Thursday, June 28, 2007
Sarko The Generous
As promised, Nicolas Sarkozy just named a Socialist, Didier Migaud, to preside over the Parliament's Finance Commission (the French rough equivalent of the House Oversight Committee). Its president can demand audits and investigations of the government ministries, as well as refuse any legislative amendments that effect spending (ie. pork-barrel spending). As such, the position provides ample opportunity to interfere with the government's agenda, and this is the first time it has been offered to a member of the opposition. Needless to say, the PS has minimized the significance of the appointment, while Sarkozy's UMP has expressed its concern that it not be abused.
The move needs to be understood on two levels. Previously, the only way the opposition could block the government's agenda was to call for a vote of censure, or no-confidence. Obviously, that's only effective if a sizable portion of the majority is in open revolt against the government as well. Individual laws can also be referred to the Constitutional Council, but their decision is not guaranteed. So in offering the position to the Socialists, Sarkozy has, as he claims, expanded the institutional status of the opposition.
But it also reflects a classic Sarkozyian negotiating strategy. Namely, to make a concession that was not asked for as a conciliatory gesture, in order to strengthen his ability to demand the concessions he himself wants from his adversary later on. That way, in the event he ends up forcing his position through, he can always lay the blame on the other side's intransigence.
It's also meant to directly challenge the image of Sarkozy as a dangerous authoritarian who can't be trusted. By putting the ball in the Socialists' court, he's reframed the debate. He still holds all the levers of power, but the question becomes whether the Socialists will adopt an obstructionist position, or a cooperative one.