April 28, 2007
France reflections: elections, Beurs, MENA, economy
As per The Lounsbury's suggestion, and following Ibn Kafka's extensive coverage of French elections, here are my two cents about them, Beurs, France and the MENA region and related economic bits.
Sunday's [May 6th] second round will most probably bring Sarkozy to French presidency. I have to say I'm very mixed up about this election. This round's vote is a matter of either gambling on Sarkozy, and risking what happened with Arab Americans, who happen to have voted George Bush in 2000, or choosing an economically destructive but marginally more risk averse community-wise choice with Segolene.
The impact on French policies related to the Middle East will be immediate, Sarkozy being close to the CRIJF (check this entry about how French Arabs wasted their political capital with Sarkozy), so his policies are more likely to reflect the US approach to the Middle-East. On internal matters, he has pretty much unleashed cops like pitbulls in the ghettos, on top of France already having one of the worst records in the EU in that regard. Videos like those where you can see cops literally hunting down or beating youth are not exceptional - I even have a couple of private ones - and cops are generally immune. Besides, his economics are not particularly exciting: populist and, in good French tradition, statist.
So why the hesitation? Some argue that if it's not for Segolene, it should be at least against Sarkozy. Well, in terms of economy, the French left is really, I mean really, lagging at least a couple of decades in terms of evolution. In a country in which barely more than 20% of the population is convinced that a market economy is a good thing (the lowest rate in the OECD), the left didn't really need to rejuvenate itself. The last premier it offered was a good ole trotskyist bureaucrat mind you. Or as a friend of mine would put it sarcastically, France's the only communist country that has succeeded.
Segolene's from that old left bureaucrats school of thought. Their history of reinforcing economic inefficiencies, or their promises to rollback much needed reforms about the ultra-rigid labor laws are only a couple of examples of retarded measures that hurt French Arabs more than anyone else: each additional rigidity increases the number of cases where it's more profitable to outsource to Eastern Europe for example than hire French low-skilled labor. Largely a working class population, French Arabs are doubly hit by discriminations which slow economic growth only aggravate. The many small businesses owned by Arabs are also hindered by such inefficiencies. Even though there are many issues to consider, French Arabs will not be able to defend any of their important concerns (civil rights, migrations laws, MENA foreign policy, etc.) if their general economic (and resulting influence and educational) level is not improved in the first place.
Besides, Segolene is not very attractive on MENA issues either. And as far as migration laws are concerned, I'll adapt an Arab saying about Israeli settlements: The right promises to add a law against immigrants, and adds one; the left promises it’ll remove one, and adds ten. Even though for some reason that escapes me Arabs buy it.
In any case, all this discussion about the left is moot, since it will probably not make it to the presidency this time. Sadly, what I had already predicted in August will also come true: a massive anti-Sarkozy vote will take place among French Arabs, and losing block votes are just more of losers than losing non block votes. At the first round at least, there was the Bayrou (lack of) option (La Croix, through Ibn Kafka again, 20% voted for him - as an aside, the 3% estimate of French Muslims is wildly under any I've ever seen so far).
So what changes are to be expected? Alignment with Israel and the US as mentioned above. For the rest, same old, same old. The Maghreb will be as tied to its colonial heritage as usual, copying every stupid French law, trading almost exclusively with Europe, and building more camps for the immigration candidates that Europe wants to keep out of sight.
Parting away from the election itself, but not totally unrelated to the rest of this entry, on French MENA relations and economy: the lack of community self-conscience among French Arabs which I mentioned previously, the same lack of perception of them as a community from other Arabs as well, coupled with their economic problems don't help shape anything in terms of French politics. At the same time, France is a third rate power so its influence is not that great anyway. This implies that 1) any policy impacting the Middle East can only be shaped from Washington, not from Paris - sorry Arabs, your tendency to get overexcited about France's vocal opposition to US policies have little basis 2) any policy impacting the Maghreb will be made in the Maghreb itself with very limited ability to curb it from France - besides the Maghreb's own willingness to follow France that is.
Now there's a huge untapped potential for both MENA and France. Absolutely unexploited. Millions of French Arabs. That ranks higher than half the members of the Arab league in terms of population. They could be a significant 23rd member of the League by themselves. With European level incomes, despite their poverty relatively to their environment, a very significant market too. I'd say pan regional MENA offices, private and governmental, should include them under their management zone (how about that Col). Also, a source of young people who have the ability to move naturally within two cultures, speak at least two languages, no administrative barriers, and statistically have higher levels of literacy and training than MENA's. Transmediterranean bridges and community networks just waiting to be squeezed for profit. The aging population in Europe creates trillions in euros of acquisition opportunities. MENA has cash (the Gulf) or cheap labor, geographical proximity and some cultural exposure. Only a few examples, you fill the dots. Knock knock investors?
Posted by Shaheen at April 28, 2007 04:21 AM
Filed Under: EU Foreign Policy , Economic Development , Ethnic Minorities , Foreign Policy & MENA , Levant , MENA Region General , North Africa , Op-Ed , Political Development , Religious Minorities
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I have nothing to dispute about this post, you are right about everything. It's a summing up kind of post.
On the economy. Fistful Of Euros have had some posts on how the miserable French economy isn't as bad as hyped. It's doing ok, really, compared to other EU countries. Except for the young and the descendants of immigrants, where unemployment is severe. So if you're young and Arab, there are no jobs to be had. Double combo knock out.
I read the entry you're mentionning and Fistful of Euros is wrong, it doesn't really base its claim on hard data. A couple of statistics are telling: 10% of structural unemployment, and during the best years of growth, it barely makes it above 2% (except for the Internet bubble years). That's pretty lame.
From both employees' and a businesses' point of view, I've seen other countries, and frankly, you can feel the rigidity in France, with quite a big difference with anyone close.
I absolutely agree with Shaheen. The absurd prevalence of temporary work offices, and long term structural unemployment are core signs of an economy merely treading water.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at April 30, 2007 03:10 PM
Temporary work offices, fill me in on that one if you please. Sounds like a way of getting around employee benefit burdens.
Eurostat is marvellous. Ooo, look at Latvia go.
Compared to Germany, France doesn't seem terrible. Germany hasn't been doing very well either of course, it's just not trumpeted anywhere near as much as France's problems. Which was the point of the Fist post, that compared to the rest of Europe, France is not the Worst Economy Ever. Take Italy, for example.
also, look at Germany's fertility rate compared to France. Wonder why.
Posted by: Klaus at April 30, 2007 04:38 PM
Well written arty on Salon. Didn't know where to put it, couldn't wait for New month thread. British prisons, apparently crap like everything else there, though not as crap as French prisons, but nothing beats those. Musings on black muslims, the ethnic underclass, prison homosexuality and cleanliness, terror hysteria, and Blair's legacy of anti-social behaviour laws. Worth a read.
Posted by: Klaus at May 1, 2007 12:17 AM