Christopher Caldwell: Untrustworthy on Facts

Christopher Caldwell, senior editor of neocon house journal the Weekly Standard, once wrote a six-page feature in the New York Times magazine in which he claimed that Robert Kilroy-Silk would “transform European politics”. Despite this, he is still taken seriously by some people; disturbingly, this includes the editors of the Financial Times. In his column this weekend, he issues a rant against trades unions and specifically French ones. I am not going to trouble my readers by taking issue with his ideological position; this is well-known, hence there’s no informational gain in arguing with it.

Instead, I’m sticking to his factual assertions.

Sixty per cent of SNCF cancellations are due to strikes.

The only source for this statement I can find is the French Government’s spokesman; anyway, as the overall 10-minute punctuality rate is of the order of 90 per cent (source: SNCF Annual Report 2006), this is equivalent to saying that 3 trains in every hundred are affected by industrial action. In fact that is a considerable overstatement itself, as not all trains that run 10 minutes late are cancellations. Anyway, this is a theoretical issue; Le Canard Enchaine published the actual figures, according to which strikes accounted for 140 out of 6,043 delays recorded in 2006 – about 2 per cent. Caldwell is wrong.

The young anti-union orator Sabine Herold drew tens of thousands to her speeches during the strikes of 2003.

Fortunately, I’d recently seen some of her old election posters, so I actually knew who she was, which puts me ahead of the vast bulk of the French public. It is actually possible that Mme Herold pulled in at least 10 kilodemonstrators; French Wikipedia claims she did, citing Le Monde as saying she got 30,000, but I can’t find a root-source for this anywhere; just a lot of wingnuts clapping each other on the back. It hasn’t stopped her claiming 100,000 in order to sell books. But it’s hard to be sure, as her political party didn’t get enough votes to be broken out independently in the official results of the 2007 parliamentary election. Neither could they find 500 local councillors willing to sign their presidential nomination. To place a lower bound on her popularity, though, we can say with certainty that she pulled some 345 votes on her home turf, the very bourgeois 16th arrondissement of Paris. That is, 1.4 per cent of the vote. Her fellow leader, Edouard Fillias, pulled a whacking 228 votes in the 12th – 0.52 per cent.

This didn’t stop various right-wing anglophone papers lionising her; fortunately she kept the tributes on her own website. Here’s Matthew Campbell of the Sunday Times predicting that if Segolene Royal wasn’t elected, she might be. Here’s the Daily Telegraph asking whether she really did speak for millions. I think you got your answer, son.

Anyway, moving swiftly on:

They rest on government-accorded privileges, particularly that of compelling membership, whether formally or informally – a privilege that, if it were exercised by a church or a political party, would horrify the public.

“They” are trade unions; it’s a pity Caldwell appears not to know that the closed shop has been illegal in France since 1956.

In Search of A Lost Time

I don’t know if one day when historians come to examine what exactly happened (or should I say what went wrong) with the EU they will be able to identify that defining moment, the decisive hour, when everything went sailing down the river. If they are so able I wouldn’t mind a quick bet that it might be sometime about now. The ideal of the EU, it seems to me, is being blown away before our very eyes. Maybe the fault is with the politicians, maybe it is with the institutions, maybe it is with all of us: but this cannot be like this. Failure to advance a consensus on reform and the constitution cannot (or at least should not) let us fall back into our old ways of cynical cutting up the cake, power politics and triple alliances. We have, as I have been trying to suggest, a Euro which is about to fall apart between the competing pressures of Northern stringency (the Netherlands) and Southern laxity (Italy), while what is being proposed here will do nothing to help whatsoever.
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Parmalat Update

Well, well, what do you know: Paramalat’s real debt is much bigger than was first thought. What a surprise. According to the Financial Times Parmalat’s gross debt now stands between ?14.5bn and ?14.8bn ($18.08bn-$18.46bn). At the same time its main Italian operations barely made a gross operating profit last year. Meantime Italy’s unions are threatening a strike iif the government reduces the regulatory role of the central bank. The dispute has arisen as a result of the Parmalat scandal, which the government blames partly on a failure of oversight at the central bank. As a solution the finance ministry wants to reform financial market regulation in Italy so that the central bank would no longer supervise corporate bond issuance and competition in Italy’s banking sector. The unions object to this.

Actually this was meant to be a quick post, but while writing it I cannot help reaching the conclusion that Italy may be begining to fall apart. Just wait till you read this.
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