interred. They, too, have been relatively silent, particularly as to what purpose the Socialist Party would serve if they do manage to salvage it--other than, of course, as a vehicle, however decrepit, for their personal ambitions.

There is silence also from the Kremlin Elysée, as the president works on the program he will present to the Congress in glory assembled. A noted intellectual told me the other day that she feared France was on the brink of an "authoritarian" turn. Macron's eagerness to wrap himself in the Gaullist mantle has unsurprisingly revived primitive fears of the legal coup d'État. These are overblown, I think, but the outsized symbolism of the French presidency is more or less designed to awaken them, insofar as any human being manages to incarnate the symbol, and thus far all of Macron's talent and effort have been bent to just that end: performing the incarnation, as it were, in an almost sacramental ritual of presidential posturing.

The official photograph, which has elicited much impassioned commentary on this blog, was of course part of the effort of sacralization, even if the realization took the form of a rather strange iconic sabir. The two cell phones and the virile but at the same time décontractée pose clashed with the traditionalism of the literary selection and architectural setting. Le Rouge et le Noir was a bold choice for a brashly self-confident youth who stole an older man's wife, a revisiting of the scene of the crime, as it were. The inclusion of Gide might also be considered bold for a president about whom certain rumors were circulated, but Les Nourritures terrestres should probably be taken as a proto-green rather than a proto-rainbow manifesto. The Gaullian memoir needs no commentary. But leaving aside all these no doubt interesting details, what the image conveys to me is a certain coldly appraising implacability. This is not a young man I would want to cross. His icy gaze conveys a "Don't get mad, get even" lethality. France has a leader who knows that politics is combat and who does not intend to lose.