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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidents...and presidents

Yesterday I watched Sarkozy’s opening speech of the French Presidential campaign which he delivered to 10,000 faithful at Marseilles. A stirring event – like 2 previous he delivered recently before he actually declared his official candidacy. So far I haven’t seen Hollande on TV5. Both candidates are up against a strong National Front challenge – so hardly surprising that Sarkozy’s speech was virulently nationalist -
Aimer la France, c'est refuser d'accepter les 35 heures (the working week which Sarkozy has tried to break) c'est refuser de promettre la retraite à 60 ans (...) c'est refuser d'augmenter les dépenses et d'augmenter les impôts en pleine crise de la dette (...) c'est refuser d'aborder l'immigration par la seule posture idéologique", a-t-il lancé.  « Quand on aime la France, on n'est pas du côté de ceux qui, pour défendre leurs intérêts, bloquent le pays et prennent les Français en otage (...) on a l'obsession de ne pas l'affaiblir (...) on dit la vérité aux Français sur ce que l'on veut faire, sinon on jette le discrédit sur la parole publique", a poursuivi le chef de l'Etat sous les applaudissements. (Liberation)
"Je me souviens qu'au début, j'ai fait de la politique parce que je voulais agir, je voulais résoudre des problèmes, je voulais aider les gens à surmonter leurs difficultés, a poursuivi le candidat de l'UMP. Mais en me tournant sur toutes ces années, j'ai compris que le combat essentiel, c'est celui que l'on mène pour le pays qui nous a vu naître. Il n' y a pas un seul combat qui soit supérieur à celui qui mène pour son pays." (Le Monde)
For a detailed assessment of the policy platforms, we have to go to a blog which actually gives us a useful insight into the socialist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon who is also running and attracting about 8% in the polls at the moment and whose manifesto is apparently a best-seller

The German Presidency is, as they say, "honorific” – and, with both of the last 2 incumbents having to resign, there are those who suggest the post is unecessary. This is to disregard the moral authority which incumbents such as Richard von Weizsacker and Johannes Rau brought to the country. Weizsacker was a Christian Democract and President 1984-1994 and West Berlin Mayor 1981-84. Rau was a Social Democrat; President 1999-2004 and Head of the huge RheinWestphalen Land (Region) from 1978-98.
I was spellbound listening to the speeches of the former as he made his famous gentle and highly civilised commentaries. A Foreign Affairs review expressed it well -
More than any of his predecessors in the presidential office, he has used that supraparty position to address fundamental issues, such as the ever-present unease about the German past, and he does so with clarity and admirable forthrightness. He has what few statesmen nowadays have: moral authority, and in his book-with its intelligent interlocutors-he turns from the past to the present and the future. His greatest worry concerns the vitality of liberal democracy in the enlarged Federal Republic, particularly in light of the power of German political parties in politics and public life generally-their power and the paucity of their imagination, the failure of their leadership. He is remarkably candid in his criticism of parties that only seek electoral gain and calls for a more active citizenry and regrets the immobility of Germany's political life, "the Utopia of the status quo." German commentators have seized on formulations that clearly hit the inadequacies of the present government, but these are incidental and inevitable. Weizsäcker's criticisms go far deeper. It took courage and, I suppose, the deepest concern to disturb the political complacency of his country and to do so with thoughts that in the German context and in some parts recall conservative criticisms of the Weimar period. But Weizsäcker's aim to strengthen, to vitalize liberal democracy is beyond question.
Johannes Rau was a son of a Lutheran priest and this showed in his approach. You can see a speech here which he delivered to the Israeli Knesset, the first German to address it.

I was lucky enough to meet both of these men informally and can therefore vouch personally for the humility they brought to their role. Weizsacker was holidying in Scotland and popped in quietly to pay his respects to the leader of the Regional Council. As the (elected) Secretary to the majority party, I had private access to the Leader’s office and stumbled in on their meeting. Rau I also stumbled across when in a Duisberg hotel on Council business. He was not then the President – but I recognised him when he came in with his wife and a couple of assistants, introduced myself ( as a fellow social democrat); gave him a gift book on my Region which I happened to be carrying and was rewarded with a chat.

I am glad to see that, with the nomination of Glauk, Germany seems now to be returning to its tradition of Presidents with moral authority. The German political system seems to me one of the best - with the leaders of strong Laender in the 2nd chamber acting as a responsible challenge to the Executive. Typical that, despite all the so-called discussion which has been going on for several decades about the reform of the British second chamber, this option has never been presented forcibly..... 

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