Monday, October 30, 2006

Taking exception

When France wants to pick and choose which international rules it has to obey it often cites 'the French exception' or its special sub-class 'the French cultural exception'. These exceptions refer to the supposed right of France to protect its economy from the rules of globalisation and its culture from the advance of (largely American) English speaking cultural output.

These terms, presumably, are meant to have three effects.
  • First, they allow the French to opt out of certain obligations, simply by virtue of asserting that they are somehow different.
  • Secondly, they make (some) French people feel better about themselves -- by the implication that there is something exceptional about France.
  • Thirdly, they help perpetuate the demonisation of the US and UK (I refuse to use the adjective anglo-saxon to refer to anything other than an historical period).
This is all so much phooey.

Both 'exceptions' are undermined by the massive paradox that they create: a strong and vibrant economy or culture does not need this sort of protection, a weak and atrophied economy or culture doesn't merit this sort of protection.

Simply put, the exceptions have no theoretical justification.

A claim could be made for a practical justification if this sort of thinly disguised protectionism served the best interests of France. It just doesn't.

In fact, the exception myths serve only to build a destructive isolationism, damaging the very culture and economy that are supposed to be basking in their benevolent protection.

Protecting 'national' companies from foreign takeover bids may allow politicians to puff out their chests and grab a few ratings points from the extreme right, but it surely doesn't do anything to encourage greater inward investment.

Pushing the timeframe of EU electricity and gas market deregulation to, and beyond, the agreed limits, to protect the monopolies of those corporate dinosaurs EDF and GDF (whilst at the same time allowing these companies to go charging into foreign markets) might appease the unions, but it does nothing for French consumers or businesses, and what's worse it does considerable damage to France's image abroad.

Imposing a quota for French music to be played on the country's radio stations hasn't made France's radio stations any more entertaining and certainly hasn't made French music any better or any more successful internationally.

The deception wrought by this misguided protectionism is particularly cruel and particularly harmful when we consider just which culture the cultural exception seeks to protect. It is certainly not the culture of the inner cities. Not the culture of the immigrant. Not the culture of the young and the different. Instead it is some miasmic version of a French culture that has never really existed. It is some warped and restrictive collation of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Johnny Hallyday and Louis de Funes.

The 'exceptions' are destructive mirages that choke and strangle French business and culture. They are typical of the sort of half-baked solutions brought forward by the failed technocratic ENArchy.

What I will pursue, when elected, is not 'the French exception' but an exceptional France.

What I will ensure, when elected, is not 'the French cultural exception' but a culture that reflects the vibrant, diverse and powerful country that France will become under my leadership.

I will support businesses by reforming the private pension system, encouraging a real venture capital industry and eliminating the bureaucratic hell that kills so many fresh and bright entrepreneurial ideas in their infancy. More importantly, I will encourage the creation of strong world-beating companies by exposing the entire economy to real competition. Unlike the ENArchy I believe that France can succeed without being molly-coddled.

Children grow stronger by being allowed to play in the fresh air -- not by being kept inside under wraps.

I will support the real culture of France through grass roots financing that goes to artists not administrators, to buskers not bureacrats. Funding that reaches all sectors of society and encourages them all to express themselves to the full.

I'll say it again ('cos I thought it was rather neat the first time round)
No to the French Exception
Yes to an Exceptional France

I thank you for your attention

LibEgFrat to you all

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