Tuesday, February 13, 2007


François Bayrou in Strasbourg

We'd been waiting about an hour, comfortably seated in the Schweitzer amphitheater of Strasbourg's Palais des Congrés and serenaded by a couple of Romanian musicians. François Bayrou had been at the France 3 studio across the street recording a question-and-answer session. At 7:30, we were informed that he would only speak starting at 8:00, because the parliamentary television channel would be broadcasting live. We were more than 3,000 present, more than the amphitheater could hold. The music continued. Shortly before 8:00, a herd of photographers entered and settled on the front edge of the stage...good sign, I thought. Sure enough, people started clapping their hands, and some of my neighbors looked toward the door near us and said "C'est François Bayrou". I looked round, and sure enough.
I was just out of the frame to the left as he came down from the door, about four seats in in the last row: close enough to hear "Bon, on y va" when he was ready to go down to the stage.

Most of the first hour he dedicated to domestic issues: the changing role of education and of the university in particular; the changing employment environment, and the need to employ people longer (older) if they wish to work; the need to reduce, not increase, the national debt (and the apparent incompatibility of this with Sarkozy's and Royal's platforms). There was much more (obviously, that would hardly fill an hour!) but those were points I haven't heard other candidates address intelligently. He spoke of unemployment, underemployment, lack of career opportunities for highly educated researchers, and what he would do. While he didn't explicitly speak of constitutional changes to move to a 6th Republic, he did lament the current system, which was designed to fit one president at one exceptional time, and which amounts to electing a monarch with no accountability who in turn appoints the true executive. And he lamented the lack of effective power, and limited representativity of the parliament. He observed that in the past 25 years, the two "major" parties have alternated in power eight times, and with each switch the incomers undid whatever the outgoers had done, leading to a totally unproductive patchwork of reforms of reforms; he would seek to compose a more inclusive government, to get everyone pulling in the same direction (good luck!)--whence the slogan "La France de Toutes les Forces."

The second part of his talk was about Europe, his perception of what had gone wrong and what to do. This took about 40 minutes, and I won't try to summarize his argument. I'll just say that he described reasons why France needs Europe (and the world needs Europe) to tackle challenges too big and complex for France alone: defense, diplomacy, global warming, energy sourcing (natural gas, e.g., for which Russia is one of only three suppliers), immigration and co-development policy; and, first but not least, convergence of fiscal and budgetary policy, indispensable to countries sharing a common currency. He clearly has more vision of France's place in the world than what is taught Enarques. (When I visited the ENA a couple of years ago and our guide--an enarque--described the program and student body, I couldn't help thinking it was mis-named. It is called the National School of Administration, but should be the School of National Administration. Moving it from Paris to Strasbourg doesn't seem to have broadened the scope of reflection beyond the hexagon. Royal and Sarkozy are both ENA graduates.)

The less-early-comers watched a projection in the lobby, but he did make a point of going down to see them in person (briefly) and shake hand (bain de foule) after his speech.
Official site article (in French) :

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Monday, February 12, 2007


Royal Socialism

What are the reactions to French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal's platform, announced yesterday?

Olivier Besancenot (LCR) : "Social-Libéralitude." (allusion to Royal's word "bravitude". See also Césarkozy's composition "La rupture tranquille" ).

Jean-Michel Aphatie: "La candidate semble revenue dans une épure plus classique, celle d'un courant social démocrate qui tente d'inscrire son action dans cadre économique où prédomine la liberté des échanges et la concurrences de différents acteurs." In other words, he agrees with Besancenot.

Marie George Buffet (PC), according to Aphatie : "... a bien spécifié que l'éventualité de participer à une équipe gouvernementale sur la ligne qu'a défendue aujourd'hui Ségolène Royal était, non pas faible, mais nulle." Platform is not leftist enough, plus there is no plan to pay for it (taxes were not part of the platform).

Otherwise, the reactions, left and right, are mainly "same old same old" and "how is she planning to pay for all that?"

And I also stumbled upon an extract from an article by Alain Duhamel, to be published soon, in which he explains why he did not include Ségolène Royal in the book he published last year on the fifteen possible candidates, "Les prétendants 2007."

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


Will Olivier Géron Survive?

The French judge Olivier Géron of Bobigny (Seine-Saint-Denis) has indicted two police officers in connection with the deaths by electrocution of two teenagers fleeing the police in Clichy-sous-Bois in 2005.

Following hearings into the incident which, followed by unsympathetic declarations by Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, led to massive civil unrest, the judge has charged the two police officers with refusing assistance to people in danger ("non-assistance à personnes en danger").

Due to legal procedural constraints, the trial will not take place before the presidential elections. Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy is running for president. At the time of the incident, he claimed the youngsters were fleeing the scene of a robbery they had been committing, and were not being chased by police; they had in fact been repeatedly chased by the police. In December 2006, he said that to blame the police for these deaths would be very unjust and out of proportion; police radio messages indicate they were aware the youngsters risked electrocution, but made no attempt to have the power cut off. Mr. Sarkozy has not yet commented on the indictments.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Cool 'colas

French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy faced an assortment of 100 French voters live on television last night, to answer their questions. I'm pretty sure it really was live and unfiltered; one question was so outrageous I couldn't stop laughing for five minutes, and missed most of the reply, but apparently he did not take the bait. I looked and looked for a report in this morning's news--to make sure I didn't just imagine it--but found only one somewhat mild description in le Figaro:

Avec Jérôme Monod, (un jeune homonyme du conseiller de Jacques Chirac), le ton monte franchement. Cet étudiant en droit affirme que « dire : la France, on l'aime ou on la quitte, ça rend racistes les gens simples ». Le ministre de l'Intérieur essaie de répondre, mais le jeune homme, intarissable, a enchaîné avec une fine allusion à l'affaire du fils Sarkozy. Il explique que lui aussi s'est fait voler son scooter, et qu'il tient un poil du coupable présumé à la disposition du ministre de l'Intérieur. Nicolas Sarkozy choisit de ne pas relever et s'explique sur sa politique de l'immigration.

What he actually said was «et je tiens un poil de son cul, est-ce que vous pouvez me le retrouver?»

The rest of the session was not funny. One or two things he said were quite revealing of his economic naiveté or stupidity, to give him the benefit of the doubt; he is probably owned by global finance, but I have no proof. He wants French consumers to get into debt. And would make mortgage interest deductible from income taxes so the French would buy more homes. Why? Because in the U.K., 74% own their home whereas in France only 55% do. That home ownership rates are significantly lower in Germany (42%) and Switzerland (31%) is apparently no reason to doubt the wisdom of the higher target.

One wonders, should it be considered ownership before it is paid for? At least mostly paid for? He seems to be not at all concerned that in the U.K., buyers can get mortgages for up to 110% of the purchase price! And in Spain, where ownership is 85%, 50-year loans have recently been introduced.

He also seems not worried that home ownership further reduces mobility (geographic flexibility) of labor in a country with a high level of chronic unemployment, and a recurring need to restructure the economy. Paying for a home, even more than paying rent, most often requires two salaries: relocating requires finding two jobs. For those particularly unfortunate, faced with a major reduction in the local economy (major employer or whole industry closing), home ownership makes it too costly to leave (particularly if the loan is not paid off): those who lose their jobs must sell low (because the demand is low to nil in the declining area) and buy dear in an area with jobs, if they can buy again. They may not have enough from the sale of the depreciated home to make a down payment, and they may not find a lender until they have kept their new employment for a couple of years.

I guess he is not too familiar with these aspects of home ownership.

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