The ludicrous president of a ridiculous nation? January 5, 2007Posted by The Writers in Politics.
I had not intention to discuss president Chirac in particular as the man certainly deserve the recognition of his own career and personal achievements. I have been rather pushed to do so as the discrepancy of his claims and is action get larger over the years, revealing more clearly his outlook and intentions. Retrospectively, he is following more closely that one may think, the worst of Mitterand’s ‘political genius’, i.e. the ‘politics a la papa’, i.e. a relation administred-administrating in French’s affairs similar to the IIIrd republic haydays.
(Just a parenthesis, I let the reader appreciate De Gaulle’s naming of Mitterrand ‘une arsouille’ (ruffian in English) giving some perspective on the dumming down of French politics from the 1960’s onward.)
Chirac enjoys above all the idea that is a king rather than the administrator of France’ administrative infrastructure. For that manner, he has re-inforced, at least the time of his presidency, a very conservative structure of power. When I say conservative, I refer to French’s history which sadly brings us to medieval time for the economical framework, Napoleonian time for the ‘modern institutions’. In other words, the framework that brought France to defeat in 1939 in 6 weeks only and, which, today, generates useless but real tensions within the civil society.
What are those tensions?
1- the reinforcement of the cliquish view of economy, (i.e. power) made of arrangements and passe-droit. It concentrates a great deal of well-established relationship between the political powers and some main actors of the economic life (offering facilities that works systematically against the rules of markets).
2- The relationship to a remote country-side for show (see Chirac visits to the departement de la correze) searching to maintain the public version of a president close to his people. It is possible that Chirac believes it in part as it reinforces to his own eyes his position of power (since this part of the French’s population of mostly small farmers cannot oppose any forcefull alternative view of France and are rather glad to know Chirac in person). The salon de l’agriculture is the economic version of his advertisement of his concern for the country-side vested interest.
3- The use of his position as mayor of Paris to maintain international link with the French former African colonies. Although it is important, it is missing the fact that emerging countries such as India and China are far more important for anybody today.
Despite the perspective a Frenchman can take on any of the former points, it cannot do anything than confirms the backwardness of the framework within which national and international French politics deals with. It is similar to 1830’s French politics. Although few French’s politicians would like to work a little more within this framework, the western world around it, and by peaceful means (contrary to several German messages send in 1870, 1914-8 and 1939-45) re-iterate the impossibility of farmers’ political trick when dealing with a modern nation.
Of course, most of the French’s population is not living in this past. And the trick of French domination are obviously obsolete to all foreign observers a long time ago. They begin to be seen by the population touching too slowly the institutions that should be informed.
In any case, the French country side is not numerically important anymore as an electoral backyard of the French right wings, Africa is not central to the third world developments, and the old economic tricks and short-cuts will upset our partners since business is worldwide.
As somebody said somewhere, the French are good to shoot themselves in the foot.
With those three features, you are equipped to read contemporary French politics and its curiosities. I remind that those curiosities are partly enerving the French population in the first place, making France a place of gentle political anarchism.
Let us review some of those archaisms, which any foreign travelers notice and report either with ‘bienveillance’ or sarcasm. Chirac does the ‘baise main’ to Angela Merkel in the European summit. How stupid can the president be? This practice, reminiscent of medieval and chevalesque geste, is just plain grostesque in today’s behavior norms. Beside the inadequacy with the general today’s casual style, it is nothing less than patronizing to deal with woman in this way. Chirac has to come to term with the fact that ‘la haute bourgeoisie de chateau’ is respectable but does not set any standard in today’s realities.
Some French commentators have complained about the strong power given under the V republic constitution to the president and its eventual need of reform. I don’t think it is necessary something to reform since one understand the spirit in which De Gaulle gave those powers to the president. De Gaulle showed his understanding of the president position was organisational and strictly dedicated to the on-going changes he perceived France should get to term with. Chirac is a travesti of Gaullism. Chirac and Mitterand’s forms of power illustrate their mis-understanding of the function they are supose to fill-in. Their role as president is an administrator of a nation functions. They approach the position as the pinacle of the power system, a kingdom, with all its advantages and incovenients. For example, the king gives economic graces to a circle of foes, putting his thumb up or down on research, and pass on the mass-education. The advantage with UK or Nordic kingdom, is that those democracies have kept the kingdom for show. People can develop a modern version of metaphysics toward those icons, make their the idols they want. In this matter, the lies and the glitter is well-contained through popular newspapers, festival and other media. The real power, the administration of the country, is left to politicians getting along with the country matters, adapating its structures to faster and on-going changes, providing autonomous admninistration with transparent tools of evaluation and decision making, and leaving the overall decisions, the grand policies, long and short terms strategies as well as accidental issues matters of clean-cut political decisions.
Let us mention that the backwardness of French’s political structure and its supporting pilars is an annoyance that will be growing within the French population itself as it is already a topic of jokes in the Elites of all countries that count.
The only country which has a politic overhead attached to its language. In other words, French’s citizens are submitted with a overhead of ideology related to their daily life activities (since language is literaly social action).
Even Mr Antoine Seillieres, a well-respected conservative (with connection to the Vatican), has to deal with embarrassment in a European submit on the language ‘question’. Chirac assigned him to speak in French in front of a parterre of business men when obviously Antoine’s diagnosis was rather exact: English is the language of business (since French have only deat with ‘secret negociation’).
More seriously, the personal link between politics and business in France is so tied that the passe-droit given to the politicians to the business empede of the good functioning of business itself, impeding on our relation with our partners in the world and the success of our entreprises.
A list of examples is endless. To get an historical grasp of the issue, see the history of industrial mistakes made by French’s industrialists in Europe and US during the 1960’s until now, trying to sell their product to foreign population with patronizing methods (see Renault’s adventure in the US, Peugeot’s distribution of cars in Europe, and many others).
To cite the last in time, Mr Forgeard, the former president of EADS, is no playing by the rule of the company he is supposed to manage and administrate. Since he is also representing interest that the French state, he works with a schizophrenic frame of mind, a double standard of evaluation of affairs. It makes the CEO inept to deal with the kind of attention and dedication to problems (by nature complex) a consortium like EADS has to deal with. German partners and other nation involved are obliged to realise this double game and retract to their own interest as well, making the whole organisation non-manageable. If a private framework of activity become a mix-economy company because the French state is involved everywhere that way, the English’s business partners resign, the German’s business aggregates to each others.
In the last breath of organisational incompetency, lack of vision, organisational cowardness, the CEO is doing the last thing he is able to do: making money on the stack exchange with speculation on his own company shares. Sad but true French business man of another time. But Forgeard is a personal friend of Chirac. Another personal friend of his, is the former CEO of Renault, Louis Schweizer who is now representing a moral face of France in the minister of integration of the immigrants and its related issues. Chirac is dealing with some important business on the basis of personal links. Some French’s business men are the ‘courtisants a la cour du roi’. What makes France still floating is that others major economic players have since a long time learn to deal with their own business and stay away from those petty game.
Non-French and respectable Carlos Ghosn, actual CEO of Renault, is certainly the best example. He plays by the market of the automobile industry, its core activity. Also the former CEO of Peugeot, Jean-Martin Foltz, has honored French’s business by his professionalism. (Let us remember that in French context, everybody know that former CEO of peugeot, Jacques Calvet, was moaning about his agreement with the state on TV during the 1980’s and the pressures of international concurrence).
The French people are manipulated by the elite about the so-called right to privacy of the people that govern them. Their argument is flawed. In a western democarcy, since the head of the state (a prime minister in other political systems, like in Sweden or UK) is the main adminsitrator of the business of the country. As such, he is similar to most of his citizen, i.e. he/she fulfills a function that is accountable to other, namely the people. As such, those same people consider that their main administrator (the head of the state) can be judge on the same standard than they are judged in their job and in their private life. They can read for themselves what their main administrator is doing and compare with them what they consider faulty or acceptable. In France, the top-down power relationship is actively maintained such that one heard often of the attributed attached to the function that the president is very attached. People believe that it is showing higher morality than to preserve this right to the politicians where, in fact, in amodern democarcy, it is re-inforcing the law of silence around aspects of the life of politicians that make them closer to us, having realistic expectancies about what they can really achieve etc. This is a truth some French are do not equipped to understand since
they live in a country that is more morally backward than they are ready to admit.
Another backward features of France that make the coherence of the system to maintain itself so strongly making the role of even the most well-intentioned French citizen, a path to dead-end. How is this the case? In France, we have the organisation of the mayors of France that represents 36 000 communes. They represent the clientele of the political power in Paris who count on them to achieve their carreer in province. In the same time, the mayor of even the smallest villages used their position either to start a political carreer in Paris or to defend insignificant interest of their constituents.
Given the lack of representativity of those communes regarding the ration town/country side (issue that has been dealt a long time ago by any developped nation, for example, in 1848, UK redistribute the ratio of their representant according to the growth and the raise of industrial cities and the subsequent change of population balance (see the history of Manchester, the historical place of Western Industrial revolution as an example). This fact that already been denounced in 1942 by the great French historian Marc Bloch specialist of the medieval history of France and its terroirs. Since then, nothing has been done by our political elite. This means that backward polities are making noises at the national level where in fact they should be left as background noises. One of the most famous example, that any European politicians knows, is the agricultural policy of France that is certainly one of the most backward program known in the western developped countries. Chirac is catering toward this public since the beggining as he knows their power and is determined to conserve it, since it is relatively easy. He is visiting often, as reported largely by the media a department of France called ‘Correze’ which is known, neither by its industrial activities, nor its intellectual life but by the fact that is is one of the poorest department of France.
To maintain such incohrencies with the modern world, French politics (left or right) has always cultivated miserabilism, i.e. a form of paternalism toward the poorest helping them to perceive themselves still as some sort of Elite. The right wings tried to keep the farmer with them, even if now their number is closer to the rate of an industrial country.
One aspects of the backwardness of France comes from this kind of political acquaintance and state implication in the economy, whereby the values of those involved in the game is raised but the real content of the decision taken, the density of information to taken them, and their relative democratic values as a consequence (the posibility that those decision reflects the social complexity of several publics) is low. In this context, those practices renders the life of a large number of citizen very difficult. There is a large aversion in the public for politics for those reasons but people are unable to pin-point exactly what to change and how to change it since it is remote from them and they know it. This fact is also a handicap for a representative democracy.