Friday, 25 January 2013

Poll shows that the core values of French society are 1) envy, 2) distrust, 3) greed and 4) xenophobia.

What a beautiful country! Le Monde commissioned a poll from Ipsos along lines not that different from those of the World Values Survey. Full results are available here (in French) and they sure are a depressing read. This, basically, is the same society that gave overwhelming support to Vichy France, there can be no mistake about it. Nearly 70 years of economic growth since the end of WWII have brought just one small change, namely which semitic people the French have decided to hate: Jews are now sort of OK but Muslims (a nickname for Arabs) are the new arch-enemy.

While other societies can have greed without too much envy, the latter here is foremost. The French profess to hate money and take a moralising view towards it: 82 % agree to the proposition that "money has corrupted the traditional values of French society". But that is just about other people's money since
  1. 71 % of them also agree to the proposition that "it is a good thing to want to earn a lot of money"
  2. 58 % agree to "in order have social justice, money should be taken from the rich and given to the poor".
Now, the use of the conditional in proposition 2 is weird, but highly telling, since France is the country that assigns the largest share of GDP (around 1/3) to social transfers. Basically, it shows the strength of moral imperatives inherited from both catholic and marxist religions.

Please note that those who agreed to both propositions (up to 13% of French population) look like sort of uneasy about their relative status (too poor to be taxed or too rich to be left untaxed). I can't help but wish them an uneasy sleep...  

Also, but that's nothing new, 78% distrust deeply other people - though only 62% think their politicians are corrupt. So that should indicate that they think that ordinary people are more corrupt than politicians. And then, 65% want to increase the power of French politicians over Brussel's... A logical bunch they sure are.

And as to foreigners, 70% think there are "too many of them in France" although France is quite below the European, let alone OECD, average for the proportion of foreign-born residents. Particular spite is directed toward Muslims, which 74% deem intolerant.

Oh, and 87% think France needs a strong leader to put everything back in order. Marshall Philippe Pétain was not immediately available for comment. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

50 years of Françallemagne

The Elysée Treaty turned 50 this week, a grand occasion for official hypocrisy, reporting ineptitude and a garish mixture of flonflons and umpah. Here is my attempt to make some sense of what is being celebrated.

France always tried to think of itself as a Great Power on the world stage, which is all the more surprising since  it spent most of its modern life as clearly the underdog  in the (numerous) fights it picked up: with the Habsburgs in the 16th and 17th centuries, with Britain in the 18th century, with everyone in Europe under Napoleon and finally, to tragic consequences, with Germany after 1870, a silly border dispute that caused two world wars and resulted in 60 million deaths or so.

But then, in under twenty years, in spite of all the noise it kept making, it clearly became  a dwarf  in international politics. There were three stages in that fall:

  • first, 1940-45, when its legitimate government, Vichy's Etat français, sank into collaboration with Nazi Germany before being swept away with it. To cover-up, De Gaulle started the official lie that France was part of the victors, with a seat on the UN's Security Council, which prevented France from looking hard at its fabric and has greatly concurred to keep-it reform-free.  

  • second, Suez in 1956, when the United States told it, as well as Britain and Israel, to pack up their field victory, go play in their room and stop bothering grown-ups. Suez  was a defining moment for all three countries, all of them wowing for such a thing to nether happen again to them, but choosing widely different paths towards that goal. Britain and Israel cozied up to the US, hence the "special relationship", while France decided to go it alone and build its own nuclear might.  

  • and finally when it gave up the last remnant of its colonial Empire, Algeria, in 1962. It was then left as a moderately significant European country, a tad larger than the European average, for sure, but with little real clout left.

Nevertheless, it went on pretending being a world power, thanks to two crutches:

  • blackmailing the US, a "bribe me or else" strategy initiated by De Gaulle, which was particularly effective and credible in view of the impressive size of the "enemy within" in France, namely a huge and highly organized French Communist Party, which used to and collect between 20 and 25% of the popular vote and to this day has never been blacklisted by French society as an enemy of democracy.

  • making use to its own advantage of Germany's terrible criminal record. In the 1950s, the FRG, slightly more populated than France but economically much better organized, was denied a formal role in international institutions because of its past. It desperately wanted a new, clean reputation, and being friends with its former arch-enemy seemed a no-brainer to that effect. Moreover it refused on principle, for commendable therapeutic purposes, to do anything that could in any way remind of its pre-1945 militarism. It was thus clearly anxious to acquire an ally that could speak for it on the international stage and eventually use force, which it had so thoroughly renounced. It thus went out of its way to please France, claimed to be its equal or even its vassal, paid for every French whim, even the most harmful (like the absurd Common Agricultural Policy, which ate up most of the EU's budget for 35 years in subventions to mainly French farmers and ... did in fact a lot of long term harm to France by keeping its agriculture backward) and allowed France to continue to travelling first class with a second class ticket both militarily and diplomatically.

The Elysée Treaty of 1963 is cynical transcript of those policy imperatives, a mere consequence of the balance of power that resulted from 1945, 1956 and 1962. So, is there a lot to celebrate? Well, not really, as its vaunted achievement, peace between France and Germany, was brought not by it but rather by a general disgust for war after the orgy of killings that took place in WWII, and kept by demographic forces, foremost of which is Germany's aging, and by economic integration.