The French are not like us (you read it here first). While we and the Americans endlessly debate the relative merits of buying troubled assets or preference shares to bail out the banks, France is engaged in a full-on argument about the future of capitalism and the role of the state.
Nicolas Sarkozy hosted a two-day debate in the ecole Militaire on the theme of 'New World, New Capitalism'. All the stops were pulled out Sarkozy himself kicked things off, then Angela Merkel, followed by 'Cher Tony' - our very own Tony Blair. Shurely shome mishtake, I hear you say. Non. It was indeed the departed Great Leader. Our present Dear Leader seemed to be otherwise engaged on the domestic front.
First in French, then in English, with a bit of Franglais thrown in, he wowed the crowd. The correct French protocol is to call people by the highest rank they have held, so he was Prime Minister Blair for the two days, which added to the disorientation of the Brits in attendance. Maybe soon he will be President of Europe, which will sort that problem.
The energetic French minister in the driving seat, eric Besson, wanted the event to be underpinned by a modest amount of intellectual capital, provided on the French side by their political science school, 'Sciences Po', and on the British side by the London School of Economics. A few Nobel Prize winners - Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz among them - added a touch of glamour to the proceedings.
What did we conclude? That would be telling. But if you make up a long sentence with the words alienation, delocalisation, revalorising, solidarity, crisis (at least twice) and paradigm (three times), you will get close.
The striking thing was how comfortable the Right in France feels about what it calls the 'return of the state'. Not for it the apologetic tone of ministers here about the unfortunate need to intervene, and even nationalise.
Sarkozy's prime minister, Francois Fillon - a very impressive fellow - waxed lyrical about a revival of true Gaullism. President de Gaulle was always happy to decide big questions on behalf of the people, and to put the markets right when they strayed. 'You can't buck the state' is roughly the way Fillon likes to put it.
It's not quite the platform Sarkozy was elected on, but it fits him like a glove. The need to stimulate the economy (though they aren't doing as badly as we are, I'm sorry to report) is an excuse for some new grands projets. Since Tessa Jowell is getting cold feet about the expense, I wonder if we shouldn't, even at this late stage, offer Paris the Olympics. It would be a happy outcome for both sides.
Elsewhere in the euro area, trouble is brewing. The Greek government is in crisis, as we know. And there are growing tensions elsewhere. …