Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. World
  2. Europe
26 April 2007

La deuxième étape

France needs economic reforms ... it's just a question of which method she chooses to implement them

By Darren Straker

If you live on the south eastern coast of blighty you may have experienced a sudden, short off shore breeze last Sunday night at about 9pm. This recent meteorological phenomenon was the result of 60 million French citizens simultaneously gasping with relief when they realised they hadn’t waved the keys to the Elysée to an extreme right wing nationalist like Le Pen as they did in 2002; in the process recovering some national pride and putting several satirical cartoonists out of business in one foul stroke…no-one wanted a repetition of 2002… though it would have been more than just slightly amusing.

‘There’s more to progress than speeding things up’, to paraphrase Ghandi, which neatly sums up the choice in front of the French electorate on May 6th.

85% of the electorate voted – beat that Alastair Campbell/Tony Blair et el – and the left and centre/middle left took 43% of the vote (Sego/Bayrou); one surprise was that Bayrou fell at the first gate – I thought he would romp in, as did most of the people I spoke to during the run up, which begs the question – where is the centre ground in France? It’s a shame the Countryside Alliance can’t vote here, Bayrou would certainly have pipped Sego as half of the disenfranchised gin and tonic/Range Rover brigade now camp out in and around Pau where Le Chase is an accepted part of the rural landscape…thank you Ryanair – not enough airports in the south of France? And no, in the UK, effective control of feral foxes is through a program of controlled culling and contraception, not chasing them down with packs of slobbering hounds while you sit on a horse in fancy dress blowing a horn, you gin addled plonkers…but I digress.

Sarkozy’s still the bookies’ favourite; can Royal rely on the centre leaning 7 million votes for Bayrou? This is the cat fight currently being played out at every level of French society, as an example, the talk show radios are abuzz with speculation and commentary. There doesn’t appear to be any middle ground – people are either left or right on the issues and policies. It will be interesting to see if there is a geographic divide in opinion between the north and the south, I have a sneaky feeling this is the case.
Who will Le Pens’ followers vote for if at all? 11% is a significant voting margin if mobilised; the likely hood that the far right will have some kind of ideological epiphany is low…a troubling prospect for Royal.

The coffee machines are on overdrive, arms are being waved around like windmills and all sorts of introspective navel gazing is being offered up as informed political opinion – I can’t wait for the outcome. Where’s Spitting Image when you need it?

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. Sign up directly at The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Sign up directly at Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The French economy is practically stagnant with limited annual growth, coupled with 10% unemployment, restrictive trade barriers and a reliance of state intervention. Removing the shackles of Gualist protectionism along with it’s institutions, and embracing the market economy is the bitter pill that the well insulted French economy and French public are obliged to move towards if they want to get out of the current malaise; the employment law as one example should be liberalised to free up labour market mobility and kick start some of the reforms.

Content from our partners
Planetary perspectives: how data can transform disaster response and preparation
How measurement can help turn businesses’ sustainability goals into action
How UK ports are unlocking green growth

When New Zealand initiated similar economic reforms in the mid eighties, freeing the economy from punitive restrictions, the results were impressive. However, there was soon a split in the government as the reformers wanted to slow down the change reforms to a socially manageable level – questioning the necessity, speed and the social costs of implementing the reforms (unemployment, removing rural base industrial protection etc).

The split was an ideological demarcation line between the socialist left including the PM and increasingly right wing leaning economic progressives of the governing Labour party – it was interesting that the social reformers lost the battle to the economic progressives. The jury is still out on the effectively of the Kiwi initiatives, there is economic equilibrium, however, the gap between rich and poor is now cayonesque, so much for Socialism: I can’t help but see similar parallels with the current French situation.

Ségolène Royal’s murky family history points to some unsavoury periods in recent French history, however she does have a view on the costs of the social reformation balanced against the economic necessity of change.

The rampant economic reforms Sarkozy wants to employ will be good for business, but will mobilise the unions and will be difficult to implement, alienating an entire segment of France in the process…qui gagne?

Sarkozy’s odds on to win, but I’d put a tenner on the outsider to win by a nose, in a two horse race you’ve always got a 50/50 chance – we’ll find out in a couple of weeks. France needs these economic reforms, it’s a question of which method the chose.