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France’s Little Big Man

PARIS – National stereotypes do not fade easily, especially if those with the greatest influence seem to be doing their best to justify them. Consider the case of France. To outsiders, the land of Molière is a country where political leaders’ extramarital relationships are tolerated, while badly needed economic reforms are not.

But the world could be in for a surprise – or at least half a surprise. When it comes to politicians’ liaisons, continuity may prevail in France; but on the issue of reform, change may be around the corner.

President François Hollande has announced measures that, if implemented, would amount to a peaceful revolution: a major reconciliation with the industrial and business world that even his more energetic predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, dared not attempt, despite – or precisely because of – his more conservative inclinations.

The reality of change, however, has been hampered by the stereotype of continuity. Hollande’s daring pledge of €30 billion ($40.6 billion) in tax cuts to boost the economy has been hijacked, at least in part, by revelations about his private life.