Although I now live in China, I worked in France for 26 years, and have a lot of affection for the country and its people. Like Allister Heath, I feel sad to see the country going down the drain because it cannot rid itself of socialist dogma.
The problem is that France is paralysed by the post-war notion of the “partenaires sociaux” and the influence of the unions. Although they no longer represent any substantial part of the working population, France’s unions have a say in everything, whether it be pensions, health coverage, or many other aspects of life.
In fact, everyone is categorised into these little boxes. Francois Hollande views business as the employers federation, the Medef. The workers, meanwhile, are the CGT union first and Force Ouvriere thereafter.
France purports to be a democratic country. But on numerous occasions, even if Parliament votes for reform, the power of the street (“La Rue”) comes into play, and the union and civil service rent-a-crowd comes out in force. Reform is then either abandoned or watered down to the extent that it has no effect.
Heath is also right on bossnapping incidents. These were numerous during my time in France. I work in the port industry, and saw this close-up during dockers’ disputes. We have even seen the hijacking of ferries by union members. In maritime law this is usually called piracy.
Who would set up a company in France? Not me. The vitriolic reaction to Heath’s article is typical of the French today. They believe that nowhere is better than France and that its model is the best in the world.
I strongly support Allister Heath’s pertinent observations on France. The country does indeed look like a failed socialist experiment. But the comparative economic statistics (the percentage of GDP spent by the state, for example) do not truly reflect the extent of its overbearing state. The cost of France’s statist system extends beyond economic failure, as the lack of choice in many realms (education and careers, for example) breeds stress and unhappiness. The lack of entrepreneurial freedom has not only paralysed the economy, but produced a sclerotic society.
Professor Jean K Chalaby, head of sociology, City University London
I wasn’t born in France, but arrived here in early 1981 and have been self-employed ever since. The never-mentioned elephant in the room (at least among the French journalists I read) is that there have now been two generations raised to believe that everyone can work for the state. There is a widespread belief that the state can pick up the tab for everything, so France has killed off its entrepreneurial spirit to the point of no return. My four children, born in France but bi-lingual, will sadly all live outside the country. One is in Australia already, one is leaving Cambridge for New York, the 16 year-old is ready for the US, and the 13-year old is dead set on China.
If I hadn’t read in Le Monde about the French embassy’s ridiculous reaction to Allister Heath’s article, I would never have read his accurate and simple analysis. The French are very touchy when it comes to what I like to call the welfare Maginot Line.
Like Heath, I left France long ago for school. I never returned since, to me, Francois Mitterand was building in the 1980s the foundations of the same economy that is in total decay today. I could not see myself growing old in such chaos. Francois Hollande has been elected because the French do not want to adapt to the world. He told them that, by standing with him behind the welfare Maginot Line, they would be safe against the twenty-first century. With Mitterand, France was under siege by economic progress and global competition. With Hollande, France is no longer under siege but assaulted everywhere. But the more interesting part is that, instead of asking themselves “What are they trying to tell us? What are we doing wrong?”, the French think the rest of the world is crazy. And when we tell them the truth, because we love France and do not want to see it sink to chaos, they call it bashing.
Pierre Jacques Callies
Having lived in France for 15 years, I have also witnessed this sad decline. I don’t believe Francois Hollande should be singled out for criticism, however, because he is only as inefficient as all his predecessors. The French people do not want change and are not ready for pain. If the young and intelligent did not have the chance to emigrate as they do now, maybe a previous government would have been forced to act. For France is a country that has over-privileged its older citizens. From a professional perspective, old age can start as early as 55.
I left France because I believe there is now no hope. Many of those who remain in the country never complain. They strike, but not for the right reasons. And each time a foreign journalist or chief executive criticises the country, French journalists and politicians respond by saying the criticism is wrong. Poor France.
As the recent protests against the Uber smartphone taxi service have shown, the taxi business in Paris is a closed shop. It resembles the unionised industries in pre-Thatcher Britain. Any competition at all is regarded as cheating, and denounced as unfair.
French productivity may be so high because so many simple jobs have been automated, due to high social taxes and because there are so many strikes. This may only be anecdotal but, in the last five years, a huge number of motorway toll booths have been replaced with machines.
I’m French and sadly would write exactly the same article about my country. It will take a much worse crisis to reboot its failed system, however.
Spot on – a cooly rational evidence-based riposte to the petulant reaction of the French embassy. Like you, I’ve lived and worked in France, and love the place and the people. I also regret that the country’s approach to work/life balance has become unsustainable. But we are where we are – and the French need to get in shape before it’s too late.
There is some irony in that, while we bash France, we need its partially state-owned energy company to build our nuclear power stations, and will then pay them extortionate rates for the electricity they generate.
Hollande is a national disgrace for France. Yet elections are not a huge distance away and, strangely enough, the French Left has a tradition of taking the difficult measures the Right has never dared to implement.
Unemployment in mainland France is 10.5 per cent (10.9 per cent overall) and rising, compared to 7.4 per cent in Britain. The difference is that the UK had a reality check in the form of Margaret Thatcher. France has never experienced anything similar. In economic and political terms, France is en chute libre.
France may think it can prosper by turning itself into an ossified tourist playground, but it can’t rely on its superb cultural heritage to feed its growing population forever.
Will Francois Hollande’s responsibility pact work? It looks good, but doesn’t pass the smell test. The euro straitjacket requires France to crack down on labour costs to a significant degree, and there’s no sign that Hollande has the guts to battle France’s dominant union masters.
France, a country in decline? Britain says that? The French economy is bigger than the UK’s. This is just French-bashing jealousy.