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May 6, 2006
France Creaks Towards Collapse

The French government, already on the ropes after the riots earlier this year, has suffered another blow to its credibility and now has the nation talking about its collapse. Dominique de Villepin may have to resign his position as Prime Minister in reaction to voter anger over an elite political class that has little contact with the electorate:

A burgeoning political scandal of alleged dirty tricks involving the cabinet's two top ministers has tainted the entire French government, pushing it to the brink of paralysis and collapse in the final year of President Jacques Chirac's administration, according to government officials and political analysts.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin faces daily calls for his resignation. Flanked by somber-faced ministers, he told reporters at a packed news conference Thursday that the corruption investigation would "not deter me one second from my mission."

What's known as the Clearstream scandal centers on whether Villepin secretly ordered a criminal investigation to damage the reputation of Interior Ministry Nicolas Sarkozy, Villepin's party colleague and rival for the presidency. Villepin on Thursday denied ordering the probe, calling allegations that he did "lies, slander and attacks."

The investigation is the latest blow to a government already weakened by riots last fall in immigrant-populated suburbs of Paris and around the country and crippling student demonstrations and workers' strikes this spring.

"The situation is extremely volatile," said Renaud Dehousse, director of the Center for European Studies at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris. "The government has lost any credibility whatsoever."

It goes beyond credibility, especially with De Villepin. The PM ordered the new youth employment contract that led to the student strikes and caused France to almost shut down a few weeks ago. Earlier, De Villepin's lack of movement on minority employment created some of the force behind the immigrant demonstrations, protests which quickly escalated into riots and terrorist attacks by the burgeoning number of Islamists in France. On both occasions, the French looked towards the PM's political opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, as the solution to the mess that De Villepin could not resolve.

Whether De Villepin did or did not order the discredited probe has become a secondary issue. The French have tired of enduring non-responsive governments, and the PM is the poster boy for the ivory-tower elite they despise. De Villepin has never won elective office, and yet he occupies one of the most powerful political positions in France. He has become the symbol of an out-of-touch administration, and even some in his own party wants him to resign.

Part of the problem is that the French people want more of what ails them in the first place. De Villepin tried to present an actual solution for youth unemployment by reducing the risk for businesses to take a chance on hiring them. Predictably, the very people who would benefit from this reduced risk screamed that they wanted lifetime sinecures with no conditions rather than jobs with expectations for performance. Being French, they protested until the government agreed to continue its interference in the employer-employee relationship, guaranteeing that businesses will avoid hiring the people who want no accountability for the quality of their work.

However, De Villepin has proven himself an unreliable and double-dealing politician. Coming on the heels of his infamous welching on the agreement he had with Colin Powell, it would surprise no one if the PM deliberately spread fabrications about his rival's financial and political dealings in order to save himself from defeat. Certainly no one would miss De Villepin once he leaves public office, and many would be glad to see him suffer the kind of scandal that would keep him from the French presidency.

These days, however, the French have become more and more irrelevant. Thanks to their participation in the Oil-For-Food scandal, the US and UK do not trust them on foreign policy any longer, and their own people don't trust them to maintain order and the economy. Their nanny state is headed for collapse now that they have cut off the flow of cheap labor from North Africa and the Middle East. Only their nuclear arsenal and their veto on the Security Council gives them any global relevance at all any more, and the former becomes more of a worry as their economically depressed and socially isolated Muslim population continues to grow.

In the end, the Washington Post is correct: no one will recall who smeared whom. If we acre enough to remember anything, it will be that the French slowly strangled themselves into insignificance, both economically and politically.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 6, 2006 10:38 AM

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