The world’s fifth-largest economy, and the second-biggest in Europe, feels bashed. After losing its top rating earlier in 2013, and S&P downgrading its creditworthiness twice in two years last Fall, international media have not been sparing criticism to France.
The truth is the country suffers from one of the highest public debts in Europe, which will hit a record 95.1% of GDP in 2014, according to the Elysée. Innovation remains low. Unemployment is reaching record rates indeed, just below 11% -and S&P believes it will not go down from 10% until 2016.
French citizens are fully aware of those problems: no company on the CAC 40 is less than 30 years old inequalities are deeper than ever.
But it seems that some media are mixing facts with clichés. US journalist Janine di Giovanni’s January 3rd report in Newsweek writes:
“The problem with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur. Where is the Richard Branson of France? Where is the Bill Gates?
It could be a sharp satire, except that France does have some very successful entrepreneurs. And the word itself is perfectly French as rendez vous is used in many English conversations.
Newsweek crosses a line, stating wrong numbers (“The cost of everyday living is astronomical. Paris now beats London as one of the world’s most expensive cities. A half liter of milk in Paris, for instance, costs nearly $4 – the price of a gallon in an American store,” – apparently the author shops in a gourmet store).
Besides, the author points out to the fact that “the top tax rate is 75 percent, and a great many pay in excess of 70 percent.” Actually, that is wrong: in France, all taxes put together, the maximum marginal rate could not go above 66 percent. François Hollande proposed it on his campaign but the Constitutional Council considered it would have been an unconstitutional “confiscation” of wealth.
Perhaps one of the most inaccurate descriptions is that of the welfare state. The journalist insists on the fact that diapers are free, nannies are tax-deductible and free nurseries exist in every neighborhood.
Lately other reports have been blaming “non-wage costs” and “insufficient reforms” in France.
“France’s economy is in a bad state. Analysts are saying the eurozone nation’s industry, labor market and social system are all chronically ill.” – As appeared in Deutsche Welle.
Is there an agenda behind that hard caricature of France’s safety net (“suffocating nanny state”, as the Newsweek journalist called it)?
“Let’s stop this fake, 100-year-old war that keeps starting again and again. We are about to celebrate the alliance that took place a century ago, the alliance of our two peoples in the trenches. No more French rooster, no more British lion. This was for yesterday’s caricaturists, not for serious people,” writes Editorial Director of the French The Huffington Post Anne Sinclair.
For Rue 89 famous journalist Pierre Haski, his peers are overreacting, although they shouldn’t feel bashed by a magazine which is the shadow of its former self, and this anger is deeply “revealing about the current French fragility, the symptom of a major moment of national doubt”.
A follow-up piece in Newsweek, the second in two weeks, argues that France is just too proud to acknowledge the facts and deal with its decadence. Its headline: Fall of France II: How a Cockerel Nation Became an Ostrich.
May be in the future France will thank those publications for a reality check. Or perhaps the country will receive an apology, just like Spain recently did from Goldman Sachs.