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Thu Mar 4th, 2010 at 08:36:48 AM EST
Denis Kessler, currently boss of re-insurer Scor, used to be number two under Ernest-Antoine Seillière at the French bosses' union. The two men together took the old CNPF and "modernized" it into the MEDEF. Kessler, a Marxist when he was a student in the '70s (sic), is now the most-tipped prospect for becoming head of the MEDEF this summer when Laurence Parisot faces a difficult re-election.
Here's a sample of Kessler's views on French economy and society:
|Challenges.fr, Adieu 1945, raccrochons notre pays au monde ! ||Challenges.fr, Goodbye 1945, let's hook our country up to the world!|
|Les annonces successives des différentes réformes par le gouvernement peuvent donner une impression de patchwork, tant elles paraissent variées, d'importance inégale, et de portées diverses : statut de la fonction publique, régimes spéciaux de retraite, refonte de la Sécurité sociale, paritarisme...||The government's successive announcements of various reforms may give an impression of patchwork, as they seem varied, of unequal importance, and differing scope: the status of public servants, special retirement pension systems, restructuring national health insurance, union representation…|
|A y regarder de plus près, on constate qu'il y a une profonde unité à ce programme ambitieux. La liste des réformes ? C'est simple, prenez tout ce qui a été mis en place entre 1944 et 1952, sans exception. Elle est là. Il s'agit aujourd'hui de sortir de 1945, et de défaire méthodiquement le programme du Conseil national de la Résistance !||Looked at more closely, we find that there is a profound unity in this ambitious programme. The list of reforms? It's simple, take everything that was set up between 1944 and 1952, without exception. It is there. What we have to do now is get out of 1945, and methodically undo the programme of the National Council of the Resistance ! |
Woah! Weird people, the French! Still fighting wars of sixty years ago? Well, to some extent, we all are, the imprint of that time having set so many mental frames and so many institutions. But the National Council of the Resistance? Pffff!
Kessler goes on:
|A l'époque se forge un pacte politique entre les gaullistes et les communistes. Ce programme est un compromis qui a permis aux premiers que la France ne devienne pas une démocratie populaire, et aux seconds d'obtenir des avancées - toujours qualifiées d'«historiques» - et de cristalliser dans des codes ou des statuts des positions politiques acquises.||At the time a political compact was forged between the Gaullists and Communists. This programme was a compromise that accorded to the former that France would not become a "popular democracy", and to the latter progress - always described as "historic" - and to crystallize the political positions gained in codes or statutes. |
|Ce compromis, forgé aune période très chaude et particulière de notre histoire contemporaine (où les chars russes étaient à deux étapes du Tour de France, comme aurait dit le Général), se traduit par la création des caisses de Sécurité sociale, le statut de la fonction publique, l'importance du secteur public productif et la consécration des grandes entreprises françaises qui viennent d'être nationalisées, le conventionnement du marché du travail, la représentativité syndicale, les régimes complémentaires de retraite, etc.||This compromise, forged in a very hot and special period of our contemporary history (where the Russian tanks were two Tour de France stages away, as the General supposedly said), resulted in the creation of the national health insurance funds, the Civil Service regulations, the importance of the productive public sector and the consecration of major French companies that had just been nationalized, the contractualisation of the labour market, union representation, supplemental retirement pensions, etc.|
Kessler's version of history is skewed. Both the sly insinuation that social support networks were set up under the pressure of Russian tanks (are we to understand that similar decisions in Britain in the postwar years were also taken under the shadow of the Soviet threat?), and the notion of a debate within the Gaullist camp between economic liberals and the broad social tradition, are deliberately misleading.
The National Council of the Resistance was formed in 1943 to fight the Nazis and the collaborationists of the Pétain government. It contained a broad cross-section of resistance movements and of French political and social life, as the Wikipedia page shows. What was missing was the authoritarian corporatist right (conspicuously lined up with Pétain), and the authoritarian economic liberal right (not so conspicuous, but present in every government department in Vichy).
The CNR contained the Communist left, but also the socialists (SFIO) and radicals; and those who aligned with De Gaulle and became known as Gaullistes included a swathe of people on the right including the French equivalent of Christian Democrats (represented by Georges Bidault). Gaullism had its authoritarian right and its "social conscience" left (often called Gaullistes de gauche). Later, in the '60s, when De Gaulle was president, the Christian Dem and "social conscience" wing was still prominent (for example, Jacques Delors). The economic liberals who are well-known in politics today were then in street-fighting ultra-right movements like Occident (eg Madelin, Novelli, Goasguen, Dévedjian). In the '70s, they managed to reinvent themselves as centrists. (This is not Kessler's case, he was a Marxist as a student in the '70s).
Sarkozy's election meant the victory of economic liberals who had often been on the far right masquerading as the centre. Their intention to put an end to the broad social compact that originated in the CNR could not be more clearly stated than in this broadside from Kessler – probably not greatly appreciated by the pols, because all too clear. In fact the attack on the social consensus has been two-pronged: break the institutions piece by piece, while simultaneously muddying public perceptions of the foundational period (now that most of the population has no living memory of it). The method probably pays off better than Kessler's frontal assault.
|Cette «architecture» singulière a tenu tant bien que mal pendant plus d'un demi-siècle. Elle a même été renforcée en 1981, à contresens de l'histoire, par le programme commun. Pourtant, elle est à l'évidence complètement dépassée, inefficace, datée. Elle ne permet plus à notre pays de s'adapter aux nouvelles exigences économiques, sociales, internationales. Elle se traduit par un décrochage de notre nation par rapport à pratiquement tous ses partenaires.|
Le problème de notre pays est qu'il sanctifie ses institutions, qu'il leur donne une vocation éternelle, qu'il les «tabouise» en quelque sorte. Si bien que lorsqu'elles existent, quiconque essaie de les réformer apparaît comme animé d'une intention diabolique. Et nombreux sont ceux qui s'érigent en gardien des temples sacrés, qui en tirent leur légitimité et leur position économique, sociale et politique. Et ceux qui s'attaquent à ces institutions d'après guerre apparaissent sacrilèges.
Il aura fallu attendre la chute du mur de Berlin, la quasi-disparition du parti communiste, la relégation de la CGT dans quelques places fortes, l'essoufflement asthmatique du Parti socialiste comme conditions nécessaires pour que l'on puisse envisager l'aggiornamento qui s'annonce. Mais cela ne suffisait pas. Il fallait aussi que le débat interne au sein du monde gaulliste soit tranché, et que ceux qui croyaient pouvoir continuer à rafistoler sans cesse un modèle usé, devenu inadapté, laissent place à une nouvelle génération d'entrepreneurs politiques et sociaux. Désavouer les pères fondateurs n'est pas un problème qu'en psychanalyse.
|This peculiar "architecture" hung together after a fashion for over half a century. It was even reinforced in 1981, against the grain of history, by the Common Programme (of the left under Mitterand). However, it is obviously completely outmoded, inefficient, dated. It no longer allows our country to adapt to new economic, social, and international requirements. It results in our nation falling behind almost all its partners. |
The problem of our country is that sanctifies its institutions, it gives them an eternal vocation, that it "taboo-ises" them in a way. So that when they exist, anyone who tries to reform them appears to be motivated by evil intent. And many people set themselves up as guardians of sacred temples, deriving from this their legitimacy and their economic, social and political position. And those who attack these postwar institutions appear sacrilegious
It was not until the necessary conditions occurred -- the fall of the Berlin Wall, the virtual disappearance of the Communist Party, the relegation of the CGT to a few strongholds, the asthmatic loss of breath of the Socialist Party -- that it became possible to envisage the coming aggiornamento. But that was not enough. The internal debate within the Gaullist world had to be settled, and those who believed they could continue to endlessly patch up a worn-out model, no longer adapted to circumstances, had to give way to a new generation of political and social entrepreneurs. Repudiating the founding fathers is not a problem in psychoanalysis alone.
Of course, it's easy to talk about "outdated" institutions, particularly when one is undermining them by starving them of budgets and staff, and by publicly holding them up to ridicule. And there's the standard line that features the "reformists" in the role of dragon-slayers while the enemy is made up of conservatives holding on to privilege. When you've been old-money aristo Seillière's number two, that's particularly rich.
But the clear meaning of "reform" is revealed here. It is not adaptation to circumstances, fiscal redefinition, better management, improvement. It is plain and simple destruction of what has been called the "French model".
Well, this was written in the flush of victory. He was crowing then, but the crisis has shown neoliberal economics were all wrong, hasn't it? Sarkozy has low approval ratings and his party is about to take a pasting in regional elections, surely?
Yes… But whatever happens, the beat goes on. It is obvious, it is clear, it is modern, it is necessary, TINA: "reforms" need to be made. This theme seems teflonized. Under a smokescreen of confusing communication and appeals to fear, the work goes bit by bit ahead. Government is reduced, its functions shuffled off on regional and local authorities that are then deprived of tax base by liberal "reform". The number of civil servants continues to be reduced (including teachers and school supervisory staff, and when violence breaks out in more "difficult" schools the government promises to send in the police, not that there are any more of those being hired either). This is management of the State in such a way that public services will run out of money and staff, will not work properly, will be unpopular, will wither and die.
A small example. There is a government research agency dealing with incomes and employment, the CERC. It was first set up in the '60s by De Gaulle after a report presented by Jacques Delors. Over the years, it has bothered governments (including Socialist) by the independent spirit of its well-documented reports. The right tried to do away with it once in the '90s, but the Jospin government reinstated it and appointed Jacques Delors to preside it. Since Sarko took over, retiring or leaving staff have not been replaced. This includes Delors and all the Board… There are now just two archivists left. (See, in French, Denis Clerc).
Cut off the sap, and let the branch wither and die. "Reform", There.Is.No.Alternative.
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