For many observers, the storm unleashed in March by the adoption of the Contrat Première Embauche, or 'first job contract', was evidence of a sickness peculiar to France, and showed that the country was incapable of reform or of accepting the discipline that comes with globalisation. French young people, it was said, had proved as incorrigibly conservative as their elders and were foolishly clinging to a social model that history has condemned. This interpretation of events has little connection with reality. Like every other European country, France has been involved in a process of international standardisation that has already produced numerous reforms. We can argue about whether they were well-founded, but not about their existence or their import. Yet France is not doing well for all that; indeed, it is doing very badly. Rocked by a series of major crises from which the ruling elites have been incapable of learning any lessons, the country is in a state of moral and political disrepair almost without equal in Europe. The sense that the regime is in crisis and that the state is coming apart is shared by everyone, and made worse by all the plotting and settling of accounts currently taking place at the summit of the executive. Everyone sits waiting for new earth tremors without knowing where or when they will strike.
LRB 8 June 2006 | PDF Download