Diary - Jacques Attali

When I hear the Brits bashing the weaknesses of the French, I wonder why so few French people buy ho

Returning from a series of rapid trips to Thailand and Brazil to organise the development of Planet Finance, the world's largest platform for fighting global poverty by microfinance (www.planetfinance.org)
, I was struck by the strange way in which Europeans think of themselves. Wherever else I go in the world, the people, when they realise I am French, are more interested in the European dimension of France than by any national details. They talk about Europe as an entity, even when they clearly differentiate between the UK, Denmark and Slovenia.

For many people around the world, Europe already exists as a distinct thing - for anyone but Europeans, that is. It has its identity: a political system, a way of life, a standard of living, a social security system, a health system, all of which are superior to anything that exists elsewhere. If this makes me sound more like a European than a Frenchman, it suits me very well: deep in the roots of Europe are monotheism, democracy and the market economy - much of which came to Europe through Islam and North Africa. Ironic that the core values of Europe were brought here by Judaism and Islam.

When travelling in Europe, I am very much aware that France is seen as an odd animal, able to call a gigantic strike at any moment for obscure reasons. I realise that my country is often seen as the last reservoir of bureaucrats in the world, a kind of sleeping Titanic. The huge strikes, organised to prevent young employees from being fired with no explanation, puzzled a lot of people. Many take the view that the French denial of work flexibility is just a refusal to face reality. The truth is very different. The fact is, the rest of the world is jealous of France. If France is attracting more tourists and foreign investors than any other country in the world, it is because the quality of life is so high. When I hear the British bashing France's supposed weaknesses, I wonder why so few French people buy houses in the British countryside, while so many Britons are doing so in France. The reason is the same: the quality of life in France is one of the highest in the world, if not the best. No doubt about it. And France is not going to decline: French productivity is also one of the highest in the world. France is number one, two or three in many fields, and will stay so. I wonder how long the caricature of a lazy France can survive.

There are, of course, some good reasons to criticise France. One is the nature of its political elite: old, in place for more than 30 years, fascinated by the past, unaware of world realities. They are as pathetic as young people in France are dynamic. A revolution is inevitable. When? How? Rapidly? Quietly? Profoundly? A new elite will emerge, in phase with the deep dynamism of the French people.

Morocco is a fascinating country. Its history has been intertwined with Europe's since the 5th century. But it is a land, like many others, plagued by poverty. And poverty leads to fundamentalism. In this country, as in many others, modernisation cannot win without an efficient fight against poverty. In 40 years' time, half of mankind will survive on less than E2 a day. Just travel around Moroccan cities and you will understand why this is not sustainable; why a revolution, religious or not, will happen rapidly, if drastic change does not happen. What we can achieve in Morocco through microfinance can be seen as a sign of optimism. But it is time to look for more than signs: we need to see real action.

I keep working, while I'm travelling, on Carmen, the Bizet opera I am going to conduct in October. Conducting an orchestra is the most challenging experience of my life: intellectually, artistically, physically. It is not a matter of power or knowledge, but of seduction. Could we imagine a world where every relationship would be based on seduction? It is my definition of paradise.

I am in Mexico to attend meetings for the development of microfinance in Latin America. This afternoon, I attend an Easter Mass in Cuernavaca Cathedral. It's a happy Mass, full of Indian tradition, Spanish music, Latin ritual, happy people. It is wonderful to realise how efficiently Mexico succeeds in mixing Indian, Spanish and Catholic cultures. It gives more room for each dimension. It never concedes any space to its gigantic neighbour. If globalisation is going to be a worldwide success, it will look like a global Mexico. If it fails, it will be a global Somalia.

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