Event Highlights: France Today – What Is France, Where Is It Going, and Where Is Its Place in the World?
On Tuesday, April 17, the Center for the Study of Europe, in cooperation with BU Study Abroad, hosted the French Consul General Christophe Guilhou, for a talk on “France Today.” William Keylor, Professor of International Relations and History and a member of the Center’s executive board, introduced the Mr. Guilhou who, though unable in his diplomatic role to discuss the upcoming French elections, nevertheless had much to say about Europe’s second largest country.
He began with the positives: France is a wealthy country of 65 million people, with the highest birthrate in Europe. It remains a significant economic power – it is Europe’s second largest market – and a popular tourist destination.
He then addressed some of the challenges: economic growth is insufficient and France is facing major problems in terms of competitiveness. Industries are migrating to places where labor is cheaper. According to Guilhou, France needs to re-adapt its economy in order to remain competitive. It’s social system – once ranked as the best in the world – is under strain. While life expectancy remains very high (second only to Japan) and the care system continues to be very good, there are problems financing it – current deficit levels are unsustainable. Finally, France continues to struggle to integrate its minorities, mostly workers from North Africa. France is engaged in reform, he said, including pension reform, and offers some of the most attractive R&D tax incentives in Europe – but the challenges remain formidable.
Guilhou took a moment to correct the image of France as a country of lazy people. He said in fact France is the third most efficient country in terms of hourly labor productivity, and there are fewer strikes in France than even Germany. It is the third investor around the world.
As for the French language – it is spoken by 250 million people in approximately 50 to 60 countries around the world.
He went on to explore the questions: “What is France in Europe and how Europe impacts France?”
Europe today has a population of ~500 million people; taken as a whole, it is bigger than US and has a higher GDP than the US. According to Guilhous, the European project is working, and France – a founding member of the European Union – has no choice but to continue the integration process. Meaning, France will have to accept some from governance from Brussels, including taxation.
Guilhou could not ignore the Eurocrisis. He argued that the Euro has been a success story, reminding listeners that the currency has remained stronger than the dollar throughout the crisis. European inflation continues below 2%, average public debt across the Eurozone is 85% of GDP (compared to 100% in US), and the Euro represents 25% of world reserve currency (the dollar is about 33%). More importantly, the struggling economies of Ireland, Portugal, and Greece together comprise only 6% of Eurozone economy. He blamed the crisis on “cheap money” (when the Euro was created, interest rates were retained at low German levels, which incentivized borrowing over debt reduction) and also on the “political” decision to include Greece with no conditions.
He said unequivocally that France will not leave Eurozone (he did not think it would be possible for Greece to leave either), that France will continue to pursue deeper integration and to reinforce the Euro while reducing its public deficit, adapting reforms that will allow it to become more competitive, and accepting new discipline from Brussels.
Finally, Guilhou took up France’s role in the world. Over against the view that France and Europe are declining powers, he asserted that Europe today represents 31% of global GDP. France continues to play a role in international security efforts in Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries. It is, moreover, a vital economic partner to the United States. The transatlantic relationship accounts for ~50 percent of world GDP. US investments in France alone are greater than those in China and India combines. French companies in the US employ more than 500,000 people, and the same is true of American companies in France.
In sum, Guilhou argued, France continues to be an important player on the global stage. It is facing challenges adapting to the global economy, but its future remains solidly within Europe. Only within Europe will it return to competitiveness.
On Thursday, April 12, the Center for the Study of Europe hosted a luncheon discussion with Luís Miguel Poiares Maduro, Visiting Professor of Law and Gruber Global Constitutionalism Fellow at Yale Law School and Professor and Director of the Global Governance Programme at European University Institute. Maduro served as Advocate General at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg from 2003 to 2009. A graduate of the European University Institute and the University of Lisbon, he specializes in European Union law, international economic law, constitutional law, and comparative institutional analysis.
Maduro’s talk, The Euro’s Crisis of Democracy, focussed on the Eurozone crisis and the lack of political will in Europe to address it. Mustering political will, he said, will mean changing the nature of political incentives so that Europe does what Europe needs. Elaborating, he argued the scope and level of politics has not followed the scope and level of political problems in Europe. Member states have yet to grasp the consequences for their democracies of the interdependence generated by economic, social, and political integration. While politics have remained mostly national, problems are increasingly European in scope. There is no “political space” for European citizens to address European issues, hence the “democratic deficit” between national politics and European problems.
The Eurocrisis, Maduro argued, is an opportunity to address both the crisis itself and the democratic deficit underlying it, by expanding the Union’s political power and its democratic legitimacy simultaneously. He emphasized what could be done at the European level, one, by tying the outcome of European elections to the determination of the Commission President, incentivizing citizens to take more interest in European politics and encouraging parties to develop European agendas, and two, by making full use of its regulatory capacities and market clout to reign in market actors that cannot be effectively regulated by the member states.
Later in the afternoon, Maduro gave a second talk on The Promises of Constitutional Pluralism, in which he distinguished between internal and external sources of pluralism in the European legal order and competing normative claims within the EU. The talk was broadcast on WBUR radio’s “World of Ideas” program on Sunday, April 22. [Listen to Miguel Maduro on WBUR]
On Tuesday, March 27, we hosted a reading and conversation with two of our favorite poets: Don Paterson and Dan Chiasson. Paterson was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1963. He moved to London in 1984 to work as a jazz musician and has been writing poetry ever since. His first collection, Nil Nil (1993) won the Forward Prize for best first collection. God’s Gift to Women (1997) won both the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and Landing Light (2003) won the Whitbread Poetry Prize and an unprecedented second T.S. Eliot Prize. His most recent collection, Rain (2009), won the Forward Prize and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He teaches poetry at the University of St. Andrews. Chiasson, who’s spending the year as a visiting professor in our creative writing department, is poetry critic at The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of three books of poems, including Natural History (Knopf, 2005) and Where’s the Moon, There’s the Moon (Knopf, 2010).
Joe Rezek, Assistant Professor of English and a member of our executive board, introduced the event, which reprises a series of conversations with artists and writers formerly organized by the Institute for Human Sciences here at BU, exploring questions of language, culture, nation, history, and the role of the poet in society.
Don read a selection of published and unpublished poems, including one he’d written at the airport the day before, titled, tentatively, “My Incomprehension.” The reading was peppered with commentary on matters ranging from poetry readings – not always a great night out – to the secular gods of American television to his fascination, of late, with the sonnet form. After the reading, which included such gems as “Burial” and “Two Trees” and a personal favorite, “The Correctives”:
The shudder in my son’s left hand
he cures with one touch from his right,
two fingertips laid feather-light
to still his pen. He understands
the whole man must be his own brother
for no man is himself alone;
though some of us have never known
the one hand’s kindness to the other.
After the reading, a lively conversation ensued between the two poets, again touching on a variety of subjects, from Don’s disdain for Tony Blair (as evidenced in his poem, “The Big Listener”) to the formal aspects of his work, his writing process, and finally, to what, if any responsibility he feels to politics while writing poetry. Don spoke of the dangers of so-called “political poetry” – there’s no point in trying to provoke feelings of which people are already in high possession from the mere encounter with the documentary facts – after which the conversation shifted to “favorite poets.”
This event, which can be viewed online at BUniverse, was co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at Boston University, the Department of English, and the literary journal AGNI. An edited version of the conversation aired on WBUR’s World of Ideas on April 1, 2012.
On March 25-26, following the Council for European Studies meeting in Boston, the Center for the Study of Europe hosted a workshop entitled Resilient Liberalism: European Political Economy Through Boom and Bust [download program]. The two-day workshop brought together the contributors to a forthcoming Cambridge University Press publication on the state of European political economy, co-edited by Center Director Vivien A. Schmidt and Mark Thatcher from the London School of Economics as part of a larger study of the role of ideas in political economic change. The workshop was generously funded by the Center for the Humanities at Boston University, with contributions from the Departments of International Relations and Political Science. It will be followed by a second workshop at Sciences Po in Paris, funded by the European Science Foundation.
Although from the standpoint of the United States, Europe appears as a haven of social democracy, strongly opposed to economic liberalism, in truth since at least the 1980s the influence of neo-liberal ideas, institutions, and policies has grown steadily. These have profoundly changed the ways in which capitalism works across Europe’s different national economies as well as had major impacts on its welfare states. The central question addressed by the authors concerns why neo-liberal ideas have proven so resilient even in a ‘cold climate’ such as Europe, and despite apparently large-scale failures, theoretical critiques, and the existence of powerful alternatives. To answer the question, contributors examined the in-roads of economic liberalism on the European Union and its member-states as well as its spillover effects on political liberalism and democracy from historical, philosophical, and political economic vantage points.
Following the workshop, four of the authors, top experts on different aspects of European economics, politics, and welfare states, took part in a panel discussion on the European financial crisis – The Eurozone Crisis: Is There a Way Out? The public event, moderated by Vivien Schmidt, featured Maurizio Ferrera from the University of Milan, Andrew Gamble from Cambridge University, Mark Thatcher from LSE, and Sigurt Vitols from the Wissenschaftzentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung.