Monday, April 04, 2005

De Gaulle's Tattered Legacy

[Charles de Gaulle's] meritocracy produced two working generations of talented, dedicated administrators who gradually moved to the top of France's business and political establishments
writes Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post (Merci to the Ashbrook Center).
How you respond to "the French" depends in some measure on how you react to dealing with the smartest kid in the class, who cannot resist occasionally reminding you of that fact. You may not find that as invigorating as I (usually) do.
The article of Zhim O'glan' (as he is known in France) is based on the two cases of "noxious mix" that are undermining the crème de la crème — the first being the fact that
the French elite — and the system that produced it — is on trial this spring in a Paris courtroom, where 47 political party activists and business executives stand accused of falsifying government contracts to provide France's main parties with secret campaign funds.

If these people did participate in a corrupt, long-standing conspiracy to parcel out hidden business payoffs to France's Gaullists, socialists, communists and others, the probability that the country's most important political leaders were not involved approaches zero. France's political class operates as the country's central nervous system.

In the second case, this
noxious mix is creating a challenge to the other big idea, which de Gaulle adopted, reshaped and sold to the French public as a matter of national survival. That is the concept of a united Europe — united under French intellectual leadership and political parity with Germany (which also has ideas, but does not have the bomb).

France's leaders have been stunned by recent public opinion polls that show a clear majority of the electorate intending to vote against the European Union's draft constitutional treaty in a May 29 referendum. A "non" from France would kill the treaty and open an existential crisis in the 25-nation union.

These two trials of France's elite — the legal one in Paris, the political one of coaxing a "oui" to a more politically integrated Europe — are merging into a policy maelstrom that swirls beyond France's borders.

As his domestic challenges mount, Chirac seeks refuge and armor in foreign policy decisions and meetings. To reassure the electorate that French rights are not threatened by the new constitution, he has been busy defying the existing procedures and powers of the union's executive arm in Brussels.

Of course, defying Uncle Sam on a regular basis plays into this as well.

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