Globalisation is good: the words not heard in the campaign

16th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 16, 2007 (AFP) - Globalisation for French presidential candidates is all about factories closing and moving to China.

PARIS, April 16, 2007 (AFP) - Globalisation for French presidential candidates is all about factories closing and moving to China.

They don't like to mention that Paris-based Carrefour, the world's second largest retailer after Wal-Mart, is making a killing there, and that France is one of the richest countries in the world thanks to free trade.

"Globalisation has long been stigmatised in France as destructive of jobs," said Mathilde Lemoine, an economist with HSBC bank.

That is certainly the message of the presidential candidates from the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League, the Alternative Globalisation party, Workers Struggle and the Workers Party when they appear nightly on French television screens.

But it is also the message, albeit in a nuanced form, of the three leading candidates, the rightwing Nicolas Sarkozy, the Socialist Segolene Royal, and the centrist Francois Bayrou.

These three have all promised to protect Airbus workers from job losses and have all pledged to battle "speculative" capitalism and curb outsourcing if they win the vote to be held in two rounds starting on April 22.  

They obviously know that globalisation has helped make French gross domestic product the sixth highest in the world, according to figures from the World Bank.

And that French companies such as Carrefour, carmaker Renault, Areva, the world's biggest maker of nuclear reactors, L'Oreal, the world's largest cosmetic company, or the engineering giant Alstom which makes high-speed TGV trains, and countless others are busy making handsome profits in every part of the globe.

But the politicians are "afraid of a subject that might cut them off from their electorate," said Xavier Timbeau of the OFCE economic research institute in Paris.

He said there were two main strands of anti-globalisation sentiment in France, where the average annual income per person is the equivalent of 35,000 dollars.

"There are the extreme left and the nationalists, or the extreme right, who say the clock must be turned back and globalisation brought to a halt. And then there are those who are for a moderate version of globalisation."

While countries around the world strive to be seen to be receptive to business, in France to be market-friendly is not perceived as a positive thing.

Successive governments have defended huge agricultural subsidies and evoked "economic patriotism" to justify bailing out French companies and stopping foreign takeover bids.

One opinion poll last year showed that only a third of the French thought that the free market economy was the best economic model.

To this, add a slow-moving bureaucracy, a labour code as thick as the Bible, and a climate of opinion that often equates the word "patron," the French for boss, with an evil oppressor.

These attitudes stem from economic illiteracy, according to some observers.

"The French have an extremely superficial knowledge of their own and the world economy," said Michel Gurfinkiel, one of a growing band of commentators whose lamenting of France's problems has marked them out as "declinologists."

"They are kept in this phenomenal ignorance by the media and the politicians," he said.

"Globalisation is what helps keep France alive. But the French don't understand this. They're free riders on US power. They take advantage of a global system largely run by the US, and France relies on US military power for stability in the world," said Gurfinkiel.

Mathilde Lemoine of the HSBC was less damning of the French, saying: "Certainly there's a lack of economic education, but (anti-globalisation sentiment) is also due to structural and historical reasons."

The far-left presidential candidates, who get nightly exposure to the French masses because of a law that obliges TV stations to give the same amount of air time to all candidates, have however little chance of actually winning the election.

"Their score (in the opinion polls) is at a historic low, even if there are five far-left candidates out of 12," said Xavier Timbeau.

And many economists agree that the three leading candidates have identified the right issues. Their campaigns focus on ways of boosting employment, they want to reconcile voters with business, and help small businesses grow.

But Royal has said she would renationalise the former electricity and gas monopolies, EDF and GDF, and that she wants to raise the minimum wage.

Sarkozy is seen as the most economically liberal, but he also indulges in crowd-pleasing rhetoric, saying recently he saw free trade as "a policy of naivety."

Even if elected president, his reforming enthusiasm might soon wear off in the face of the mass street protests that spring up whenever a French government wants to bring in major changes.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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