Discontent in France

Mehdi Fedoauch/AFP/Getty Images

Discontent in France

The war in Iraq continues to distract attention from political moves of greater consequence happening in Europe. The signs are that the Continent may be in for yet another winter of discontent.

Over the years, France has become used to industrial disruption due to strikes during the northern autumn. With the lazy days of Mediterranean summer vacations behind them, it seems that the French so often return to their normal routines intent on raising Cain against their government. Such was the case this week in the European Union’s second-most influential member nation.

The autumn disturbance in Paris is two-edged. It surrounds yet another transport strike—nothing unique to long-suffering Parisian commuters—and the divorce of its first lady from the incumbent president, something that has never happened to a president in office in all of France’s history as a republic.

The transport strike in Paris was called in response to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s declared intention to overhaul the nation’s pension schemes. In addition to enhanced national identity and national security, the promise of economic reform was probably the most crucial part of the three-pronged campaign upon which Sarkozy stood to win office as leader of France in the spring elections. However, like Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s efforts to promote greatly needed structural reform in Germany’s economy, Sarkozy’s determined thrust in this direction may ultimately prove to be his political nemesis.

Yet, the French being the French, and the media being what it is, it has been the divorce of the nation’s first couple that has overshadowed the transport strike in the press. Pundits have asked whether release of news of the president’s divorce may have even been timed to coincide with the transport workers’ strike as a deliberate ploy by the French administration to move the strike away from headline news of the day. If so, it certainly succeeded.

However, though the transport workers’ strike may foreshadow further industrial disruption in France should the president persist with his economic reforms, the Sarkozy divorce may yet work to harm the French leader’s political progress even more.

Some observers maintain that Cecilia Sarkozy was a prime political adviser to the president. She had established an office next door to his and had a history of providing advice to Sarkozy throughout his quest for leadership in France. Earlier this year, the president sent his wife to Libya to negotiate directly with Colonel Qadhafi for the release of Bulgarian nurses who had been incarcerated in that country over allegations of deliberately infecting Libyan patients with hiv.

Severing ties to the woman whom Sarkozy declared publicly was literally part of his very being could certainly affect his political performance. One source commented on “Cecilia’s reputation as a calming influence over her hyperactive husband. Analysts have wondered whether his divorce could affect the president’s policymaking.” Either way, one would have to assume that he is presently distracted from focusing directly on his job.

The most interesting aspect of this situation is that it plays to the strengthening of Germany’s effort to become the dominant force in the Franco-German leadership of the EU. This is particularly so when one considers the disruption to the continuity of British influence on the EU in light of Tony Blair’s departure from the prime minister’s office in Britain, given the British ability to play the foil for the Franco-German connection.

For a decade, Britain was able to field consistent, if controversial, representation at the highest levels of the EU hierarchy by virtue of having the same personality representing the nation at EU forums, something unmatched since Margaret Thatcher’s 11-year leadership of Britain. Now, with the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, distracted by a British electorate increasingly baying for a referendum to reveal British opinion on the new EU treaty, Chancellor Angela Merkel has a chance to seize the moment for Germany by taking advantage of her major EU competitor’s moment of weakness. Riding on public opinion that indicates she is the Continent’s most popular politician, and with her French and British partners distracted by domestic affairs, the timing is now perfect for the German chancellor to assert her will in Europe.

However, Merkel will need to move fast if she is to take political advantage of this situation on the wider European leadership scene. Looming on the horizon are tough decisions to make in her own backyard so as to continue structural reform of the German economy. Already cracks are appearing in her coalition government over this issue.

One of the main German news organs reported recently: “Germany’s Social Democrats, junior partners in Merkel’s grand coalition, are split over reversing painful reforms introduced by former Chancellor Schröder which aimed to boost incentives to work by capping benefits. … A similar attempt is under way in some quarters of the spd to water down pension changes …. The pension law designed by Merkel was approved by parliament earlier this year and is designed to stem further rises in pension contributions shared between companies and workers” (Deutsche Welle, October 7).

Should the campaign against pension reform in France accelerate, it could well ignite similar protests this winter in Germany.

Though Germany’s economy surged during the first half of the year, growth slowed sharply during the next quarter due to rumbles of global recession. The combined effects of the strengthening euro and the flood of Chinese goods awash in the marketplace are hurting Germany’s export-led economic recovery. Already Germany has warned the Chinese, after similar warnings by the United States, that unless they revalue the Chinese currency, the world could be headed for economic disruption.

Two things to watch in France and Germany as the northern winter approaches are: 1) escalation of public resistance to much-needed structural reform to their economies, and 2) the weakening effect that this could well have on the leadership not only of Nicolas Sarkozy, but eventually of Angela Merkel’s shaky coalition as well.

As we watch these developments, we should remember that they are but the results of a global financial system in deep crisis—a system that is in fact doomed to collapse.

Remember, Herbert W. Armstrong indicated it will, in all probability, be the collapse of this now very tenuous global financial system that will trigger the rise of the very power that for a brief time in history shall arise to impose its own system on the world as a great globally dominant power (Revelation 13:1-4).

The good news about the impending rise of that powerful empire is that it is but a harbinger of the government that shall replace all others to ultimately bring peace to this tottering world! (Isaiah 9:6-8).

The signs of just how close this great event is are daily becoming plainer to see.