Inverse Nixon Theory

It’s been said in the past – indeed, it used to be conventional wisdom – that unlikely right-wing governments were more likely to make peace, because they enjoyed credibility and a tough reputation. More obviously, conservatives long enjoyed a reputation for “fiscal credibility”, which supposedly helped them to control inflation by giving the impression that they would either be willing to sit on the money supply, or trade-off unemployment for inflation along the Phillips curve.

Curiously, with what is commonly taken to be a swing to the Right in Germany and France, we’re seeing the opposite. One of Angela Merkel’s first acts on taking office was to announce a future rise in consumption taxes, which isn’t very much different in terms of public perception to cutting them in the meantime. Nicolas Sarkozy has since announced that he’s going to have a pause in the reduction of the national debt – read, reflate the economy somewhat. Specifically, as he’s promised to hand out a €20 billion “fiscal shock”. But nobody appears to be very worried. It’s a big contrast to five minutes ago, when modalities of the Eurosystem’s breakdown were a regular topic on AFOE..

Compare the keenness of the Schröder, Jospin, and de Villepin governments to stick to the script of the Stability Pact, come what may. (No, de Villepin wasn’t a social democrat, but Sarko certainly campaigned as if he had been.) There’s a non-trivial argument that the pact was a serious economic mistake. It would certainly be interesting if it only survived because the Left was paranoid about seeming over lefty, and especially if the continental economy’s uptick had something to do with the Right being able to let it ride.

Quick-Reaction Alert

So France gets a new president. So I’m jumping from the window, running to the AFOE control room..

Nicolas Sarkozy’s first act as President has been to go for a “retreat” in the monastic surroundings of a giant yacht belonging to media boss Vincent Bolloré, who claims to have no business with the French government. Well, well, well.

Except for this one, under which his SDV Group logistics firm gets the job to carry the French diplomatic bag. €5.6 million to you. Or this one, of indefinite value, under which his firm gets the job of transporting cash (and medals!) by air for the Ministry of Finance. That is, Sarko’s old job.

Or, finally, this one, under which SDV gets the contract to provide all the French Ministry of Defence’s air charters, for some €36 million. Hat tip to Arnaud Labrousse, and these guys.

Président ou Présidente?

The French are still making up their mind [Update – they have made up their mind: Nicolas Sarkozy has been elected President – more soon]. Once again in record numbers – the only official figures released so far estimate the voter turnout at noon at 34,11%, the highest number since 1974, apparently. One winner of the Presidential race is therefore clearly institutional democracy – although burning cars is probably considered a way of political expression by some, not least, Ségolène Royal, who, earlier this week, warned that a Sarkozy victory could lead to violent protests in some Banlieues. While that is certainly not entirely out of the realm of the possible, and Sarkozy’s reaction was appropriately forceful, accusing her of fanning the (possible) flames, I doubt it was a particularly clever move on Royal’s behalf, to end her campaign by scaring voters. Apart from that, she’s probably also lost all votes of those about 3000 policemen who are now spending the evening in the suburbs to preempt any possible social unrest.
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French Presidential Debate Notes

Style is clearly more important than substance in Presidential debates. Unfortunately, after 45 minutes of speaking time for each candidate, I was, quite frankly, very disappointed on both accounts. Neither Ségolène Royal nor Nicolas Sarkozy were able to present coherent arguments of their respective programmes. Instead, they kept constantly interrupting each other, Royal more so than Sarkozy, kept losing discourse threads (sometimes even without being interrupted) in pointless debates about specific figures or jumped from one point to another. Sarkozy may have been a little more concise on the economic parts (taxes, pensions, labour market regulation, welfare) of the debate, but he certainly did not “win” that debate by any stretch of imagination.
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French Presidential debate broadcast online

If the weather in France is even remotely as warm and sunny as it is here in South-West Germany today, I have doubts tonight’s televised debate between Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy will be able to get 86% turnout yet again. Still, if you would like to tune in to the debate, but you don’t receive French tv (or even speak French) there are a couple of options available.

ARTE.tv broadcasts the event live in both French and German, while France 24 will offer interactive coverage as well as tv-streams (wmv9, 400 kpbs) in English, French, and Arabic (links via wwitv.com).

Another Trip to 50-50 Land

It’s getting terribly close…

The last two opinion polls in the French elections put Royal and Sarkozy level pegging in the first round, with one of them showing nils apiece in the second round too. With numbers, the first poll, carried out by CSA on the 21st, shows Royal on 26 per cent, Sarko on 26 per cent, and Bayrou on 20. The second, by LH2 for 20 Minutes, puts the top two on 27 per cent each.

The really interesting thing is that both polls also measured voting intentions for the second round. CSA showed Sarko and Sego breaking 50-50. LH2 put Sarko up 51-49. But that’s not the really interesting thing. To both come in at 49-50 per cent, the top candidates will have to gain about 48 percentage points between them. Obviously, if you voted in the first round, you’re likely to vote in the second. Which poses a question: how’s it going to happen?

Francois Bayrou’s support is around 20 per cent. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s is 13 per cent. Olivier Besancenot is at 3, Arlette Laguiller at 2.5 (up 1.5 per cent!), Marie-George Buffet 2, Frederic Nihous 2, de Villiers 1, Voynet 1, Schivarni 0.5. A total, then, of 44 per cent up for grabs. Out of which, say, 9 per cent can be attributed firmly to the Left and 15 per cent to the Right, before the difficult question of how to attribute Bayrou’s voters. Assuming the Le Pen/de Villiers vote goes to Sarko, that would put the balance at 35/42 of the original vote..but how do the Bayrou Boys and Girls break? At a minimum, the Left would need to hold its ground, then persuade 7 percentage points of Bayrou voters – not far off a third – plus a majority of the remainder to switch.

Not that this is reflected by Royal’s rhetoric..

Nothing is obvious and nothing is clear

Ségolene Royal’s campaign is doomed. The total vote for the Left is polling (32 to 36 per cent) almost as low as it was in 1969, when the second round vote was between a Gaullist, Georges Pompidou, and a centrist/classical rightist, Alain Poher, with everyone to the left crashing at the first turn on a total of 31 per cent.

Ségolene Royal is on course to win. Her polls, ranging between 24 and 27 per cent, are as good as François Mitterand’s in 1981, when he got 25.8 per cent, not a mountain more than the Communist candidate, Georges Marchais, who had 15.3 per cent . And, since 1958, the left has always been in second place after the first round, even when Mitterand won the run-off. The French elections remain fascinating, even though many of the delightful possibilities have boiled off.
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Sarko’s In, But Where are the Votes?

Nicolas Sarkozy has been “elected” as the UMP’s presidential candidate. Why the scarequotes? Well, “elected” usually implies a contest between more than one candidate. And Sarkozy was faced with only one contestant-the Apathy ticket.

Over Christmas, he successfully neutralised most of the possible internecine threats, bringing essentially all the serious rightwing politicians on board. The key to this was his recruitment of former Prime Minister (and convicted criminal) Alain Juppé, who was parachuted into a parliamentary seat back into Bordeaux town hall in the autumn, possibly in the hope he would run against Sarkozy.

But Juppé has signed up with Sarko, almost certainly in exchange for a promise that he will return to the prime minister’s office if the Right wins the election. Defence Minister Michéle Alliot-Marie, meanwhile, saw her campaign fail to get off the ground in a meaningful fashion. That left only Sarko to face an uncontested election. You might have expected a North Korean majority of 90+ per cent, but it didn’t happen. Only 69 per cent of those eligible to vote picked Sarkozy over the apathy ticket.

Before that, though, there had already been some other interesting developments..
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The Right and the Extremists

Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, French conservatives are no more united than the Left. In fact, they are much less so, as they are a long way from even choosing a leader yet. Candidates are proliferating: as well as Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppé is back, Dominique de Villepin refuses to give in, Michéle Alliot-Marie just entered the fray, and Jacques Chirac is still leaving the option of a third campaign open at the age of 71. The key insight is that the party structure is tenuous, two right-wing traditions exist, and the leading personalities despise each other. It’s like the Borgas with spin-doctors. On the Right, it won’t be anything as simple as an election that decides the issue, because the main party (the UMP, a King’s party set up in 2002 to support Chirac) is really a coalition wrapped around the Gaullist RPR, which has its own leader.

De Villepin, Juppé and the old fella all represent the same thing – the hunt by Jacques Chirac for an alternative to Sarkozy who can be trusted to maintain the social peace and carry on the Gaullist tradition. The problem being, of course, that De Villepin is damaged goods, Juppé is a rush-job and a crook, having just returned from trouble with the law, and Chirac is old, unpopular and has scandals like a dog has fleas. Sarkozy, for his part, represents the heritage of the non-Gaullist “droite classique” and, more importantly, appeals to the cult of America. His argument (everything is terrible and only I, the new young US-style leader, know what to do) and his prescription (free markets and mass surveillance) bear a far closer resemblance to Tony Blair than anything found on Ségolene Royal.

But the Chirac side fears that he will either win, and strike down with great vengeance on them, or scare the public to the Left. Hence the snark hunt for a stop-Ségo-and-Sarko candidate, which is another way of saying Jacques Chirac.
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Forget It Jacques, It’s Clearstream

It never stops when your blog has to cover an entire continent. Hardly had the Italian left taken AFOE’s advice to get Giorgio Napolitano elected as president than the Clearstream scandal in France was getting out of hand, and nothing at all on the blog! Fortunately, at the moment the news from that quarter is coming so thick and at such a howling rate of speed that it wasn’t going to be hard to catch up. The latest despatches suggest that, firstly, it was De Villepin and Chirac, and secondly, that the victim-Nicolas Sarkozy-probably has something to hide too, as in any good film noir.

And that’s before you get on to the 300 million francs in the president’s secret Japanese bank account. Allegedly.

So what is a Clearstream and why is it a scandal? Clearstream is a bank clearing house in Luxembourg that permits banks to carry out international payments on a net basis, paying just the balance of their transactions in cash every business day. It has a bad reputation in France because of one Denis Robert, who has written three books alleging that it’s responsible for money laundering on a vast scale. But more relevantly, it’s also the supposed cause of a major political crisis.
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