About Emmanuel

Thirty-something. French. Not an economist, but close enough. Writes Ceteris Paribus.

More like “London, France’s 68th biggest city”

A piece about the French expat community in London, titled “London, France’s sixth biggest city”, is the most shared article on the BBC News website as I begin to write this post.

That such an article would be popular among BBC News readers is not surprising: the idea of French people crossing the Channel en masse to find a more vibrant, fluid and color-blind society, and staying there despite the mediocre weather and exorbitant rents, is appealing to both London fans and French bashers alike. (The view that French people move to London because it’s the closest large English-speaking city is not mentioned)

What’s more baffling is why the BBC News Magazine editors, who had recently shown a laudable willingness to take oft-repeated but bogus factoids to task, would decide to publish a piece based on such a worthless piece of statistics.

For the idea that “between 300,000 and 400,000 French citizens live in the British capital” is just plain laughable.
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Why you shouldn’t trust the WSJ piece on BNP Paribas

The Wall Street Journal Europe has published this morning a market-moving opinion piece claiming to reveal serious funding troubles at French bank BNP Paribas. The article opens with an alleged quote from a BNP executive:

We can no longer borrow dollars. U.S. money-market funds are not lending to us anymore. Since we don’t have access to dollars anymore, we’re creating a market in euros. This is a first. . . . we hope it will work, otherwise the downward spiral will be hell. We will no longer be trusted at all and no one will lend to us anymore.

On the face of it, the quote didn’t seem that outlandish: the major French banks have a significant amount of the bad kind of European sovereign debt in their books, have not written off the potential losses quite as extensively as others have done and thus stand to suffer dearly in case of a Greek default. You could also argue that French banks haven’t always been 100% straightforward in their defense. And it’s not like hints of a dollar funding problem at a European bank haven’t surfaced in the past weeks.

Still, there are many reasons to be extremely skeptical of the article. Continue reading

What’s left of France

Ezra Klein is having a bit of fun with Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that the U.S. “will be to the left of France” if the American electorate is “not careful” and doesn’t elect him:

We could elect Dennis Kucinich and 10 more Democratic senators and we wouldn’t get anywhere near France. France is a country where the rightwing reformer won’t touch the 35-hour workweek, where all sorts of powerful politicians call themselves socialists, where there’s over a month of legally mandated vacation and unlimited sick days.

Well, France is also a country where insulting the flag is a criminal offense, where the level of opposition to affirmative action would delight any card-carrying Republican, where about 20% of the student body attend religious schools (double the American percentage) and where capital income is much less heavily taxed than in the U.S. (see this pdf).

Not that I’m defending Giuliani’s idiotic statement, mind you. Especially one in which he equates caution with voting for his crazy self. But the idea that France is some sort of liberal wet dream doesn’t jibe well with the facts either. Continue reading

French presidential election: brief comments

8:40: Sarko and Ségo in the second round then. Which means two important things. Firstly, someone at work owes me a coffee (I really should have bet for something more pricey). Secondly, the election that had been billed by some pundits as one of the most inpredictible ever has delivered very predictible results indeed: the two candidates that were ahead in the polls since the beginning get through to the runoff; the Bayrou insurgency receded in the late campaign, just like the polls were showing; and all the minor candidates were crushed, with the Communist and Green parties looking DOA now. The only half-surprise is the (relative) crash of the extreme right: but it is a surprise only because many thought Le Pen would get a big result, against what most of the polls were predicting. I sense the always-reviled pollsters will have a field day tonight.

Update by Alex: Libé carried time-series graphs for all the pollsters on Friday, and one of the striking things was that Le Pen had gained no more than 1 per cent or so over the campaign, whichever poll you looked at.

8:50 (Emmanuel) : there’s no denying that Sarkozy is looking good now. Not only is he ahead by a significant margin, but Royal does not have significant reserves of votes to tap into for the second round (the total of all left-wing candidates is around 36%). Much will depend on François Bayrou’s attitude in the next days but even if (a really big “if”) he calls his voters to support Royal, it remains doubtful that they’ll follow him.

9:10 (Emmanuel) : The much-awaited Bayrou is speaking. Begins with that worn-out platitude: “French politics will never be the same”. Big score despite negative media, polls and pundits. Strongly criticizes the two main parties. Hints that “decisions” will be taken in the next days.

9:20 (Emmanuel) : Official CW about Bayrou is that he won’t support Sarkozy and that he can’t support Royal (because UDF MPs clearly need the support of the UMP to be reelected in June). Hence his pox-in-both-your-houses attitude. One striking thing nonetheless: all the left-wing candidates have been falling over themselves to give their support to Royal (even the famously intransigent Laguiller); so far, no candidate has called to vote for Sarkozy.

9:47 (Alex) : Royal making incredibly long, incredibly lacklustre speech. Bayrou was bad enough but this is dire. You wouldn’t think this was one of the highest scores for a Socialist in the first round ever.

9:50 (Emmanuel) : Damn. Alex just wrote exactly what I was thinking. When you hear Segolène speaking, you always wonder how she managed to go that far. Really unispiring stuff.

10:00 (Alex) : Le Pen is gradually sinking with each update of the polls. He’s now below the lowest estimate of his score at the beginning of the campaign. And the Communists have done very badly in places like Ariége..

10:05 (Alex) : Thierry Maillet says it’s 1981 over again. Giscard got 28.3 per cent, Mitterand 25.9, Chirac 18, and Georges Marchais of the PCF 15. 2007==(Giscard:Sarkozy, Mitterand:Royal, Chirac:Bayrou, Marchais:Le Pen)? Perhaps. Maillet points out that many of the voters who left the PCF moved to the FN.

10:14 (Alex)
: It’s worth pointing out that so far, the départements that are reporting are very few, and most are overseas territories. As Libé’s front-page Flash map points out, the masses are yet to engage. Meanwhile, gurks! Eric Besson, the PS national secretary who walked out of Ségoléne Royal’s economic team, has announced that he’s supporting Sarkozy.

10:15 (Tobias) – coverage of international online coverage – the BBC duly notes the high turnout and realizses that “France opts for a left-right battle.” The BBC’s political correspondent Jonathan Marcus also states that

“Whoever finally wins the presidency, … it will mark a change of political generation and perhaps a shift in French international priorities, making this election matter even to those outside France.”

Quite right. The NY Times enlists the help of the AP and also notes the generational change, as well as the gender dynamics in play –

“If the results confirm that, France will get its first president born after World War II after the May 6 final round. If she wins, Royal will become France’s first woman president.”

Wondering about Bayrou’s weak results, the newspaper reminds that one principal motivation for many voters was not to allow the participation of Le Pen in the second round. Germany’s conservative “Die Welt” mentions that Sarkozy’s move to the right paid off in the first round but questions whether it might not have the opposite effect in two weeks, mentioning the importance of the Bayrou vote, the majority of which seems willing to rally behind Royal to avoid Sarkozy – possibly without any official recommendation from the former candidate. Sarkozy will now have to move back to the center, but Die Welt doubts his efforts will be convincing following months of rather divisive campaigning.

For the liberal weekly Die Zeit’s “Blog Tricolore” (in German) Alain-Xavier Wurst” files a report from Royal’s headquarters and notes that the mood is getting better by the minute after they realised that this election will not be a repetition of the last one. He also explains that one winner of the current election wasn’t even on the polls – the telecommunications industry apparently expects as many text messages as after last year’s world cup final, that, for the first time in decades, Jaques Chirac must has voted for someone else – probably Ségolène Royal, and that there are about three million new voters, mostly young people, many of whom live in the Banlieues offended by Monsieur Sarkozy.

It will be very interesting to dissect today’s result in a little more detail. A regional breakdown will be available at the French interior ministry’s site – but at the moment, all results are still empty. Don’t forget it’s a Sunday…

10:15 (Emmanuel): first second-round poll. Sarko 54% РS̩go 46%. As anticipated, it really will be an uphill battle for the left-wing candidate.

10:25 (Alex): Or maybe not. More results are coming in, and the gap is closing – 29.6 vs 27.4, with Le Pen tanking under the 10 per cent mark. PS, Liberation has a regional results map on their front page.

10:50 (Emmanuel): A lot of interesting tidbits in the Ipsos exit poll (pdf). Like, for all the talk about the underwhelming result of Le Pen, the fact that he’s still first in the blue-collar demographic slice (“ouvriers“).

10:59 (Tobias): Nadine Morano explains on arte.tv that Sarkozy wants to convince pro-European voters by explaining that he was the only one who wants to go forward with a “mini-treaty” and avoid a second referendum on the constitution.

11:05 (Emmanuel): France Info radio reporting Sarkozy first in Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis (aka the place where all those cars were burnt in 2005) départements.

11:12 (Tobias): Daniel Cohn-Bendit believes that Bayrou was in the end beaten by the problem that the UDF feels the need/needs to cooperate with Sarkozy’s UMP in the parliamentary elections. That, according to Cohn-Bendit, essentially made Bayrou’s “third way” proposal a lot less credible. Interestingly, he also praises Sarkozy for his ability to pull Le Pen voters into the “normal” parliamentary spectrum.

11:15 (Emmanuel): Another second-round poll, this time from CSA. And another expected result: Sarkozy 53,5% – Royal 46,5%. Among the people who voted for Bayrou it’s: 16% unsure, 45% Royal, 39% Sarkozy.

11:35 (Emmanuel): And the WTF award of the day goes to unknown candidate Gérard Schivardi (dead-last with 0,4% of the vote) who declares: “I’m a happy man. This electoral base will allow me to create a new political party“.

11:55 (Emmanuel): Droite caviar? Sarko gets 73% in his own (posh) town of Neuilly, and 58% in the (posh) 8th arrondissement of Paris. Meanwhile, Royal barely comes out ahead in Bordeaux, a bit of a surprise since this is the town of ex-Prime minister and Sarkozy ally Alain Juppé.

12:05 (Alex): Droite ouvriére. Sarko just sneaks it in the Pas de Calais. Even there, where the biggest city is still Communist-run, the PCF gets only 3.4 per cent.

01:05 (Emmanuel): well, the bottle of wine is empty now and the official results are still not coming, so just a last comment to say that I fully agree with Pascal Riché’s analysis: based on the first round results, Ségolène Royal really has an impossible equation to solve, considering that the total of left-wing votes and one half of Bayrou’s total still left her at something like 45%. Adding to that the fact that Sarkozy is a much better debater than she is, and it’s hard to be very optimistic right now if you’re a left-wing voter (which, I hasten to add, I am). But, as they say, one week is a long time in politics. And she has two. But she better get started now.

Oh, and a warm welcome to our soon-to-be-there 1,000,000th Afoe visitor.

Economic nonsense about France

Yet again. Here’s what the BBC has to say in its updated-for-the-upcoming-elections online background article about France:

But France’s economy has grown more slowly than any other developed country in the world. In 2006, its 2% growth was the worst in Europe.

Well, sorry to beat a late parrot, but one year does not a trend make: if we look at, say, the 5-years period between 2002 and 2006, the average annual rate of growth of France was a meagre 1.6%*, but that is equal to the euro area average and higher than what the Netherlands (1,4%) and Germany (0,9%) and Italy (0,7%) and Portugal (0,6%) managed over the same period. I’ll spare you the 10-years period (1997-2006) which is even more favorable to France.

But even if we grant the Beeb’s dubious premise that 2006 growth is the ultimate yardstick to measure the strength of an economy (and in that case I have an old “US has grown more slowly than nearly every other developed country in the world” headline from 2001 to sell you), their claim isn’t even true. Or, if it is, we can safely conclude that Italy (1,9% growth in 2006 according to Eurostat) and Portugal (1,3%) are neither European nor developed countries.
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Your Holiday Assignment

This is usually Crooked Timber‘s turf, but I might as well deliver the good news to the masses here: the much-awaited annual King William’s College General Knowledge Paper, aka the most difficult quiz in the world, is now online (pdf).

Readers are invited to spoil the “fun” for all the others by posting answers in comments. I think I found half a dozen out of 180 on a first, googleless sitting, one because the question (18.10) was -uncharacteristically- a gimme, two others by unfairly taking advantage of my Frenchness (hey, it’s got to help sometimes) and a few more because section 3 is really full of low-hanging fruits. The rest looks much harder, though.

Addendum (12/23) : C’mon people, everybody loves quizzes, right? If it is the .pdf file that bothers you, here is the quiz in convenient html form on The Guardian website. And remember that “scire ubi aliquid invenire possis ea demummaximapars eruditionis est“.

When campaign songs come back to haunt you

Angie, Angie, when will those clouds all disappear?
Angie, Angie, where will it lead us from here?
With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats
You can’t say were satisfied
But Angie, Angie, you can’t say we never tried
Angie, you’re beautiful, but ain’t it time we said good-bye?
Angie, I still love you, remember all those nights we cried?
All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke

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More Sweden, less tidbits

Well, I just lost a long post about the so-called Swedish model due to my own stupid carelessness the combined malevolence of Windows XP and MS Word.

Anyway, the main point was to say that the article on the subject (free for non-subscribers) in last week’s issue of The Economist was really a dishonest hack job. And my critique went roughly like this :
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The Bastille Day that isn’t

This is obviously just pedantry on my part but I must take issue with this all-too-common characterization of France’s national holiday:

France celebrated Bastille Day on Friday with the traditional military parade of the four armed services, with
President Jacques Chirac presiding over the display of pomp and fanfare for perhaps the last time. (…)

The day commemorates the 1789 storming of the former Bastille prison in Paris by angry crowds, sparking the revolution that brought an end to the monarchy in France.

To begin with, the national holiday is never, ever, called “la fête de la Bastille” (or whatever translation would be appropriate for Bastille Day in French) in France. It is always “le 14 juillet”.
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Not a very good game, admittedly, but we’ve made it to Berlin nonetheless.

Considering the level of play displayed by the Italians last night, it will be a daunting task. But then again, so were the two previous games against Spain and Brazil. One can dream. The tens of thousands of people parading in the streets of Paris tonight certainly do.