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Under Chirac, France is slowly coming apart.


Blackleaf

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From the Wall Street Journal -

By AURELIEN VERON

PARIS -- France seems to be slowly coming apart. This is the depressing conclusion one arrives at when reading a recent report drafted by Michel Camdessus, the former president of the International Monetary Fund. But even more worrisome than the lackluster economy, structural rigidity and persistent social problems that Mr. Camdessus described is the absence of hope among the French people -- a complete lack of faith that the future might bring something better in what has become the last collectivist nation in the Western world.

With a centralized and hyper-bureaucratic public sector that swallows 55% of the country's gross national product, the burden of France's government is ranked 122 on the Fraser Institute's index of economic freedom. And even though President Jacques Chirac has been ruling the country since 2002 with a comfortable parliamentary majority and the desire for a more liberal economy has been making rapid progress within his party, nothing has changed for the better and the French nanny state is stronger than ever.

From early childhood on, a Frenchman walks into a centralized universe worthy of the late Soviet regime. Public schools boast a rigid structure inimical to learning, where all creativity and ambition are killed off. When Claude Allègre was minister of education in the administration of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, he talked about reforming the school system. The "mammoth needs to lose some weight," he said. Unfortunately, it is still being fed a high-calorie diet. Our institutes of "higher" education are not faring much better. A degree from France's public universities rarely leads to a productive professional career; the level of teaching, the resources and bureaucratic constraints are inadequate to such a task.

Then there is our chronic unemployment, which for the past 20 years has oscillated between 8.5% and 12%. The main victims are our youth, those between 15 and 24. Only 25% of this age group is employed, compared with 54% in the U.S. People stay unemployed over 16 months on average in France, while in the U.S. it's less than five months. No wonder the young feel so insecure and vulnerable.

Why is there so much sclerosis three years after the rise to power of a purportedly right-wing president who campaigned on a liberal platform? Far from accepting the inevitable demise of the welfare state, President Chirac has blocked the principal reforms that the silent majority here longs for. The infamous annual wealth tax, which reaches 1.8% of the value of one's property, wasn't changed, despite the continuing exodus of the very wealthy who are sick and tired of being subject to this confiscatory charge. The law limiting the work-week to 35 hours, a major drain on the economy, was hardly touched. Each year, Americans spend 23% more time on their jobs than French workers.

And the government hasn't even begun to tame the country's maddening bureaucracy. State-owned monopolies are largely shielded from competition. What little market liberalization has been achieved was only due to the pressure of the European Union.

Mr. Chirac himself appears to be closer and closer to the ideology of what we call the altermondialistes -- extreme-left antiglobalists. He has literally become their ambassador in offering the world that French specialty -- new taxes. Witness his recent proposal for a "solidarity tax" on financial transactions to raise funds for developing countries or his idea for a kerosene tax to fight poverty.

As a result of his primitive anti-Americanism and his rejection of free-market initiatives, Mr. Chirac now finds himself isolated in Europe. In the EU, a majority of countries see themselves as part of a Western world that spans the Atlantic and embraces a liberal world view.

Just recently the French president brought down the Bolkestein directive, which aimed to liberalize services within the EU. "Liberalism is as disastrous as Communism," Mr. Chirac proclaimed. The hostility toward the Bolkestein directive reached such a fever pitch that a furious President Chirac pressured state TV channel France 2 to cancel a debate on the EU constitution with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso because he had pushed hard for the service directive.

For the outside observer, it might appear that Mr. Chirac's Socialist and protectionist policies enjoy the support of a vast majority of the French people. At least that's the impression the unrepresentative but powerful clique of union leaders, who have taken the country hostage, wants to create. They do so by effectively mobilizing their falling union membership to take to the streets and shut down the country whenever the slightest reforms are being contemplated.

But gradually the French media had to take note of a "counterrevolutionary" development. While the term "libertarian" is not yet acceptable to everyone, the conviction that only liberty can bring progress and prosperity is slowly but surely making headway. In June 2003, during a wave of massive strikes against a minor government reform measure, tens of thousands of people, following Liberté Chérie's call, demonstrated in the streets of Paris in support of the reforms and against the reactionary forces who claim to represent and defend French interests. If a significant part of the public is not yet prepared to abandon the bundle of goodies that the state so generously distributes in the hope of maintaining social peace, an increasing number of French people are coming to realize the grim future that their leaders are preparing for them simply due to a lack of courage. They appear ready to support genuine reforms provided they are properly planned and reasonably proposed.

The French right, though, doesn't believe such reforms will ever materialize under a President Chirac. They are increasingly disillusioned and actually see him today as enemy No. 1. Their new beacon of hope is Nicolas Sarkozy, who took over the leadership of Mr. Chirac's UMP party last November. Mr. Sarkozy is an extremely popular politician who has never hidden his intention to run for president in 2007, whether or not Mr. Chirac offers his own candidacy for a third consecutive term. Mr. Sarkozy's apparent enthusiasm for liberalism and his more positive attitude toward trans-Atlantic relations have attracted a growing number of sympathizers in France, at least among those who understand that social justice and prosperity are threatened above all by costly collectivist solutions.

But Mr. Sarkozy's brief reign at the ministry of finance also exposed him as an apparent advocate of a planned economy, imposing price controls in supermarkets, giving large subsidies to old industries and regulating call centers. Such dirigiste instincts are not too surprising given that Mr. Sarkozy served Mr. Chirac over a period of 20 years before liberating himself from his mentor in 1995. It is still unclear whether it is liberalism or socialism that Mr. Sarkozy really believes in.

So what is France's option in this rather gloomy political landscape which, for the first time since the French revolution, lacks a traditional liberal party? Will there be a clear political alternative, one that advocates a freer and more dynamic nation where talent can thrive instead of being shackled by an overburdening state? Only two years remain to find out.

Mr. Véron is vice president of Liberté Chérie.

The Wall Street Journal

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Interesting article Blackleaf. thumbsup.gif

But Mr. Sarkozy's brief reign at the ministry of finance also exposed him as an apparent advocate of a planned economy, imposing price controls in supermarkets, giving large subsidies to old industries and regulating call centers.

Until they abandon this social ideology and embrace a more liberal stace I can't see how their situation will improve. hmm.gif

Edited by Tommy
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That country needs to grow a bit of a backbone...... sad.gif

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Chirac should be in jail any way ,if only the courts had as Girty said a bloody backbone no.gif

Hopefully this will be the que to get Chirac out of office and get in a person who can see the bigger picture and not the picture that Chirac is seeing today,that of France and nothing else,i could go on but even mentioning that name makes me sick angry.gif

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I could not agree with you more, Warden. OMG we agree on something. Mark your calenders, folks! grin2.gif

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I could not agree with you more, Warden. OMG we agree on something. Mark your calenders, folks!  grin2.gif

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And with that i am going to put on my lottery ticket this week

That is your good self, Talon.s and a few others i have agreed with.i must remember to keep taking my medication tongue.gif

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And we will never forget the fact that Chirac was a big personal buddy of Saddam and gave him all he asked for on silver plates while he was the prime minister in the 80s! Remember how upset he was when the Americans decided to finally get rid of his friend from Baghdad? He even went as far as threatening them with his veto in the UN's security council! You've got to give him credit for his 'fidelity' towards his old friends though!

I feel sorry for the people of France who had to vote him in because otherwise they would have had some fanatic like Le Pen take over their beautiful country. Even the French socialists and communists had to wear their gloves and vote for him! I think France needs a new Republic, the present one is leading nowhere but to more contradictions for the French society and the rest of the world!

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Yup! France lost quite a bit of money when Saddam was taken down. I understand why they are p***ed. And yes, France needs a republic, one that works like republic and not a capitalists freak show.

[EDIT-removed redundant quote, no need to quote the entire post above]

Edited by Tommy
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Viva la girty and Zeph thumbsup.gif well said

Have you noticed there are hardly if any french people on this Site blink.gif

[edit - removed redundant quote]

Edited by Tommy
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