Delors keeps his secret

November 25, 1994

France's best-kept publishing secret of the year -- a book on Jacques Delors in the build-up to the presidential election -- took Paris by surprise last week.

It was the work of an academic, Dominique Wolton, sociologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and a specialist in communication and media studies.

His book, Jacques Delors: L'Unite d'un Homme, takes the form of a lengthy dialogue spanning questions of social commitment, democracy, Europe and the role of moral values.

The one question not posed is whether Delors will run for president next year.

While the governing right-wing parties are tearing each other apart with rival candidacies, Delors remains mute on whether he will stand for the left. His silence is winning him every-stronger backing from the formerly divided Socialist Party and an outright lead in opinion polls.

The book has led to intense media coverage of Delors and his ideas, without opening him to attack from the right because he is not yet directly promoting a political platform.

Wolton denies that his aim was to launch a candidate. "It is the ideas rather than the man that I wanted to put forward in the political debate. My project was political in a broad sense: to give politics the benefit of scientific logic," he said.

But the researcher admits he could not have combined academic and political involvement in the project if he did not support most of Delors's ideas.

"Delors is unusual in that he first looks at a social issue, then seeks a political response. It is a more intellectual approach than most politicians who apply political theory to society, an interesting approach for a sociologist," he said.

Throughout the work, Wolton stresses the consistency of Delors's positions on economic and social issues, work, welfare and the role of trade unions over the decades.

"Sociologists have been studying the break-up of the social fabric for years. In politics, talk of the family, of work, of moral values, had become archaic -- but Delors gives them a new impetus," said Wolton.

They are central to Delors's policies, with a social-democrat focus and strong insistence on full involvement of labour organisations in policy-making.

One area in which Delors calls for more union involvement is education. He says the idea of a life-time "education voucher" should be re-examined, but not without union involvement in work-place education and training policy.

Such involvement would ensure "the demands of production" would be balanced with the "interests and aspirations" of workers.

Delors is extremely sceptical of the effects of mass higher education, which he says leaves many young people feeling failures. "I have always opposed constant upwards aspiration, as though lengthening years of study and giving the baccalaureate to 80 per cent of young people guaranteed more equal opportunities or training better adapted to the times," he argues.

Delors's own experience of mass higher education came when he was an associate professor at Paris-Dauphine University in the 1970s.

"It was my first shock . . . I had the impression it was a factory churning out classes," he recalls, contrasting it to British and United States universities, where professors had just 20 or so students "almost living together in an atmosphere of cross-fertilisation".

He admits his ideas on education had changed, from concern 20 years ago that courses were not sufficiently adapted to the economy, to worry now that universities are not free enough to carry out their "civilising mission".

While Delors at some points in the book indicates what political action he would favour to bring about change, its formula aims to set out his ideas, not to pin down a set of policies for government.

Both Delors and Wolton argue that this approach aims to spur in-depth discussion of complex issues instead of "fast-food politics" and "instant answers".

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