The “French Question” has become central to European economic development and European Union (EU) politics. Labor unrest, racial tensions, and high unemployment have created a delicate political and economic situation in France.
According to the New York Times, “The French are justifiably proud of their social model. Health care and pensions are good, many French retire at 60 or younger, five or six weeks of vacation every summer is the norm, and workers with full-time jobs have a 35-hour week and significant protections against layoffs and firings.”
The French system clearly has great strengths that have produced a high quality of life for French citizens over the past 50 years. “But in a more competitive world economy,” the New York Times points out, “the question is not whether the French social model is a good one, but whether the French can continue to afford it. Based on current trends, the answer is clearly no, not without significant structural changes — in pensions, in taxes, in social benefits, in work rules and in expectations.”
Economists and political analysts have been advocating major reforms to the French social system for years. According to the New York Times, “there is a broad consensus that real social and structural renovation can be carried out only by the left. But that can happen only if Mr. Hollande, who has a legislative majority, is willing to confront his own party in the name of the future, as the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder did a decade ago with a series of legal modifications that now get much of the credit for Germany’s revival.”
Any comprehensive reform would be difficult, as it would be require scaling back or stripping popular economic and social benefits from government workers, unionized workers, and French citizens in general. It is not at all clear that the German or American social systems can provide a model for French reforms, nor is it clear that French President Hollande can provide the leadership for comprehensive reform.
The New York Times reports on the “French Question.”