The way some people talk, you might thing France had collectively jumped off a cliff into the sea, instead of electing a president.
Maybe it’s left over from the colonial age and the repeated wars between the United Kingdom and France, or their proxies. Maybe it’s envy of the beautiful city of Paris or tasty wines. Maybe it’s even resentment that they have the Moulin Rouge.
Whatever the cause, the “analysis” after Sunday’s presidential run-off was decidedly nasty.
Let it first be said, with an 81 per cent voter turnout, the result is more legitimate than any of those in the UK days earlier or generations of elections out of North America. The higher the turnout, the more representative the result. We should be applauding the French for having the sense of civic duty sufficient to vote in such numbers. In my own Glasgow City Council constituency last week, the turnout was 37.5 per cent. Another couple areas were around 27 per cent.
Although surprisingly close in the final result between Nicholas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, it is still a significant victory with a substantial backing from the country.
But the markets and some commentators don’t like voters. We saw that with Greece and Italy last year, where ratings agencies and stock markets essentially forced out elected leaders, however incompetent they may or may not have been.
In an article on the US website The Hill, former governor and senator Judd Gregg pointed to France’s heavy proportion of workers paid by the state, the early retirement options and other “ills”.
He wrote,”It has been a long time getting there, but France now seems to be on the final leg of this journey of self-delusion and self-destruction. The world is becoming more and more competitive, with no time for the self-indulgent as nations seek better lifestyles for their people. The politics of envy and the real reduction in competitiveness of the French society is clearly placing France and many nations in Europe at a tipping point.”
“They have dealt themselves a losing hand. We should simply observe, note it and hopefully choose not to play the same cards.”
The responses were even more blunt and particularly focus on France as lazy:
‘Dante’s Inferno’ said: “The French are circling the lower eschelons of Dante’s Inferno…..we are close behind in this death spiral downward vortex………………”
‘Wang Newton’ said: “The 2012 election in America comes down to those who have the GUTS to embrace personal freedoms and liberty vs those who think their sloth and avarice should be funded by their neighbour.”
And ‘crazy hat’ said: “The French have become so dependent on the nanny state that they have lost all connection with personal responsibility & self reliance, if they ever were. It is a bleak picture.”
Across the ocean, Nile Gardiner in the Telegraph said Hollande offered a “big government nightmare” and “the French people are embracing it”.
One comment by user ’57nomad’ said: “Free men are supposed to be self-sufficient and never demean themselves by begging off the government like a bunch of pathetic yokels tugging their forelocks to the Duke for a loaf of bread. The Europeans are getting what they deserve, another descent into a degrading serfdom.”
I point out these commentaries and responses because the overwhelming reaction to Hollande’s win has been skepticism, resentment and plain nastiness, almost all of it directed at the people for electing this leader.
People elect good and bad leaders all the time – usually they’re one and the same. It is the right of other countries to elect whomever they like. There’s plenty of countries who would still like that opportunity.
But to suggest that France is in a “death spiral” or the people are lazy is unfair, and presumably a bit insulting to the French.
The default number of holidays available to employees in Canada and the US is usually two weeks total a year. When I started working in the UK, it was seven weeks. Does that make me lazy? Or does it make North American workers workaholics and more prone to burnout or ill health?
Go on holiday to Spain or Italy and experience their siestas and most people will think how nice a post-lunch nap sounds. That doesn’t mean those workers are lazy, or not competitive.
Similarly, having social safety nets to catch people when they fall, does not mean those people don’t prefer to work and earn for themselves.
Yes, there is abuse of all systems, but the existence of a system does not mean the entire citizenry are “pathetic yokels”.
Nobody would argue that you can spend beyond your means forever, either as nations or individuals. The electoral fights across Europe and the US later this year are about who can both inspire growth and ensure a measure of equality of opportunity. There is no miracle answer from any political party as yet.
Voters in any nation are perfectly entitled to reject “austerity”, or more usually how it is implemented and who actually bears the brunt of the cuts. And they are entitled to thrown out the opponents later if they fail to deliver. That’s the nature of democracy – even in France.