Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Loss of the UK: The French

To understand the EU, you need to understand France. For Americans outside the Jean Francois Kerry faction (and even some inside), France is the nation of Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys. Here’s a slightly more – how you say – nuanced view.

First a few disclosures. The fragrant Mrs Gandalf is 12.5% French & half of our extended families live in France. But France is the only place I’ve ever had my credit card skimmed & the only company that ever cheated me on a business deal was French.

Here are my two bullet points for France: Centralized, Intellectual Loners.

Centralized

Frances Fukuyama characterizes France as a Low Trust society, in contrast to the US, UK and Germany, which are High Trust. Low Trust means that people only trust within their own families and the state has to do all the organizing. The UK & US tendency to form clubs, innovate and take risks just does not exist in France. In consequence, the French are lousy entrepreneurs (joke intended) and are always playing catch-up. Trinity College Cambridge having as many Nobel prizes as France reflects France’s failure. I hasten, grovelingly, to add that it also reflects Trinity’s excellence.

The French have no conception of federal or devolved structures - everything runs through Paris. It got that way because successive kings killed the entire populations of dissenting regions and/or drove them out to England (hence Mrs. G’s 12.5%). Dissident emigration is still in full flood, with Southern England home to over 300,000 French refugees from the high tax & rigidity of their native land. That’s a lot from a population of 60 Million – about the top 1% of their working population – imagine how the loss of 1.5 Million professionals would hit the US!

On the plus side, the French do centralization much better than either the US or UK. Their Interstate highways are better and their health-care is better. But Low Trust means they don’t spontaneously build large corporations – you can only get so big with Family. So the French government has stepped in to create & finance companies in the Big Technology areas of electronics, space launch, airliners, telecommunications, oil, and computers. They've done this much better than the US or UK government would. However, although Airbus has done very well, otherwise they are just OK (space launch) and can be dire (computing). They’ve been most successful with these nationalized giants when they have harnessed the talents of other nations. The Brit joke about Concord was:

We do the plane, you do the catering.

So, all that state control means France scores poorly on economic freedom, coming in 44th, way behind the US (13th) and the UK (7th). But at least their central government is fairly honest - France comes 22nd in the global corruption table, not too far behind the US (17th) & the UK (11th).

Intellectual Loner

Think of the kid bullied by the jocks in high school, sitting around reading Sartre, plotting revenge and tweaking his verbal skills. The French are just like that. When arguing (which is most of the time), they attack your logic – in the US and UK we attack people’s facts. Here's the Brit joke about the French response to a Brit solution:

Yes, but will it work in theory?

The French have some reason to feel bullied. After a good start in kicking out the Romans, they built up to Louis XIV, who basically took over continental Europe. Then it was downhill all the way. Hammered by the Brits in the 7 years war, then by the Russians, Germans & Brits in the Napoleonic wars, then by the Prussians, then just escaping in WW1 through the help of the Brits and Americans. And then being humiliatingly occupied and liberated in WW2. Then being hammered in Vietnam and Algeria. You can see why they feel it’s all a bit much.

(Interestingly, they are very like the Israelis, who they effect to despise – the French Joke I posted the other day was originally about Israelis – I think you’ll agree it fits both).

So, like the bullied kid, they are self-absorbed and indifferent to others. Hence they were quite happy to help out Saddam – why should they care if he gassed the Kurds? If Greenpeace tries to obstruct their nuke tests, kill them! The Brit troops who fought in WW1 despised the French soldiers. Not because they were not brave - they were - but because they were very cruel to their horses. For a glimpse into the French soul, look at this picture from the Daily Telegraph of a French soldier posing triumphantly over the dead body of a little boy.


France

This was last November in the Ivory Coast - French troops gunned down people protesting their presence there. Can you imagine a Brit or US soldier posing for Reuters over the body of a dead kid? And there being no public outcry at home? And no outcry abroad?

France and the EU

As the intellectual loner, France sees all international institutions as vehicles to regain its rightful position as top dog. It’s a Fantasy Island in which France is up there with the US and China. So it's devious at the UN and has undermined NATO.

The EU is it's main play though. It seeks all European countries with merged economies being run under French centralized control, with the Brits & Germans adding the flair, organization and money. The last heave they need to achieve this is the European Constitution which would lock all of Europe inextricably into their model.

Here are the problems the French and EU elites have to solve to get there.

1. The French people look dangerously close to voting against the Constitution. Something similar happened when the French voted on the Euro - the balance was only tipped in favor by late votes magically arriving from French Caribbean territories.

2. The Brits currently look set to vote against, however Tony Blair is pledged (for whatever reason) to use every measure he can to turn them round.

3. The Germans have financial problems, and can't go on picking up their big tab for the EU. If the Brits get to realize that they are the new Milch Cow, that will cause Tony Blair big problems.

4. The EU has picked a fight with the US by working to build up China as a proxy adversary. Poor timing because the Chinese aren't there yet, and may never be. Not a big problem given the anti-US slant of most EU voters, but that could change if the US takes some well chosen whacks at the EU.

I hope this post has showed how alien the French are from US & UK perspectives. And that you now have a proper regard for an enemy which is clever, tough, devious and determined. They've succeeded to date, and they're expecting to win this last battle.