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The Next Liberation of France

Ségolène Royal has turned the tables on the Socialist Party to become its standard bearer in next year’s election. But her triumph is only part of an intense political debate of the sort France has not seen for decades. With parliamentary and presidential elections next year, the stakes are as high as at any previous turning point in modern French history.

A unique feature of today’s debate is its cohort of public intellectuals like Jacques Marseille, Nicolas Baverez, Elie Cohen, and Stephane Rozes, none of whom subscribe to the hoary notion of French uniqueness (the so-called exception française ). Their thinking is at the forefront of a widening recognition that France must face the world’s challenges as they really are, not as the French want them to be. That means accepting and dealing with globalization.

France certainly has the tools to cope. With only 1% of the world’s population, France is the sixth largest economy, ranking fourth in international trade and third in exports of goods and services. More than 40% of the largest companies quoted on the Paris stock exchange are in foreign hands. Indeed, one in seven workers is employed by a foreign company, compared to one in ten in the UK and one in 20 in the United States. Productivity is relatively high, at $33 per hour, compared to $27 for the UK.

Moreover, France will enjoy large gains from exports to the fast-growing emerging world, since it produces more competitive high value-added goods than, for example, southern European countries, whose exports are closer to those of the leading emerging countries.