The French exception

Foreign analysts have described France’s election next Sunday as a 1981 presidential race in reverse. Back then, Francois Mitterand’s victory as head of a socialist-communist alliance marked the end of the Gaullist hegemony. This time, the anticipated victory of Nicolas Sarkozy – a politician who extols «the rule of law» as opposed to «the spirit of irresponsibility inherited from May 68» and who sings the hymn of the Anglo-Saxon economic model – appears to be signaling the demise of the «French exception,» tilting France onto the orthodox track of neo-liberal Atlanticism. French voters do not seem to share the expectations. The masses have taken to the parks and the banks of the Seine to soak up the premature sunshine. A record 42 percent of voters say they are undecided. The prevailing mood is one of skepticism toward the political establishment, particularly the two favorites, Sarkozy and Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal. «We feel manipulated by the media and the pollsters who have imposed two candidates that don’t even represent the values of their own parties. We will have to vote for one of the two just to prevent the other from winning,» a Socialist Party official said. But the much-heralded death of the «French exception» may once again prove premature. France may be dogged by huge social and political problems. But there one can still enjoy an excellent and free health system, a marvellous transport network, the highest rate of foreign investment and living standards which are undreamed-of for the millions of American tourists that visit the country each year. France is an exception – in the same way that every country is: thanks to its unique mix of history, geography and culture. Would a uniform world where everyone spoke English, ate McDonald’s and traveled to Paris just to visit Disneyland be better?

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