Monday 20 June 2016 10:00 pm

France's strikes show why Europe is in a doleful spiral of absolute decline

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” – WB Yeats, The Second Coming, 1920

Last week we looked at a counter-intuitive, but just about possible, positive alternate future for Brussels, with EU elites at last getting their act together following the shock of the likely Brexit vote.

But there is a darker, and far more plausible outcome all too likely to occur across the Channel in the near term; the absolute and irretrievable decline of the EU and its major components as any sort of power at all. The future is with the mindless obstructionism of the economic illiterates burning things (such as children’s hospitals) in France. And it signals Europe’s doom, as the long-term illness of decadence becomes terminal.

Read more: French strikes: Has the country become ungovernable?

For as the ludicrous French strikes groan on, they are the irrefutable symbol of where this political car crash is heading after the Brexit vote. If great power France, after a generation of the feeblest efforts, cannot manage even the most cosmetic labour reforms, the game is up. This is simply a place that cannot reform itself, let alone save itself.

In Prime Minister Manuel Valls, France has as good a chance at economic salvation as has politically presented itself in a long time. Desperately aware of reality, Valls has introduced mild labour market reforms designed to drag his governing Socialist Party into the modern age, making it a standard Blairite grouping in line with the centre-left reforms that went on in the rest of the continent more than a decade ago.

But even this is too much for the reactionary union leaders who are now determined to destroy his centre-leftist government, which has the temerity to suggest the French way of life is laughably unaffordable. Here are the facts. Since the start of the financial crisis of 2008, the French economy has grown by a miserly 3 per cent, compared with 6 per cent in Germany, 8 per cent in the UK, and 10 per cent in the US. Unemployment in France is roughly double the average in the other three economic powers, sitting at a horrendous 10.2 per cent; youth unemployment is far higher. Anyone with eyes to see can discern that things simply cannot go on like this.

Read more: France’s economic reform failures risk restarting the Eurozone crisis

But not the wilfully blind who make up the powerful French trade unions and much of the Socialist Party hierarchy. As their nemesis, former French President (and soon to be future French Presidential candidate) Nicolas Sarkozy put it, the reforms are far too weak to solve France’s economic problems, but just strong enough to arouse the passions of the left.

Petulantly not wishing to understand the unbreakable link between economic success and economic benefits, the French left runs shrieking from reality, gormlessly declaring that eight week holidays are somehow an inalienable right, rather than the reward for being part of a successful economic system. And Valls’s reward for his daring? His popularity has fallen off a cliff, from 46 per cent to 18 per cent over the past two years.

You can almost hear the European economic death rattle, as the vicious cycle of ungovernability and absolute decline descends. In France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece, it is more and more apparent that the present political system simply cannot produce a reformist government with a popular mandate to enact the necessary changes to right the ship of state.

Read more: The decadence of Europe’s dismal elites is fuelling populism across the EU

The two major existential crises confronting Europe – regarding the euro and refugees – are not being solved. Populists across the continent of both the left and the right correctly point out that elites are incapable of sorting out the mess, leading to election results where they gain, making it far less likely these mammoth problems will ever be sorted out at all. This doleful political-economic cycle is how things will end up for a continent in advanced stage decline.

Britain, to the fury of continentals, has always had a remarkably transactional view of the EU and its major states, allying with them only when it suited British interests. In the 1970s, the EU was the most productive place in the world, the planet’s seeming future; as such, it made eminent sense to stay in the club. Now it is the world’s economic basket case – and one which, as the French example so glaringly illustrates, is incapable of reforming itself. The answer as to how to proceed must be just as obvious this time as well.

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.