It is a tiresome and ignorant misconception that that French are a nation without backbone and with a history of surrender. The history of this great nation is littered with examples of incredible moral and individual fortitude in the face of unimaginable adversity from the battles of Orleans and Valmy to Verdun and the Free French Resistance. Because of this it is surprising and disappointing that as the dust settles on a nation swept by democratic fervour it begins to appear increasingly clear that the people of France have chosen the easy option and have forsaken future generations for immediate comforts.
I don’t intend to be an apologist for Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy was the victim of his own hubris. Massively underestimating Hollande led to his failure to land a decisive blow during the one on one debate, a debate which should by all past evidence have been his best shot at victory, and his comportment throughout his presidency smacked of a man out of touch with his people and unable, or unwilling, to make clear the necessity and the urgency of the changes he attempted to implement.
It is generally understood that the French are a people who enjoy their comforts. They have been fortunate that their unparalleled tourist industry and culture of innovation have made up for a slightly lacklustre attitude to work. Indeed the French work shorter weeks than almost anyone else in the world but in the past they have been able to make up for this with incredible efficiency in what little time they did spend working. Changing trends in France, a country facing an identity crisis, have made it an imperative that the French drastically reform their economic practices. France is struggling on a different level from her European neighbours. This struggle is multi-faceted and reaches into the very essence of French society and identity.
Primarily it is problematic for France that her economy remains so strongly restrained by a political culture which is so far to the left so as to be almost impossible for Canadian observers to identify with. Tax rates in France are crippling, which leads to a system where only those who are already rich can really become a part of the productive class. New start-up companies in France are incredibly rare as regulation makes it all but impossible for them to compete with more established competition. The French financial sector is so hampered by regulation that it could never realistically compete with the City of London and socialist policies have created an environment which shares many of the defects of Greece. France is sliding quickly towards a situation where the productive class will be totally squeezed out and replaced by two interdependent entities; the bureaucracy and the welfare state. However one looks at it the French immigration system is producing only disastrous results.
For all his faults, Sarkozy at least was a man prepared to acknowledge these massive defects and was moving in the right direction to remedy them. He was aware that France suffered from an anti-business environment and endeavoured to improve trade relations with Germany, the U.S.A and multilaterally through the E.U. Within the framework of this same E.U he rose to become an important figure and his relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel afforded him enough influence to push French interests close to the top of the pile. He also knew that the retirement age surely had to be raised to a more reasonable level and was principled enough to do this in spite of the harm it caused his re-election bid.
He was a man roundly criticized for seeing himself as a celebrity and being generally arrogant and elitist. But the reality is that Nicolas Sarkozy was a man with an ambition to modernize France and to save it from its own decadent self-destruction. He knew full well that rising retirement ages would be unpopular and that taking on the bloated welfare state would lead to his being perceived as a defender of the rich but more than anything he understood that the question of immigration was an existential one.
France is a country, like America, founded on strong principles including secularism and equality for all. Because of this, it finds itself diametrically opposed with the values of some immigrant communities. French immigration and the failure to enforce France’s laws and values within certain communities have had some horrific effects. In some suburbs of Paris, young women have been gang-raped by groups of young North African Muslim men for daring to walk the streets with makeup or without a male chaperone. Whatever reason you may ascribe to this sort of conduct, it is evident that the French immigration system is broken and whether or not you agree with Sarkozy and his “tu l’aime ou tu le quitte” approach, it is clearly preferable to Hollande’s refusal to acknowledge that there is a problem at all.
This refusal is emblematic of the socialist party leader-come President. He ran as the soft option. This was the man who promised to give the French their easy lives with their well protected jobs and their short work weeks until their long retirements. This was the man who told the people that they shared no part of the blame for the recession and that it must all have been the fault of evil bankers. France’s top earners will be taxed 75% in order to finance the inertia of the larger population. This man may reject all austerity but beyond this he rejects the notion that there are any systematic problems in France. The election of this man to the presidency of this great republic represents a surrender of the future for France made for the price of laziness and comfort today. For once the stereotypes are right about the French and our only hope is that Hollande’s weakness as a man will lead to his being steamrolled into concessions by Sarkozy’s old friend Angela Merkel. How ironic that it must now be the Germans who save France from itself.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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