France: Annoying Neighbor

Tired of hearing about all the French strikes (even if you haven’t been living/traveling there and so had to deal with them directly)? Finding it hard not to snort when you recall that the main point at issue is a raising of the official retirement age from 60 to 62? Consider it rather too convenient that that month-long wave of street-demonstrations has now dovetailed nicely with the week of Autumn vacation for French students?

Well then, you’re not alone, for much of the Fifth Republic’s recent behavior is attracting unfavorable notice among its neighbors, including that big one across the Eastern frontier marking the area of so many of the 19th and 20th centuries’ great battles. The lede paragraph of a recent article in the German newsmagazine Focus (Always annoyed with the French) sums things up well:

They strike like there’s no tomorrow, provoke Siemens with unfair attacks and undercut the German European Central Bank candidate behind his back. Is France doing away with herself?

Well, it sums things up well with a little unpacking:

  • Provoke Siemens: The French government reacted rather badly to news of a few weeks ago that Eurostar, which runs high-speed trains from Paris and from Brussels to London, had decided to buy new equipment from the German firm Siemens rather than – as usual – the French firm Alstom. Of course, public procurement contracts such as this within the EU are supposed to be awarded based purely on cost/quality considerations, not nationality – but the French Transport Minister, Dominique Bussereau, did conveniently mention that the Siemens trains were not long enough and posed other safety risks, as he made his announcement that he was using his authority to invalidate the sale.
  • Undercut the German ECB candidate: Everybody knows (doesn’t everybody?) that the successor next year to Jean-Claude Trichet at the head of the ECB is supposed to be Axel Weber, currently president of the German Central Bank, the Bundesbank. Actually, regardless of whether that really is the consensus among EU officials and European politicians who decide these things, it’s particularly important these days to elevate the Bundesbank president to ECB president, for political reasons: the Germans have been those mostly called-upon to come up with the money to bail out Greece and the whole Eurozone monetary system, and the same would be true if help were to be needed for Portugal, Ireland, and the rest. They know that, they’re getting tired of it, so it’s a very good idea at least to put one of their own in a banking/monetary decision-making position as vital as that of ECB president. Then again, nowadays French authorities profess to know nothing about any “consensus”; they have started pushing for the current head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), to succeed Trichet. This might also have something to do with the fact that, if DSK is not immobilized in a new job at the ECB, he may well challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency in 2012.
  • Oh, and there’s one remaining bit: Focus writer Uli Dönch finishes that lede-paragraph I’ve quoted with the question Schafft Frankreich sich selbst ab? and that’s a clever allusion to Deutschland schafft sich ab, which is the title of a current raging best-seller in Germany (written by a former member of the Board of the Bundesbank, Thilo Sarrazin) which posits that Germany is weakening itself fatally through a combination of its low birth-rate and readiness to accept non-Western immigrants (with their high birth-rates).

There you have it: this Uli Dönch hepcat manages to compress just about all he has to remark on into his one, short leading paragraph. I mean, is this journalism or is it poetry? All that remain to be considered are some speculations as to why unsere Lieblingsnachbarn – that is, “our favorite neighbors,” expressed with an ironic tone – would be acting this way.

This comes at the end, in a section headlined “Arrogance or Inferiority Complex?” Here Herr Dönch drops the ball, yielding to rhetoric better-suited to the dueling of rival fans on football commentary websites. It can’t be arrogance, he proclaims, because the times are long gone when France was “the clearly dominating Power on the European mainland. But now? La Grande Nation? Like how. La Grande Illusion! Only: who’s going to tell them?”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.