The frustrations of everyday life in France reflect what still remains the make-or-break issue of the European Union: can Brussels contain its fiscal and federalist megalomania, and can France avoid a clash with Frankfurt’s fiskalunionists by upping its game? The Slog investigates.
The journey from our apartment in Paris to the Gare Montparnasse is but a few stops on the metro. The problem is the kilometre of walking and 93 steps involved in getting to the departure platform and then transferring from the metro to the Gare. That part is alleviated by just the one moving walkway, the most notable thing about which is that people not on it keep overtaking you. And some of them are walking in the opposite direction.
So to help pass the time while moving almost imperceptibly forwards, the EU has thoughtfully taken the longest poster ad in history in order to tell us (using our own money) just how lucky, blessed and privileged we are to be living with the European Bunion. The trivial and patronising nature of the ad is, I kid you not, so insulting as to make 1960s TV soap powder commercials seem like the output of deranged radical feminists by comparison. It sort of unfolds like this:
‘Despite suffering one or two minor growing pains over the last few years, the EU remains the most valued institution in our lives. Here are Françoise (French) and Jim (English), two happy citizens sharing the golden years of their lives in this our blessed union. “It is wonderful,” says Françoise, “Now, I drink tea, and Jim has croissants for breakfast”. Here are Bjorn (Swedish) and Isabella (Spanish). “It is so natural so many languages now well to be speaking,” says Bjorn, “We hop from one to the other and enjoying all the benefits of comforting travel”.’
Rather like the walkway, it goes on and on, until at long last it gets bearable, because it ends. It is a classic example of the means never justifying the ends, especially when the ends are achieved only by the lavish use of our means. And the end result – the Great European Project – is hard to justify when you think about it.
Consider: in return for tea, croissants, better language skills, one currency in nineteen States and well appointed trains in two member States out of twenty-seven, we have run up a public debt equivalent to €24,590 per citizen. Along the way we have been the lucky recipients of uncontrolled African migration, crippling austerity in five States, a mad Italian bint with a thing about men in uniform, corruption so gross not a single auditor in the world will sign off the books, a drunken President, record unemployment, stubbornly slow growth, raised tensions with Russia, three Eastern States refusing to take either the euro or Islamic migrants, one vassal State raped by German carpetbaggers, and the imminent departure of the fourth biggest economy.
It calls itself a “Union”, but it lacks the following unified things: currency, legal systems, road traffic rules, driving licences, holidays, police procedures, welfare, signage, ecosystems, economies, air traffic control, consumer protection legislation, and just about anything you’d want to be unified – except the banks, which represent a perfectly aligned set of dominoes constructed by a trainee beachstone balancer. They are unified, God help us.
It’s a multicultural society writ large upon a financial and economic canvas. Move further away from this work of art, and its spells ‘DISASTER’.
Reading such a huge hallway of propaganda today felt creepy. To see the morally bankrupt morons in Brussels resorting to such Soviet Groupthink is the surest sign yet that they are both incompetent, dictatorial and doomed.
As predicted in these columnns (not entirely exclusively) President Macron is already having trouble getting La France en merde to be a little more En Marche, as it were. I have news for him: the requirement is either to get France a lot more en marche, or get France TF out of the EU. Clearly, he has no intention of doing the latter, and so that leaves him with just the first option. Allow me to put his task into perspective using my own predicament at the minute as an explanatory tool.
The current month is August, and during August pretty much the entire working population of France decides to give up its Je m’en fou attitude to work in favour of je me suis en route à la Med for the holidays, squire. In doing so, they leave behind any concerns they might have about service response promises made, postal deliveries scheduled, and most other things that keep the economy underperforming at its expected rate.
I was (partly as a result of that exodus) taking the TGV from Paris to Bordeaux in search of a lawnmower repair two weeks behind schedule, a replacement bank card three weeks behind schedule, a new phone line four weeks behind schedule, and a satellite phone so far behind the music that every conversation on it becomes a guessing game about heavily pregnant pauses.
And before you dismiss me as an incurable Frog-knocker, let me tell you how wonderful the French inter city TGV service is. It is punctual, it is clean, it has internet, it has plugs for computers, it offers tons of legroom, and it knocks internal air travel through the ropes without even breaking into a sweat.
However, let’s get back to the reason why I was on the bloody train in the first place. The lawnmower was under repair and awaiting a part; the bank card promised within eight days was still AWOL after twenty-three; the pin code for it had arrived, but then been forwarded to me in Paris by Express delivery….and disappeared; the box for the new phone/internet combo had at last turned up, but no date for going live had been forthcoming; and I was unable to raise anyone at Nordnet’s “guaranteed repair service within 12 hours” because there was, so to speak, nobody there.
We are looking at twin problems here as follows: the French attitude to customer service is on a par with the German attitude to Greece – let them wait; and there is a silly idea in circulation here that, in a supposedly modern economy, everyone can go on holiday at once. The attitude of French consumers to the first one is to show some patience and eat some lunch. As for the second one, they’re on holiday too so whatTF.
Something will have to give, and this is Macron’s big problem: it isn’t going to be the French. It is already Wolfgang Schauble’s problem, because the French government keeps failing to reach its deficit targets. And within a year at most it’s going to be a Draghi-Merkel problem, because there is no way the French unions (syndicats) are going to quietly acquiesce in their incomes being crushed in order to keep the 3% in clover, and the bond/forex markets happy.
But over the longer term, France faces two very uncomfortable questions: just how strongly is it committed to the Great European Project, and just how much is it prepared to make the cultural change required to be so committed?
Do not be under any illusions: the emotional commitment to the idea of the European Union is strong among at least 80% of French citizens, and close to 100% among the young….where Macron is strong. There is also a consensus among farmers that the EU is indispensable. France is not Italy, where a clear majority now want to get out of the euro; nor is it Greece, Poland or Hungary, where detestation of the attitudes and behaviour of Brussels is very high.
It’s on the cultural change question where the wicket gets decidedly sticky for the EC and Eurogroupe tyrants. Perhaps three out of four people here dislike what they think of as “Anglo-Saxon globalism” and everything that goes with it: reduced welfare, sandwiches for lunch, and soi-disant “reform of the workforce”. And I am bound to observe that I share most of their fears; so much so, in fact, that despite the frustrations of everyday life in France, I’m still generally happy here – Brexit or no Brexit.
France is unique in the EU, in that it is to all intents and purposes self-sufficient. If it pulled up the drawbridge and stopped either importing or exporting basic foodstuffs, unemployment would sky-rocket, but everyone would have more than enough to eat. Not many people want to do that in the current environment; but what very few realise is that to maintain their living standards, French workers and management need to up their game. As I’ve observed before, the nation’s export problem is one of price, quality and delivery. With an expensive euro and Poland still outsde the euro, French exports are going from bad to worse.
France still churns out some mass-made durable products (windows, doors, lawn mowers, tech, roofing, beds and paint) to match British Leyland quality at its worst and Mercedes at its most profiteering. That’s not a viable combination. But by far its biggest problem is unreliable delivery alongside antediluvian stocking systems….and that becomes critical during August.
If I were selfish, I’d say that France should modernise its delivery systems, accept the principle of genuine aftersales service, invest more in product quality and stagger its summer vacations.
But if it did that, France would no longer be France. Worse still, the neoliberal agenda would accelerate, multinational bourse-funded business would wipe out local competition, and the very thing that attracts francophile tourists – a slower pace and a better life-balance – would disappear.
A compromise is in order, and in that context I suggest the French take a look at their recent history.
SNCF is a State asset, unchanged since its foundation. It will be 80 years old next year. Overall, it’s services are punctual, the rolling stock is ultra-modern and clean, and its high-speed intercity infrastructure is the best in Europe. If they feel passionate about something, the French will do it as well as anyone.
They’re passionate about wine, but the standards fell and they lost share of the alcohol market. They imported skills and retrained growers. Today, French wine is back on top.
They’re passionate about cars and have a knack for producing a comfortable ride. But the build quality and engineering technology let them down. Today, French cars hold their own in a troubled market: they don’t have German levels of reliability, but then they don’t retail at German prices either.
It’s all about playing to your strengths. The ultimate French passion is for food, and food exports (in both raw crop and added-value) are high quality and competitive.
At their best, French artisans are among the most honest and diligent in the world. They lose out to imported immigrant labour on the grounds of cost, because they factor in all the welfare they need in their prices, and generally keep tax evasion to an expected level.
It’s in the mass manufacture of artisan products that France lags way behind, and is being slaughtered by imports – especially from Poland. Fix this, and France would export far more successfully. Fix it in the right way, and they could reduce unemployment.
The demand for skilled artisan labour vastly exceeds supply here. The trend – driven by sociopathic globalist accountancy – is towards robotisation. With verve and imagination, France could reverse that by both improving design standards in the mass market, creating space for skilled cooperatives, and giving an even tax break to small artisan businesses servicing local markets.
Emmanuel Macron is displaying two unpleasantly dysfunctional features at the moment: an arrogant and narcissistic manner (his “facial” expenses are a scandal) and a tendency to weakness on domestic detail. He is also a Superstate Belieeeever, and a big fan of financialisation – being a banker, he would be.
These weaknesses are, predictably, coming rapidly to the fore. Yet he is the personification of France’s dilemma: on the one hand, the silly European Union desire to be the Fourth Power bloc; and on the other, the love of most French citizens for la culture francaise.
In Greece, the EC/ECB/Eurogoupe axis demonstrated its contempt for national culture. This inflexibility is now undermining Italian belief in the euro. But the fiscal ambitions of Schäuble and Dijesslbleom remain undiminished.
If Macron becomes a lapdog to Brussels control-freakery, he will fail miserably in French politics. And if France doesn’t invest more in its strengths, the dogs of FiskalUnion will try to take a bite out of French sovereignty.
Brussels will never learn, and so France will have to keep the federalists at bay – solving its deficit problem via quality control rather than monetarism. If it succeeds in that task but the eurogroupe continues to demand supremacy, then it will be the end for the European Union. Not tomorrow or next year, but one day.
On verra, as they say here.