- - Monday, June 20, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

These are not happy times for Europe. Angela Merkel has invited in more house guests than Germany can accommodate, the British are talking about leaving the European Union (though Britain has never regarded itself as part of continental Europe), and la belle France is the principal target for Muslim terrorists. Paris has suffered two bloody attacks within the past 18 months.

The government of President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, has taken the restrictive French labor laws in hand to try to make the French worker competitive in the international marketplace. It’s not easy. Union workers, who actually make up a smaller portion of the work force than in most countries, are in predictable revolt, not only against Mr. Hollande but often against each other, with daily strikes in transportation and other services. The Confederation Generale du Travail, or CGT, is leading the pack, often violently. Not so long ago, the CGT was a Communist union.

The French public, naturally, mostly supports the strikers. So President Hollande has resorted to extra-legislative action to get the ruinously restrictive labor laws off the books. Such laws make firing a worker almost impossible and requires hiring restrictions that make establishing a new business almost impossible, too. Eventually the president will have to deal with the 35-hour work week, adopted in 2000 to minimize unemployment and to enhance “quality of life.”

Economic indicators tell a grim story. In the first quarter, the economy grew at only one-half of 1 percent. Ten percent of the work force is unemployed, a rate almost twice that of the rest of Europe. The hardest hit are the young; 25 percent of them are unemployed. The French government is borrowing at a rate higher than theoretically permitted by the EU. The enormous public sector is almost 60 percent of the French gross domestic product (GDP).

To aggravate everything, Paris and most of central France is suffering a record flood. The Seine has burst its banks and even threatened the Louvre, the celebrated repository of some of the world’s most treasured art. Treasures were taken away for safekeeping; Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was not among them because it is housed on an upper floor. The threat of radical Islamic terror and the flood are expected to cut into tourism, which accounts for 30 percent of the GDP.



Americans frequently mock the French, for their arrogance, undisciplined work ethic, their reverence for calories above all, and scorn the military prowess of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

But the French deserve better. France is America’s oldest ally, and American independence was achieved with French help. Napoleon took the French Revolution’s promise of liberty, equality and brotherhood to the rest of Europe where they were, in theory, anyway, goals of others. France led the world in innovative technology through the 19th and early-20th century centuries. Gustave Eiffel’s engineering towers over Paris, and the railroads of Vietnam, though not extensive, are regarded as his remarkable achievements of engineering. The Panama Canal was originally his idea, even if someone else built it.

France has taken in large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, and the Muslim immigration has become the nation’s migraine headache. Muslim immigrants have resisted becoming Frenchmen and their separate communities, redoubts of crime and poverty, ring Paris. The problem is not France’s alone, of course, and all of Europe, particularly including Germany, has a growing problem of how to absorb Muslim newcomers from the Middle East and Africa. The French are likely to get through the crisis, and deserve understanding, sympathy and assistance from their impatient American friends.

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