- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

PARIS — Globalization for French presidential candidates is all about factories closing and moving to China. There is little mention that Paris-based Carrefour, the world’s second-largest retailer after Wal-Mart, is making a killing there.

“Globalization has long been stigmatized in France as destructive of jobs,” said Mathilde Lemoine, an economist with HSBC bank.

That is certainly the message of the presidential candidates from the Communist Party, the Revolutionary Communist League, the Alternative Globalization party, Workers Struggle and the Workers Party when they appear nightly on French television.

But it is also the message, albeit in a nuanced form, of the three leading candidates, the right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy, the Socialist Segolene Royal, and the centrist Francois Bayrou.

These three have all promised to protect Airbus workers from job losses and have all pledged to battle “speculative” capitalism and curb outsourcing if they win the vote to be held in two rounds starting Sunday.

They obviously know that globalization has helped make France’s gross domestic product the sixth-highest in the world, according to figures from the World Bank, and that France is one of the richest countries in the world as a result of free trade.

And that French companies such as Carrefour, carmaker Renault, Areva, the world’s biggest maker of nuclear reactors, L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetic company, or the engineering giant Alstom, which makes high-speed TGV trains, and countless others are busy making handsome profits in every part of the globe.

But the politicians are “afraid of a subject that might cut them off from their electorate,” said Xavier Timbeau of the OFCE economic research institute in Paris.

He said there were two main strands of anti-globalization sentiment in France, where the average annual income per person is the equivalent of $35,000.

“There are the extreme left and the nationalists, or the extreme right, who say the clock must be turned back and globalization brought to a halt. And then there are those who are for a moderate version of globalization.”

While countries around the world strive to be seen to be receptive to business, in France to be market-friendly is not perceived as a positive thing.

Successive governments have defended huge agricultural subsidies and evoked “economic patriotism” to justify bailing out French companies and stopping foreign takeover bids.

One opinion poll last year showed that only a third of the French thought that the free-market economy was the best economic model.

To this, add a slow-moving bureaucracy, a labor code as thick as the Bible, and a climate of opinion that often equates the word “patron,” the French for boss, with an evil oppressor.

These attitudes stem from economic illiteracy, according to some observers.

“The French have an extremely superficial knowledge of their own and the world economy,” said Michel Gurfinkiel, one of a growing band of commentators whose lamenting of France’s problems has marked them as “declinologists.”

“They are kept in this phenomenal ignorance by the media and the politicians,” he said.

“Globalization is what helps keep France alive. But the French don’t understand this. They’re free riders on U.S. power. They take advantage of a global system largely run by the U.S., and France relies on U.S. military power for stability in the world,” said Mr. Gurfinkiel.

The far-left presidential candidates, who get nightly exposure to the French masses because of a law that obliges TV stations to give the same amount of airtime to all candidates, have however little chance of actually winning the election.

“Their score [in the opinion polls] is at a historic low, even if there are five far-left candidates out of 12,” said Mr. Timbeau.

And many economists agree that the three leading candidates have identified the right issues. Their campaigns focus on ways of boosting employment, they want to reconcile voters with business, and help small businesses grow.

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