Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sarko's sober sermon

On Thursday January 5th the French president Nicolas Sarkozy participated in a televised debate to discuss his new rescue package for the French economy. The financial plan comprising 1.4 billion euro will be used to re-finance the banks. The president also intends to invest in infrastructure and social projects. In order to save France’s disappearing automobile industry, professional tax will be cut from 2010. Since the financial crisis struck last year, France’s chief car manufacturers have hit an all-time production slump, with Renault, Citroen and Peugeot all closing factories. Outsourcing of manufacture to poorer countries such as Roumania and the Czech Republic has led to a serious rise in French unemployment. Sarkozy hopes that the removal of corporation tax will remedy this problem. Watching the debate, one got the impression that this was a man feeling the pressure. 

In spite of the democratic appearance of such a public debate with the president, his interrogation by three regular French news readers was far from rigorous. The general strike which has brought Guadaloupe to a standstill over the past few weeks was not even broached, and what about his famous ‘plan banlieu’, the ambitious development plan for France’s troubled suburbs? Nothing.
The only independent journalist who was allowed to question Sarkozy was the conservative Alain Duhamel, who has recently written a book called La Marche Consulaire ( The Consular March) comparing Sarkozy to Napoleon and the current financial crisis to the aftermath of the battle of Waterloo! The president managed to evade the vexed question of French purchasing power, which is considerably weaker than that of Germany. French teachers are among the lowest paid in the Euro Zone.
When it came to the question of Europe, Sarkozy referred to Ireland twice. However, this time there was no mention of the no- vote on The Lisbon Treaty. Instead, Ireland was mentioned as one of the worst cases of the financial capitalist catastrophe! Needless to say, the United Kingdom was also criticised for its role in the sub-prime mortgage scandal. It would be easy to forget, considering the ebullience of Sarkozy’s recent anti-capitalist rhetoric that this was the man who proposed to introduce the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model into French society during his 2007 election campaign. His slogan then was ‘travailler plus pour gagner plus’ - ‘ work more to earn more’. The thirty-five hour limit on the working week was to be reformed so that people could be encouraged to work themselves to death! Mr Sarkozy also expresses a considerable antipathy for rogue traders, in spite of the fact that one of his many recent constitutional reforms proposed the suspension of custodial sentences for financial misdemeanours.

 The French president has a rather idiosyncratic way of speaking. He frequently follows a statement with the question ‘pourquoi’-why, before proceeding to hammer home the answer. He also makes extensive use of repetition.  According to a recent survey, only 37 percent of the French population are happy with the performance of the French president, with over 60 percent expressing serious discontent. Nicolas Sarkozy showed remarkable dexterity in answering a range of highly predictable questions with platitudes and rhetorical flourishes. But, the real debate is heating up outside the Elysée Palace, and as the general strike on the 29th of January showed, French workers are becoming increasingly hostile to a Sarkozy’s relaunch of a bankrupt system.

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