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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

La droite déconstruite par les Constructifs

Thierry Solère has formed a new group in the National Assembly, Les Constructifs. This consummates the fracture on the right. Or, rather, one of the fractures. The usual dance of ambitions will ensure that other fissures deepen as well. Baroin vs. Wauquiez is one. The Juppéistes have already merged with the Macronistes, while Solère merely declares himself and his faction Macron-compatible.

Re Solère, here's an interesting tidbit from Wikipedia: "Thierry Solère y porte le surnom de Chihuahua donné par Isabelle Balkany afin de décrire, selon elle, son comportement attentiste et intéressé auprès de Jean Sarkozy, alors fils du président de la République."

Movement at Last in EU?

Angela Merkel is reportedly open to Macron's suggestion that what the EU needs is a common budget and finance minister. The details matter, of course, but this would mark a huge step forward and give Macron the early success he needs to keep his momentum going. Meanwhile, the Times reports that Laurent Berger is actively seeking compromise with Macron on labor-market reform. One is tempted to reply, What else is new? The CFDT is always ready for compromise. Still, it's another positive sign. As I wrote in my Foreign Affairs piece, the atmosphere has changed. There's a readiness to experiment that has been absent for a while. Pourvu que ça dure.

Blessing in Disguise

Has Macron ceased to walk on water? First he lost his right-hand man, Ferrand. Now he has lost the Old Man of the Center, Bayrou, the man who claims to have put him where he is today. And his Good Government renewal effort might seem to have become mired in a swamp of petty corruption.

But that would be a superficial reading of the situation. Actually, he has managed, without wielding the knife himself, to rid himself of a potential troublemaker. Bayrou was already acting like a man who imagined himself to possess more power than he actually had. He had exacted a significant price for his support, more deputies than the weight of his party merited. The 42 MoDem deputies will still matter in a legislature not as heavily tilted toward REM as predicted. But the situation is probably more manageable with a weakened Bayrou than with a Bayrou with influence over both justice and European affairs.

The balance of power in the government has now shifted considerably to the right, however. We do not yet know who will replace Bayrou, Sarnez, and Goulard, but the choice will say a lot about the future direction of the Philippe government.

One unfortunate consequence of the Bayrou mess is that Marine Le Pen is now free and clear. Whatever MoDem did with its parliamentary assistants, Le Pen can now claim, with perfect justice, that she was only doing what the others did. "Clarification" seems to be the watchword of the day. It's time for the EU to clarify what if any rules apply to the use of personnel paid by it ostensibly to serve as parliamentary assistant to MEPs.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

La moralisation moralisée

Richard Ferrand, secretary-general of REM and right hand of Emmanuel Macron, has been gently evicted from the government and shunted off to the National Assembly, where he is supposed to lead the REM group--unless, of course, he is indicted. Sylvie Goulard has excluded herself from the new Philippe government in order to prove her "good faith" in the affair of the MoDem parliamentary assistants--which the party leader and justice minister, François Bayrou, says isn't an affair at all, while describing Goulard's decision as "strictly personal." If there is as yet no smoking gun, there is plenty of smoke.

Bayrou, of course, was supposed to lead the effort to "moralize" government and restore public confidence--an effort he imposed on Macron as a condition of his support. Now, however, he seems to personify the problem. His reactions since the eruption of charges has been tone-deaf, not to say obtuse. He seems as clueless as Fillon.

And the atmospherics are not good for Macron and Philippe, whose flawless rollout has been compromised by the gathering clouds, may be on the verge of taking off into a maelstrom. The fresh face Macron put on government is in danger of looking a lot like the same old same old. And François Fillon must be wondering how things would have looked if the various improprieties that have lately come to light, including his own, had been revealed in a different order. A true Cleopatra's nose moment in French politics.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Legislatives, Round 2

I have a piece at Foreign Affairs. If you're in Korea, I'll be on the radio there tomorrow evening. If in San Francisco, I'll be on KCBS early tomorrow.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Legislatives--First Projections

BFM-TV predicts that REM will have a majority of 415-445 out of 570 seats. An unbelievable result for Macron. Both the FN and France Insoumise vastly underperformed compared to their presidential results. For the moment, Macron is in the driver's seat, although the record low turnout--around 50%--suggests that the opposition is silent and sullen rather than non-existent. But make no mistake: the political map of France has been redrawn.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Où sont les fronts républicains d'antan?

The Republicans are splitting apart at the seams. In part this simply reflects the traditional guerre des chefs, even if the chefs in question at the moment are both petits. Both François Baroin and Laurent Wauquiez want to become president, but for the moment they must battle for supremacy within LR. Hence Baroin has come out as the "Katy bar the door" candidate against the FN, while Wauquiez has gone all brownshirt-friendly. This is splitting the party:

Et puis patatras ! Tout s’est effondré le lendemain à cause de la cacophonie qui règne à LR où un certain nombre d’élus – comme le président de la région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Laurent Wauquiez –, ont jugé prématuré voire carrément non avenu d’évoquer la question, ce qui est le signe d’une profonde fracture entre les modérés du parti et son aile plus droitière.
But the reason the leadership is divided is that the party base is divided. Plenty of LR voters, particularly those who stuck with Fillon, see no reason to shun the FN any longer. Especially in the south, where Marion Maréchal Le Pen is the face of the party rather than her aunt, the FN is seen as traditionalist and conservative, exactly the kind of right that Fillon embodied. And this rift in the base is ultimately driving the leadership contest. The results of the legislatives will be crucial in determining the outcome, and the resulting picture will most likely be geographically variegated.

Monday, May 29, 2017

L'Esprit Public Canceled

It is Memorial Day here in the US, and I was saddened this morning to learn that one of my favorite France Culture programs, L'Esprit Public, which Philippe Meyer has produced for the past 19 years, will not be renewed. Unlike many political discussion shows, this one was always exemplary in its sobriety and depth. I, for one, will miss the weekly podcast. I hope M. Meyer finds a home on another station.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Macron at L'Esprit

Very interesting interview with Olivier Mongin, editor of L'Esprit, concerning Emmanuel Macron's work for the journal, his relationship with Paul Ricoeur, and his political thought and outlook.

Macron Débuts on the World Stage

Emmanuel Macron made his first appearance at a grand international meeting at yesterday's NATO conference. Much commentary has focused on his several handshakes with Donald Trump, whose overbearing manner failed to cow the young French president, even if our First Oaf did manage to shove aside the prime minister of Montenegro in his zeal to place himself in the front row for a photo op. For a brilliant commentary on the whole show, you can't do better than the interview Dominique Moïsi gave to France Inter this morning:




Dominique did not comment, however, on what I thought was the most remarkable moment of the conference. Macron, arriving last for the meeting, found himself alone facing a phalanx of the high and mighty. With his customary poise, he traversed the distance between himself and the advancing front rank of leaders, which included, of course, Trump slightly to the right of center but also Angela Merkel slightly to the left. At the last moment, Macron veered to his right to greet Merkel, whom he had of course met in Germany last week, with a warm hug, leaving Trump, who clearly expected to be greeted first in a sign of feudal submission, looking characteristically unsure of how to conceal his contempt.

The commentary on this event--including mine--would not be out of place in an analysis by a Jacques Le Goff or Georges Duby of some medieval court ritual. In a moment of absolute uncertainty in world affairs, with the most powerful nation in the world governed by a "terrifying," "impulsive," "unpredictable," and incurious imbecile (the words in quotes are Dominique's, the last two are mine), we are reduced to scrutinizing the gestures of our lords for signs of the order that once reigned after the supposed "end of history." Back then we called it the New World Order. How nostalgically quaint that appellation seems today.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Big Test

Surprisingly, the Philippe I Government is very popular, and it now seems that REM might even win an absolute majority in the Assembly. If it does, this will be taken as a mandate to proceed full speed ahead with Macron's program, the first element of which is reform of the labor code.

Elie Cohen gives an excellent analysis of the reform here (h/t George Ross). The only thing lacking from Cohen's analysis is an evaluation of the likely effects of the reform. Will it, as promised, actually reduce unemployment or increase investment? From an economist like Cohen one might expect such an analysis, but instead we get a discussion--a very lucid discussion--of how the Macron reform repairs the mistakes of similar reforms attempted by his predecessors. The discussion is entirely tactical. Avoid retreats indicating weakness and uncertainty, proceed quickly, by ordonnance if necessary, take a pedagogical approach, build on previous negotiations, enlist allies among the unions but without making unnecessary concessions.

All well and good, but the discussion makes passage of the reform a test of presidential strength and acumen rather than one pillar of a broader economic strategy. The question is whether such a strategy already exists, or whether it must be deferred until after the outcome of this first step is clear. It is as if the battlefield ahead is still too shrouded in fog to know where resistance lies. Only after the battle over labor code reform is engaged will Macron know where he must concentrate his forces for the next battle. The assumption is that this first battle is all but won, but its unfolding will reveal the shape of battles to come. I think this is probably correct, but it may also be somewhat overconfident. Even if the first battle is not lost, it may inflict substantial enough damage to slow the planned invasion. At the moment, confidence is high, but so is uncertainty. And since Bruno Le Maire could well be defeated in his re-election bid, Macron cannot even be sure who his generals will be as he prepares for coming skirmishes.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The New Philippe Government

How to read this? The economy has been handed to the right: Le Maire as Minister of the Economy and Darmanin as Minister of "Action and Public Accounts," whatever that is--what happened to Finance? This is not good news for those who hoped for liberalization with a human face. Of course the intention may be to drive the wedge as deeply as possible into LR in advance of the legislatives, with the hope of persuading a large swathe of LR voters to vote for REM deputies. But I don't like the look of things.

Meanwhile, Bayrou gets Justice, Le Drian Foreign Affairs, Collomb Interior, and Ferrand "Territorial Cohesion."

Nicolas Hulot joins a government at last--to which I say, So what?

Muriel Pénicaud at Labor I know nothing about, but this is an important post in view of Macron's program.

I can already sense a cooling of Macronmania. This is a government well to the right of center. Yes, Jean-Luc, you told us so.

Division Everywhere

As predicted, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen has begun a flirtation with Laurent Wauquiez, which is to say, with the right of Les Républicains.

« J’appartiens à la “droite Buisson”, explique la jeune femme à l’hebdomadaire, faisant référence à l’ancien conseiller de Nicolas Sarkozy, Patrick Buisson. J’ai été très marquée, récemment, par son livre La Cause du peuple, dans lequel j’ai vu exposés de manière claire les fondements de cette droite nationale, identitaire, sociale qui est la mienne. » La présidente du FN et M. Philippot, de leur côté, récusent le terme de « droite » et estiment que le FN a plutôt vocation à se placer dans un nouveau clivage, qui oppose « patriotes » et « mondialistes ».
...
Caduc, le vieux clivage droite-gauche ? « C’est un clivage qui continue d’exister mais qui est inexact dans la structuration actuelle des partis politiques, répond pour sa part Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. Un profil comme Laurent Wauquiez change la donne. Mais il faut voir ce qu’il fera de ce pouvoir ! Si c’est pour avoir un nouveau Sarkozy, ce n’est pas utile. (…) Ce qui est sûr, c’est que, dans le paysage politique actuel à droite, il fait partie de ceux dont les déclarations laissent penser qu’on aurait des choses à se dire et à faire ensemble. »
La droite Buisson: UMPS on one side, LRFN on the other. Meanwhile, Philippot has announced his own movement within the FN, a Macron-ish move and a shot across Marine Le Pen's bow. And the marriage between Dupont-Aignan and MLP has ended after only two weeks.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Populism of the Elite

France's elites are proud. They'd never stoop, as John Kerry did, to donning a hunting jacket and shouldering a shotgun to prove he was a real man and not just a windsurfer (or antiwar war hero). They'd never demean themselves, as Hillary Clinton did, by aping Bernie Sanders. When challenged by populisms of the right and left, the French elite chose to fight fire with fire: they mounted a populism of the elite.

The concept is less oxymoronic than it sounds. You cast about among the best and the brightest. You find a brilliant and handsome young man, le gendre idéal, as the French like to say. You portray him as the prodigy he is: pianist, philosopher, footballer, banker, énarque, tennisman manqué, cool, affable, confident to a fault. You equip him with a narrative to counter that of the scowling populisms that threatened--and still threaten--to bring down the Republic: like them, he, too, claims to represent the good People, but his good people are optimistic, forward-looking, striving, upwardly mobile, ambitious. Leave "globalism's losers," les laissés-pour-compte, for the others. Emphasize his qualities as a "uniter, not a divider": et de droite et de gauche, he has forgotten those bygone, shopworn distinctions of the old world and keeps his eyes resolutely fixed on the new.

You have him say no more about what he is for than they do. Concentrate, as they do, on what he is against. They are against the system, the banks, globalization, capitalism. He is against pessimism, passéisme, and passivity. He is for dynamism, le roman de l'énergie nationale, as Barrès once put it.

And above all do not misrepresent what you will do in office. This was Hollande's mistake. There is an elite consensus on What Is to Be Done. Do not deny this, as Hollande did, but do not describe it, either, because it will only make a lot of people unhappy. Once elected, make it clear that you truly believe in this consensus, that it was not merely a myth toward which you gestured to get elected. Nominate as your prime minister another true believer, another prodigy like yourself, another énarque who has proved that he can thrive in both the private sector and the public, who gets on with everyone, but whose steel fist (he is a boxer, after all) is evident beneath the velvet glove. Welcome the cheers that emanate from the others like yourself, all of whom are eager to join you now that you have won, who admire your audacity even as they nurse an undeniable envy that you were the Chosen One each of them had hoped to be.

And then hope beyond hope that it all works, somehow, because in your heart of hearts you know that bold experiments often go wrong. You are not really as confident as you appear. Your wife trained you while still quite young to be a good actor. In your private moments, and precisely because you are the prodigy you've been made out to be, you know that you're walking a tightrope, and that the moment you show signs of losing your balance the slings and arrows will start flying from below, aiming to knock you off. Et voilà, there you are, eighth president of the Republic. You can't quite believe it, mais en même temps, as everyone is now mocking you for saying, you knew all along that you would win. You just had that feeling--as all great gamblers do. Sometimes the odds catch up with them, of course, but for all your training in the arts of calculation, you've never really been a calculator. You've always trusted your instincts, no matter how unconventional, no matter what disapproval they aroused. Your presidency will be a classic contest of virtù contra fortuna. And we in the gallery will be grateful for what promises to be one of the better shows of recent times.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Edouard Philippe, PM

Here's the story. I had  been hoping for Sylvie Goulard, a woman and a centrist, but Philippe makes more political sense for a president who must put together a majority with elements of the center-right as well as the center-left. The nomination is Juppé's revenge. It is also Michel Rocard's revenge, since Philippe was apparently a Rocardian in his youth.

Of course, this odd convergence in the center, so at odds with French tradition, will put both extremes on the new government even before it is formed. Macron is banking on a German-style Grand Coalition. What emerges from this will of course depend on the balance of power determined by the legislative elections. Until then we commentators will be speculating in a void.

ADDENDUM: The new PM profiles ... Mélenchon.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

France, The Next Unicorn

"Unicorn" is the Silicon Valley term for a startup that hits the big time. Much has been made of Macron's use of managerial language and of the Valley's go-go rhetoric of disruption and innovation. Little of that was on display in today's passation de pouvoir, which emphasized the symbolic "investiture" of the new king with the trappings of the old. Hollande was accused of never having been able to "incarnate" the monarchical French presidency. Macron aimed to "incarnate" from the get-go, his solitary procession up the red carpet to the seat of power on which the dying body of the old king still sat, waiting to be phagocyté (as the French say) by the new. When it was all over, the new king, vigorous and erect in his chaste blue suit and blue tie, accompanied the lumbering old man, now returned to the unprepossessing "normality" from which he sprang, to his waiting car.

Actually, Macron did not accompany Hollande all the way to his car. The ex-president's vehicle apparently stood on the other side of the invisible barrier separating the sacred from the profane. The newly sacralized president went with the now desacralized old man to the very edge of the royal enclosure, but from there Hollande was on his own--reduced to a disembodied arm waving wanly from an open car window. Macron waited until the old man had disappeared, then turned on his heel, regained the perron, stood for a moment with Brigitte, and then entered the palace of which he was at last in sole possession. The TV cameras were discreetly stationed to record what happened next: Brigitte was ushered away by palace flunkies, while Emmanuel bounded up the stairs four at a time to get right down to work launching France the startup on its way to becoming a unicorn. The time for regal symbolism was over; now it was back to the twenty-first century and the business of Making France Great Again (though not without ritual homage to the wounded and dead of France's wars internal and external).

I am older than François Hollande, so I couldn't help feeling a funereal pang at the sight of my generation being ushered off the world stage to make way for the eager young. But we've made a hash of things, so I suppose it's their turn. Still, I couldn't help imagining a suppressed smirk on Macron's lips as he watched Hollande being driven out the gate. In one of the documentaries on the campaign, Macron is told that his security people think it will be dangerous for him to visit striking workers at Whirlpool in Amiens. It's an angry crowd, "If you listen to the security guys," Macron says, "you end up like Hollande: safe but dead." That peremptory judgment came to mind as I watched Hollande disappear into the rue Faubourg St.-Honoré. Safe but dead. An accurate verdict on his presidency. Who can imagine what verdict will be pronounced on Macron's five years from today? To the young everything seems possible. Wisdom (which isn't nearly as satisfying as it's cracked up to be) is the discovery that it isn't.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Minority Voters

From Libé:
Comment ces électeurs se sont-ils comportés dans cette élection inédite ?
Cet électorat, dont une bonne partie réside dans des quartiers populaires, s’est tout d’abord davantage abstenu. Sa participation est plus de 10 points en dessous de la moyenne nationale. S’il y a toujours une prime très importante à la gauche, c’est Jean-Luc Mélenchon qui en a le plus profité puisqu’il fait 37 % parmi les électeurs déclarant une ascendance maghrébine (on rappellera qu’en 2007 et 2012, ces électeurs s’étaient massivement prononcés en faveur de Ségolène Royal, puis François Hollande pour le PS, au premier comme au second tour à chacune de ces élections). Ensuite, viennent Emmanuel Macron à 28,5 % et Benoît Hamon à 11 %. De manière plus marginale, Marine Le Pen fait 9 % et François Fillon 8,5 %.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Macron's Philosophical Education

Emmanuel Macron ruminates on his apprenticeship in philosophy. I look forward to a transcript of his first meeting with Donald Trump. (h/t Jake Soll)

A Couple of New Pieces

Beginning to think about the legislatives in The American Prospect, and musing on Macron for New Zealand Public Radio. And for a bonus, here are my friends Hugo Drochon, Chris Bickerton, and Chris Brooke with David Runciman talking politics.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Schulz Backs Macron

A division has opened in Berlin between Martin Schulz and Angela Merkel. Schulz has sided with Macron on the need for eurozone reform, while Merkel insists that France get its own house in ordnung before she'll budge (but she may be bluffing in advance of this fall's German elections).

With most German voters fearful of putting taxpayers’ money at risk outside their borders, the SPD leader is taking a political gamble ahead of elections on Sunday in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous region. But with SPD support weakening in recent weeks, Mr Schulz has taken a chance on clearly differentiating himself from Ms Merkel over eurozone policy ahead of Sunday’s poll and national elections in September.
It's good to see a Social Democrat in Germany taking an electoral risk. Perhaps Macron's successful high-stakes gamble in winning the French presidency has put risk-taking back in vogue. It's about time. Europe has suffered from an excess of caution in recent years, with all the audacity coming from the extremes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Déchirements

Hamon has announced that he has "gone into opposition," but his party is crumbling around him. Valls tried to bolt to REM (I love that Macron's new party, République en Marche, has the initials of a rap group or a state of somnolence) and was rebuffed. Mélenchon discovered that the Insoumis included the Communists, who both remain insoumis (to him) and know a thing or two about cults of personality. They will pursue their own independent, unbowed course to oblivion. The Juppéistes are on the verge of going their own way. MoDem is hoping for a prime minister named Sylvie Goulard. Baroin and Wauquiez are busily stabbing each other in the back and casting about for henchmen. And Marion has left Tante Marine in the lurch, while auntie tries to figure out whether Philippot, who has become the face of the FN on TV and the voice on radio, is more of a liability than an asset. And speaking of radio, Patrick Cohen is leaving France Inter for Europe1.

In short, the French political landscape is already looking like the aftermath of a tornado, and REM won't even announce its slate of candidates until tomorrow. It's going to be a fascinating first 100 days. Everything is in flux, and the currents are impossible to read.

Meanwhile, here at home, in contrast to France, the orange-maned narcissist-in-chief is on the march. Normally I refrain from using the f-word, but when your clueless president fires the person who is investigating him for suspected collusion with a foreign power, "fascism" seems somewhat less hyperbolic. France has for now kept its republic, while the US is once again contemplating Benjamin Franklin's answer to a citizen who asked what kind of government the constitutional convention had given the country: "A Republic, sir, if you can keep it."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What a Difference a Debate Makes


It looks as though the last debate really did turn things around. Had Le Pen behaved herself, she might have met expectations. But her self-redemonization sank her.

Miscellany

My optimism about German flexibility on austerity may have been misplaced. Merkel has thrown cold water on Gabriel's more effusive statements about the need to jettison fiscal orthodoxy and fund a Franco-German investment fund. Remember, however, that she faces an election in September and has to play to the galleries. But nothing much will happen before autumn.

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen is under increasing fire from within the FN. I expect she will soon sacrifice Philippot in the hope of saving herself.

Manuel Valls announced this morning that he will run for the AN on the République en marche ticket (this being the new name of En Marche!). He said his "values" continue to be socialist, but the Socialist Party is dead. Meanwhile, Hamon seems to be looking (still) for some kind of alliance with Mélenchon, presumably this time as a humble supplicant.

All this suggests that the rumors that Macron will turn to the right for a PM make political sense. The PS is in full disintegration mode, and he really needs to prevent LR from regrouping as a unified opposition bloc. But my guess is that he will not want to put himself too much at the mercy of the Juppéistes either. Look for a surprise, such as Sylvie Goulard, whose European credentials and gender would better suit the renewal theme (and also allow Macron himself to dominate the domestic agenda).

Meanwhile, even the CFDT is putting Macron on notice that he'd better not be too high-handed in pressing labor code reform.

Finally, the Harvard Gazette interviews me on the election.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ça bouge!

Some interesting bits on France2 tonight after the slightly sick-making shots of the "young president" being taken by the arm by the "old president" and "guided" gently through the symbolic rituals of power: the regeneration of the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe, etc. And of course the resurrected footage of young Emmanuel Macron acting in a high school play under the direction of Brigitte Trogneux--who continued to critique his speech preparation 23 years later before a major meeting. Heartwarming, I'm sure.

I was nevertheless more interested in the news that Christian Estrosi, selon ses dires, was offered and refused a ministry under Macron. His support for le jeune ingénu seems to have fractured his majority in the PACA regional counsel, so he is resigning from his post there and falling back on his fiefdom in Nice.

Meanwhile, Nathalie St.-Cricq reports that Macron will choose a PM from the right, possibly the mayor of Le Havre Édouard Philippe. This would have the benefit of splitting the right, St.-Cricq said, adding that it was all being plotted under the watchful eye of Alain Juppé. Meanwhile, Sarkozy, at la place de l'Etoile, had a few words of avuncular advice for the new man of the hour. "Je sais d'expérience que le difficile commence maintenant." Eh oui.

Still just rumors.

A More Light-Hearted Take on the Election

In which I imagine Macron as Robin dumping Batman in order to beat Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Here.

I was notified that a subscriber unsubscribed today because he or she found the blog "offensive, strongly disagree, or disapprove." That's the first time that's happened. Perhaps a Le Pen supporter, who might find this take even more offensive. Can't please everybody.

Le Maire Steps Out

Bruno Le Maire, for whom the knives are out in LR, has made an overture to Macron:

"Traître à quoi ? A nos idées ? Quelle différence fondamentale y a-t-il entre nos idées sur la libéralisation de l'économie, le soutien aux entrepreneurs, la construction européenne, et les idées d'Emmanuel Macron ? Je suis fidèle à mes idées, à mes convictions".
"Il suffirait que Bruno Le Maire se déclare candidat En Marche, il aurait toute sa place dans la nouvelle majorité", a réagi sur LCP le centriste Jean Arthuis, soutien d'Emmanuel Macron.
"Je pense que Bruno Le Maire fait partie de ces hommes politiques talentueux et généreux", a-t-il commenté, plaidant pour qu'il y ait des "ministres de droite, de gauche, du centre" dans le gouvernement Macron. "C'est là le signe majeur qu'Emmanuel Macron va évidemment donner", a encore ajouté le député européen Jean Arthuis.

The Morning After

The speeches are over, the television studios are dark, and it is a holiday in France, VE day, an occasion for somber joy--joy because the fascists did not win the war, somber because so many died in seeing to it that they did not.

For some of us, yesterday was also a day of somber joy. For others it was not. My friend Nico B., who shares none of my satisfaction with Macron's victory for reasons I perfectly well understand, reminds me that among registered voters (not just "expressed votes"), Macron scored 44%, Le Pen 22%, and neither of the above (abstentions plus spoiled/blank ballots) 34%. And of Macron's 44%, who knows how many were strategic voters, casting a ballot for Macron only to block Le Pen?

These figures are a stark reminder of the challenge Macron faces. He will propose major reforms, including what will surely be a controversial overhaul of the labor code (which he has said he will do by executive order, a move that will surely spark cries of "Tyranny!" and put demonstrators in the streets). Whatever he does in this regard is unlikely to produce immediate results. Any improvement in the investment climate due to the victory of a business-friendly candidate will be quickly offset by the negative images stemming from what the French like to call un troisième tour social. Scowling Mélenchon will see vindication in whatever turmoil ensues. And Le Pen will continue to claim that she alone represents la vraie France.

Against this simmering rebellion what weapons does Macron have? On May 15, Richard Ferrand said this morning, the new president will name his prime minister. The choice will be important. It will be the moment to establish a dynamic, if that is possible. It will set the tone for the legislative campaign. En Marche!'s campaign strategy remains murky. It will run its own candidates but also seek alliances. The Socialists seem receptive, while LR does not. But of course the Socialists need alliances, because they are in even worse shape than LR. And any alliance with the Socialists will only further diminish Macron's luster in the eyes of those who chose him only as un pis-aller.

I wrote in my Nation piece that Macron at times seemed to aspire to walk on water. On the day after his election it almost seems as if he will have to if he wishes to stay afloat. He needs miracles--not just a miracle but a series of them. Thus far he's been extraordinarily lucky, but will his luck last?

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Early Data from FT

Interesting piece. (May be paywalled.)

Note the maps. Macron squeezed Le Pen back into her deepest redoubts, wiped out previous geographic gains. Only 10% of Mélenchon supporters crossed to Le Pen, well below the 18% predicted. Fillon voters did vote for Le Pen, however. The republican front collapsed on the right, not on the left. This augurs a hard-right turn for LR. If Wauquiez becomes the party leader, an alliance with the FN is possible, I wager.

First Thoughts

I discuss the results in a podcast with journalists Karin Pettersson of Sweden's Aftonbladet and Georg Diez of Germany's Der Spiegel. And I have a hot take in Foreign Affairs.

Macron's two speeches were excellent, but the big news is that Marine Le Pen will launch a new party and seek alliances--a frank admission that her plan to make the FN salonfähig has failed.

Baroin has gone straight into opposition with nary a kind word for Macron. The battle between him and Wauquiez for control of LR will be fierce and nasty, I predict.

Le Pire ne passe pas

If you'll forgive me for expressing an opinion, On a gagné! The worst has not happened. Le Pen's re-demonization of her party in the final 2 weeks ensured that Macron would do even better than had been predicted from the beginning. Now the real work begins. I wish the new president the best of luck. Stay tuned for the legislatives.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Macron E-Mail Hack

Relax, people. He's 22 points ahead, he does not have Clinton's baggage, France knows all about campaign skullduggery, and what has immediately been denounced on all sides as foul play will probably add to his vote total rather than subtract from it. Le Pen's appointment of a Holocaust denier as interim head of the party, her reversals on Frexit and the euro, her savagery and psychotic smile in the debate--all these things have reminded people of what 6 years of "de-demonization" had been intended to make them forget, that the FN is not a party like the others. 

It's over. Macron has won. Non passaran. Salvation is at hand. And then what? It's back up the mountain for Sisyphus.

A Hypothetical for Your Consideration

Suppose Marine Le Pen doesn't want to win this election. Then the events of the last two weeks would make sense. The retreat from EU withdrawal and euro abandonment consequent upon the wine-watering choice of Dupont-Aignan as prime minister-designate, the bizarrely aggressive debate performance, the disastrous nomination of Jalkh to head the party (how could MLP not have known of his Holocaust denial)--all these things make no sense for a candidate who wants to win but have a ready explanation if she wants to lose.

The FN has always been the family business, and a good business it was. Election would quickly spoil the brand. The party would have to take responsibility, and Le Pen surely knows how hard it would be to deliver on any of her promises. She knows she has zero chance of obtaining a working majority in the Assembly. So why spoil a good thing? By losing, she keeps herself pristine as leader of those who refuse to compromise with "the system" (Mélenchon will be a robust challenger, but he has been a minister, hence is already tainted). Really, there's no upside in winning. She'd probably face violent protests even before taking office. Why shoulder the burden of bloody repression when you can parlay failure into a healthy income stream?

Look at Donald Trump's dilemma. Profits or power? He's now got all the headaches of power. Of course he can use it to multiply his profits. But that's because he already has a tentacular private-sector empire. Marine's business will do better if she can stay out of office. And she was losing anyway. So why not shut the door on any outside chance of victory? Behave like a Neanderthal in debate. Confuse your supporters by reneging on your signature policy proposals. Keep your internal rivals guessing about what you're up to.

The only danger for Le Pen is that she will lose so badly that the internal enemies will see their chance and take their shot. That means primarily Marion Maréchal Le Pen, but she's still very young. MLP probably figures it was worth the risk. She's playing to lose. Maybe. Jus' sayin' ....

First Post-Debate Poll: Macron + 2

The first post-debate poll, by Elabe, shows Macro with a two-point bounce:


Thursday, May 4, 2017

En Route Home--No Blogging Today

The (parodic) debate summary I posted yesterday, while the debate was still going on, will have to suffice, dear readers. I am flying home today from Houston, where I gave several talks on the election for the Houston World Affairs Council. I want to take this opportunity to thank my hosts for their gracious welcome. I was surprised and gratified by the interest in the French election among council members, other guests, and even a group of high school students, whose questions demonstrated real knowledge of European and world affairs.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Summary of the Great Debate

Le Pen: You were minister of the economy, yet you insist that 2+2=4.
Macron: And you, Mme Le Pen, you would have our compatriots believe that 2+2=5.
Le Pen: (mocking laughter) Of course, M. Macron, and if you were not the servant of the lobbies and the banks, you would understand that 2+2 has always equaled 5.
Macron: (exasperated, attempting to remain understated) Let me explain to you, Mme Le Pen, why 2+2=4. Take these two fingers ...
Le Pen: How dare you, M. Macron, if you still have fingers, it's only because the radical Islamist jihadists whom you support, whom you invite to your meetings, whose endorsements you accept, have not yet cut them off ...
Macron (with exaggerated patience): Have you nothing to propose for the solution of the problem 2+2? How can that be, Mme Le Pen, after two years of campaign? Can it be because you are truly the heir of your father's party ...
Le Pen: When will you accept responsibility for the failure of M. Hollande, whom you served so abjectly ...
Macron: I will accept responsibility for what I did but not for what others did. Unlike you, I am indebted to no one ...
Le Pen: You deny, then, that you and Hollande are responsible for depriving the French of the extra unit that was theirs until you ceded it to Brussels and reduced 5 to 4?
Macron: Without our partners, Mme Le Pen, we could not even make 2+2 = 3.
Und so weiter.
Assez.
Now I must go explain all this to the good citizens of Houston.

Am I Still Confident?

I was asked this morning whether I remain confident in a Macron victory after the Dupont-Aignan crossover and the refusal of 50% of the Insoumis to vote for Macron. Answer: yes.


Macron en position de force, malgré des fragilités

Selon l’enquête du Cevipof, Emmanuel Macron est crédité de 59 % des intentions de vote pour le second tour de l’élection présidentielle face à Marine Le Pen. Un choix qui semble solide : 91 % de ceux qui comptent voter pour lui assurent que leur choix est définitif ; ils sont 88 % chez Mme Le Pen. Le favori est néanmoins fragile selon ce sondage puisqu’une nette majorité de ses électeurs, 60 %, déclarent voter pour lui par défaut.

En savoir plus sur http://www.lemonde.fr/election-presidentielle-2017/#D1GqmKMKQCA7XHVc.99

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Two-Thirds of the Insoumis Militants Will Vote Blank or Abstain

What did you expect, when their chief all but declared he'd regard them as wusses of they voted for "the bankers' tool?" But it's not as dire as it sounds. The canvas covered only the FI militants, not the 19% of the electorate that went for Méluche in round 1. Presumably a good many of them are made of flabbier stuff and are more frightened of a Le Pen presidency than a Mélenchon tongue-lashing. On verra. I'm still sticking with my Macron by a comfortable margin prediction. I'm not saying how comfortable. Comfortable enough, though. If I'm proved wrong, I'll stop blogging (just kidding--did Fillon drop out of the race when mis en examen? Why should I be harder on myself than such a paragon?)

Sigmar Gabriel Backs Macron, Calls for an End to "Financial Orthodoxy"

I have been saying for a while now that the best reason to vote for Macron is that he will alleviate German fears about France's unreliability as a European partner. Sigmar Gabriel's op-ed in today's Le Monde makes it clear that he supports this view:

Emmanuel Macron a raison : l’Allemagne doit en finir avec l’orthodoxie financière qui, en ces temps de taux d’intérêt négatifs, contribue plutôt à favoriser le retard des investissements qu’à moderniser notre pays. Une telle politique est néfaste non seulement pour l’Europe, mais aussi pour les Allemands qui devront payer cher lorsque les taux d’intérêt augmenteront à nouveau et que le retard des investissements se sera davantage creusé.


Nous autres, Allemands, devons enfin cesser de raconter des histoires mensongères sur l’Europe. En Allemagne, le monde politique, les médias et, en partie, le monde de l’entreprise ne cessent de clamer que notre pays est la « bête de somme » de l’Union européenne. En vérité, l’Allemagne n’est pas un « contributeur net », mais bien un « bénéficiaire net ». Car 60 % de nos exportations vont en Union européenne. Ce n’est donc que si toute l’Europe se porte bien que les Allemands vont bien également. Si les autres Européens vont mal, l’Allemagne elle aussi souffrira, à terme, de chômage.

Mediapart Investigates Russian Financing of Le Pen

Mediapart claims to have uncovered a network of occult Russian financing of the FN led by Putin advisor Alexander Babakov.

L’enquête menée par Mediapart et le site d’investigation letton Re:Baltica dans les coulisses des prêts russes du FN raconte une tout autre histoire : celle d’un réseau qui s’est constitué – avec ses intermédiaires et ses structures opaques – pour aider le parti de Marine Le Pen à décrocher des millions, et même à en masquer la provenance. En filigrane de ce scénario apparaît le rôle décisif du sénateur Alexandre Babakov, ultra-patriote et conseiller du président Poutine en charge des relations avec les organisations russes à l’étranger. Ce sont lui et ses proches qui, entre 2014 et 2016, ont mis le FN en contact avec trois banques russes au profil douteux, au cours de rencontres à Paris et à Genève dont nous dévoilons ici les coulisses.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Day

I am in New York to speak about the election this evening at Columbia. So I leave you with this from Victor Hugo:


Premier mai

Tout conjugue le verbe aimer. Voici les roses.
Je ne suis pas en train de parler d'autres choses.
Premier mai ! l'amour gai, triste, brûlant, jaloux,
Fait soupirer les bois, les nids, les fleurs, les loups ;
L'arbre où j'ai, l'autre automne, écrit une devise,
La redit pour son compte et croit qu'il l'improvise ;
Les vieux antres pensifs, dont rit le geai moqueur,
Clignent leurs gros sourcils et font la bouche en coeur ;
L'atmosphère, embaumée et tendre, semble pleine
Des déclarations qu'au Printemps fait la plaine,
Et que l'herbe amoureuse adresse au ciel charmant.

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.

Ross Douthat, Apologist for Le Pen

Ross Douthat must rival Jean-Luc Mélenchon in his distaste for Emmanuel Macron, whom he calls "the callow creature of a failed consensus" and "the John Lindsay of the Eurocrats."

Douthat might have exerted himself a little more strenuously rather than phoning in his column from the Hamptons if he had challenged his own complacent assumptions by asking a) why the abortion- and gay-friendly Le Pen so easily routed her pious opponent of the mainstream right in nominally Catholic France; b) why French polling indicates a sharp (+15%) uptick in SUPPORT for the EU over the past six months, as the prospect of Le Pen's calling a Frexit referendum on the heels of her election became increasingly real rather than hypothetical; and c) what the nomination and quick resignation of J.-F. Jalkh, Holocaust denier, say about the "competence" of the FN, with its extremely shallow bench, to take the reins of government with no more robust ally than Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and with every other seasoned politician in the country (save Mélenchon and Laurent Wauquiez, the right's Iago) endorsing "the John Lindsay of the Eurocrats" (an odd simile for Douthat to choose, given the low salience of poor John Lindsay in the minds of readers of Douthat's generation, or even mine, for that matter).


There is no doubt that Le Pen is a competent politician; I've made that point myself, contrasting her forensic skills with, say, Trump's. But her mastery of the dossiers is purely rhetorical, and she has given less thought to the actual consequences of leaving the EU than even Boris Johnson did. Compared to which, "the callow creature of a failed consensus," who conveniently lent himself to Douthat's meeting his alliteration quota for the week, is John Kennedy rather than John Lindsay--young indeed but well-schooled and well-traveled in all the right places.


With Brett Stephens associating atmospheric science with Robby Mook and Ross Douthat painting Emmanuel Macron as the spearhead of the Wehrmacht's onslaught, the right side of the Times bench is going for broke, casting what I will call, for want of a better term, managerial centrism as today's totalitarianism in order to wreathe their peculiarly pinched conservatisms in populist plumage (who can't play at this alliteration game?). A pox on both.
For a much more probing and useful conservative take on France, see this piece by Christopher Caldwell, which takes off from the work of Christophe Guilluy.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Another Rat Boards the (Hopefully) Sinking Ship

Présidentielle : Nicolas Dupont-Aignan apporte son soutien à Marine Le Pen

Sans Commentaire: Jalkh Resigns From FN Presidency

Editorial du « Monde ». Ce n’est pas une péripétie. Ce n’est pas insignifiant. Ce n’est pas un « détail », est-on tenté de dire. Le président par intérim du Front national (FN), Jean-François Jalkh, a été contraint, vendredi 28 avril, à démissionner. Nommé il y a quelques jours à la tête du FN par Mme Marine Le Pen qui, par ce geste, entendait séduire au-delà de son électorat habituel, M. Jalkh s’est vu reprocher un passé « négationniste ». Le chef d’une formation dont la candidate, Mme Le Pen, guigne la plus haute fonction élective en France doutait de la réalité des chambres à gaz durant la deuxième guerre mondiale.

The Second-Round Campaign

Dear Readers,
You may find me surprisingly silent, just as everyone else has become vociferous. I confess that I'm tired. I've been traveling around the country giving lectures on the election. I spoke for two hours last night to interested Harvard students and will spend another two hours at Boston College today. Then it's off to Columbia in New York and from there on to Houston. So I'm talked out.

I'm also surprised. I had thought that the first round would lead to a clarification of the case for "steady as she goes." Instead, it has turned into a sort of zombie war, in which the undead hulks of the losing candidates stalk about feeding on poor Emmanuel Macron. For die-hard Mélenchoniens he has become the dread symbol of all they detest, the hypercapitalist neoliberal Euro/technocrat indifferent to the fate of the workers of the world, the very face of greed, the fattest of fat cats, the two-faced banker, nay, the two-faced investment banker, or better yet, the lying Rothschild banker who pretends to be neither right nor left, or both right and left, or both socialist and not-socialist--in short, a monster. For die-hard Hamonistes he is the usurper, the traitor to the party who stole its birthright, displaced its president, rejected its primary, and yet in the end a raflé la mise. And for die-hard Fillonistes, he is nothing but a Bolshevik in a suit.

Forgotten in all this bitterness over the victory of the wrong man is the real enemy, the Le Pen clan, which is eagerly wooing the Macron-rejectionists of all stripes by painting Marine as the fulfillment of their every fantasy and wish. Macron will close your plants; Marine will join you at the factory gate for a selfie party, and if snapshots of your unemployed self with the aggressively smiling blonde don't put food on the table, she'll promise to nationalize your industry, just as the left used to do back when there were real socialists running the show rather than forts en thème who married their French teachers. Macron will sell you out by governing with the likes of Xavier Bertrand; Marine will defend the working class by elevating fine, upstanding citizens like Jean-François Jalkh. Macron will besmirch the purity of La Grande Nation by permitting discussion of the darker aspects of the French past in public schools; Marine will scour away all the tarnish. Macron will surrender to the Germans and dissolve France in the acid of Europe; Marine will preserve la bonne vieille France in aspic, serve only le jambon de Bayonne in every school cafeteria of France and Navarre, and thereby drive out the foreigners who don't deserve to be called French merely by grace of le droit du sol.

The campaign itself has degenerated into a war of televised set-pieces. Macron meets with union reps; Marine outflanks him among the rank-and-file; Macron counters with his own jaw-jutting confrontation in the parking lot, reminiscent of Sarkozy's famous colloquy with the worker mounted on a crane: "Tu veux me parler, déscends de là si t'es un homme." Marine goes to sea with les marins-pêcheurs and plays with un poulpe. Macron meanwhile plays soccer in Sarcelles with la jeunesse des banlieues. 

Eventually there will be a debate. Macron will defend globalization with arguments; Marine will tear it down with anecdotes. And then France will vote. Macron will be elected by a landslide. Make no mistake. Do not be distracted by the endless men in the street assiduously uncovered by the TV journalists, who naturally have no difficulty finding vendors in open-air markets or housewives on streetcorners prepared to declare, for the edification of all, "Ben, oui, je vote Front National pour la première fois, et pourquoi pas, on a tout essayé et la France va toujours mal." He will win nevertheless. And then the troubles will begin all over again. For those who see this election as a choice between continuity and change are in one sense right: France is traversing a storm, but those who think that the way out is to steer the ship onto the rocks (Change!) are wrong, while those who think that a safe harbor can still be reached if the necessary course corrections are undertaken in time (More of the same!) are right.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Le Non-Consigne de Mélenchon, The Virtue of Xavier Bertrand

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has announced that he will give no consigne de vote for the second round and will not say how he will vote personally. He has "consulted democratically" with the 450,000 adherents of La France Insoumise, offering them 3 choices: 1) abstain, 2) cast a blank ballot, 3) vote Macron (voting Le Pen is not an option, although polls show that around 18% of his supporters intend to do just that:


Mélenchon's "democratic" discretion contrasts sharply with his attitude in 2002, when he called unambiguously and unreservedly on the "peuple de gauche" to vote for Chirac in the second round against J.-M. Le Pen. What has changed? The Front National? I think not (see previous post). "Neoliberalism?" Really? Is Macron a greater threat to Mélenchon's values and principles than Chirac was?

No. What has changed is Mélenchon. His common sense has been vanquished by his ego. Even "ni-ni" Sarkozy has announced that he will vote for Macron. Mélenchon thus replaces him as the most insufferable prima donna in French politics. Compare his dishonorable intransigence with Xavier Bertrand's admirable statement on France2 last night: "I am not 'throwing myself in the arms of Macron,'" he said, contrasting his position with the words of Georges Fenech. "I disagree with Macron about many things, but when it comes to opposing Le Pen, I cannot remain indifferent."

This has been a dispiriting campaign, but the last few days have cast a revealing light on any number of political personalities.

The FN's Interim President

As everyone knows, Marine Le Pen began her second-round campaign with a stunt, dramatically stepping down temporarily from the presidency of the Front National. (She followed up with a second stunt, trying to steal Macron's thunder by appearing at the Whirlpool plant in Amiens, but he countered effectively by bravely confronting the hostile crowd there in the wake of her visit.) To replace her she named Jean-François Jalkh, a low-profile FN VP who turns out to have quite a history:

Le 19 mai 2015, Jean-François Jalkh est mis en examen pour « escroqueries, abus de confiance et acceptation par un parti politique d'un financement provenant d'une personne morale ». Il est poursuivi en tant que secrétaire général de Jeanne, un micro-parti, dirigé par des personnalités proches de Marine Le Pen, qui fait lui-même l’objet d’une mise en examen en tant que personne morale. Il est le premier haut cadre du FN à être inquiété dans cette affaire14. Les juges ordonnent, en octobre 2016 son renvoi devant le tribunal correctionnel15,16.
Il est également cité dans l'affaire de la politique d'embauche des assistants parlementaires de Jean-Marie Le Pen. Ce dernier, alors eurodéputé, aurait employé Jean-François Jalkh sans pour autant pouvoir prouver un quelconque travail d'assistance. Le Parlement européen réclame à Le Pen le remboursement des 320 000 € pour emploi fictif.
He may also be a Holocaust denier.

En 2000, il déclare, d'après des propos rapportés cinq ans plus tard dans Le Temps des savoirs, qu'il distingue parmi les négationnistes et les révisionnistes, d'une part les « gens détestables », et d'autre part « [un] négationniste ou [un] révisionniste sérieux » comme Robert Faurisson, évoquant « le sérieux et la rigueur [...] de l'argumentation » ; dans une phrase dont on ne sait si elle reflète sa pensée ou résume celle d’un autre, il conclut « sur l’utilisation d’un gaz, par exemple, qu’on appelle le Zykon B [sic], moi je considère que d’un point de vue technique, il est impossible […] je dis bien impossible de l’utiliser dans des […] exterminations de masse » — dans le même temps, Jean-François Jalkh rejette l'étiquette de négationniste pour lui-même6,20. Il dément avoir tenu ces propos lorsqu'ils sont relayés par Laurent de Boissieu à l'occasion de son accession à la présidence du FN par intérim21 ; David Rachline indique quant à lui que Jean-François Jalkh « a déposé une plainte parce que cette affaire est montée de toutes pièces »6. La chercheuse Magali Boumaza, qui a recueilli ses propos, confirme ses écrits et affirme en détenir la preuve6,22. Pour sa défense, Jean-François Jalkh met en avant sa proximité dans les années 1980 avec le secrétaire général du parti de l’époque, Jean-Pierre Stirbois, accusé au sein de l’extrême droite d’être un « agent sioniste »22.

Legislative Elections

The rules are complicated. Triangulaires, quadrangulaires--such things can happen depending on the turnout and the division of votes in the first round. Le Monde sums up the rules here. And try this interactive tool.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

My Hot Take on the Election

Here.

Ouf!

Macron 23, Le Pen 21, JLM/Fillon 19. Best possible outcome from my point of view. Now a complicated game begins to determine the complexion of the Macron government. Vive la France, vive la République!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Arun's Summary

Arun Kapil gives us a terrific roundup of how things stand on the eve of the contest.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dernière Ligne Droite

Well, it's coming to the wire, and madness reigns more than ever. Last night's terror attack en plein non-débat may have shaken things up yet again, just as the undecided were coming off the fence. I am in Indiana, where I have been lecturing on the election at Purdue. I refused to make any prediction during my talks here, and I woke up this morning still with no idea how this will turn out. My gut tells me ... nothing. And since I've been watching French elections now for (gasp!) half a century, my profound ambivalence should tell you something.

My sense is that Macron hasn't closed the deal, Mélenchon has been hitting all the high notes lately, Fillon's sheer bull-headedness has kept him in contention, and Marine Le Pen has reverted to form, partly erasing the gains she had made in de-demonizing the party. But I just don't know how it's going to end. On Sunday we'll know. Brexit and Trump have taught me to expect the unexpected, but the possibility of an impending disaster is never easy to contemplate. And this could end in complete and utter disaster.

How's that for a pessimistic start to your day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Critique of French Polling Methods

Political scientist Jean-Yves Dormagen criticizes the methods used by French pollsters, in particular their use of quotas based on gender, age, and socioeconomic status. All pollsters are obliged to "correct" their samples to compensate for non-randomness in survey responses, but Dormagen argues that the quotas employed in France are applied to categories that are too broad and unrepresentative.

So beware of accepting the poll rankings (currently Macron no. 1, Le Pen 2, Mélenchon 3, and Fillon 4) as definitive. Big surprises may be in store. I'm making no bets on the outcome. Still biting my nails.

The Last Roundup

There won't be a final debate before the first round, but there will be a program on France2 in which each of the 11 candidates will be interviewed for 15 minutes by 2 journalists (with 2 1/2 minutes additional for "droit de réponse"). It's an interesting gambit and strikes me as potentially more useful than yet another 11-way debate, but everything will depend on the ability of the journalists to get the candidates off their prepared talking points and into some sort of discussion. (This is not easy. I know: I've tried it with a few professional politicians, and avoiding any deviation into uncharted waters is what they excel at.) I'm not sure who will watch such a marathon, but there will probably be a large audience for the highlight reels, which could influence the final result with the race so close.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Elie Cohen Dismantles Pro-Frexit Arguments

This very good piece demonstrates why electing either Le Pen or Mélenchon would be a disaster.

Russian Meddling?

The Times has a report on purported Russian meddling in the French election. The goal seems more to defeat Macron rather than secure the election of one of the other three front-runners, all of whom--remarkable fact!--are friendly to Russia.

Philippot

If Marine Le Pen has changed the face of the FN, she has done it with the help of Florian Philippot, of whom Le Monde has an excellent profile this morning.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Response to Another Reader on Macron

In response to my previous post on Mélenchon, another reader writes:
I'm sure that I speak for many of your readers when I say I would appreciate a clear, affirmative presentation of the case for Macron on this blog sometime before the first round of voting. My sense from what you have written so far is that you support him more or less the way I do: faute de mieux, and with considerable foreboding.
The writer seems to want something I cannot provide: assurance that in marking his or her ballot for Macron, he or she will be doing "the right thing." We are in a moment of great uncertainty. No one can say for sure what "the right thing" is.

I am fairly confident that the programs of certain candidates are the wrong thing, however. Yesterday, I said why in the case of Mélenchon. It does not need saying why I think Le Pen's program is wrong: some of the reasons (her anti-European stance, her faith in protectionism and devaluation) are similar to the objections I raised against Mélenchon; others (national preference in hiring, hostility to minorities) are unique to her. Hamon, though personally and morally more appealing than either of those rivals, proposes a radical experiment in social and economic reform that I think would tip the balance against France in what I believe is a precarious early stage of recovery (see, e.g., this article on France's high-tech renaissance).

Macron would seek to push that recovery along by doing what centrist technocrats always do: making gestures friendly to business to improve the investment climate, spending money on education and R&D in areas that seem promising to young entrepreneurs with profiles similar to his own, and helping to position French firms to compete more successfully in the global economy by moving them up the value chain and shifting emphasis away from labor-intensive activities like autos and steel and toward industries where France enjoys a comparative advantage. To people who lose jobs he will offer retraining, which will be painful for some and ineffective for many. There will be pain in the future as there has been in the past. It is hard to predict how he will respond to those cries of pain. Compassion does not seem to be his long suit (I use the word "suit" advisedly, as he advertised the limits of his compassion when he told unemployed workers that the best way to afford a suit like his was to go to work). He will have to learn on the job to curb the asperities of his personality.

What he will not have to learn on the job is what it takes to engage in fruitful dialogue with other powerful economic actors. This is his milieu. Some of you hate this milieu. You don't like Davos men in expensive suits. You don't like successful exam-takers who make millions on their first flyer in the world of mergers and acquisitions just because having the right credentials and the right contacts put them in the right place at the right time. You don't like the way this social hierarchy reproduces itself by securing the best schooling for its sons and daughters.

I don't like these things either. But I do not see an alternative at the moment. Nor do I think this reality is the greatest horror, the most oppressive order, the world has ever known. The Google campus (or its French equivalent) may not be my idea of utopia, but neither does it represent a return to the dark satanic mills of old, as one might think from the hyperbolic rhetoric of candidates of the far left and far right, or even from the amorphous grumbling of the chattering classes about the ravages of "neoliberalism." With Macron the trains may not run exactly on time--that was a fascist promise, after all, to discipline society as one disciplines an army--but when they run off the rails, he will shake up the management of SNCF and follow up by appointing competent monitors to measure the progress of the new managers toward meeting his 14-point improvement program for better rail service. That is the kind of politician he is, for better or for worse.

With Macron you wont get les lendemains qui chantent, but you'll get to work more or less on time aujourd'hui et demain, and you'll need to keep getting to work until you're 65 or perhaps 67, because that's the way things are headed. Some of you won't be wanting to break out the champagne to celebrate prospects such as these. But I've been around a while and have stopped looking to politics for intoxication or even inspiration. Just keeping the train on the tracks is enough, even if it's fifteen minutes late. That I think Macron can manage; with the others a wreck is imminent.

Some of you think Macron won't fare any better with Germany or the CGT than Hollande did. I have more confidence in the German leadership, among whom many have recognized that something has to change and are looking for a French leader in whom they too have confidence to make the necessary adjustments. Regardless of whether Schulz or Merkel is the next chancellor, the Germans have signaled that Macron is the French leader they prefer to work with and, I'm reasonably sure, compromise with. So I have hope on that score. The CGT and the Right and Far Right and the Far Left at home will of course be looking to put spokes in Macron's wheels, but in this area (as opposed to others, such as foreign policy) he actually has acquired the requisite experience through his stewardship of the Macron and El Khomri laws. Despite his youth, he is one of the most experienced French politicians in dealing with the unending guerrilla warfare that is French domestic politics, and temperamentally he is better equipped for it than Valls and surpassed only by the wizened Juppé, whose career is over.

The writer suggests that I prefer Macron faute de mieux. Perhaps, but I think it's rather that of the choices on offer I prefer Macron to manage the world as it is, faute de pouvoir en imaginer un autre. Perhaps that failure of imagination is mine, but for now I think, alas, that Margaret Thatcher was right: There is no alternative. When one presents itself, I might consider voting for it. Macron is a manager, not a magus. But politics is the wrong place to look for magi.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Response to a Reader on Why I Do Not Support Mélenchon

Yesterday, a reader wrote:

You suggest "My two chief desiderata are to preserve both the European Union and the French welfare state."

But Mélenchon ​ does not seem to pose a threat to the welfare state, and his opposition to the EU​ is ​based on the body's neoliberal leanings, ​not unreasonably so.

Otherwise, ​you've not been specific about your concerns. What is it specifically about the man's positions that bothers you? Perhaps this should be in a blog post.
This reaction is typical of some quarters of the left, so let me answer briefly.

Mélenchon does pose a threat to the welfare state, because he believes that it is enough to make redistributive demands without proposing a plan to manage the economy so as to generate the revenue needed to meet them. This was what left-wing politicians often did propose before the 1930s, back when the state's role in managing the economy was minimal. This is no longer the case today. One cannot simply decree that pensions should be increased, working hours reduced, the legal retirement age lowered, taxes on households decreased, nuclear power eliminated, etc., without explaining how you expect the economy to respond and how you might manage any adverse consequences. Mélenchon has nothing to say on these matters.

I do not like the term "neoliberalism," however useful it may be as shorthand on occasion. But if you think that the EU suffers from "neoliberal leanings" that would justify leaving it, you have to explain what France will do once it is no longer a member. Capitalism is not going to disappear if France withdraws from the EU; the global market is not going to evaporate; competition from low-wage states is not going to vanish; and financial institutions are not going to be more inclined to lend to states that run deficits far larger than permitted under the EU's Stability and Growth Pact. Mélenchon seems to believe that if France withdraws, it will be free to stimulate its economy at will and devalue its currency until its products become competitive. This is identical to Marine Le Pen's position, and it is in my view dead wrong. France's borrowing costs will rise, as will its trade deficit. Consumers will feel the pinch as the prices of imported goods, especially food and fuel, rise. Remember what happened to the Mitterrand government between 1981 and 1983. Most Socialists do; Mélenchon left the party because he thought his comrades were cowards; if only they had had a little more revolutionary fervor in their hearts, he thinks, things would have turned out differently. He's wrong about that.

Mélenchon appears to believe that he can run the economy by fiat, as Chavez, whom he admires, did in Venezuela. But harsh realities cannot be overcome by mere defiance. Mélenchon is good at enacting defiance rhetorically. I wonder how he will respond when the popular anger turns on him, as it surely will if he comes to power and he fails to deliver on his unrealistic promises.

Finally, I believe that Mélenchon is right when he says that France has more power to affect the course of the EU than it has realized in recent years. But there is no chance of deflecting Europe toward a better equilibrium by confronting the Germans with non-negotiable demands, as Mélenchon intends to do, and by telling them that they are fools for not seeing the wisdom of the course Mélenchon proposes as an alternative. Opponents can be persuaded, but not by making empty threats. Mélenchon's stance toward the EU is like that of a child who threatens to hold his breath until his mother does what he wants. He will turn blue in the face, but eventually he will have to start breathing again, and his mother will still be standing there with her arms folded.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Fillon Pulls a Bait and Switch on His Benefactor?

It's really too much. Médiapart says there is reason to doubt that Fillon returned to Robert Bourgi the same suits from Arnys he was given. Did he pull a bait and switch?

Selon des spécialistes d’Arnys sollicités par Mediapart, les ensembles de la marque sont normalement accompagnés d’une griffe visible en transparence moirée dans la doublure du vêtement. Ils sont également accompagnés de deux étiquettes siglées avec, écrites à la main, les mentions du propriétaire du vêtement et sa date de fabrication. La marque vante par ailleurs régulièrement son savoir-faire français. L’hypothèse selon laquelle un costume Arnys puisse porter la mention “made in Holland” paraît, dès lors, hautement improbable. C’est pourquoi la justice a engagé des vérifications.
Flabbergasting if true.

Jamais Deux Sans Trois: France Slouches Toward the Unknown

When I woke up this morning, I reached for my tablet and was confronted with a bulletin from Le Monde announcing that the top four candidates are converging toward a dead heat on April 23. There is no longer any certainty about what the final round will look like, and all the momentum is with Mélenchon. Fortunately, I will be away from my computer for the rest of the day. I need a little respite from the anxiety.

At Harvard recently, the French political analyst Dominique Moïsi evoked the expression "Jamais deux sans trois" and asked whether France would fit into the Brexit-Trump-? scenario or the more heartening Austria-Netherlands-? scenario. With its usual orneriness, France seems headed for something sui generis: a match between populisms of the left and right, not yet seen anywhere. Sans pareil.

But for Americans who wish that Clinton-Trump had been Sanders-Trump and believe that Sanders would have emerged victorious, make no mistake: Jean-Luc Mélenchon is no Bernie Sanders. And he's no bumbling Jeremy Corbyn either. Since he seemed out of the running for so long, his program has received very little scrutiny, and with strict equal time limits now in force on the media and no more debates before April 23, it's unlikely that late-coming Mélenchon enthusiasts will receive much in the way of an antidote to the heady elixir they've been drinking. This election is veering into unknown territory.