For months now, the European press has been filled with “news” — to dignify these observations of the obvious — that the aging demographic of Europe is making it harder and harder to be a believer in the extensive system of benefits and programs that constitute a modern European state.
In France, the problem of how to repair a broken social-security system that, in a few years, will have one Frenchman working to support another Frenchman on a pension has now grown stale, mired in sullen, angry strikes, and demands that can’t be met without either increasing taxes that are already stifling the economy or making people work longer to get their retirement grant. In the week preceding Bastille Day, when le président de la République is called upon to speak to his lowly citoyens by way of a TV interview, more than 70 percent of them, according to Le Figaro, wanted Chirac to explain how he proposed to fix the pension problem, especially, reported Le Monde, since Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the prime minister and the man walking point in this battle, has not learned Chirac’s secret of guarding his credibility.
But as the paper noted, Chirac couldn’t quite bring himself to admit that it just can’t be done. In order to keep afloat their full barge of benefits, France needs many more Frenchmen. While the French are genius at making more French bureaucrats (38,000 new ones last year alone, said Le Figaro), God knows the French can’t make actual Frenchmen very well any more. So they import them from Algeria, and Algerians apparently have no problem making many more Algerians, who become the new French.
Something like two percent of French Christians attend church on any given Sunday, but almost 100 percent of them practice birth control and “family planning,” a euphemism for having a family that includes more cars than kids. Natural law, the richly ornamented expression of which is orthodox religious practice and belief, is easy to disregard. But you break the law, you pay the price. And in the case of France — and Germany, for that matter, as a cluster of pieces in the Suddeutsche Zeitung makes clear — the price of being fruitless and not multiplying is a smaller state-welfare apparatus and a working life that takes you right up to the edge of the grave, then pushes you in. For those who need to believe the state can always do what God can’t, that’s called dying for your faith.
As Liberation made clear in its analysis of Chirac’s Bastille Day intervention, pensions aren’t the only problem the president isn’t confronting. The headache of Corsican politics; an awkward foreign policy; the ongoing controversy surrounding the imprisonment of Green celeb-activist Jose Bove; an economy the projected growth of which is expressed in tiny fractions; and a debt that is swelling beyond the legal limits of the EU are all confounding Chirac’s attempt to do what Blair and Clinton did — appear to seize the center by co-opting the opposition’s issues. But it’s never that simple.
If the only issue Chirac had to deal with was America and the war in Iraq, he’d be in great shape and he’d still be enjoying widespread popular support. But the complications facing France can’t be articulated by simplistic political rhetoric, so Chirac is falling in the polls and hoping to talk his way back into favor, while shrinking the expectations of the voters.
If he weren’t so French, he’d fall on his knees and thank God for giving him such an inept, fragmented left-wing opposition. The growing smallness of France — diplomatically, economically, culturally — is a remarkable thing. One day, I fear I’ll go to bash the French and find myself making faces at an Islamic Euro-state.
Thanks but no thanks. Joschka (“I’m sorry but I am not convinced”) Fischer is going to D.C. this week so that if the U.S. government asks Germany to supply troops to help in Iraq, he can say no. If this seems like an odd reason for a meeting, it is. So, according to the Berliner Zeitung, he’s also going to “improve bilateral relations.” The Suddeutsche Zeitung saw him off with an editorial rant about American power, plots, and manipulations.
Le Quagmire. The bogged-down, little-noticed, French-led mission in the Congo finally got a little ink, when Le Monde took a break from quagmiring the U.S. in Iraq and paid attention to its own army’s unsolvable problem.
Sticky feet. I used to love going to Ireland. I had a gig teaching Americans going to Dublin for a junior year abroad kind of thing, you know. The Irish were great because they didn’t take themselves seriously. Then they joined the EU and the whole island was transformed into a Unitarian Youth Camp. So of course the Irish government is going to tax chewing gum. Why? Because, as Martin Cullen, the environment minister, told the BBC, you could “see the problem with chewing gum by looking at ‘our streets, our footpaths, our pavements right across the country.’” Martin, for the love of Mary! If you can see it, just step over it.
No fair! You hit! Playing politics with the Left is like playing rugby with your little sister. Sooner or later, somebody’s going to get hurt. And sue. The BBC seems to attract a lot of these Nancy types. Andy Gilligan, the one-source wonder of the BBC, threatened to sue a critic for being rather critical. Now, reports the Daily Telegraph, the chairman of the BBC, Gavyn Davies, has threatened to sue a member of parliament for saying the BBC has the arrogance and complacency of an Enron. O the humanity! Good thing he didn’t say the BBC has squandered a global reputation for good journalism by being badly managed and arrogant and complacent. Jonathan Miller has a perfect take on the petty silliness that today calls itself the British Broadcasting Corporation. David Brent is real, people.
Der Snit, Part II. According to a report in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, Martin Schulz, the Socialist MEP who taunted Silvio Berlusconi about Italian fraudsters and the like and was in turn told by Berlsuconi that he’d make a good sitcom Nazi (I covered this last week, here), has raised the ante in an effort to hold onto the moral edge. The Italian government, he claims, is racist! Should have known.
Oom. Pah. Berlin’s annual “Love Parade” took place this weekend. During my youth, love+parade=twirlers in short skirts grinding to that sexy Sousa beat, but this is Germany, so love meant half a million runway models dancing with each other and, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, listening to Rush! Far out. I hope they sang “The Trees.” Come on, everybody! Stand up! Flick your Bic!
So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
“The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light”
Now there’s no more oak oppression…
How you can have a Love Parade without Barry White is beyond me, but hey! Germany’s sweetness is my weakness. And speaking of weaknesses…
A note to the actress from Chicago who wrote to tell me that she loved me (exclamation point). I tried to reply to your kind note. Okay, I tried six times to reply to your kind note. But it bounced back each time saying “user unknown,” and I despise ironic understatement.