Prof. Dr. Patricia Commun on the State of France

December 21, 2020

On Monday, December 21, Prof. Dr. Patricia Commun was our online table guest. She works at the Université de Cergy-Pontoise in Paris. Taking as point of departure “a crisis of governance in France?”, Dr. Frans Willem Lantink spoke with her about the state of French society in the economic, political, and social fields.

What did we discuss?

The murder of Samuel Paty stirred up controversy in France. On the one hand, there was praise for President Macron, who condemned Islamic terrorism in sharp terms. In The Netherlands, his response could also count on considerable support. On the other hand, there was criticism: did Macron’s attitude not place him too much in the French tradition of aggressive secularism? Or was he not downright Islamophobic? An important question here is whether the murder was an incident or part of a pattern. The integration of people from immigrant backgrounds has largely failed in France, especially in the so-called banlieues. The murder of Paty is particularly illustrative of this because he taught immigrants citizenship at secondary school. The tension between civil rights and religious freedoms has thus become clearly visible. According to some, there might even be a crisis of the famous French laïcité.

However, this crisis is not the only one facing the French government. The French economy needs to be reformed to be future-proof and to meet E.U. standards. Reforms are difficult to achieve in France, however, due to the powerful and unwieldy civil service. Here Macron is said to have failed to act actively, remaining mainly reactive to events instead. Only at the beginning of his term in office did he propose liberal economic reforms of his own accord. This resulted in the large-scale demonstrations of the so-called “yellow vests.” After that, short-term policies prevailed again.

What may we conclude?

France is facing a number of crises. The solutions that the country is putting in place in response are not fitting, which means that no progress is being made. Its inability to adapt to new developments is especially telling. The country is too stuck in old patterns that are very difficult to break.

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