Tear gas, running battles with the police and an overnight occupation of the Sorbonne. French students last week reminded us once again that nobody does protest with the elan of the French. It's a tradition, but the curious paradox of these riots is that they are mounted to preserve the status quo.
French students claim they are fighting for every under-26-year-old in France; for equality and solidarity; for an idea of the left, France and Europe. Put like that, it is intoxicating stuff. They are resisting a measure which the government and the international consensus say will tackle France's No. 1 social problem: that more than one in five French young people is out of work.
The proposition is that to help the young into employment, they have to be easier to sack. If you want employers to hire young people whose skills and aptitude to do the job are an unknown quantity, says the center-right government of Prime Minister Dominique Villepin, then it has to be made easier for employers to fire them if they prove incompetent. It proposes that the country's under-26s should, for two years after employment, be sackable with no compensation and no reasons given. As a result, it predicts, youth unemployment would fall by more than 20 percent. The students do not believe him. The planned Contrat Premiere Embauche (contract of first employment) has become totemic of everything France hates. It treats workers unequally. It drives a coach and horses through the principle of solidarity. It creates systemic insecurity. It is the kind of policy embraced by the European Commission in Brussels and "les Anglo-Saxons." It is anti-French.
In a different context, it might work as the government predicts and be politically acceptable, but in today's context, it is condemned to fail. Withdrawing rights from people when unemployment is already high is close to impossible. It can only be done when times are good, demand is rising and unemployment is falling, but the trouble is that nobody has any clear idea how to get there.
I have thought for some time that the French should create a British approach to mortgage borrowing and house prices to fuel some rise in demand, but that, too, is seen as far too Anglo-Saxon, liberal and individualistic. We are witnessing a cultural tragedy unfold. The French carry a Utopian ideal in their collective heads about what it means to be French. They are self-appointed defenders of Europe's real republican virtues of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their rightful place is as Europe's leaders, and the state, embodying an idea of France, is the nation's master puppeteer.
None of this works in 2006. The state, as all others in Europe, is circumscribed by global market forces. France is only one of 25 EU member states and the way liberty, equality and fraternity have been delivered since the 1950s has to be recast.
French students find themselves in the same ambiguous position as their country. Their only solution to the challenge of modernity is to defend the status quo to the last, even if it is evident it is malfunctioning. French national policy is the same. On Friday, L'Oreal bought Body Shop, following a well-beaten path of the French buying British companies. On the same day, the French government passed legislation making it almost impossible for British or other foreign companies to do the same in France.
Villepin has also established 10 strategic sectors that are to be no-go areas for European buyers and forced Gaz de France to merge with another French company to save it from Italian takeover.
All of this is in flagrant breach of basic EU law. The government is behaving inter-governmentally just as the students are, aggressively trying to preserve an indefensible status quo to maintain a utopian idea of France.
But it is undermining the very fabric of the EU. Next week, European heads of state meet to advance the so-called Lisbon agenda, by which Europe committed itself to becoming the most dynamic, competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. It is an empty farce, made more farcical still by the evident implosion of the EU's political will.
British Eurosceptics will delight, but a stagnant, angry, drifting Europe is not in Britain's interests. France and the French have lost the plot. This is not just a crisis for them, but for Europe. If France goes absent, the EU will lose its drive and purpose. And that is exactly what is happening.
Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Forward Forum in Taipei, former Singaporean minister for foreign affairs George Yeo (楊榮文) proposed a “Chinese commonwealth” as a potential framework for political integration between Taiwan and China. Yeo said the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait is unsustainable and that Taiwan should not be “a piece on the chessboard” in a geopolitical game between China and the US. Yeo’s remark is nothing but an ill-intentioned political maneuver that is made by all pro-China politicians in Singapore. Since when does a Southeast Asian nation have the right to stick its nose in where it is not wanted
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has released a plan to economically integrate China’s Fujian Province with Taiwan’s Kinmen County, outlining a cross-strait development project based on six major themes and 21 measures. This official document by the CCP is directed toward Taiwan’s three outlying island counties: Penghu County, Lienchiang County (Matsu) and Kinmen County. The plan sets out to construct a cohabiting sphere between Kinmen and the nearby Chinese city of Xiamen, as well as between Matsu and Fuzhou. It also aims to bring together Minnanese cultural areas including Taiwan’s Penghu and China’s cities of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou for further integrated
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) domestic problem is essentially economic in nature. Unlike other market economies, which might collapse if faced with the deep and dangerous economic problems China now faces, China is unlikely to collapse quickly. China is not a real market economy; it remains a state-dominated command economy. The state has so many tools to ease, defer or postpone a crisis. In the long run, China might not avoid a collapse after a long and devastating economic disaster, but in the short run, Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime might survive. Politically, there is no
During a recent visit to Taiwan, I encountered repeated questions about “America skepticism” among the body politic. The basic premise of the “America skepticism” theory is that Taiwan people should view the United States as an unreliable, self-interested actor who is using Taiwan for its own purposes. According to this theory, America will abandon Taiwan when its interests are advanced by doing so. At one level, such skepticism is a sign of a healthy, well-functioning democratic society that protects the right for vigorous political debate. Indeed, around the world, the people of Taiwan are far from alone in debating America’s reliability