Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Liberte, Egalite, 401(k) !


They think they're Robespierre. More like Victor Meldrew.

In 1789, France's youth rioted in the streets to fight against the appalling injustices of the French feudal system. In 2006, they are fighting for the right to index-linked pensions and free dental care. The ultra-conservative students' claims would be toe-curlingly embarassing were it not for the astonishing fact that they have the support of the majority of the population and have caused Chirac and de Villepin to completely cave in.

Whilst there is nothing an Englishman likes to see than France in trouble, the recent and rapid decline in France's fortunes should cause all Brits to shiver and to pray that a great nation finally wakes up to its precipitous decline.

In 1836, Mrs. Trollope landed at Calais and overheard the conversation of a young man making his first visit to France. He was accompanied by a more experienced traveller, wise to the ways of the world. She recalled the exchange. ' "What a dreadful smell!" said the uninitiated stranger, covering his nose with his pocket handkerchief. "It is the smell of the continent, sir," replied the man of experience. And so it was.'

Britons have always had a love-hate relationship with the French. We love to see each other beaten (preferably humiliated) at any kind of sport (think 2002 World Cup humiliation), we grab any opportunity to knock each other and our language is peppered with digs at the French; going with a prostitute is to 'take French lessons', contracting syphilis is 'the French disease', using a condom, 'the French letter', and 'pardon my French' usually follows a bout of swearing. But each year, five million of us head for France for our holidays.

George Orwell remarked that "during the war of 1914-18, the English working class were in contact with foreigners to an extent that is rarely possible. The sole result was that they brought back a hatred of all Europeans, except the Germans, whose courage they admired. In four years on French soil, they did not even acquire a liking for wine."

All the most popular French jokes revolve around their cowardice. For example,
As many are aware, the French government recently raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide". The only two higher levels in France are "Surrender" and "Collaborate". The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country's military capability.

Four key events in the past six months give immense cause for concern for this once great country;

i) The leaking of the Obin report on French schools last summer.......'extensive Islamization of French schools in the vicinity of Moslem ghettoes and the imposition of strict conformity with Islamist dictates through violence and intimidation.' 37 pages of this kind of stuff. Followed shortly by...
ii) ...Thousands of Muslim youths rioting and torching Peugeots in the banlieue
ii) Then in the Autumn of 2005, French voters rejected the European Constitution.
iv) And finally on April 10th, the government caved in once again to the rioters (same age as in (ii) just different colour) and scrapped the CPE.

A recent study reported in the Economist showed that 75% of French youth aspire to a job in the civil service and just 35% of them think the free market is the best system (in China the number was 74%).

What is behind this stunning lack of ambition?

Meanwhile, 64% of the young are still on part time jobs one year after leaving education, national debt is building to scary proportions (now 66% of GDP) and unemployment refuses to budge below 10% (it is 23% amongst France's young and a staggering 50% in the banlieue.)

Why can the French not put two and two together?

Hope lies in a man named Sarkozy who seems to 'get it',
"France can no longer maintain the illusory barrage of a so-called model that each day shows itself to no longer work, nor protect anything or anybody."

Or in the resurgent corporate sector and a company called McDonald's, so beloved by the French, which recently reported strong 2005 numbers, citing particular strength in France.