Reporting from protectionist France
As an observer of French society and politics I sometimes feel that I am trapped in a bubble of time. In a quantitative assessment of the big European country it is one of the largest economies in the world as the frogs produce the fifth biggest output of the OECD; see table here
However, when you look closer you see a country which is only, with great pains and objections, adapting to process of globalization, and according to some perhaps even turning away from the reality of the 21st century.
This is mirrored in this report from the Economist on French protectionism (walled for non-subscribers) which shows a situation in which French companies are embracing globalization and thriving upon it but the a different situation when it comes to politics and in civil society where unions are exploiting any given occasion to pull forth the barricades to show their disagreement with foreign punters coming to France to destroy their way of life, rhetorics which the political elite often rides along on.
“ France will never let Europe become a mere free-trade area,” wrote President Chirac in 25 European newspapers ahead of the Hampton Court meeting (…)”
However sometimes, for reasons unknown to most there are shimmers of light.
“ (…) reform in our country moves ahead in disguise. Certain measures are taken, but we are never told why.”
“The paradox is not only that corporate France eagerly embraces what the politicians denounce. It is that the politicians themselves are all the while putting in place certain liberalising policies that clash with their own protectionist rhetoric.”
As the quotes implie the government have been forced at least to some extent to loosen its grip on the private sector. This is showed by this week’s part privatization of the state owned electric giant – EDF; see article from the Economist here. However, the odds were balanced as the Prime Minister Villepin announced also this week that the expected privatization of the state owned producer of nuclear energy Areva was not to go ahead … why ? Well for strategic reasons which might be a valid excuse but protectionist tones still linger especially on the left which is outraged by the opening up of state controlled capital – See article from Reuters here.
“Opposition Socialists have vowed to renationalise EDF if they return to power in 2007 presidential elections.”
In France there general political mood is protectionist as I have also reported before in this blog, but even when the government dares to speak of letting the forces of globalization in it is met with a raging and strong civil society personified in unions who wield substantial power and are known to have bashed the government on many occasions. This dynamic smells of industrial dirigism gone sour and is a big structural problem in the French society.