France: the failure of nationalism
by David Roche
It was before the wave of strikes that hit France in December that I glided into the Gare du Nord on one of France's ultra-smooth, ultra-expensive (to the taxpayer, not the traveller) TGVs. I had two questions begging answers. First, would the Franco-German axis in Europe hold? And second, would France meet the Maastricht criteria for a European single currency by the end of 1997?
As I sat in the TGV, I let my imagination run ahead to summer 1997. France is still short of closing its budget deficit at Maastricht levels. There is disorder in Paris and other major cities because unemployment is between 13% and 15%. President Chirac announces his fifth (predominantly tax-raising) emergency budget. He feels increasingly like a dog chasing its own tail and looks increasingly like one with its tail between its legs. The more he raises taxes, the weaker the economy gets and the more radical support grows for maintaining France's expensive social safety net. So the bigger the deficit grows.
Over in Germany, chancellor Kohl is approaching retirement. His last general election will be in 1998 and he wants to go down in history as the man who united Germany and then made it safe by uniting Europe too.