Magazine article The Spectator

The Riots May Be Just What the French Economy Needs

Magazine article The Spectator

The Riots May Be Just What the French Economy Needs

Article excerpt

Ask any former drug addict.

You've got to hit rock bottom before you are ready for cold turkey. What France is facing now is the equivalent of waking up on a soiled mattress in a crack-house you cannot remember entering. It may be what France needs. It may be what Germany needs too.

Until the peoples of France and Germany are confronted by a palpable sense of national failure, they will never embrace the Anglo-Saxon model of market reform, and our continent's economic logjam will never shift. For all its horror, and although no feeling person can welcome death and destruction, France's convulsions this week could be for the French people and for the European 'social market' the beginning of a coming to terms with reality.

I do not, of course, mean the supposed reality of 'terror'. It is simply facile -- it flies in the face of observation over not years but decades -- to try to link this month's disorder with international terrorism. The awful drama now being played out across France has less to do with race than with despair, little to do with Islam or al-Qa'eda, and everything to do with national economic failure. Immigrant ghettos are always the places where national economic failure hits first and hardest, lingers longest, and exacts the cruellest toll. If the flames and the screams can now be seen and heard beyond these ghettos' confines, then in this (and only this) respect, good may come of it. The French may be learning that their beautiful and precious country cannot go on as it has gone on before.

The Germans have yet to confront such truths. Angela Merkel's election (if she finally does become Chancellor) comes too soon. But perhaps another weak German administration may lead to the real national collapse which Germany needs in order to break from her self-imposed business and economic straitjacket.

Tony Blair has the remarkable knack of going straight to the essential truth of a situation -- and asserting the opposite. When referendums in France and Holland had rejected the proposed new European constitution earlier this year, Mr Blair, in a powerful speech about his hopes for Britain's sixmonth presidency of the EU, declared that Continental governments must learn the habit of listening more to their peoples.

In fact the reverse was the case. Our Prime Minister wants the EU to embrace economic liberalism, to bring down barriers to free trade in services between member states, and to open up the EU to agricultural imports from abroad. He also wants his fellow leaders in countries like Germany, France and Holland to embrace the future entry to the EU of Turkey. These British goals are on every count praiseworthy.

But they are not popular. Voters in France and Germany do not want their national economies to follow the AngloSaxon model. Popular instincts in France are protectionist. In both France and Germany the elaborate social machinery which cossets and protects workers at the expense of competitiveness is what most citizens want. The accession of Turkey is deeply unpopular in many European countries.

It is because European leaders do listen to their peoples, rather than because they do not, that their countries are saddled with the policies we British want to see discarded. It is because the German people do like government by consensus rather than the more confrontational politics we enjoy here, that German governments find it so difficult to move. It is because the French people are not prepared to forfeit their short working hours, their top-heavy social security system, their protection for French business and industry and the featherbedding of their farmers that London has found Paris so obstructive whenever reforms are discussed. …

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