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July 14, 2005
Le Tipping Point?

According to the Guardian (UK), the French may soon reach a level of political dissatisfaction that will threaten to not only topple Jacques Chirac but the entire economic structure of Europe's most socialized democracy. Kim Willsher reports from Paris that a movement has started to form in fits and starts that may soon generate into a revolutionary effort:

Today should be Jacques Chirac's big moment. As the standard bearer of France's republican tradition he oversees an impressive parade on Bastille Day. Horseguards, soldiers, pilots, police officers and firemen will march down the Champs Elyses accompanied by as much hardware - tanks, rocket launchers and fighter jets - as France's military might can muster.

But, even in his Bastille Day best, Mr Chirac cannot ignore the fact that France is deeply fed up, and with him above all. ...

That France is not in the mood to party is clear. But this is more than a nation in economic and political depression. It is a crisis that some analysts believe could turn violent.

Commentators evoke May 1968, when students rioted through the streets of Paris setting up barricades and tearing up paving stones to hurl at the police. Everyone got angry, went on strike and then went back to work or study. It did not change much, but it remains a seminal moment of that generation.

Many believe France has another crisis coming. For 30 years the country ignored warnings that its system needed an overhaul, that it could not sustain its massive public expenditure, enormous bureaucracy, expensive public services, high taxes and crippling social charges. Paradoxically, French people often say they want changes, and then bring the streets to a standstill when their politicians try to introduce them. Instead of pressing ahead with difficult reforms, ministers have all too often taken the soft option of retreating.

Ironically, this last dynamic describes almost exactly the effort that Chirac poured into the defeated EU constitution. To many of us, the pact represented everything that we see wrong with European politics: bloated, reliant on unaccountable bureaucracies, and heavily biased towards government prerogatives than guaranteeing individual freedoms. However, for the French, it would have forced some critically-needed market-based reforms in order to integrate France into the overall EU economy.

Typically, the French rejected this approach, claiming that the pact benefitted the British at their expense. They refused to see that other nations in the EU, especially in the East that recently has had so much negative experience with socialism, refuses to follow France into economic ruin. More to the point, they refuse to fund France's avoidance of economic responsibility.

This seems to have finally dawned on France's electorate. They see that their socialist structure has failed and that Europe is prepared to leave them behind; the rescue on which they counted will not be forthcoming. Yet they're still not ready to abandon the free ride they have enjoyed for the last several decades, funded in large part by the influx of Muslim immigrants that have also helped destabilize French society. They want a magic wand to solve their problems painlessly, but if Willsher is correct, that avoidance almost guarantees an explosive denouement that may take years to correct.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 14, 2005 12:07 PM

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