In The Sunday Telegaph, France's economy
was accused of being stuck in the 70s. I
can confirm, living in France, her being stuck in the past is deeply entrenched
in French society's collective consciousness.
Sorbonne-educated Jean-Louis Borloo, a
liberal, is the president of the centre-right Union des Democrates et
Indépendants, and one of its radical members.
According to Atlantico, "As the UMP implode, Borloo's UDI rub their
hands (with glee)". I heard him
interviewed an hour ago on France Inter, as he contemplates an opportunist
coalition with the UMP following their being weakened by the scrap between
Fillon and Copé. He was loud and clear
on his opinion that the Socialist party are stuck in 18th Century
thinking. You don't say….!
Having lived in France for just over 3 years, I was stunned when a
well-meaning local employer, at the "Haras National" (National Stud) in my
local town gave me some advice. Seated
in her office a stone's throw away from the 100-year old shrine to the town's
working horse heritage, she advised me to wind up my business and go on the
dole. Excuse me? "It would make you more interesting to
employers", she continued. Scarcely able
to restrain myself from asking why a "dole layabout" would make an
"interesting" employee at any level, I didn't bother saying that I wasn't
setting my sights on "getting a job", having set up my own company. "Please explain", I said, my eyes wide with incomprehension as she continued this fascinating
insight into the workings of a machine that pre-dates the Breton Poster horse.
"Naturally", she said, "government incentives to employ the unemployed mean
that, in fact, you stand little chance of being taken on unless you ARE
unemployed". So France prefers that
small business holders shut up shop and join the dole queue, rather than
getting off their backsides and generating some wealth. Or in my case, encouraging and facilitating
export. I politely told her that I
preferred spending my time actually working, rather than having circular
discussions with fontionnaires. Her
superior smile said it all – but I was truly glad to agree to differ.
So, for Borloo, how to support small
businesses? This morning he commented
that what he's disliked seeing the most over the past 6 months, is the
attitudes and practices that guarantee a talent drain for France, the battle
for the liberty of those who could generate wealth, the heavy taxation and
legislation that weigh them down. Small
companies being treated like large ones.
Man's instinct to explore, says Borloo, is natural. But France doesn't foster enterprise, nor
exterior investment, while other countries actively encourage it.
So what about Hollande's "Competitiveness
Pact "? "Can we get serious for a
moment?", he said, "this crisis isn't about the credit crunch: this government
is leading us softly to recession….
Unemployment rising is the only one of their promises I'd believe." He went on to say that France should stop
messing around with retrospective tax credits, and just lower the charges on
businesses and tackle unemployment rather than paying it lip service.
In a bid to emphasise unity after a
swingeing attack on the establishment, suddenly the discussion switches to Scouts
– a discussion that turns out to be more than simple light relief. At their most impressionable age, young boys
are schooled into packs. The most
important principle? The establishment of
a clear leader, and the subsequent falling into line by the rest. How they fear chaos and in-fighting – yet how
they foster it in the same breath.
Geert Hofstede's not wrong when he
clinically, and without a solid base in theory, categorised the nations in his
4 dimensions, two of which are pertinent here.
"Power Distance" and fear of the unfamiliar conspire to make the French fearful
of and closed to many things, especially the freedom for the ordinary person to
flourish. For all their shouting and
demonstrating in the street, the French are actually MORE accepting of
authority than many other nations. This
appears to inhibit their appetite to find ways around problems – they seek ways
to fit in with the system as it is, instead.
Housewives obey their husbands, children are scared of their teachers –
these can be good things in the right context, but are also reminiscent, as has
been said before, of Britain in the 70s, and who would want to go back
there? A French person might wind up
their business and register at the Job Centre in order to "conform", but for me
this runs counter to the idea that one must start as one means to carry on:
from a position of strength.
The French think they're bad at foreign
languages – I don't agree, what they're bad at is speaking them out loud, for
fear of being judged imperfect. That's
just another example of how they're tied up in their obsession with conformity They'd
do better to look beyond spelling and grammar, and consider instead their
inability to accept "foreign" ideas – such as a Free Market. Their conservatism, caution and obsession
with order and control, are what's holding them back.