The Economist liet deze week zijn licht schijnen over de Franse presidentsverkiezingen. Als alternatief voor het "declinisme" (of het "ninisme" van Chirac) dromen ze van een "Madame Tatcher" die de publieke sector saneert (lees: decimeert) en de deuren opengooit voor de privé. Volgens het gezaghebbende Britse blad bestaat er weldegelijk een voedingsbodem in het land voor een neo-liberaal beleid... (voor alle duidelijkheid, het volgende stuk reflecteert geenszins mijn mening, maar het is interessant om eens aan de andere kant van de muur te kijken).
What France needs
Oct 26th 2006
From The Economist print edition
France is in a similar funk to Britain in the 1970s: a Madame Thatcher could restore its confidence
THERE is a palpably sour mood in France these days. As Jacques Chirac enters the twilight months of his 11th and (surely) final year as president, he is the most unpopular occupant of the Elysée Palace in the fifth republic's history. The government of his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, has been paralysed ever since street protests forced it to withdraw a modest labour-market reform in the spring. The French have invented a buzzword: declinism, summing up the belief that the country is unreformable.
France matters. It is the world's sixth-biggest economy, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a declared nuclear power. It was a founder of today's European Union, a driving force behind the creation of the single currency and—despite French voters' rejection of the draft EU constitution in May 2005—a longstanding promoter of deeper European integration. It is in part thanks to France's paralysis that the union is itself so uncertain of its direction. That is why Europe and the world are watching with close interest as the campaign for next spring's presidential election unfolds.
Our survey this week explains the gloomy background to that election. For ten years in a row, the economy has grown by less than the rich-country OECD average. The public finances are looking wobbly: public spending accounts for half of GDP, and in the past ten years the public debt has increased faster as a share of GDP in France than in any other EU-15 country. Above all, France suffers from stubbornly entrenched unemployment, which seems stuck at 8-10% overall, and over 20% for the young. It was chronic joblessness, as much as anything else, that lay behind the riots and car-burnings that exploded in the banlieues of Paris, heavily populated by disaffected Muslim youths, exactly a year ago. Today, these neighbourhoods remain tense: 21,000 vehicles were burned in the first six months of this year alone—twice as many as during the three weeks of rioting. A sense of exclusion lingers.
It's not impossible
Yet France is a country of contradictions. Its economy may be sluggish, but its workers are among the world's most productive. Its people are famously leery of globalisation and economic liberalism, yet France boasts some of the world's most successful multinational companies. Its public sector may be bloated and its tax burden excessive, yet the quality of its public officials is widely admired. Its mass-education universities come deservedly low in the world rankings, yet Paris's famous grandes écoles are among the best in the world. In short, France is a place in which, for almost every weakness, it is possible to find a matching strength.
The question is whether France can now build on these strengths by bringing in pro-competitive reforms—to its labour market, to its protected utilities and public monopolies, to its social model, to its public services and to its stifling regulatory system. There are reasons to be optimistic. Many of France's impressive businessmen are demanding change. The country's demographic outlook is healthier than its neighbours. Because it is less dependent on manufacturing than Germany, Italy and Spain, France has less to fear from low-cost Asian competition. It will always be hard to get reforms past the gauntlet of France's street protesters. But at least the government is not hobbled by the scratchy coalition politics that bedevils all attempts at reform in Germany and Italy.
And others have led the way. World-weary French commentators sometimes maintain that only smaller, more homogenous countries, such as Ireland, Finland, Denmark or the Netherlands can reform. But Spain has opened up its economy and Canada has restored its public finances. And look across the channel: in the 1970s Britain was suffering from declinism too. Many said that the trade unions were too strong, that reform was impossible. After all, one prime minister, Edward Heath, had made a valiant attempt at change in 1970-72, only to be unseated by a miners' strike—rather as Alain Juppé's bold reforms in 1995-97 were overturned by street protests. And yet after 1979 Margaret Thatcher showed that a determined government could shake up a sclerotic economy (and defeat the miners). It was a matter of leadership, above all.
The choices in spring
The real issue is not whether France is reformable—for the answer must be yes. It is whether there is a Madame Thatcher who has the courage to take on vested interests. The prognosis is not encouraging. On the left, three candidates will contest the Socialist Party's presidential nomination on November 16th. Even the most moderate, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has signed up to an old-style socialist programme. Another, Laurent Fabius, has refashioned himself as a champion of the people against “hypercapitalism”. The front-runner and supposed moderniser, Ségolène Royal, has criticised the absurd rules on a 35-hour working week—but only for giving employers too much power over workers. On the right, Nicolas Sarkozy, the hyperactive interior minister, looks more promising. He preaches a “rupture” with past policies and an overhaul of the “social model”. Yet he was an interventionist finance minister with no apparent love for free markets, and has recently sounded softer on the need for radical reform.
Unpromising material, but then France's dame or homme de fer does not need to be quite as ironclad as the former British prime minister. When Mrs (now Lady) Thatcher embarked on her mission to convert Britons to the joys of wealth creation, Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union and many still dreamed of a socialist Utopia. By contrast, France's hostility towards capitalism may be skin-deep—kept alive chiefly because politicians like Mr Chirac pander to it instead of confronting the French public sector with the realities of a global economy in which its private sector flourishes.
In Britain, where the private sector was much weaker, it took nearly two decades to turn around the economy. If the next French president can push through the reforms needed to restore the country's competitiveness, France could rebound far more quickly than the déclinologues assert.(bron: http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_RDRDSVP)