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Back Together Again

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"I'm not kidding! You can be outsourced!"

Have a Better Idea?

Paris:– Monday, 6. June 2005:– In case politicians in France didn't get the message of the 'non' vote for the European Constitution last week, rail unions went ahead with nationwide strike on Thursday, the day after Dutch voters gave the treaty a resounding vote of no confidence.

Totally undeterred, politicians in France scrambled to boost Humpty– Dumpy back up on his wall. Président Jacques Chirac sadly let his faithful prime minister Jean–Pierre Raffarin go, and vastly relieved, go he did, all the way to a well–deserved holiday in the sun on Crete.

Those of us left behind have been treated to the heady spectacle of the formation of a new government. Out with some 'old' dudes who weren't all that exciting and in with some 'new,' who aren't all that unknown. Curious, I had the impression that these people just lost an election.

Perhaps it's another example of how good the French are at rolling with the punches. The centre–leftphoto, moto cops and the centre–right's plot for our future has just gotten a solid 'non' and the next day we have the same game with pretty much the same players – we got the losers back. We, the French, the Dutch, the winners, get nothing. It's like the referendum never happened.

Police waiting for the rollers to form up on Friday.

It was certainly foreseeable. Nobody who was campaigning for a 'non' vote was proposing some kind of alternative, some other way to manage this 998 kilo gorilla called Europe. We wake up the day after voting and like the politicians here, it's still there, untidy, complicated, obscure. Like the Rock of Gibraltar, it isn't going away.

I guess it's okay. It's June and the summer holidays start soon. It's been a rough year. We'll be back in September, refreshed, and we can deal with this then.

Get a Job!

Things have been pretty busy during the week at the Elysée Palace, the headquarters of Jacques Chirac. Before Monsieur Raffarin was permitted to depart the new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, was engaged in shuttle diplomacy – no, he was hatching, along with the president, a new government. At one point radio news said that there would be two prime ministers – a true French 'first' – with Monsieur de Villepin sharing the chore with Nicolas Sarkozy.

The very thought of it brought a ray of sunshine to a dismal week. Imagine – the man who the president said had to decide whether to be a super– minister of Finance or leader of the president's political party, now comes back to the government as the number–two minister of the interior, while remaining as the party head.

Number one – or is it a question of 'number–one–bis?' will be ex–foreign minister, ex–minister of the interior, the poetry–writing ex–bête noir of the Bush regime, a man who has not been elected – as semi–boss of a man who has, who may also be a semi–boss. See what I mean? This should be a good show, especially since these two are the opposite of being great pals.

The lesson of the referendum's defeat is supposed to hinge on the horrible level of unemployment with the new prime minister being committed to turning it around. The official figure is 10.2 percent, which translates into 2.48 million French workers seeking jobs. When Jacques Chirac took office in 1995 the official rate was 11.5 percent. It went up a bit then dipped, and now it's rising again. The last time the rate was below three percent was in 1974, 31 years ago.

So it goes without saying that 'reform' is a goal that could benefit a lot of people. The problem is all ourcartoon, the improbable duo past experience with these 'reforms.' There has been early retirement, training for the unemployed, creation of public jobs, aid for hiring, reduced social charges, reduction of the work week to 39 hours, then 35 hours, easing of layoffs, more reductions of social charges, aid for apprenticeships – in all, 24 projects to ease unemployment – proposed equally by conservative and socialist governments.

The improbable duo.

The French are all for 'reform.' Over the past 30 years they have lived through a lot of employment 'reforms' and they still find that a couple of million workers are without jobs. 'Reform' is starting to sound like something politicians should try on themselves. Small wonder that nobody minds saluting 'reform' if it's at the top of a flag–pole, just as long as there is a promise of protection from it.

Some issue has been made of the disconnect between what the French want and what 'reality' demands. The problem with this is that it is not the French who are defining 'reality,' but spokesmen for our globalized planet.

These include east coast Liberals who think the French want to stop the world and get off. Folks who write opinion columns for newspapers in New York are hardly in a position to judge the effect of dumping cheap t–shirts made in China on textile workers in Lille or Lyon. Is it 'reality' that demands that factories close in France so they can be set up in Armenia? No Armenians will be shopping at any supermarkets in France, so should the supermarkets be moved east too?

It's all very fine to characterize France as having an aging and inflexible work force. Ask the pundits how willing they are to jump at a chance to write their columns in Bombay for peanuts. Better yet, ask their publisher. According to theory, opinion columns outsourced to Bangalore will be better because Indians work harder, and they can do anything, like 'design your next Airbus or Cadillac.'

Then there's the innovative Indian game company, that will narrow the wage gap, eventually. But first they are hiring. Last year they got a million applications and turned 990,000 of them down. The French already know all about this.

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