The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

French elections

A lot of the English-speaking press has had a few misconceptions during these elections.

1) Sarkozy: "France's last last chance". Some words the Economist associates with Sarkozy which are misleading: "outsider", "reform". I'm not an expert on French domestic policy but this post takes aim at the Economist's assumptions. Suffice to say that Sarko has been part of the ruling clique for a long time and that "reform" has almost never been the domain of the Right. It was Mitterrand who implemented the economics of "austerity" (beat the deficit) which Giscard failed to do. It was Jospin's government a few years ago who was the most avid of privatisers. It's one of those things... The equivalent of "only Clinton could reform welfare": the Left changes things, the Right, erm, conserves them. That's been the trend so far anyway, remember, Chirac was thought of as a young radical reformist before he took office.

2) The second idea is that Sarkozy is "pro-American", whatever that means. Bayrou has also said he is pro-American, but Clinton's America, not Bush's. Sarko's use refers to American society as a model (capitalism, "law and order", etc.). I think Americans are misled if they think Sarkozy will change Franco-US relations. Ever since de Gaulle, Americans have assumed that it was individual personalities (rather than clashing interests or a broadly-shared French desire for independence) that caused France's loud obstruction. They have tended to assume that as soon as de Gaulle, or in this case Chirac, passed things would get back to normal and France would start acting like a meek European country, ideally the UK. The entire French political class is "Gaullist" in wanting an independent France (including, because Americans were misled about Mitterrand at first, the Socialist leadership). Sarko is, whatever his faults, clearly a nationalist and patriot. This naturally entails he will defend French interests as hard as de Gaulle, Mitterrand or Chirac. France will continue to oppose US policies when it in her interests to do so, Sarko or no Sarko.

3) The anglophone press has been shamelessly spouting crap about the French economy. Even the BBC have been using false numbers and ignorant statements to portray France as being the worst in the developping world, which it simply isn't. French growth has been better than Germany and Italy. French productivity is superior to the US's and the UK's. The only really worrying number is unemployment. The French economy isn't spectacular, but it's basically unremarkable, it doesn't deserve the epithets which make it seem it's the one economy in the developping world suffering from some trouble.

I haven't been following these elections very closely but I note a few things:

Sarkozy - he is clearly fishing for the racist vote. Ostentatious language about "law and order" aimed at ethnic youthes, "controversial" attempts to kick out illegal immigrant squatters, police grabbing the children of illegal immigrants as they leave schools... These are symbolic, spectacular. I don't know if that means Sarko really is going to model of race relations in France on those in the US... You never know until they're in office. I'm not taking his economic reforms seriously at all:
1) There is no correlation between a competitiveness and "small government"
2) He wants to both lower taxes and the deficit (ring a bell?)
3) There is a correlation between privatisation and economic efficiency in many cases, something the Left has often done.
4) I don't believe in there can be a droite liberal (or in US english, real conservatives). As soon as so-called conservatives are in power they will meddle in the lives of citizens, be beholden to special interests, and tax (or deficit-spend) as much, or worse, than their rivals.

Segolene - She really hasn't said anything interesting has she? Did I miss it? I think it would be interesting to have the Left in charge:
1) they would have to deal with the problem of reform seriously, with a loud right-wing opposition telling them to spend less, balance budgets and be efficient etc. (a bit like having the Republicans force Clinton to balance the budget (principled) instead of having them in actual power (filthy godless hypocritical pork-barrel deficit spenders))
2) The Left has a long history of innovative and radical reform (going both ways, nationalisation, privatisation, tax increases, tax cuts etc.)
3) The Left would have a much better time convincing unions and other vested interests of necessary reforms, (think Mitterrand and austerity) whereas Sarko would be extremely easy to demonize. She's also pro-gay marriage, goes back to the Socialists' libertarian roots.

Bayrou - Centre-right, hmm, whatever. He's voiced interest in knocking off the Fifth Republic for a parlimentary Sixth. I think that's silly. The presidency is what makes foreign policy special, it gives France a pulpit and personalises her foreign policy, it makes it indepedent of domestic politicking. When we're talking about France's "voice" in the world, and that's all she really has, the Fifth Republic's presidency is fundamental.

The election could go anywhere. I'm leaning for Sego although, admittedly, i haven't followed the election as close as I should and, to be honest, it probably doesn't even matter that much.


Anonymous wyt said...

hmm, I would have voted Bayrou.

Reading up on him and what he stands for (domestic policy mainly), he appears to be the only truly sensible politician in France.

10:03 PM  
Blogger cswilly said...

I would have voted for Jacques Attali (not really).

I just liked his latest opinon piece in the ITH titled: You're all just jealous

You're all just jealous
By Jacques Attali
Tribune Media Services
Thursday, April 19, 2007

With the arrival of the election season, there has been a great deal of commentary about France and "the French model."

I am very much aware that France is often seen as the last reservoir of bureaucrats in the world. I realize that my country is seen as an odd animal, able to call a gigantic strike at any moment for obscure reasons. The huge strikes last year organized to prevent young employees from being fired with no explanation puzzles a lot of people. Many take the view that the French denial of work flexibility is just a refusal to face reality.

The truth is very different. The fact is, the rest of the world is jealous of France.

If France attracts more tourists than any other country, as well as high levels of foreign investment, it is because the quality of life is so high. When I hear the British bashing France's supposed weaknesses, I wonder why so few French people buy houses in the British countryside, while so many Britons are doing so in France. The reason is the same: The quality of life in France is one of the highest in the world. No doubt about it. And France is not going to decline: French productivity per hour is also one of the highest in the world. France is number one, two or three in many fields, and will stay so. I wonder how long the caricature of a lazy France can survive.

There are, of course, some good reasons to criticize France. One is the nature of its political elite - old, in place for more than 30 years, fascinated by the past, unaware of world realities. They are as pathetic as young people in France are dynamic.

A revolution is inevitable. But when? How? Rapidly? Quietly? Profoundly? A new elite will emerge with the deep dynamism of the French people. In this regard, the presidential election Sunday will shed some light.

But lest foreigners get the wrong impression, let me be clear: France, and the French left in particular, is not going to surrender to any model. France will never become a carbon copy of any other country. And the French left will continue in its own way.

Yes, France is an exception, but no more than any other country is an exception because of its own particular history, geography and culture. There is no reason, therefore, why the French left and right would seek to imitate any other doctrine or set of rules coming from outside.

France has been built around a strong central state, a unified language and grand projects. This has made France what it is today - a strong nation, with a high standard of living, life expectancy increasing by three months each year and an excellent transport infrastructure. If France is an exception, it is happy to be one. It cannot, and should not, destroy its main attributes just to please its competitors.

There is no such thing as a universal, ideal model for the left that France and others should imitate. There are only national situations. In policy terms, the future of the left lies not in surrendering to an overwhelming market economy, but inventing new ways of balancing the market with democracy. This balance, and the means of achieving it, are specific to each country.

That is why, in this presidential campaign there is an agreement among all the parties of the center left to keep a balance between the power of the state and the power of the regions.

The defense of the French language as the cement of the nation is one of the state's key roles at a time when globalization suggests that other nations are failing in that fight. Neither left nor right in France wants the country to become a patchwork of ethnic communities.

France has many problems - high unemployment, lack of mobility, weakness of higher education, inadequate integration of minorities, public debt and threat of industrial decline, to name a few. But there is no model outside France to solve these problems.

The French left is happy to consider the so-called British model and to admire some dimensions of it, such as its employment policies. But it should be warned against imitating the whole recipe.

For instance, France believes passionately in assimilation, and should be wary of imitating the dangerous shift toward atomized lives or separate communities as we see in Britain the Netherlands.

The French are not convinced that a nation can survive without a strong industrial backbone. France will build on its assets: a strong state, an efficient health system and a strong industrial base, and try to reduce its weaknesses by improving mobility, research and competition.

The next challenge will be to introduce new ideas to the doctrine of the left, in France as elsewhere. Globalization has so far taken place only in the economy. We need a globalization of democracy, too. For that, we need to imagine the use of new technologies in politics, and a new concept of participatory democracy. We need to reorganize and revive the institutions of global world governance.

These are some of the things that all social democratic parties of the world should work for, together, instead of trying to export their own very specific recipes to environments that are totally unsuitable for them.

Jacques Attali is the head of PlanetFinance, an organization that attempts to alleviate poverty through micro finance. He was a key aide to President Fran├žois Mitterrand. This Global Viewpoint article was distributed by Tribune Media Services.

8:56 AM  
Blogger CJWilly said...

I agree with the spirit of that article. I think we need to hear a little more (informed) self-righteous in-your-face pro-French propaganda in the US and UK. You know, just to even things out.

5:58 AM  

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