France On the Brink: A Great Civilization Faces a New Century
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The one book that explains what has gone wrong with one of the most admired and influential countries in the world.
to the pagan revolutionaries of 1789. Long ago, De Tocqueville and Montesquieu admired England as a nation where local government flourished and the edicts of the centre were circumscribed by local power bases. Two centuries later, France had one elected local councillor to every no voters, compared to one to 1,800 in Britain. The layers of government enshrine the nation’s diversity — the central administration in Paris, 22 regions, 96 departments and the 36,500 communes, each with its own mayor
historic role in rising up to deliver judgement on the national authorities. The Revolution and the Commune have been succeeded by more peaceful manifestations of the popular will, but Paris was not allowed to have an elected mayor until 1976 because of the central government’s fear of the authority he would wield. The surrounding region of the Ile-de-France houses one-sixth of France’s population. An official survey in 1998 placed it as West Europe’s biggest economic region, accounting for 5
vain attempt to relieve the siege of the Protestant Huguenots, an episode immortalised by Alexandre Dumas and his musketeers. Three and a half centuries later, two of France’s leading politicians flew to La Rochelle for a party congress to confirm who would become the next President of the Republic. The meeting was meant to be another step towards an effortless Gaullist restoration after Francois Mitterrand’s fourteen years in the Elysée Palace. As things turned out, the weekend on the Atlantic
desserts; on another, crispy potato cake with shrimps and cèpe mushrooms, sea bass and leeks with cèpe oil, grilled duck’s liver with green beans and a sauce using a Marcillac liqueur, pigeon breast in breadcrumbs with garlic and rosemary oil, local cheeses and four desserts. At one recent Sunday lunch, every table except ours was taken by local family parties, and several of them were eating the big menu. In times of trouble, the country is a source of valuable supplies: one of the staple
motives. He was just trying to get his pals off, like ‘what people did to help the Jews during the Occupation’. Tapie was sentenced to two years in prison. He immediately appealed, and so was freed for the time being. But he was dropped by the French Who’s Who, and the bank which had loved him, the Credit Lyonnais, tried to seize the belongings from his Paris palace - only to find that most of them had already been moved out; what remained was worth far less than their mortgage valuation. There