As France’s dispute over labour market reform intensifies, has the country become ungovernable?

The dispute over labour market reform has escalated in recent days (Source: Getty)

Dr Dylan Kissane, who works at DOZ in Lyon, France, says Yes.

France is in the midst of a fuel shortage, widespread transport shutdowns, and a wave of increasingly violent anti-reform protests culminating recently in the firebombing of an occupied police vehicle. Clashes between riot police, masked demonstrators, and burning cars are now commonplace on the evening news. And almost every morning we wake to reports of just how much damage has been done to businesses and private property the night before. But perhaps the worst thing is the incredibly blasé attitude that the French government has taken to this wave of unrest. President Francois Hollande and his ministers have responded with the weakest of Gallic shrugs as if their inability to imagine a solution to the current crisis is the functional equivalent of there being no solution. The government knows that stopping the riots and strikes is politically unpalatable and so it allows them to continue. The weakness at the top trickles down, rendering the entire country functionally ungovernable and primed for collapse.

Denis MacShane, a senior adviser at Avisa Partners, Brussels who latest book is Let’s Stay Together. Why Yes to Europe is published by IB Tauris, says No.

France has one of the best systems of governance in the world, but the worst system of politics in Europe. Time and again, French politics shows it is incapable of providing the leadership that persuades citizens to do things differently. France can do revolutions. It cannot do reform. There was no politician more dominant in Europe than General de Gaulle – until May 1968 exploded and brought his era to an end. After 1995, Alain Juppé, a centre-right prime minister, tried to bring in similar reforms to those that the centre-left prime minister, Manuel Valls, is seeking to introduce now. The result was a social explosion and the arrival of Lionel Jospin’s socialist government in 1997. In the past, France had Bourbon kings and today it has Bourbon trade unions. Both have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Yet France has better healthcare, schools, productivity and public services than the UK. Maybe it doesn’t need politicians.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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