Modernity as a plot

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times (subscribers only), pins down France’s role in both EU and WTO disputes:

The facts about France defy crude caricatures. It has an impressively productive economy and an array of globally competitive companies. As an Anglo-Saxon, I am as often envious of French culture and intellectualism as infuriated by its self-conscious exceptionalism. If the recent riots in the banlieues were a vivid reminder of deep-seated social problems, they were are also a wake-up call for most of the rest of Europe.

Yet, look back over the past decade and Mr Chirac has misjudged and miscalculated at every turn. Each new challenge has been treated as a threat. Stubbornness has replaced confidence. EU enlargement, globalisation, international trade talks: all have been seen as part of a global conspiracy against the fifth republic. Every change has somehow been a betrayal; modernity itself is cast as a plot to diminish France’s standing in the world. Mr Chirac has thus swapped his country’s identity as a leader for that of victim.

More Europe once meant more France. By welcoming the former communist states into the club, Paris might have projected its leadership across this wider landscape. But Mr Chirac has never been able to conceal his disgruntled condescension towards these “lesser” states from the east. The decline of French influence has thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The same persecution complex has defined his response to globalisation. The French social model has much to recommend it. A confident leader would have shown how the model could be adapted and updated to meet the new insecurities of the age. Instead, Mr Chirac has built another Maginot Line.

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