While Captain Ed aks, Will France Abandon Socialism? and the London Telegraph says that a Taste of Right is proving irresistible to French, I believe the French won’t readily embrace anything resembling a capitalist system; their approach is more like this (emphasis added):
“We don’t want your Anglo-Saxon system but we can’t go on like this.”
In an article about Segolene Royal, The Beeb points out that
Employment, or rather the lack of it, is one of the main issues in this campaign.
Mr Sarkozy has promised to make the French “value” hard work again, criticising France for working fewer hours than any other European nation.
The Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has pledged a higher minimum wage, along with a new form of youth job contract, to ensure that the young in France have a chance of entering the tough job market that all but the best-qualified feel excluded from.
That is, Royal proposes measures that increase the number of the unemployed: a higher minumum salary makes it cost-prohivitive to hire unskilled workers, and so do the employment contract.
I have yet to find any French candidate at all that would even dare suggest doing away with the employment contracts. Anyone doing so would be symbolically drawn and quartered – the French are big on symbollism.
Fear is the common denominator in the French presidential elections. Fear trumps plan or project as the real winning argument in a country largely afraid of change.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who once called the French social model a sham, runs against the fear he would demolish its cherished ethos of comfort in order to install harsh (and not-so-French) standards of risk, accountability and competition for all.
Ségolène Royal, who has promised France something close to a painless, spiritual overhaul, but without much supporting detail or coherence, must confront voters’ fears that she is in over her head – not competent enough to run a very important and complex country.
That’s not to mention the fear and loathing surrounding the right-wing extremist, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Or the concern about François Bayrou, the centrist whose big pitch is being none of the other main candidates, but who the French fear would never be able to put together a workable government or parliamentary majority.
This generalization of fear is not necessarily symmetrical. Sarkozy’s views on immigrants’ being required to train in French identity have gotten more attention than Royal’s bloopers on foreign policy. But fear’s place as the election’s hardest currency has had two certain effects:
It has removed the necessity for big changes in French life as the essential focus of the election. And if Sarkozy and Royal, as the polls suggest, advance through Sunday’s first round of voting, it points to a miserable, recriminatory runoff May 6.
Christopher Hitchens observes,
All this comes at a time when the French political elite is discredited and enervated to an amazing degree. There is general agreement that the country cannot afford any more featherbedding, but the Socialist program is only the most egregious in promising to pay people more than they earn. Anti-Americanism has reached a point of diminishing returns. A society that has benefited hugely from EU subsidies now resents the very bureaucracy at whose tit it has so long nursed. Amazing insularity is demonstrated in almost every presidential debate, with Mme. Royale the most astonishing in her apparent innocence of a world beyond the landlocked French district of Poitou of which she is regional president. (In the latest of many gaffe-strewn interviews, she seemed to be blissfully unaware that the Taliban was no longer the official government of Afghanistan. And which French Socialist does not know how to snigger at George Bush for his lack of sophistication in foreign affairs!)
Meanwhile The Economist has Sarko as Napoleon on the cover. Sarko actually looks pretty good in the tricorne (Is that a tricorne? I’m not sure):
After a quarter-century of drift Nicolas Sarkozy offers the best hope of reform
This election matters. France is the euro zone’s second-biggest member and home to ten of Europe’s 50 biggest companies. But it is deeply troubled. It has the slowest-growing large economy in Europe, a state that soaks up half of GDP, the fastest-rising public debt in western Europe over the past ten years and, above all, entrenched high unemployment. Over the past 25 years French GDP per person has declined from seventh-highest in the world to 17th. The smouldering mood of the suburbs (banlieues), home to many jobless youths from ethnic minorities, blazed into riots in 2005 and lay behind new trouble that flared recently at a Paris railway station. The disenchantment of voters is reflected not only in opinion polls but also in their rejection of the European Union constitution in 2005. Tellingly, they have not re-elected an incumbent government for a quarter-century.
The most urgent cure for all these ills is to get the economy growing faster. That requires radical liberalisation of labour and product markets, more competition and less protection, lower taxes and cuts in public spending, plus a shake-up of the coddled public services. None of these things was seriously tackled in the past 26 years, under the presidencies of François Mitterrand, from the left, and Jacques Chirac, from the right. This was a time when other European countries, such as Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Nordics, transformed themselves for the better, and still largely retained their cherished social models and welfare systems. Here lies the biggest challenge for the next French president.