Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 9 News List

The French are learning not to obsess about globalization

There are signs France might be ready to turn a corner because globalization is no longer synonymous with Americanization, as China and India gain ground

By Angela Doland  /  AP , PARIS

What could be more French than cognac?

Its grapes come from a strictly marked-off region of western France, and French rules govern how it is distilled, aged and labeled.

Yet the distillation process is partly Dutch-invented. Famous cognac houses were founded by Irishman Richard Hennessy and Englishman Thomas Hine. And when a North American insect devastated France's vineyards in the late 19th century, it was rootstocks imported from Texas that saved cognac.

France's cognac -- like its high-speed trains and nuclear power plants -- is a successful export and has everything to gain from the knitting together of the world's markets.

Yet France is deeply worried about how it will cope in today's globalized world, and these fears fed into the French presidential election yesterday. In a closely-run campaign that lacked any big, over-arching theme, globalization was just one of many issues which could have swayed the outcome.

According to a survey last year by Eurobarometer, 64 percent of the French -- the highest percentage in the EU -- see globalization as a threat to French businesses and jobs. The numbers are so discouraging that Trade Minister Christine Lagarde has embarked on a campaign to "sell" globalization to her countrymen.

She is up against the memorable image of Jose Bove, the mustachioed sheep farmer who dramatized his crusade against globalization by trashing a French McDonald's outlet in 1999.

So Lagarde uses other images, visiting schools with a brochure that chronicles the life of a 10-year-old girl whose video game is made in China, whose cough medicine uses plants from the Amazon, and so on.

France "is portrayed as a country which is protectionist, which is sort of haunted by the ghosts of the foreigner," Lagarde said in an interview. "That's not really the France that I see, and not the France that I like."

Ironically, both she and Bove could be called children of globalization. Lagarde is the former head of the Chicago-based Baker and McKenzie law firm. Bove, who is running for president as a fringe candidate, spent part of his childhood in Berkeley, California, where his parents were researchers.

Despite the anti-globalization sentiment, France is open to the world. But it prefers that openness to be on its own terms -- ideally, by spreading French culture, business and diplomacy.

The Louvre Museum, home of the Mona Lisa, is opening a branch in the Persian Gulf. And in December, France launched a 24-hour international all-news channel -- in English as well as French -- a sign it now recognizes the receding influence of its language and is moving on to other battles.

The outgoing government believes France should push for a kinder, gentler globalization, typified by outgoing President Jacques Chirac's international initiative for a tax on airline tickets to raise money for fighting diseases in poor countries.

The candidates in yesterday's election were sending mixed messages.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative, is the most market-friendly. He said he believes in the benefits of a global economy but acknowledges it isn't "necessarily pleasant."

Socialist contender Segolene Royal urged voters to see globalization's upside, but wanted companies that outsource jobs to repay any state aid they received. In the western French region she governs, she made a point of handing out free slippers to boarding school students to promote local footwear producers facing competition from China.

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