Murdering language

“Language is one area of culture that Nicolas Sarkozy can’t dominate,” complains Hélène Cixous in the Guardian, “so he mangles it with a calculated barbarity… You’ve got to see what he does to language. He mauls it, he beats it, he pummels it, he dismembers it. Pushing syncope to the limit, he swallows half the syllables and he spits the rest in his opponent’s face.”

I hate to put Global Dashboard in the embarrassing position of defending the vertically-challenged French President, but seriously? This from Hélène Cixous? Author of some of the worst linguistic atrocities ever perpetuated?

Pure I, identical to I-self, does not exist. I is always in difference. I is the open set of the trances of an I by definition changing, mobile, because living-speaking-thinking-dreaming. This truth should moreover make us prudent and modest in our judgements and our definitions. The difference is in us, in me, difference plays me (my play). And it is numerous: since it plays with me in me between me and me or I and myself. A “myself” which is the most intimate first name of You. I will never say often enough that the difference is not one, that there is never without the other, and that the charm of difference (beginning with sexual difference) is that it passes… [continues ad nauseam]

Really, really, really: not fair.

Sarkozy threat to pull France out of Euro?

Seems Nicolas Sarkozy, Global Dashboard’s favourite European leader, was in typically understated form during the recent Eurozone crisis summit:

Sarkozy demanded “a compromise from everyone to support Greece … or France would reconsider its position in the euro,” according to one source cited by El País.

“Sarkozy went as far as banging his fist on the table and threatening to leave the euro,” said one unnamed Socialist leader who was at the meeting with Zapatero. “That obliged Angela Merkel to bend and reach an agreement.”

Europe: don’t look to us when sterling collapses

UK reluctance to help with the Euro bailout has not gone down well at all:

Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the head of the French markets regulator, said sterling was bound to come under pressure on the markets given the delay in forming a UK government after last week’s inconclusive general election.

Mr Jouyet, a former Europe minister who is close to President Nicolas Sarkozy, indicated that Britain could expect no help from the eurozone.

“The British are most definitely going to be targeted given the political difficulties they have,” he told Europe1 radio. “If they don’t want solidarity with the eurozone, we will see what will happen with regard to the United Kingdom.”

Following its refusal to help its neighbours, Mr Jouyet said Britain had become a peripheral player in the bloc.

There was now a “three-speed Europe”, he said: “Europe of the euro, the Europe of countries that understand the euro, such as Poland and Sweden, and the British.”

Global Governance: a very French debate

This week, all the big ideas for the future of world order are coming from Frenchmen.  Here’s WTO Chief Pascal Lamy speaking in Brussels on how the EU should present itself in future G20 meetings (as recorded by Charlemagne):

“If one European takes the floor on one topic, and then another European takes the floor on the same topic, nobody listens. Nobody listens because either it’s the same thing and it gets boring, or it’s not the same thing and it will not influence the result at the end of the day….So the right solution, if I may, is at least to make sure that they speak with one mouth. Not one voice—one mouth—on each topic on the agenda. That would be a great improvement.”

If plodding Anglo-Saxons find this voice/mouth thing a bit too Gallic for comfort (they’ll be distinguishing the signifier and signified in EU policy next!) it’s really rather elegant: if lots of European leaders insist on going to G20 confabs they should “divvy up the agenda ahead of time, and agree that one leader would speak (and only one) on each topic in the name of the EU”.  In New York, meanwhile, President Sarkozy spoke on global governance at Columbia today, forsaking elegance for ambition:

“In the 21st century,” he said, “we cannot afford that only a handful of countries lead the way. India, Africa and Latin America represent 2.5 billion people, but have no permanent seats in the Security Council. On this trip, I am initiating a reform to have permanent members from every region of the world. We need this in order to tackle the global environmental and financial challenges we are facing.”

I’d like to tell you more about Sarkozy’s speech, but (i) he abandoned his prepared text, so we’re still waiting for a full transcript; (ii) almost every account of the event I’ve read so far has focused on how Carla looked.  Which was, if you must ask, good.

[Picture credit: Columbia’s Hoot.]

Update [David]: The Telegraph sees a conspiracy in something called asymmetrical translation:

The French version of the binding summit text, agreed on Thursday, used the original words “le gouvernement économique”.

To spare Mr Brown’s feelings, the English text used the more innocuous and less controversial term “economic governance”.

“There is no fundamental difference of view, but rather a sensitivity to certain words which has led to an asymmetrical translation,” remarked the EU president.

Incompetent multilateralism?

The Economist’s David Rennie asked a disturbing question last week: if Obama’s America can’t make soft power work, what hope does Europe have? His thesis is that Obama has followed just the sort of multilateral, engagement-before-confrontation type of strategy that the EU advocates, and been rebuffed by Iran, Israel, China, etc.  Meanwhile, Baroness Ashton and her fellow EU-builders still hanker after soft power…

But here is the question that I am starting to turn over in my mind.If our big bet in Europe is that speaking with one voice will make our norms-based, soft power approach work, what lessons should we draw when Mr Obama’s outstretched hand of friendship is smacked away? Because even in a perfect, parallel universe, in which the EU magically falls in line behind Catherine Ashton and the new EU diplomatic service, we will struggle to become one half as united as the American government is. Our 27 countries will always find it hard to match America when it comes to identifying and defending our interests. And though there can of course be differences in the messages sent out by the White House, the State Department, Congress and so on, in general America speaks with one voice to the outside world, in a way that the EU can barely hope to match.

And yet all that speaking with one voice, in defence of agreed, common interests, does not seem to shield the Obama administration from snubs.

This is an eloquent version of a problem that wonks who worry about multilateralism and transatlantic relations have been aware of for some time. The EU did a huge amount to sustain multilateral institutions during the Bush years, and benefited from playing good cop to Washington’s bad cop. Now Washington wants to be a good cop too, and European leaders feel vulnerable. If Obama’s strategy fails it won’t just discredit him, but the EU’s international approach since 2001 (or earlier).

Rennie quotes a European official who claims the problem isn’t the strategy, but the execution: the Americans are guilty of “incompetent multilateralism”. The implication is that, if only the U.S. applied its power with a little more European finesse, Obama would be in a better place right now. I’m not so sure. Continue reading

On the web: hung parliaments, Iran, the Euro’s plight, and the Queen as horizon scanner…

– With the UK election campaign under way in all but name, the FT’s Martin Wolf explains why he doesn’t fear a hung parliament – arguing that it might be just what’s needed to achieve fiscal restraint. “So poorly has single-party despotism governed the UK”, he suggests, “that I would welcome a coalition or, at worst, a minority government.” The Institute for Government, meanwhile answers all your hung parliament-related questions here, placing things in international and historical perspective.

– The Cable highlights the Obama administration’s key people on Iran. Richard Haass, meanwhile, suggests that the West’s strategy must do more to help the Iranian people – with the US and EU acting to “energise and lend rhetorical support to the opposition, helping it to communicate with the outside world”.

– Elsewhere, Der Spiegel profiles the five main risks to the Euro – namely Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Italy – assessing their economic woes. Charlemagne, meanwhile, interviews Cathy Ashton. And The Economist also has news that Dominique Strauss-Khan, current IMF head, is considering running against Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s 2012 presidential elections.

– Finally, this week saw a group of British Academy experts writing to the Queen about the failure to foresee the credit crunch – a follow-up to a question from the monarch at the LSE last summer. Their suggestion: the need for a better-coordinated government horizon scanning capacity – something that could take the form of a monthly economics briefing to the Queen, which would serve – as Professor Peter Hennessy has commented – to “sharpen minds” of officials. Read the full letter here (pdf).