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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La charrue et les bœufs

by Maurice Ulrich

The Cart and the Horse

Translated Saturday 28 November 2009, by Claire Scammell and reviewed by Claire Scammell

Two former prime ministers, Alain Juppé and Michel Rocard, have presented to President Sarkozy the conclusions of a special commission over which they have presided together on the uses of the "grand emprunt", France’s plan for a large-scale national loan. The right-wing’s Alain Juppé working alongside the socialist party’s Michel Rocard, just the ticket.

The alliance was supposed to be a guarantee of reliability and to convey the idea that if these two can come to an agreement then there can’t be anything political about the loan in question; it is in the interests of all, a consensus has been reached.

It was in Versailles in front of the National Assembly and the Senate (called to congress to add to the formality), that Nicolas Sarkozy puffed out what bore a strong resemblance to an over-inflated balloon; full of air and elastic to say the least.

So what amount and for what purpose? The headlines had the brass tacks. France was going to be preparing wholeheartedly for an end to the crisis with big ambitions of standing at the frontier of international competition.

How much then? Thirty million? Forty million? What are the details? What are the priorities? Who knows! It is a peculiar method, one which consists of putting the cart before the horse without any prior consultation and in the manner of a domestic tyrant who decides to borrow 5000, 50,000, or perhaps 20,000 euros without knowing whether they are going to buy a washing machine or a Ferrari and leaving the family to fight it out.

One thing is clear however, there was never any question of establishing a healthy and long-lasting growth for the development of public services, the focus was exclusively on investment-led reflation in the so-called growth sectors.

Now we’re getting somewhere then. There has been a number of incidents, including a petition signed by 63 members of Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party in favour of a mega-loan to the tune of hundreds of millions of euros. The petitioners were severely called to order by the prime minister François Fillon, who made the most of the opportunity to take on Sarkozy’s special advisor, Henri Guaino, suspected of having incited the revolt.

So, it would be 35 million, borrowed in the traditional way from internal financial networks. It seems the time has come for a public loan.

The first thing to say then is that whilst the French are eventually going to have to foot the cost of the loan through taxes, it will be to enrich financial bodies and not their nest-egg or any other financial security. But beyond the publicity, with its marked insistence on research and universities, (identified as priorities), the content, whilst being rather vague, poses further problems.

Research and universities yes, but reforms of centres of excellence and elite universities were already on the agenda as part of a recent government initiative to grant increased autonomy to these institutions. And all the while jobs cuts are continuing.

All the measures announced by the commission are brought into competition and in line with one another, guided by the necessity of profitability under a layer of green which seeks ‘sustainable development’ and ‘a future of growth’. But can we sit it out waiting for a real revival of growth? No, we can’t.

It is this underlying borrowing logic that led us to the current crisis from which we have not as yet escaped. It is about re-establishing and prioritising financial growth, putting the oil back into the profit machine, all the while sending the country, and therefore every Frenchman, further into debt.

It is for this reason, and not only to blow some air, that Nicolas Sarkozy put the cart before the horse without first seeking the opinion of those involved.

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