I ask him about the Attali commission, chaired by Jacques Attali, the socialist intellectual and former head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which last month submitted 316 recommendations to reform France to Sarkozy. Zeldin had particular responsibility for changing mentalities, which he says will be vital in pursuing fundamental reform.
He is enthusiastic about the possibilities for change but expresses frustration with the commission’s intensely technical discussions of subjects and the cobwebs of laws and regulations preventing new initiatives. “The tendency of experts is to fiddle around with their expertise rather than trying to find new solutions,” he says.
His solutions are far more radical: founding new towns with affordable housing near the coast that can draw food, energy and water from the sea; posting school teachers to foreign countries for a year to experience different cultures; inviting the world’s 100 richest people to the Elysee Palace and asking them to create a global university.
In reforming France, or any other country, Zeldin argues it is vital to avoid, rather than provoke, confrontation. It is better to allow old problems to wither while encouraging new possibilities to emerge alongside. “You have to accept that traditions exist, that people don’t change their minds very quickly, that people are scared,” he says.
“Sarkozy has to say: ‘Here’s a new vision, this is what we’ve got to do, let’s go and do it. In the 17th-century people said let’s go to America and establish Pennsylvania. I’m saying let’s go to south-west France and establish the equivalent of Pennsylvania.”
Thanks to pg for the tip.