The recent presidential election in France may well be cause for guarded optimism. Certainly the election of Sarkozy is greatly preferred to that of Royal. He clearly has a big job ahead of him. But it seems to me that the good news is this: some Europeans – or at least some Frenchmen – are getting sick and tired of the slow but steady drift toward extinction, and are hoping that things can be turned around.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the only real hope for Europe – the only hope for long-term reform and renewal – is a spiritual awakening, a new Reformation. Europe in large part is in such a mess because it has rejected its Christian past. Thus a spiritual turnaround is the most needed reform that we can hope for.
This has been argued by many. I would especially encourage you to pick up a copy of George Weigel’s, The Cube and the Cathedral. See my review here: billmuehlenberg.com/2005/07/11/a-review-of-the-cube-and-the-cathedral-by-george-weigel/ .
Having said that however, a revived economic and political climate will at least give Europe a bit more time to see in a possible spiritual reformation. And given what a basket case France has become, it is not a moment too soon to see a breath of fresh air sweep through the French catacombs.
Two commentators deal with the election and its implications. Mark Steyn, writing in the May 7, 2007 New York Sun discusses why change was so sorely needed. Steyn notes that the economic reforms sweeping through much of the West have largely been absent in France: “The Fifth Republic has entirely missed out on the Reagan-Thatcher booms of the last quarter-century: its over-protected and over-regulated economy has led to permanently high unemployment and a lack of entrepreneurial energy, not to mention various social tensions from the blazing Citroens and Renaults lighting up the sky every night to entire suburbs that have effectively seceded from France to join the new Caliphate.”
Working conditions have been mainly set against business and economic growth: “If you hire a 20-year-old and take a dislike to his work three months in, tough: chances are you’re stuck with him till mid-century. In France’s immobilized economy, it’s all but impossible to get fired. Which is why it’s all but impossible to get hired.”
Because of the economic stagnation, many Frenchmen have fled the country: “There are somewhere between 400 and 500,000 French citizens living in Britain’s capital. London is now the seventh biggest French-speaking city in the world. These are young talented dynamic people who like the same things about France the British and American tourists do – the vin, the cuisine, the couture, the Provencal farmhouses and the Cote d’Azur’s topless beaches – but have concluded that it is no longer a society in which you can fulfill your economic potential.”
Then there is the problem of non-integrating Muslims: “As for those who remain, they’re sick of crime and unemployment and on the whole could do with rather fewer Muslims on the streets, but they’re not yet willing to give up on the economic protectionism and lavish social programs that lead, inexorably, to the crime and unemployment and a general economic and demographic decline leaving the nation dependent on mass immigration and accelerating Islamization.”
He finishes with a story taken from his recent book about a fellow in Marseilles who lived with the body of his dead mother for five years in order to collect her monthly pension. “Think of France as that flat in Marseilles, and its economy as the dead mother, and the country’s many state benefits as monsieur’s deceased mom’s benefits. To the outside observer, the French give the impression they can live with the stench of death as long as the government benefits keep coming. If that’s the case, the new president will have the shortest of honeymoons.”
That is the mess which Sarkozy has been elected to try to fix. Cal Thomas, writing in townhall.com (May 8, 2007), discusses what it will mean to have Sarkozy at the helm in such a situation. He notes that while he is no Reagan or Thatcher, he has nonetheless promised to undertake sweeping reforms.
“Sarkozy wants to ‘loosen’ the 35-hour workweek by offering tax breaks on overtime in exchange for working longer hours. He wants to trim fat from the bloated public service sector, cut taxes and do something to correct high unemployment (currently at about 8.3 percent). France has also suffered from falling living standards and a decline in industrial might. Cutting taxes will help create jobs and raise living standards. When such policies have been implemented in other countries (Ireland, Britain and the United States) an economic boom has followed. The Conservative victory shows that the French are ready for that boom.”
The large Muslim population will also have to be dealt with. “Among the most pressing problems for Sarkozy’s presidency will be how to handle its estimated 5 million Muslim immigrants, some of whom shook the foundations of the country when they rioted in 2005. He will have to be more rhetorically cautious than during his campaign when he promised to rid neighborhoods of the ‘scum’ responsible for the troubles. Still, France, which has the largest Muslim immigrant population in Europe, is faced with a major challenge to its culture, freedoms, language and everything else that makes France what it is.”
Although he is expected to take office next week, he needs a clear majority of seats in next month’s parliamentary election in order to implement his reform plan.
Concludes Thomas, “Socialism has had a firm grip on France since 1981 with Francois Mitterand’s victory in that year’s presidential election. With the defeat of Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, the Conservatives have a unique opportunity to show France and the world that they can not only solve their economic problems, but also do something about the immigration invasion that has put their nation – and all of Europe – in jeopardy. American conservatives (though probably not President Bush, who is not highly regarded in France) should cultivate this rare opportunity to help a once-strong ally to become one once again. Vive la (conservative) France!”