The real problem in France is welfare

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The real problem in France is welfare

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It was at the Elysee Palace that I met with former French President Francois Mitterrand. The meeting took place in September 1993, and he was scheduled to visit Korea in a few days. The visit was arranged just in time for the Korean government’s decision to use TGV technology for its high-speed rail projects. He had interviews with Korean media before the trip, and we met where the mistress of Louis XV, Madam de Pompadour, had resided.

President Mitterrand was an elegant old man, and he looked somewhat exhausted. He had spent 12 years in the Elysee Palace as the first socialist President of the Fifth Republic, so he was understandably tired and ready to leave. As the saying goes, “There are no flowers that bloom for more than 10 days and no political power that lasts longer than 10 years.”

And now power seems ready to shift again in France. It is likely that the occupant of the Elysee Palace will change again next month. Flamboyant President Nicolas Sarkozy will likely lose the re-election. He may be able to get through the first round of voting, but the runoff scheduled in two weeks will not be an easy fight. According to opinion polls, he is expected to be defeated by Socialist candidate Francois Hollande by more than 10 percent. Then Hollande, who started his political career modeling after President Mitterrand, will become the second leftist occupant of the Elysee Palace.

President Sarkozy seems to have confused what it means to be president of a republic with being an absolute monarch. Public sentiment has grown to distrust the president and his extravagant, self-righteous image.

He has not been lucky, either. He started out as a reformist but has been busy extinguishing scandals. France has been losing its competitive edge due to the global economic crisis. Last year, its trade deficit reached 70 billion euros ($92.5 billion), and France’s AAA sovereign rating was lost.

But will Hollande, who is considered a “caviar leftist,” be able to bring the needed change? Well, he wants to raise income tax to as high as 75 percent. I’m not so sure this will work out. All the rich would have to leave France.

Truth be told, France’s problems are too serious for any single leader to resolve. Not many people are willing to work hard. Unless the entire social welfare model is scrapped, nothing will really change. Citizens will continue to prefer receiving government benefits over working.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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