SATURDAY, SEP 13, 2014 07:00 PM +0200
France is a mess, and Europe is worried
If economic woes overwhelm Hollande’s government and buoy the far right, the whole eurozone could feel the impact
The $10-billion project to gouge out a high-speed rail track linking Paris to Bordeaux — and eventually onward to the Spanish border — is a showcase for French engineering.
By bringing together private investors and the state, it symbolizes how many in France believe the economy should be run.
“To find new growth and new jobs, it’s imperative that France relaunches public and private investment in public works and construction,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared last week at the opening of a bridge to carry the new line over the River Dordogne. “We have to show our optimism, our willingness to believe in the future.”
Optimism, however, is in short supply.
Despite the pharaonic scale of the building work for the new railroad, the French economy has run out of steam.
Growth is stagnant. More than 3.4 million languish in France’s unemployment lines. In August, the jobless rate rose for the ninth consecutive month, leaving more than one-in-ten out of work.
Across Europe there are fears the malaise in the euro zone’s second largest economy could re-ignite the crisis of confidence that almost destroyed the currency bloc two years ago.
The reformers versus the populists
Socialist President Francois Hollande’s popularity ratings have plummeted to record lows under 20 percent.
His 2012 election pledge to reverse the unemployment rate within months is widely mocked. The publication of a kiss-and-tell biography by the former first lady he spurned for a younger actress has added to public scorn.
Valls, a fresh face whom Hollande appointed in April, has failed to turn things around.
A vote of confidence in the National Assembly next week will be close, with leftist ministers threatening to withdraw support from the prime minister. If Valls loses, France could be forced into snap elections, with the ultra-nationalist National Front riding high in the polls.
Over the weekend, Valls warned that the far right stands “at the gates of power.”