Political scientist, Bruno Palier, talks about the foundations of France's welfare state and why it no longer serves the country well.
Going to the Polls
Things have not been going well for France in recent years. The country's unemployment is among the highest in Europe; public debt is running at 66 percent of GNP; and the French people have not only lost confidence in their elected officials, but to some extent they've lost confidence in themselves. For a country that prides itself on being at the center of European political and economic life, France's new label as "the sick man of Europe" doesn't sit well. The presidential elections this month couldn't arrive at a better time for taking the pulse of a nation in a deep and disgruntled malaise.
At the heart of the disaffection is insecurity. Insecurity about jobs and an eroding welfare state; insecurity over the unresolved events of 2005 when rioting exploded onto French streets in mainly immigrant neighborhoods; and the insecurities of competing in today's free markets while still hanging on to all the good things that have made the French lifestyle the envy of the world.
While the view from the outside may look rosy, a recent Ipsos poll revealed that 54 percent of the French believe the country is in decline. Only 12 percent thought it was improving. Fixing France then, even though it's far from inextricably broken, has become the main thrust of the 2007 election campaign.
In the run-up to the first round of voting on April 22, the race has become wide open, with just a few percentage points separating the three top candidates: Nicolas Sarkozy on the right, Francois Bayrou in the center, and Segolene Royal on the left. French journalist and commentator Dominique Moisi, who has followed the campaign for The Financial Times, says the elections have been driven by frustration, uncertainty and confusion. The young have registered to vote in large numbers and conversations in French cafes have been consumed by who will emerge as the sixth president in the Fifth Republic's 49-year history.
But in Moisi's assessment, the three front runners have failed to convince their respective constituents: "In terms of "gravitas" for the Socialists' Segolene Royal; in terms of "character" for Nicolas Sarkozy of the centre-right UMP; and in terms of his ability to govern with a proper majority for Francois Bayrou of the centrist UDF." Added to this is the hard-right figure of Jean-Marie Le Pen. The last time the French went to the polls in 2002, his stunning breakthrough caused quite a stir.
For full election coverage and more on the candidates and the country in general, follow these links.
The Financial Times online offers extensive analysis of the key election issues and profiles of the candidates. In one report, Paul Betts writes, "If you believe all you hear, this is the moment when France will finally have to decide whether to modernize itself or continue resisting reform." The report also details the indifference to the campaign by French big business.
French Elections 2007
The Guardian Unlimited provides full election coverage as well as business, cultural, and economic stories and ongoing commentary about the Fifth Republic.
French Election 2007 -- Blog
Billed as "a French election from an American perspective," this prolific blog provides an up-to-the-minute digest and political spin on the presidential campaign, including the latest polling figures, and links to the candidates own campaign Web sites -- in French of course.
France Decides 2007
This British blogger works for a multinational company in Paris, where he says, "The everyday clash of Anglo-Saxon and French cultures can be most violently witnessed." The site also links to Le Monde's coverage of the election, and other blogs providing deft political commentary.
BBC Country Profile
For an overview of the country and a historic timeline, visit the BBC News online country profile. The page also links to the latest BBC reports about France, and to key facts and figures about the country and its relationship with its European neighbors.
The New York Review of Books
France: The Children's Hour
American William Pfaff has lived in Paris for several decades, and provides thoughtful insight on the greater meaning of the CPE labor law protests. While much of the global press dismissed the protestors as naive, Pfaff argues that they may be the canary in the coal mine, signaling a need to reassess the unfettered spread of free-market capitalism.
The non-profit organization that Guillaume helped found has kept the issue of unpaid interns and unstable youth employment in the spotlight. A major voice in the CPE protests in March of 2006, the group has continued to pressure politicians and businesses to make youth employment rights a priority.
French Youth Protest Labor Law
PBS NewsHour offers an overview of the labor protests of 2006 and links to coverage of the banlieu riots.
France: Soundtrack to a Riot
A rap of protest from the ghetto
In this FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut, reporter Marco Werman visits the Paris banlieues, or projects, in the aftermath of the 2005 riots to talk to young disenfranchised French, many of African and Arab descent, who have found new expression through rap and hip-hop.
Compiled by Jackie Bennion and Charlotte Buchen