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 %.