The former French ambassador to Arslikhan, poet, admirer of Napoleon and now Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin "has set himself a target of 100 days to restore the confidence of the people, promising to make monthly accounts of his government's progress" according to the FT (and the BBC, Reuters etc.). There is no doubt that this is intended to be a reference to his hero's famous campaign of 100 days in 1815 so perhaps we should look and see whether de Villepin is likely to also suffer from a Waterloo-like defeat. As someone who lives a few hundred metres from the "Route Napoleon" between Cannes and Grasse, de Villepin is metaphorically passing my door as I write this so it seems suitable for me to look ahead towards de Villepin's 100th day and see what Alps, rebellious peasants, foreign armies and so on are likely to cause trouble.
Number one problem is that the 100 days are starting on the wrong date. 100 days from June 1st is mid September which means that de Villepin already faces a problem that about 60 of his 100 days are going to be absorbed by the entire nation heading off to my neck of the woods for "les vaccances". It is hard to get bureaucrats to do things quickly at the best of times and next to impossible when they are either preparing for their holidays, on holiday or recovering afterwards.
Not only does this rather restrict the number of days available for making progress in actions rather than words it also hints at one problem that de Villepin surely hopes does not recur - namely the canicule or heat-wave of 2003 and the resulting deaths of some 15,000 mainly elderly people. However the canicule is not just a potential problem as it was, indirectly, one of the reasons for the "non" vote in France. The Whitmonday holiday two weeks ago was supposed to be cancelled in order to fund measures to stop a repetition of the deaths and this cancellation was not exactly popular and contributed to the general feeling of discontent within the country.
If another canicule occurs, I have no doubt that there will be extensive coverage of government ministers and senior bureaucrats making Marie Antoinette like statements from their villas in St Tropez as well as a number of them failing to curtail their holidays to organize a response. To some extent this is fair enough - if things have been properly organised in advance then they should not need to personally coordinate things but, in politics, and especially in French politics, the government is supposed to be active in these kinds of situations and the action needs to be directed from the top.
In other internal affairs there is de Villepin's assumed rival for the 2007 presidency - Nicolas Sarkozy. Going on his daming with faint praises act while campaigning for the "Oui" vote in the referendum, Sarko is going to be taking every opportunity he can to contrast his down to earth competence and popular touch, especially towards "La France en Bas", with the elitist and more abstract de Villepin. Sarko will undoubtedly do things that need to be done which should be good, but he will undoubtedly take credit for them too and make it clear that he did them without help from de Villepin or Chirac.
Next is the fact that September is the traditional month for strikes (which hasn't stopped the train drivers from going on strike today) as the unions make their pitch for more government aid for something. De Villepin's priority is to reduce unemployment but 100 days containing two months of vacation is not going to make a dent in that issue either and any proposals made will only take effect after la rentrée when people return in September. Either de Villepin's proposals will upset the unions because they involve some sort of reform or they won't work, because only the communist morons running the main trades unions are unable to recognise that the 35 hour week and related labour restrictions are a major cause of unemployment.
Then there is foreign affairs. The Germans will be having an election about the time the 100 days expire and at the moment it seems likely that l'Escroc's dachshund will be replaced by the Prussian Angela Merkel. Coulld she become de Villepin's Blucher? Certainly the EU's future is going to be top of the agenda over the summer and while I regret that the "Anglo-Saxon" takeover of the EU is merely a French fantasy, the more we see debate on the EU the more clear it becomes that most of Europe does not want to pay for French ideas such as the airline tax, which even the European Commission thinks is a bad idea. We can also expect a less than cordial relationship with the Tony Blair, who is unlikely to forget de Villepin's fun and games during the run up to the Iraq invasion, and who will be rather important EU-wise since the UK takes over the EU presidency in July. At least one subject under discussion over the summer will be the future of further EU enlargement with Bulgaria and Romania due to join in 2007 and Turkey waiting impatiently in the wings along with the rest of former Yugoslavia, the Ukraine and Georgia. French rejection of Turkey, although justified by domestic oppinion, will definitely cause diplomatic problems and could help inflame the immigrant communities within France. If there is domestic unrest Sarko will undoubtedly crush any overt protests, but there is also no doubt that he will, as noted above, use such action as an opportunity to promote himself at the expense of de Villepin.
Finally, and related to foreign affairs, there is the Euro. Since the EU constitution has started unravelling, the Euro has weakened against the dollar. Normally this would be a good thing, but given that the Eurozone economies are practically in recession, it may be bad because, as the FT notes:
The beneficial currency effects would take many months to feed through, while the euro's fall might strengthen the ECB's determination not to cut rates, in spite of growing political pressure for such a move.
Combine this with the mutterings about the Eurozone growth and stability pact (which France will flagrantly ignore even in its revised form) and with the unhappiness in countries like the Netherlands about their Euro experiences and we could see a currency crisis sometime soon too. If such a crisis occurs France will undoubtedly be blamed for much of it and de Villepin will face attack from yet another direction.
Perhaps this explains why I titled the previous post about de Villepin as "The Short Straw".