Tag Archives: France

Dominique Strauss Kahn Back in France

Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), the former Head of the International Monetary Fund, and, until May this year, French Socialist Party frontrunner for the presidential nomination, was interviewed on primetime French television (TF1, 8p.m. News) on 18 September, 2011. It was the first time he had given his side of the story since May 2011, after his arrest on suspicion of the attempted rape and violent sexual assault of a chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo, in a hotel room in New York. By September, many commentators were beginning to say that too much time was being spent on this story. And yet over 13 million people watched the 8 o’clock news on 18 September.

In fact, France has been talking about this and related issues absolutely non-stop since May: about Strauss-Kahn, about the US, about France, about the two judicial systems, about the huge cultural differences, about punitive justice, voyeuristic and sexually obsessed/repressed Protestant America versus a more libertine France, about whether the US’ thinking that the French were a bunch of low life reprobates might have some truth in it, about gender relations, about the male psyche; psychoanalytic interpretations were everywhere – the most bizarre, that this forced sexual act was because, unconsciously, DSK didn’t want to become President (that really it was his wife who wanted him to be President…), and this was a way of ‘auto-destructing’ his career. One can think of less cataclysmic ways of changing careers. For the interview, the charming Claire Chazal (the French Fiona Bruce), a friend of Anne Sinclair, DSK’s wife, took useless questioning to new heights of blandness (and in France’s anodyne interviewing tradition, that’s saying something); although Chazal’s elegance lent a certain female/feminine atmosphere to this unpleasant discussion of sexual assault – something DSK always denied. If it had been a man, for example, Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, the tone would have been even less bearable. So, from the long-awaited interview, what was DSK’s side of the story? Well, we still don’t know what happened. He had by him and waved several times, the report by Cyrus Vance, the prosecuting judge, as if it was a text exonerating him. It didn’t. It simply said there was not enough evidence to proceed. Understandably for DSK – one wrong word, one misunderstood phrase, the slightest expression of arrogance or anger, and he would have been very vulnerable, for this interview was all about DSK’s image. The whole interview and its choice of words had been, clearly, very thoroughly rehearsed. And with that proviso, it was an effective piece of theatre; one also took from the performance that he would have made a formidable presidential candidate. He gave the very strong impression that he believed he did nothing criminal. Though he did do something wrong. And the interview took the form of the very un-French line of the ‘confessional’. He had committed a ‘faute morale’, he said more than once. We are still not sure what the ‘faute’ actually was, but assume it was having sudden and spontaneous oral sex with a complete stranger. He said he was now aware of the people he had hurt, what he had lost – a ‘lightness’ – an innocence?? – he would never feel again, what he had learned, etc.. This was pure Oprah, pure Bill Clinton. Although one has to say that the issues involved here differ significantly from Clinton’s affair with a White House intern. Even if DSK is innocent of any crime, when one compares the two cases – although one would never have imagined saying so at the time – Bill Clinton’s Oval Office liaison with Monica Lewinsky between 1995 and 1997 seems positively romantic compared to the DSK affair. This rather cringe-making American-style confessional was probably necessary to DSK’s re-entry into French life, and without a doubt was imposed by the demands of the French media and public. So, DSK’s ‘faute morale’ perhaps enabled him to slide away from the idea of violence to that of a momentary act of moral weakness, of (typical) male stupidity. From a crime to a sin. For which he sought – From his wife?  From his family? From the French? Absolution. In fact, with the Vance text as a prop, DSK seemed to be absolving DSK. He even implied, with his supportive interlocutor’s help (‘Vous n’accusez pas?’) that it might all have been a plot to entrap him. By whom? One thinks of Diallo and her friends, or perhaps the US authorities (and was the hotel management involved?), or perhaps the French authorities even… ‘We shall see’, said DSK. So perhaps we shall, though perhaps should not hold our breath. For DSK, however, there are more allegations to come of other assaults (from Tristane Banon, for example).  In the context of the possible ‘sting’ operation alluded to, what was not developed in the discussion was the idea that DSK’s long established reputation as, at best, a libertine made him perhaps an ideal target. Well, if it was a plot, it worked. The career of one of the most influential men in the world, and the likely next President of the French Republic is in ruins, because of a moment of folly in a hotel room. He could have faced decades in a US prison. But from his interview with Chazal, you would have been forgiven if you forgot this. Somewhat indecently for such a moment of contrition, the interview moved on to the problems of the Greek bailout and the European and world economy, and suddenly it was like a different interview with a different man. It is true that DSK’s presidential hopes have been shattered by what happened in New York, but the way in which he glided from personal contrition to world affairs suggests this is not the end of his career at all. We may be looking at not the next President, but perhaps at the next Prime Minister.

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Why Nicolas Sarkozy won’t run for President next year

Well he might, in fact he probably will, but there are several very good reasons why he might not. The opinion polls, once buoyant, have been cruel to Sarkozy almost since the night he was elected in 2007. Already, when he was elected, there was a view that he would get things done, but still a lingering feeling that he didn’t quite have what the Americans call presidential ‘character’; the feeling that he didn’t quite have the stature. This view is now universal. Since the celebration meal at Fouquet’s with his rich and powerful friends, the sinking opinion polls have been relentless. He is too bling. He’s more noisy than effective. He pushes in everywhere. He’s rude. He’s embarrassing. He twitches with the barely repressed impatience of a hyperactive, attention-seeking adolescent.

Perhaps, for one so driven, so egocentric, so furiously obsessed with winning, the very real prospect he might lose is too much. Narcissism is a dangerous and delicate condition. And he never stops saying he can always do something else. And he can. Hecould make lots of money like Clinton or Blair, or become an international statesman, like them and others.
He spent 30 years getting there. He did it. In 2007 he got to the top of the mountain. Does he really need to try and scale another one? Surely it is far better to walk away and say he did what was necessary, he shook the old country up, upset every vested interest, dragged France, kicking and screaming, and shoved it properly into the 21st century.
Another reason is that even if he did win, imagine another five years of awful opinion polls. Because that’s what it will be. Whoever takes the helm, it will probably be a gruelling five years from every perspective – the economic, political, and social. Every institution and vested interest in France – health, education, social welfare, is in for an upheaval.
Funnily enough too, Sarkozy could come back at the end of that period as the Cassandra spurned, and win again, and begin a triumphant new term in 2017; retake the prize, wiser, more experienced, even providential, and still only 64.
But you will say that there is absolutely no one else on the centre right who could win even against the weakest of socialist candidates. And a weak candidate could open a royal road for the, increasingly popular, far right Marine Le Pen. France’s reputation in the world is pretty battered right now as it is. So there is no other candidate. Or is there? For four years, Sarkozy has ignored, embarrassed, humiliated, and walked all over his prime minister, François Fillon. And yet he still has not replaced him, while Fillon has governed as best he can in difficult circumstances. It seems almost like a cunning plan. Sarkozy finished. Enter Fillon to take up the torch for the right. He would be supported right across the spectrum from the social Gaullists to the neo-liberals, as he stepped forward, from his trials and tribulations to embrace – like all France’s heroes – his destiny. Sarko can’t win, but his camp can.

But suddenly, in May-June 2011, thepresidential hopes of Sarko’s strongest potential opponent, Dominique Strauss-Kahn lie shattered… . And the beautiful Carla is having a doubtless beautiful baby, particularly if the Italian genes dominate. Sarkozy, President once again, could raise celebrity culture to the mythical heights of Kennedy’s Camelot… . Perhaps he will run after all.

Welcome to our new MA students

We are very pleased to welcome our new cohort of twelve Masters students this year. The students are taking part on the programme MA EU and International Relations, and the Double MA programme which is offered jointly with the Institut d’Etudes Politiques Lille. This semester’s lectures on European Security, International Relations and Research Methods have started, and the group is hard at already work in their MA students’ office, preparing their readings and class discussions.

This week, we will also welcome our new postgraduate student from Albania, who is taking part on our Professional Development course through a specially designed one semester programme for students from the European University Tirana. The students on this programme will take part in MA-level classes and will begin to prepare their MA thesis, before returning home to complete their degree.

In other MA student news, Luke John Davis (MA EU and International Relations in 2009-2010), has just returned from a Youth in Action Conference in Belgrade, Serbia, where he discussed problems of European integration with other students from across Europe.

Welcome to Aston Centre for Europe

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Welcome to the Aston Centre for Europe blog!

Aston Centre for Europe has had an exciting year.  We have grown in size, won research and event funding and put on a series of interesting events. Over the last twelve months, we’ve hosted  high level speakers who addressed our audiences on a diverse range of topics.

In December 2009, we started with the first of our series of events funded by the European Commission. We discussed the European parliament with Prof Simon Hix as the keynote speaker, with Gisela Stuart MP, Malcolm Harbour MEP, Phil Bennion (Liberal Democrat MEP candidate), and David Harley (former Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament and a practitioner fellow of Aston Centre for Europe) taking part in the debate.

In April 2010 we hosted a conference on the Legacies of 1989, another European Commissions funded event, which examined democratic change in Eastern Europe. We were very privileged to hear Sir Christopher Mallaby, former British Ambassador to East Germany, Prof Alan Mayhew (Sussex) and Prof George Kolankiewicz (UCL) who provided a fascinating insight into the twenty years of democratic change in Eastern Europe.

Our final event of the academic year was a high level conference on Green Growth and Sustainability.  The conference was funded by the European Commission and we worked very closely with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. At the conference we heard from Ian Robertson (BMW AG), Peter Vis, (Head of Cabinet to European Commissioner for Climate Action), Fiona Harvey (Financial Times), Prof David Bailey (Coventry University), Naresh Kumar (Rolls Royce), Chris White MP and Paul Tilsley (Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council) amongst many other notable speakers.

In between the larger conferences, we kept busy hosting smaller lectures and guest speakers.  We discussed the Cambodian genocide with Denise Affonco; examined the reasons behind global conflicts with Prof Daniel Chirot (University of Washington); talked about Eand examined the future of the Euro with David Marsh, and discussed population change with Prof Jane Falkingham during the British Science Festival 2010.

Our series of exciting events and lectures continues this year. To make sure you keep up to date with the latest, join our email list by sending us your details to europe@aston.ac.uk