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France says No

France hasn’t seen demonstrations like this for 40 years. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s character, his arrogance and determination to crush the “enemy” have aroused wide opposition. But one man’s whims do not account for all the sound and fury.

This is a response to a fundamental and unjust change of social direction chosen by European governments with allegiances ranging from confident right to compliant left, on the pretext of dealing with the financial crisis.

Berlusconi has done no more good or harm in Italy than the socialists under Papandreou in Greece and Zapatero in Spain. They all threaten the viability of public services and social security. To please the bean-counters on the stock exchange, they all propose to make ordinary people pay for the havoc wrought by the banks, who carry on just as before, free from any obligation to show “courage” (like the workers) or solidarity with future generations.

This is not the rabble having a fit, but the French people returning to the fray. The government has no legitimate defence against their claims. The National Assembly was elected immediately after a presidential campaign in which Sarkozy said nothing about his plan to reform pensions, later presented as the “highlight” of his five-year term. Four months before he was elected, he had declared that the “right to retire at 60 must be preserved”.

A year later, referring to the possibility that this right might be deferred, the new president insisted: “I will not do it, I have not promised the French people that I would do it, I have no mandate to do it, and that counts for me, you know.”

 The French, already subject to a European constitutional treaty overwhelmingly rejected by referendum but subsequently passed in parliament by rightwing MPs (with a bit of help from the socialists), are also demonstrating against the authoritarian contempt shown by their government.

The young know what to expect. As crisis follows crisis, the capitalist line hardens. If capitalism is to survive, society will have to pay the price: endless evaluations, more competition between workers, exhaustion and bitterness.

The latest version of the Attali report now recommends freezing public sector pay until 2013, making patients bear part of the cost of treating long-term illnesses (cancer, diabetes) and increasing VAT, but leaving the “tax shield” in place (naturally). As Mitterrand’s former adviser kindly informs us, “we face 10 years of austerity” (though he will doubtless be spared).

As a young demonstrator said in early October: “First we have education: that’s school. Then we work: that’s the hardest bit. And after that, we retire: that’s the reward. If they take away the reward, what are we left with?” Neo-liberals make fun of these young people worrying about retirement.

They do not seem to realize that their anxiety is an indictment of the policies they have pursued for the past 30 years, which have produced this result: a future without hope. Demonstrations, marches and strikes are the best way to reverse the process and avert such a prospect.




The French strikes are winding down. But a comparison with Germany shows that the country still has deep economic problems to address.

MICHAEL PORTER, a management guru, warned businesses not to be “stuck in the middle.” Firms that use a mix of strategies to appeal to all customers might end up appealing to none. If Mr Porter’s claim applies to countries as well as to firms, then France has reason to worry.

In terms of the make-up of its economy, France sits at the centre of the euro zone. Concerns about its positioning, and envious gazes across the Rhine, have been spurred by a strong revival in Germany’s economy. The recent battle over raising the retirement age (see article) shows how reluctant the French are to acknowledge that deficit-financed support for household spending cannot go on forever.

Ignore minnows like Cyprus and Malta, and a bit more than two-fifths of the euro zone’s GDP comes from its high-saving, export-intensive countries: Germany and its close neighbours, plus Finland.

A slightly smaller fraction is accounted for by its southern and western “periphery”—Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece—a group united by weak public finances, poor export competitiveness and big trade deficits. France, which accounts for the remaining fifth of output, is a mix of the two.

It has some of the industrial strength (if not the export dependence) of the euro zone’s “core”. But it also has milder forms of the fiscal laxity, labour rigidities and trade deficits that plague the periphery.

At the nadir of the recession, this middling course served France better than Germany’s served it. The French economy fell less hard than the others because it was not as reliant on exports as Germany, or as hooked on credit-financed consumption as Spain and Ireland. The state plays a big role in France, which cushioned the downturn. A dollop of discretionary fiscal stimulus (2.25% of GDP in 2009-10, on the IMF’s reckoning) helped.

But the recovery has proved disappointing, particularly in comparison with Germany and other core countries. French GDP rose by 0.7% in the second quarter of this year. Germany’s GDP rose by 2.2%, the best quarter for that country in decades.

Unemployment in Germany is also falling, in contrast to the trend in France (see chart). More recent figures suggest the German recovery is still going strong. An index of business confidence published by Ifo, a Munich research firm, jumped to a three-year high in October.

Germany’s economics minister, Rainer Brüderle, announced on October 21st that the government was revising its GDP growth forecast for 2010 up from 1.4% to 3.4%. In contrast, the French government had already cut its forecast for next year from 2.5% to 2%. Even that may prove optimistic. Private-sector forecasters reckon France’s economy will expand by around 1.5% this year and next, well below the 2.4% annual growth it managed in the decade before the global financial crisis.

One response is to dismiss Germany’s lead as temporary: its economy fell harder in recession so it ought to bounce back stronger. But some sense a growing anxiety in France that a consumer-led economic model fuelled by deficit-financed transfers from government may be reaching its limit, as public debt spirals upwards. Germany’s recent success makes export-led growth seem attractive.

“There’s a realisation that the world has changed,” says Marco Annunziata, at UniCredit. “Tapping into strong emerging-market demand has lifted Germany. But France has lost its way in this regard.” France moved from a current-account surplus of 3.1% of GDP to a deficit of 2.2% in the space of a decade.

A casual survey of big global firms suggests France ought to be able to match Germany’s export prowess. Germany has 37 companies in Fortune’s list of the top 500 global companies ranked by total revenue. France has 39. But many big firms are clustered around Paris, and in industries that rely directly or indirectly on state support.

Germany’s large firms are more diffuse. French industry has no answer to Germany’s Mittelstand, the niche firms that make high-quality capital goods and can charge premium prices for them. “There is no bottom-up culture of innovation in France to match Germany’s,” says Thomas Mayer, at Deutsche Bank.

France’s elite industrial model means big firms take the pick of graduates. Its rigid job-market rules hurt small firms in particular. The tax “wedge” between a firm’s wage costs and what employees are paid is one of the largest in the rich world (although Germany’s is bigger) and militates against small firms hiring, as does the high cost of firing.

As a result, small firms struggle to reach the critical mass needed to be exporters, says Laurence Boone, at Barclays Capital in Paris. High minimum wages make it costly to hire inexperienced workers and help explain why youth unemployment in France is higher than the European average.

The government has raised the retirement age to maintain solvency, but early retirement holds back the economy in other ways. Only 39% of people aged between 55 and 64 are in work in France, compared with 56% in Germany.

The French may envy Germany’s recent GDP growth and employment record, but France has its admirers too. “France competes very well with its elite model: good human capital, and high-quality state institutions and infrastructure,” says José Luis Escrivá, at BBVA, a Madrid-based bank.

It is still treated by bond markets as a country that hugs closer to Germany than to Italy or Spain. That could change if the government proves unable to tackle its budget deficit, likely to be 8% of GDP this year. Then France really would be stuck.



La France passe ce soir à l’heure d’hiver

L’ensemble des pays de l’Union européenne reculeront leurs horloges d’une heure dans la nuit de samedi à dimanche avec le retour à l’heure d’hiver. Par exemple dimanche à 3h (heure d’été) en France, pays qui observe cette pratique depuis 1976, il sera 2h (heure d’hiver). Par rapport à l’heure GMT, la différence ne sera plus que d’une heure au lieu de deux durant les six mois d’heure d’été.

Mais en raison des fuseaux horaires, l’heure légale ne sera pas la même heure partout en Europe. En effet, au Portugal, en Grande-Bretagne, en Irlande et aux îles Canaries, l’heure d’hiver est la même que l’heure GMT, tandis que la Grèce, la Finlande et les pays baltes sont en avance de deux heures par rapport à l’heure GMT.

Le système des horaires d’été et d’hiver, souvent adopté après le choc pétrolier de 1973, avait été mis en place à l’origine pour faire des économies d’énergie. Il s’agissait de faire coïncider les horaires d’activité avec les horaires d’ensoleillement afin de limiter les besoins en éclairage.

Selon l’Agence de l’Environnement et de la maîtrise de l’Energie (Ademe) française, le changement d’heure a permis d’économiser l’an dernier 440 gigawatts/heure (GWh) en éclairage, soit la consommation d’environ 800.000 ménages. Grâce à ces économies, la France a ainsi évité l’émission de 44.000 tonnes de CO2. En 2030, la réduction globale des émissions due au changement d’heure pourrait être de 70.000 à 100.000 tonnes de CO2.

Pour l’Europe, la période d’heure d’hiver s’étend du dernier dimanche d’octobre au dernier dimanche de mars.




la Somalie.

Selon le classement publié par Transparency International, la Nouvelle-Zélande et Singapour sont les pays où la corruption sévit le moins. La France est 25e.

Près de trois quarts des Etats, à commencer par ceux en guerre comme l’Irak ou l’Afghanistan, sont perçus comme gravement corrompus, selon le rapport annuel de l’organisation non-gouvernementale Transparency International (TI) présenté mardi à Berlin.


Dans son Index 2010 de la perception de la corruption, l’ONG lance également une mise en garde aux gouvernements, estimant que la corruption pèse sur leurs efforts pour renflouer les marchés financiers, et lutter contre le réchauffement planétaire ou contre la pauvreté.

Sur les 178 pays étudiés par l’ONG, dont le siège est à Berlin, près des trois quarts affichent un indice de perception de corruption inférieur à la moyenne.

TI affirme par ailleurs que sur les 36 pays industrialisés ayant signé la convention anti-corruption de l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE), qui interdit notamment le versement de pots-de-vin à des fonctionnaires étrangers, une vingtaine d’entre eux montrent “peu ou pas” d’empressement à faire respecter la législation.

“Ces résultats montrent que des efforts bien plus importants sont requis pour renforcer la bonne gouvernance dans le monde”, a affirmé la présidente de TI, Huguette Labelle, dans un communiqué.

“Accepter que la corruption perdure est inacceptable; trop de personnes pauvres et vulnérables dans le monde continuent à souffrir de ces conséquences.

Nous avons besoin de voir une mise en oeuvre plus importante des règles et lois existantes”, a-t-elle ajouté.

La responsable de TI pour l’Allemagne, Edda Müller, a estimé lors d’une conférence de presse que la situation internationale était “très inquiétante”.

Elle a également souligné la nécessité pour la communauté internationale de mettre en place des structures gouvernementales crédibles dans des pays où l’Etat a failli.

“Ceci est au moins aussi important que la mise à disposition de milliards en aide au développement”, a-t-elle ajouté.

L’indice, élaboré grâce à des sondages réalisés auprès d’hommes d’affaires et de spécialistes, va de 10 pour un pays considéré comme “propre” à zéro pour un pays perçu comme gangrené par la corruption.

Selon le classement établi par TI, le Danemark, la Nouvelle-Zélande et Singapour arrivent en tête des pays perçus comme parmi les moins corrompus avec un indice de 9,3.

L’Afghanistan et la Birmanie sont ex-aequo avant-dernier sur la liste avec un indice de 1,4, tandis que la lanterne rouge revient à la Somalie avec un score de 1,1.

Parmi les autres pays, le Canada arrive à la 6e place avec un bon indice de 8,9; la Suisse en 8e position (8,7); la Grande-Bretagne en 20e position (7,6); les Etats-Unis et la Belgique se retrouvent tous deux à la 22e place (7,1); tandis que la France arrive en 25e position (6,8).

L’ONG, qui publie sa liste annuelle depuis 1995, souligne que certains pays - dont le Bhoutan, le Chili, l’Equateur, la République de Macédoine, la Gambie, Haïti, la Jamaïque, le Koweït, et la Qatar - ont amélioré leur score depuis 2009.

En revanche, des pays tels que la République Tchèque, la Grèce, le Hongrie, l’Italie, Madagascar, le Niger, et les Etats-Unis, sont perçus comme plus corrompus que l’an dernier, selon le rapport.





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