Dog Day Afternoons (not forgetting mornings, evenings and nights)

The heat is on … and on and on and on

With the mercury soaring into never-ever-has-it-been-so-hot territory, France has slumped into a premature summer-break torpor.

The heat is on … ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy

The arrogance of the man. The only ex-President to have tried winning re-election after being beaten in a Presidential Election. Now the only ex-President to be tried on charges of corruption and influence peddling (don’t those descriptions sound so much more elegant than good old-fashioned ‘bribery’).

The Cour de Cassation (France’s highest appellate Court) determined that Sarkozy will be tried (alongside his own lawyer, and a judge) for promising said judge a seriously prestigious job in Monaco in exchange for providing information. [To top it all the poor old judge never got the Monaco appointment after all.] The mucky evidence all emerged while the portable phones of Sarkozy and his lawyer were being tapped … regarding an entirely different matter, the alleged illegal campaign donations in cash (envelopes cram-jammed with notes) from the now-dead billionaire L’Oreal heiress, Bettencourt.

Sarkozy and his lawyer discussed matters on their burner phones – bought under aliases and changed every 3 months – how to deal with the consequences of their diaries having being taken by the police in the Bettencourt case. Paul Bismuth was Sarkozy’s latest chosen moniker; before, he’d bought a phone in the name of one Gilda Atlan. 

[Presidential Misdeeds Note: If Sarkozy actually gets to trial, he’s the 2nd President to be tried under the 5th Republic. An earlier rogue, bluff President Chirac, got to the dock ahead first. That’s figuratively speaking. Armed with his Doctors’ Note, Chirac gave evidence from an armchair rather than the dock. He was also given a private retirement room, only having to be in the Court when giving evidence. At the end of the 2011 trial, Chirac got 2 years suspended. He was found guilty of having (ab)used public funds 20 years earlier, when he was Mayor of Paris, by financing his party and supporters by making payments for local council jobs that didn’t exist. The Blessed Alain Juppé – then Foreign Minister, now a member of France’s Constitutional Council – got 14 months suspended in the same trial.]

Back to Sarkozy. He will be able to enjoy a totally separate trial too. That involves illegal financing of his losing 2012 Presidential campaign. It’s alleged that Sarkozy spent over €40million when the maximum permitted was €22.5million. He’s accused of using fake invoices involving an event company called Bygmalion and all for nawt. At the end of it he failed to win re-election . There’s also a possible THIRD trial concerning his original (winning) 2007 Presidential campaign; Sarkozy is accused of having received several million euros in cash from Libya’s Gaddafi. 

But, more immediately, Sarkozy is just the most prolific politician-turned-writer. With over a dozen books already published, last week saw the appearance of yet another one, entitled ‘Passions’. A print run of 200,000 copies puts him up with the major best-sellers. Perhaps those royalties will come in handy one day.

Asked by pollster Ifop who best represents the right in France, 60% consider that Sarkozy’s the one. It’s a limited field for that specialist role.

The heat is on … the interminably slow hara-kiri of Macron’s Euro-Parliament Choice 

After her blunder-replete Euro-Election campaign, one might have expected profoundly uncharismatic extremely boring ex-Minister for Europe Nathalie Loiseau (leader of President Macron’s ‘Renaissance’ Euro-MPs) to ease up once she made it into Strasbourg’s European Parliament. No chance. Having lost the Euro-Elections by a short neck to Le Pen’s ultra-right party, Loiseau instantly began bossing it (and blundering it) as self-nominated putative leader of the Centrist group of Euro-MPs.

The Centrists had grown to become the 3rd largest group in the Euro-Parliament, with 108 of the 751 Euro-MPs. These centrists were previously (and ultra-snappily) called the ‘Alliance for Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group’ (ALDE). But the arrival of a cohort of 21 of Macron’s centrist Renaissance Euro-MPs (rising to 23 post-Brexit) transformed the group into – pause for drum-roll – ‘Renew Europe’.

This Renew Europe group currently, and charmingly, self-describes their status (at least when I just clicked on their webpage) as a ‘Work in Progress’. The 21 Renaissance Euro-MPs constitute the largest single national group, ahead of the UK’s Liberal Democrats’ 16 seats. So the French were entitled to respect. But maybe their leader should have thought before jumping.

At an off the record meeting with journalists, Loiseau delivered pithy poison about several new-found Euro-colleagues.

  • Merkel’s conservative candidate for Commission President, Weber, was dismissed as an ‘ectoplasm’ [even recognising that Macron’s preferred Presidential candidate is ABW (Anyone But Weber), such language is probably outside her brief]
  • Merkel was categorised as ‘Europe’s problem’
  • centrist Belgian warhorse, Verhofstadt (leader of ALDE for a decade, and British Brexit bane) was dismissed as ‘an old-timer with 15 years pent-up frustrations’.
  • as for the ALDE group itself … ‘everything needs to be sorted out’
  • Grand Old French Centrist ex-Minister (and outgoing Euro-MP) Arthuis, head of the Euro-Parliament’s Budget Committee, was set aside as ‘a bitter man’
  • Dutch leadership rival, Veld, was categorised as ‘having lost every battle she’s fought over 15 years’.

Initially, Loiseau dismissed the quotes, some of which first appeared in Belgium’s Le Soir withthe full package in satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé. Adopting that stunningly identical tactic which had so lamentably failed when she was last caught out telling porkies (‘I was not nor ever have been a candidate on an ultra-right list of candidates at University’ … but she had), Loiseau characterised it as ‘all pure fiction’.

Then she recognised she’d screwed up (again). She withdrew her candidature to be Renew Europe’s group leader.

Arthuis retaliated by elegantly tweeting a coup de grace: ‘I applaud Nathalie Loiseau’s political intelligence and the sincerity of her denials. A promising arrival in the European Parliament.’

Ex-Romanian Prime Minister, Ciolos – who has the (doubtful?) accolade of being dubbed by Le Point as ‘the Romanian Macron’ – was elected the leader of Renew Europe.

Loiseau’s coda delivered to Le Parisien: ‘If you’re new in politics, if you represent the majority party, and if you’re a woman, you pay dearly … What I’ve learned about politics is that your allies shoot at you as well.’ She’s a terribly slow learner.

The heat is on … hard-left People’s Tribune Mélenchon

Hard-left France Unbound suffered a catastrophic Euro-Election performance. Barely 6% of the vote, 5th place and only 25,000 votes more than The Formerly All-Powerful-Now-Non-Existent Socialist Party … greater humiliation hath no hard left populist party than this. For the first time since the movement had been created in February 2016 questions were being openly asked from within. Importantly, some wanted the movement to align, or open, itself more clearly to the broad left, and to be less populist.

That idea of La France Insoumise being a movement is seen by The Faithful as important. They’re so much more than just a boring political party. But they’ve had a tough few months. They assumed that many gilets jaunes and their movement would inevitably find their way to France Unbound. But they’re ever lonelier. Many look back with envy to the time when People’s Tribune Mélenchon won 19.6% of the national vote at the Presidential Election. Those were the halcyon days when Mélenchon was one of 4 Presidential candidates, any two of whom might finish in the top 2 and so go on to the 2nd round run-off.

Anyway. Questions were being asked. This was truly revolutionary in the short (but rigid) life of France Unbound – or should that rather be ‘truly counter-revolutionary’?

Fairly heavyweight names had indicated dissent (but remained), others upped and went. All awaited Mélenchon’s reaction to the Euro-disaster, promised for when ‘the dust had settled’. That dust-settling moment arrived last weekend, at France Unbound’s ‘Second Representative Assembly’.

For anyone kicking themselves at having overlooked such a surely unmissable event, worry not. It’s all here. Hours and hours AND HOURS of it. It has to be admitted, France Unbound have never wanted for skills in putting stuff online. Just a bit weighty if over-consumed. It is – regrettably for non-francophones – entirely in (as we proudly say) ‘the language of Molière’. Odd that such an internationalist movement should not have strengthened the cross-border struggle by providing une version anglaise.

For those wondering how a ‘movement’ organises an (Un)Representative Assembly, the website explain all. 160 lucky individuals were chosen by the drawing of lots, another 80 were ‘representatives from different parts of the movement’. The latter included Deputies, teams working on the movement’s ‘programme’ and members of both the ‘political space’ and the ‘struggles space’. Seriously. We’re also informed that certain ‘members’ had ticked the ‘No publicity’ box: they didn’t want their names on this List of Honour. [For anyone needing a reminder as to how to (politically) correctly write modern French, here it is. Which reminds me, I’ve forgotten how to create those helpful middots/interpuncts.]

The party line was that the result ‘did not meet expectations’. At least a smidgin of self-analysis. A lot more is available (in French) in some wonderful-sounding (if wordily bonkers) papers such as ‘France Unbound, an evolving movement’ and ‘France Unbound, a tool in the service of the people and the citizens’ revolution’.

People’s Tribune Mélenchon addressed the multitude. The dust had settled. But the landscape would not look any different … putting aside the (unmentioned) departure of certain unregretted ex-comrades.

‘I am astounded’, said Mélenchon, speaking for over an hour with no notes, ‘to see that some people are asking me to leave … My role is consubstantial to the movement’ [this surely evokes, for those of a more catholic approach, his own akinness to The Deity – after all, the first debates on consubstantiality took place in the 4th century A.D. between the 1st Council of Nicaea and 1st Council of Constantinople … but then you probably knew that already] ‘because I was the Presidential Candidate’.

Then Mélenchon’s transformative opening-up of the movement. More ‘discussion spaces’ created. Meetings organised to enable activists to exchange ideas. And, above all, a ‘political agora’ where the movement’s strategic decisions will be aired.

But nothing so tediously democratic as activists electing representatives to participate in decision-making or a right for members of the movement to influence decisions on strategy. ‘This movement’, declared The People’s Tribune ‘will remain a movement. It will not become a traditional party.’

The heat is on … for The Trades Unions of The People and the (Poorer) People (but the warmth will be Goldilocksian for The Rich)

The trade union movement lamentably failed to produce much more than a few ripples of dissent against the Macron Government’s wholesale reforms of the Labour Law and of the state-owned railway company, SNCF. Will they succeed in making waves with the Government’s next ‘work’-related project: the reform of unemployment benefit? Nothing looks less likely.

After several months’ fruitless discussions between the (still) so-called ‘social partners’ (employers federations and trades unions) Macron blew the whistle. He wanted progress. So, a flagship reform of Act 2 of the Macron Presidency (post gilets jaunes) will be driven through using governmental decrees, reducing the opportunity for endless time-wasting amendments from an unconstructive opposition.

All trades unions ranging from militant CGT to moderate CFDT recognise there’s no appetite for opposition on the streets, so unless the Government unilaterally offers dialogue it’s unlikely there’ll be many changes to the Government’s proposals.

The Government aims to save €3.4bn through these reforms by

  • reducing unemployment benefits for high earners,
  • requiring people to work longer before they can claim benefits and
  • making short-term contracts more expensive for employers.

The leader of the largest union, Berger, of the moderate CFDT, called the reforms ‘profoundly unjust’. The largest employers federation, Medef, moaned that the short-term contracts plan would be ‘ineffective or at worst discourage employment’. [This was pronounced before Medef suffered a rush of loony-ultra-right-wing-blood to the head (or, if you insist, displayed a rare flash of transparent democratic thinking) by inviting everyone’s favourite ultra-right-wing-symbol, Marion Maréchal, to become the first ultra-right ‘personality’ to participate at the Medef annual congress and join a round table on populism. Following protests, the invitation was withdrawn. Ms Maréchal will have enjoyed the publicity. She will continue building links with The Leaderless (and Headless) Party Formerly Known As The Party of France’s ‘Democratic’ Right, les Républicains. She lunched with a dozen of them last week as part of her ‘charm’ offensive to create a coalition of the right and ultra-right. There are dark days ahead.]

Anyway, the effects of the Government’s idea of saving €3.4 bn on unemployment benefit, through its reforms, contrasts (un)happily with its proposed suppression of the local housing tax (taxe d’habitation). The abolition of this tax was one of Candidate Macron’s major pledges. But it was later decided that the richest 20% of households would, after all, carry on paying the housing tax to their local municipality.

Then someone clearly felt the rich weren’t doing well enough from the Macron reforms. Replacing the Wealth Tax by a Mansion Tax had but saved the wealthy €4.5bn. So the poor (or rather rich) dears surely needed something more gifted. It was decided that the taxe d’habitation would not be payable by anyone at all after 2023.

And lo. It came to pass that The Angel of the Rich did fly over the houses of the rich and gifted them a further wodge of money. Le Monde calculates that of the €17.6bn the State will lose by dropping the taxe d’habitation, an impressive 44.6% goes to the 20% most well-off households.

Looked at another way, 80% of France’s households benefit by an average €555 per year through abolishing the taxe d’habitation. While the richest 20% of households will benefit on average to the extent of €1158 per household. To them that hath shall be given. For what they are about to receive … may they thank President Macron. News is awaited (impatiently by France’s municipalities) as to what replaces this loss of income.

The heat is on … for those trying in near-insufferable heat to concoct a few marginally interesting words 

And now it really is the moment for that end-of-writing whistle to be blown. No more words. More than time to seek the comforts of sea air. Oh to be able to breathe again after 9am. Off to le grand bleu and, doubtless, to moan about the lack of sun.

1882 The Sea at Pourville
Seascape at Pourville (1882) Claude Monet (Columbus Museum of Art)

Wishing you all a very enjoyable summer. I will be back when we’ve definitively seen the back of the dog days.

Happy holidays.

PS Anyone landing on this blogpost lacking the energy to read every back number might want to look at 10,000 words (yes, really) on Macron A-Z in this week’s New Yorker. [Is it a bit odd that the online article is called ‘Can Emmanuel Macron Stem the Populist Tide?‘, while the print edition is headed ‘Le Déluge’.] The writer, Lauren Collins, has had amazing access for her piece, including M le Président lui-même. A few extracts may be appetite-whetting.

  • President Macron – talking in English (his choice) about the gilets jaunes: ‘For the first time, we had a social movement with a very high degree of violence. A unique one. I decided not to launch any special situation, nor to forbid these demonstrations. I did that because I didn’t want to reduce the level of freedom in this country. I think it would have been a mistake. But to think that we are just speaking about normal citizens demonstrating—I mean, that is pure bullshit.’ [This Presidential remark will deservedly resound. There were, except for most recently, a lot of ‘normal citizens’. I thought the President pledged to rein in that tongue of his.]
  • ‘Macron conceives of himself as an unusually strong executive in a system that lends itself to strong executives.’
  • ‘Macron’s ‘at the same time’ [en même temps] refrain implied that he would practice economic liberalism and social liberalism simultaneously, but he has actually pursued them consecutively: two years of budget-trimming leek soup followed, now, by the promise of a social-justice crème brûlée.’ [Would Collins have penned that perhaps-over-written metaphor had she seen Le Monde‘s analysis of the effects of the abolition of the local housing tax?]
  • ‘I think today we are at a very critical moment,’ President Macron said. ‘We have to accelerate a lot of our transformations, and we are challenged by what people are living through in day-to-day life. I think we have a duty not to abandon any of our idealism but to be as pragmatic as the extremists are. This is a battle. And, even if you die with good principles, you die.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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