OPINION

France’s own 2012

France’s own 2012

Greece is a strange country with great resilience. Back in the days of the scathing financial crisis, I was making the case to a group of European friends that if France were hit by a crisis of that magnitude, it would have to face something resembling the Storming of the Bastille all over again.

France never experienced the catastrophe of seeing 25 percent of its gross domestic product evaporate in such a short period of time. Compared to the measures imposed under Greece’s bailout programs, the measures announced by President Emmanuel Macron were just “light reforms.” 

Nevertheless, the country’s traditional political establishment has shattered into pieces. It is unthinkable that two of the mainstream parties together failed to gather more than 7 percent. Three fringe, anti-systemic political leaders won more than 50 percent combined and the run-off between Macron and Marine Le Pen continues to perplex analysts because of underlying currents and dynamics.

France, which never had to go through an ordeal like Greece did, came close to another Bastille Day and saw the dismantling of the old political system. Macron was forced to compromise on his heavily contested proposal to raise France’s retirement age by three years to 65, and a second term, if he is re-elected on April 24, will be far from easy.

Exit polls indicate that France’s cost of living crisis has created a version of what we saw here in 2012. Rising prices have fueled frustration among large segments of French society. Many are questioning classic political doctrines – even democracy may occasionally be treated with skepticism.

The danger is also felt by the German political class, who are horrified by the combination of inflation and recession that an embargo on Russian natural gas would cause. Berlin is making no secret of its concerns; it cynically explains that it cannot afford to “do the right thing” on Ukraine because the social and political cost would simply be too great.

As for Greece, the resilience of society is once again being tested. After the debt crisis came the coronavirus pandemic, and on top of that the tsunami of soaring prices. It’s as if it’s all part of an experiment. It’s as if someone is out to test the resilience of a society to see if people will once again be seduced by the sirens of populism, notwithstanding the early and costly tutorials.