Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bremner: Sarko Has Sprung a Trap

Charles Bremner sees a foxy Sarkozy behind the hike in the retirement age:

Sarkozy has in reality led the opposition and unions into a trap. Chastened by the Greek tragedy and the euro-crisis, about 60 percent of the public accepts that raising the retirement age is inevitable, according to polls. They know that Germany, which is richer than France, agreed as far back in 2007 to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67.

The opposition risks locking itself in with its resistance. Martine Aubry, the Socialist leader, has decided to turn l'age de la retraite into a battleground for the presidential election that she hopes to win in 2012. She is talking of a "casus belli" and has promised to bring the age back down to 60 if she is elected.

The mood in France is certainly different from that in Germany, Ireland, Britain and the other countries that have bowed to austerity. Despite the headlines, people are not much concerned by the public finance crisis. But there is an awareness that France can't escape what everyone else is going through. The Socialist resistance looks like a miscalculation.

I think Bremner is right on the substance but possibly wrong on the politics. Sixty percent support may seem like a lot, but support for retirement reform was also high in 1995--until opposition exploded. The French public has been ominously quiet over the past few months. The bossnappings and threats to blow up the plant have diminished; farmers haven't been pouring milk in the streets for a while; the Besancenot surge has faded; Le Pen has been quiet; students have been sticking to their books; the suburbs have been relatively calm. Yet my sense is that confidence in government is very low, fear of the future is very high, and no one is content with the political class as a whole, not just the government. This may be the time when le corbeau outfoxes le renard.

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