Report October 2014 (Nobel Prizes and Decline)

France a Nobel Laureate and yet in Decline?

France, 09 Oct – 22 Oct 2014

Government: „reforms are no courtesy, but simply the right thing“ ++ Nobel Prize surprise for Frenchmen ++ Right-wing intellectual in doubt about French virility.
by Matthieu Choblet

Government: „reforms are no courtesy, but simply the right thing“

The French government is pursuing its intention to implement decisive changes in the French economic and social framework. Its latest concerns: the unemployment insurance fund is in deficit of 3.8 bn. Euros in 2014 and the national budget is deep in the red as well, despite of renewed budget cuts. As a consequence, the European Commission is pressuring France to reduce its unemployment benefits. New Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron took this opportunity to announce a new reform, notwithstanding that the unemployment benefits were already overhauled in July this year. “No taboos!”, insisted Macron, who joined the government in August and plans to minimise the length and scope of the benefits.

However, the Commission’s recommendations receive little favour from a French public opinion that is increasingly hostile to “Brussels”. President François Hollande is well aware of this. At a conference in Paris he pointed out that the government was not implementing reforms “out of courtesy towards Europe or international organisations”, but in the very interest of France. “We are doing those reforms to get growth and jobs”.

Hollande also attempted to rebut the critique raised by his ex-companion concerning his alleged disdain of the poor (see French Report September 2014/2). At a round table conference with representatives of charity organisations the President deplored the injury and humiliation that poverty was doing. Yet, other voices in France have risen who claim that the recipients of social welfare were actually privileged as compared to honest working but underpaid low wage earners. To those who may think that being a welfare case in France was fortunate, Hollande added: „Just try out what it is like and you will see!”.

Nobel Prize surprise for Frenchmen

French author Patrick Modiano, 69, was decorated with the Nobel Prize for literature – and he “wasn’t expecting it at all” the humble novelist declared. The Swedish academy recognised the award to Modiano “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation”. “His books are about memory, identity and aspiration,“ endorsed the academy’s permanent secretary Peter Englund.

The authors work often deals with the life in Paris in the 1940s. It also looks back on the shameful role of the Vichy regime. Between 1940 and 1944, French elites traded forced labourers and Jews to the Nazis in exchange for the right to retain some of their powers.
Modiano is the second French Nobel prize winner in literature in only six years, following Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.

The second surprise was the „Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences” for Jean Tirole. The 61-year-old economist excelled in the analysis of dysfunctional markets, where industrial oligopolies and monopolies inflate prices and hamper innovation. Curiously, while the French economy is becoming an international example of decline, 2014 seems to be the year of successful French economists. Earlier this year, Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st century” had become an international bestseller. With so many laureates, one may wonder why France is in such turmoil.

Right-wing intellectual in doubt about French virility

At a national level, right-wing intellectual Eric Zemmour enjoys a special reputation. In his latest publication the journalist and essayist, who is known for his apology of France’s past splendour, attempts to rehabilitate the French who collaborated with the Nazis. The author invokes numbers according to which relatively few Jews were deported from France during World War II as compared to Belgium or the Netherlands. This is clearly a point in favour for the authoritarian Vichy regime from Zemmour’s perspective. Robert Paxton, the American historian, who in the 1970s was one of the first to unfold the infamy of Vichy with scientific diligence, reciprocated it was “difficult to believe” that Zemmour had actually read the relevant documents.

Zemmour has also set himself the goal to investigate on the “forty years that disassembled France” from 1970 to 2007. According to Zemmour, blinded politicians (“useful idiots”) and liberal ideologists (mainly “gay-lobbyists and feminists”) who dominate the media and the cultural sector deconstructed French values such as nationalism and virility. As a result, he claims, the feminized and weakened nation was left at the mercy of alien powers.

To the storm of protest against his claims Zemmour turns a deaf ear. He knows that he will be invited to the next TV-show nevertheless. And so, he cultivates the image of a truthful nostalgic of the ‘good old times’. Yet, were the 1950s in France ever so happy as he likes to recall? His depiction of the ‘true’ France sounds more like Disneyland, stated a critique.

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