Thursday, July 26, 2007

France: Enlightened, Progressive - an Evolved Democracy

When France opposed the US invasion of Iraq there was an unbelievable backlash in the US. (We all remember "Freedom fries".) Jokes abounded (and still do) about the French. Some of them were even pretty funny. But it seems likely that they originated in the office of Karl Rove or his ilk, in the now all-too-familiar scenario of the Bush administration striking back at its political opponents.

Recently, however, France's reputation is on the rise. As the Bush administration continues to bomb, torture, wire-tap and generally act like a bunch of murderous thugs, France is emerging as a state of enlightenment that is taking a lead in progressive international affairs.

Michael Moore helped with his portrayal of France in his new film SiCKO. France appears as the most evolved form of democracy in the world - where the state runs more for the benefit of the people rather than overemphasizing the wishes of lobbyists and political donors (as most of us western "democracies" do). French people have the best health care in the world, the strongest employee protection laws, and so on. (And no, the capitalist system did not collapse.)

This week France has been in the news twice in high profile cases. First, Cecilia Sarkozy, wife of the newly elected French president, negotiated a deal with Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi to free Bulgarian medical staff who were facing the death penalty in Libya. (It makes you think that Libya must have been desperate to find a solution to the mess, and that the rest of the world must have been negligent, if Libya was so willing to release the prisoners after speaking to such an unofficial source.)

Then we learn that President Sarkozy named Bernard Kouchner as his new foreign minister - that's the same Kouchner who founded Doctors Without Borders - and in his first week in office, Kouchner convened a summit which led to EU troops mobilizing to help ease the suffering in Darfur. Everyone else seems to be just wringing their hands. (The UN is considering deployment, but is said to be "years away" from being able to send troops.)

I think it's time we all start paying a lot more attention to France, and think about using it as a role model. (In the French press today: a law has just been passed that no income tax will be charged on wages paid for overtime.) Here are some English-language sites I've bookmarked:

The Tocqueville Connection
French News
Le Monde Diplomatique


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