More on Europe’s 50th anniversary tributes/commentaries. As often is the case, some of the most thought-provoking articles come from outside the EU. In this one, published on the Yale Global website, Jean-Pierre Lehmann – professor of political international economy at the International Institute for Management Development – notes how France was once a prime mover of integration. But the nation has since become insecure and insular, and leading contenders in the French presidential race reflect the mood. “All this hardly bodes well for the future of France or for the future of Europe,” writes Lehmann. “This in turn may have a negative impact on the rest of the planet.”
What occurred in Europe in the late 1980s and 1990s was undoubtedly remarkable in its own right, yet European developments should also be seen in the much broader context of the “globalization revolution.” This revolution was marked by a series of simultaneous discontinuities, with the end of the Cold War as key landmark. While throughout most of the 20th century, the vast majority of people lived under highly restricted conditions of both political and economic freedom, by the beginning of the 21st century, reforms in China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and more, and the global integration of markets that ensued, resulted, very suddenly, in the vast majority of people living in regimes of economic freedom and with increasing political freedom, or, in China and Vietnam, under a system that been termed “Market-Leninism.”
For France, which after 50-plus years of state-driven mollycoddling has become a nation of risk-averse functionaries, globalization has produced a terrible jolt. The French enjoyed the easy life: secure jobs, thanks to an inflexible labor market and protectionism, and in the last few years requiring no more than 35 hours of “toil” per week. Hence European enlargement and globalization tend to be perceived by the majority of the population as threats. Instead of reaching out, France has hunkered down. José Bové, the iconic moustachioed militant “peasant” leader, known for, among other things, having destroyed a McDonalds with a bulldozer and vandalized a Monsanto field of genetically modified crops, is also a presidential candidate and one of the most popular figures in the country: a contemporary Asterix!
If this aggressive inward-looking defensive stance were limited to “eccentrics” à la Bové, France would be okay; but it applies to virtually all the candidates, including the two main contenders, Nicholas Sarkozy on the right and Ségolène Royal on the left. Neither candidate has international experience, neither has studied abroad, neither can converse easily in English. In fact, never in the history of the 5th Republic has there been the prospect of so parochial a president.