Friday, March 31, 2006

Not so sure Villepin isn't a populist

In the previous post below, Lorenzo says:

"France has to choose between a stagnant job market with a lot of protection for few people, and a more flexible market with less protection but more opportunities." Since the fist branch of the alternative is evidently not acceptable, we are forced to choose the second one.

This is Villepin's argument which Lorenzo adheres to. I find it a bit rhetorical to not say "populist". It seems that in reality things aren't so simple. First, not every one agrees with high protection = few jobs and no protection (or "lots of flexibility" as they like to put it) = lots of jobs. Also the flexibility has to be right on target and Villepin who never took time to consult with the economical actors is off the mark. Very many employers have already stated that this new contract does nothing for them.

Lorenzo is quite optimistic about Villepin when he says:

"For once, I am with Villepin, the prime minister who wants the statute so badly. In order to do so, his popularity is clearly collapsing. This is in a way a very good sign: Villepin is not a populist. Whether he's right or wrong, this is another issue."

I have some respect for Villepin; he is one of a kind with his romantic vision of politics and himself. However I have to disagree with the idea that he isn't a populist. When he came into power he said he would put the economy right back on its tracks in 100 days. That type of promise reminds me of... Berlusconi. Both these guys are desperate: they have very little time to persuade, Berlusconi because the elections are upon us and Villepin because Sarkozy 's popularity is very very high. In his race against the clock Villepin has to give all he's got. He is very disliked by the members of Parliament of his own party (he cost them their job in 1998 and was never one of them - he was always an advisor of Chirac and stepped in the political light only recently). So he said that he would change every thing in 100 days in an effort to appear even more efficient than Sarkozy. As a result of his precipitation he consulted nobody (not event the minister of labour) and pulled the CPE out of his hat. It didn't work as planned as he and his advisors never saw the student protests coming. Now he's got two possibilities: 1) he abandons the bill, 2) he sticks with it.

If he chooses solution 1) what benefit can he get out of it ? People will say: he was reasonable put he should've been more cautious in the first place and prevent the protests etc. In any case any benefit he gets out of it will never be sufficient to reach Sarkozy's level of popularity.

If he chooses solution 2) and sticks with his plan no matter what, two things can happen. a) The crisis gains in intensity (pretty soon many students will have nothing to lose as they will consider this semester to have been sacrificed...) and leads to a very problematic, probably violent situation, for which he will be held partly responsible. Or scenario b) can take place in which the protests die out during the school break in a little more than a week. The benefit he would get from this would be very important, people will say how courageous he is, how he's not a populist, how only he was able to reform in a country that doesn’t accept change etc. In this case, and in this case only, can he hope to supersede Sarkozy in the opinion poles in view of the next presidential elections.

So you see, if Villepin wants to be the next President of the Republic he is constrained to chose solution 2) and hope for scenario b) to happen.

I don't think it can be disputed that he indeed wants to sit on Chirac's throne. After all, he does think that France is like a pretty young and shy lady that wants to be taken by a flamboyant man such as himself (it isn't the exact citation but it goes something like that). It is no secret really that he doesn’t believe "the dwarf", as he calls Sarkozy, to be great enough for the task, and he'll do anything it takes to get in his way. Even if it means bargaining with his popularity.

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