Is France sailing into Greek waters?
SOPHIE QUINTIN ADALINicolas Sarkozy announced his bid for the presidency. The only surprise about the whole hullabaloo was the campaign poster: a smiling candidate set against a bright horizon over a calm sea. Prima facie is a classic example of the electoral communication genre. Except that the background seascape is apparently not French but Greek.
The blogosphere is having a field day with the poster. Beautiful as the Greek Aegean Sea may be, what was Team Sarkozy thinking? The UMP candidate’s message was not even bad: a strong France caught in an economic storm needing a steady pair of hands at the helm to sail into calmer waters…but Greek waters? In fact the amateurish blunder illustrates the prevailing psyche. While the Hellenic ship spirals down a political and economic vortex, in Paris the political class behaves as if the same causes – out of control sovereign debt, oversized public sector and lack of reforms – could not have the same effect.
The humiliation imposed by Eurocrats upon the Greek people should bring candidates to their senses. But not even the live coverage of an advanced democracy turning into the real life nightmare world depicted in Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” (“The Strike” in French) gives candidates pause for thought. The story of a dystopian society dominated by powerful unions falling apart under the burden of taxation and government regulations must make for uncomfortable reading in bien pensant circles, only probably to be dismissed as Anglo-Saxon gibberish, even though the author is Russian.
The only thing being “shrugged” by the power elite is reality, namely that the country is already bankrupt (debt: 1,700 billion euros). As former liberal Minister of Finance Alain Madelin warns, the country needs profound reforms, not more state intervention in the economy, protectionism and all manner of taxes – green, soda, financial transaction, social. Sadly, his open letter only had the two main parties laughing. For all their squabbling they have entered into an unholy electoral alliance against austerity and liberalization reforms, a “Sarkollande” front against the common external enemy; the perfidious (Anglo-Saxon) finance.
Athens is burning and Lisbon could be next. A deeper crisis lies in the offing. France’s push for EU sanctions against Iran, answered by an immediate supply ban of Iranian oil exports, could trigger a serious supply crisis for Greece. European citizens will have to dig deeper into their pockets. Was this a timely or even useful decision? No matter, France has grandeur to keep it going. As an editorialist quipped, “It’s petty politics-as-usual in the fair land of eternal state bounty.” Politicians behave as if none of these grave international issues matter. What could possibly go wrong in the land of Monnet and Schuman, the founding fathers of European integration?
True. The French and Greek economies are not really comparable. France has a ruthlessly efficient tax collection system but it has similarly been plagued by irresponsible public spending and reform sclerosis resulting in the loss of its triple-A rating. For the past 30 years, successive governments have contributed to the ballooning of the state and public spending as well as increased economic dirigisme. The Court of Accounts rang the alarm bell but with the cacophony of the electoral fete, no one is listening.
Having accrued extraordinary powers and privileges, the princes of the republic have been terminally lured by collectivist sirens. Honestly, an odyssey in the Turkish Aegean Sea would have heralded better economic news.
Sophie Quintin Adalı is an analyst for www.unmondelibre.org, the Francophone project of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.