Friday, March 24, 2006

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Jacques Chirac doesn't like capitalism that much

Another month in France, another excuse for mass protests. This month, the justification has been a law proposed by French prime minister Dominique de Villepin that would make it easier for employers to fire younger workers. The thinking is that this would encourage firms will hire more workers. Needless to say, the French unions disagreed.

The Financial Times' Martin Arnold reports that de Villepin is ready to cave:

Dominique de Villepin will hold talks with trade unions “with no strings attached” on Friday over his unpopular employment law, a move widely interpreted as a climbdown by the embattled French premier....

The meeting could happen on Friday. But the offer for it came only after a long and reportedly heated meeting with President Jacques Chirac, fuelling rumours that the prime minister was ordered to back down.

The new law, which allows companies to fire people aged under 26 in the first two years of their contract without reason, has sparked widespread protests by students and workers which erupted into violence in central Paris yesterday....

Unions want the law withdrawn. François Chérèque, leader of the moderate CFDT union, said: “If the prime minister does not respond positively to our demand to withdraw the first job contract, we will end the conversation.”

Critics suspect Mr de Villepin has fallen into the same trap as his hero Napoleon Bonaparte, ousted after leading France to military defeat at Waterloo.

Analysts, opposition Socialists and members of his own centre-right UMP party said he had tried to push reform too far, too fast, in pursuit of his personal ambitions.

“President Chirac has told him to back down as he was leading the country to the wall,” said Dominique Moisi, a senior adviser at France’s Institute for International Relations. “He tried to convince himself he could be France’s Margaret Thatcher, but forgot he was only the number two.”

Chirac's hostility to any idea with a whiff of Anglo-Saxon provenance is also demonstrated in this FT story by George Parker and Chris Smyth:
Jacques Chirac, French president, defended his walkout on Thursday night from the EU summit – after a French industrialist began addressing leaders of the bloc in English – saying he had been “profoundly shocked to see a Frenchman express himself in English at the (EU) Council table”.

Mr Chirac and two senior French ministers walked out in protest at the decision of Ernest-Antoine Seillière, head of the Unice employers organisation, to make a plea for economic reform in what he called “the language of business”.

Mr Chirac’s boycott reflected the tensions surrounding the two-day economic summit, which comes against a backdrop of French street protests over labour market reform and claims that Paris is engaged in protectionism of its energy market. The French president was not in the room to hear Mr Seillière urging leaders to “resist national protectionism in order to avoid a negative domino effect”.

He returned after Mr Seillière had finished speaking.

posted by Dan on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM


I am probably totally unqualifed to discuss this issue, but am I the only person on the planet who thinks the EU will be a giant flop and unravel some day?

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

No, Rustbelt, you aren't the first or the only one. I don't think it's all an either-or. I think the Euro has big problems and is likely doomed, however.

posted by: Don S on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Unions are strong in much of West Europe, but it seems me that France is practically the only country where various groups (students, farmers, union workers, Muslims) take to the streets and riot on a fairly regular basis.

West German unions are strong, but this sort of behavior is pretty rare. England, even in the middle of its worst strikes (in James Callaghan's government) rarely saw this happen.

So the big question might be -- why France ? I don't think France is more anti-capitalist than say Germany or Sweden so thats not the only factor. I wonder if this dates back to the student movements of 1968, which made this sort of action acceptable in France. Or it may be because French governments have a habit of giving in ..

posted by: erg on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

The EU has overstepped its original (economic) goals; that is its failure. When it was a community to oppose the Soviet Union it made sense to pool resources. It makes much less sense to try to unite disparate cultures and identities.

posted by: EU_Doubter on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

It's kind of like war. I wouldn't like capitalism very much if I was French either.

They are smart but they react to everything like they did when Galileo said the earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way around. Technology and the changes it is creating is just scaring the crap out of these guys.

posted by: Chad on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

It is mind boggling that the President of France would get up and walk out of a meeting because another Frenchman was presenting in English. I guess that I can now say that I am following the French lead when I don't care to listen to someone speaking in a foreign language.

What would have happened if it was part of the current US Administration that had pulled this stunt?


posted by: BCN on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

The rabidly anti French tone of the MSM is getting really tiresome.

It's a given that different nations have idiosyncrasies. Does it really add to the debate to emphasize them in a dicussion?

Or maybe it is that we are the only "normal" nation, so of course we get to make fun of the others until they conform to our ideals

posted by: Darwin on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

France is controlled by status quo economic groups and Chirac is their representative. They refuse to lift agricultural subsidies, relax employment laws or deal with immigrants (somehow). All the while France becomes weaker, sees more riots and becomes more racist.
Power of the SQ stems from the weakness of the opposition. In the last presidential election France was shocked by the popularity of Le Pen, the fascist leader, but the only alternative they could produce was Chirac.
I predict that a time will come when things will become much worse and the crisis will bring reformists into power. Their reforms will be reactionary, which may be bad, but things will change.
Of course, in the long run France will remain a middle-power. It's importance in the international arena will diminish further as the Security Council's structure changes. I don't have any idea what will happen to the EU.

posted by: Kerim Can on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Maye that is hwy he ahs a revolution

French Student Protests Turn Violent

posted by: daniel on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Villepin apparently came up with his employment brainstorm on his own. He neglected to inform or negotiate with the other stakeholders, largely referred to in France as the "partenaires sociaux". They include representatives of the employers, the unions, and various other groups as needed.

The practice in France has been that major changes like Villepin's proposal have to be fully aired to the public. Major changes have to gain consensus, though negotiations with the partneaires sociaux, before they can be accepted. That is the root of many of the social problems in France. Politicians, or technocrats like Villepin, sometimes forget that they are politicians in a democracy, and that in a democracy, the people will get their way, eventually. And when politicians forget, the people remind them, in the street if necessary.

Villepin was able to stuff his employment bill through Parliament, because members over there, more so than our own Congressmen are subject to party discipline. As Villepin, who has never held elected office, found out, the partenaires sociaux are not subject to his party discipline. The unions, which are important in France, and the young, the prime targets of his law, had not been consulted.

There are lessons in this story. For us foreign observers, we are witnessing a more participative and rambunctious democracy than we commonly see on our shores. For Chirac, who is in his last term, this may be his last opportunity to make a major positive impact on France. For Villepin, it may be too late.

posted by: Darwin on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Anyone price any homes in La Provence or L'Aquitaine lately?

Two Bedroom - One Bath?

posted by: Babar on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Darwin writes:
[Politicians, or technocrats like Villepin, sometimes forget that they are politicians in a democracy, and that in a democracy, the people will get their way, eventually. And when politicians forget, the people remind them, in the street if necessary.]

Just because frenchmen who believe that this law should pass do not demonstrate in the streets, does not mean they are not out there. A large majority may moderately want a law, but a small minority passionately not want it. Politicians shouldn't cave in to the minority, but instead try to raise awareness of the issues importance to the majority.

Maybe a more pro free-market majority is out-there, but no politicians are trying to listen to them or cater to them, and they don't know that a lot of people share thier views. They think the loud, noisy, socialists in thier midst are representative of the average frenchman when they might be instead.

Also, it was a little dumb to single out young people. Why not make a fair law that applies to all?

posted by: scottynx on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Mon dieu!

posted by: Roy on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

> The rabidly anti French tone of the MSM is getting really tiresome.

MSM? Mechanically separated meat? Meritorious Service Medal? Methylsulfonylmethane?

Ah, Darwin must mean "Mainstream media." (This is one instance where Wikipedia is better than Google.) How is the "mainstream media" "rabidly anti French" and what does that have to do with the article(s) anyway?

posted by: Roy on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

> I wonder if this dates back to the student movements of 1968

I wonder if this dates back to the movements of 1789.

scottynx, if you're not demonstrating in the streets, then you're not The People, and you don't exist. Get with the program.

posted by: Roy on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

The thing that strikes me about the whole situation in France is: how bad could it possibly be to be unemployed in France? If liberalization of the country's labor laws makes it a tad more likely that a 24-year old can get fired, but that same liberalization means he's more likely to have a job in the first place (or indeed find a new one should he find himself with a pink slip) isn't this an obivous slam dunk for a young person in France? I mean, if the law now allows your employer to can your ass, how bad can it be, with your generous benefits and free healthcare, to sit around for a few months in smoke-filled cafes discussing the wonders of Jerry Lewis and the horrors of George Bush? The government sure ain't going to let you starve or go without healthcare or heavily subsidized housing. What a bunch of idiots. They wouldn't recognize their own self-interest if it bit them on le nez. The French government really ought to hold its ground. Margaret Thatcher broke a strike or two on her way to reviving the British economy. It's high time for the French to take their bitter medicine and do the same, before it's too late.

posted by: 99 on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Mr Chirac told also that whoever says that French international political economy (based on protectionism: see the recent successful attempt to block an Italian energy firm from buying a french competitor) is, indeed, protectionist, should go back to school, to study.

As an Italian who enjoys a Defense Minister with a ph.d in Economics from Chicago (Dr. Antonio Martino)... I would like to say to Mr Chirac.... no... it's to inpolite...



posted by: aa on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

Hi Dan,
Chirac will go which ever way the wind is blowing. Having said that, I think the English language media coverage of the protests is disappointing. There's a post over at A Fistful of Euros that makes a stab at explaining things in a little more detail. In short, it argues that students are not ticked off by labour liberalisation per se, but more about its selective manner. Villepin is reinforcing a two tier system in which older workers remain highly protected while the young are expected to take all the hits. Unless you liberalise the top tier, you're not going to make too much of a difference for the young, since employers have little incentive to keep them on the books for longer periods.

posted by: Dick OBrien on 03.24.06 at 10:14 AM [permalink]

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