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5 May 2012

The banal truth about the French election

British observers of the French presidential contest don’t seem overly impressed by the choice on offer. John Kay is no exception, but expresses his disillusion with more elegance than most:

  • “Mr Sarkozy supports retirement at 62: Mr Hollande thinks 60 appropriate. Mr Sarkozy was elected on a programme of reform, and retirement at 62 proved its most controversial – indeed almost its only – measure.
  • “France’s social democracy is not really participative and its government is not really contested. Whoever is elected, economic management and control of public services remain in the hands of a homogenous cadre. In the postwar era, senior politicians (regardless of party), civil servants and the top management of most large French businesses have been drawn from a single elite class, selected through a rigorous meritocratic process, mostly implemented through France’s grandes écoles. Mr Sarkozy was in these terms an outsider, but Mr Hollande represents reversion to type.”

Kay sums up his misgivings with the observation that…

  • “…the two candidates are, first and foremost, French…”

Unavoidably so, but there is a more important issue here:

  • “Although Mr Sarkozy is the candidate of the right and Mr Hollande is from the left, the views and policies of competing political candidates in each western democracy are in many respects closer to each other than they are to those of parties of the left or right in other countries… if you sat down with leading politicians of the same nationality in private you would hear similar descriptions of issues, problems and plans.”

In truth, the degree of political covergence within individual nations varies rather more than Kay’s words would suggest, but his fundamental point (that differences between nations are more important) is a good one – and especially relevant to those nations trying to run a single currency together.

In fact, the most important effect of a change of leadership in France would be to bring differences over the Eurozone out into the open:

  • [Nicolas Sarkozy] is not interested in detail and Angela Merkel is interested in nothing else. This fundamental difference has permitted a convenient alliance in which the French president can declare his country’s determination to do whatever it takes and the German chancellor can implement her intention that her country should do as little as possible. Such an accommodation is unlikely to survive under a president with a longer attention span.”


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