France is preparing to implement a wide range of economic changes to boost the country’s revenue (as its annual budget threatens to break the European Union’s bank). The state wants to increase competition, soften workers’ rights, and — sacré bleu — take fewer Sundays off work.
The famously secular society also famously observes as many holidays and chances to take off work as possible — still in the name of family and society, just no longer God. But the state, to the dismay of its own socialist party, wants businesses to stay open 12 Sundays per year instead of the usual five.
It also wants more competition in the legal industry for professions like notaries, bailiffs, and lawyers, as well as decreasing burdens on employers who want to let go workers.
The new measures are causing a political hullabaloo as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls invoked an antiquated legal maneuver that allowed the government to bypass parliament. Fearing a rebellion from their own socialist ranks, the French government will send the measures directly to the Senate for review.
Motivating the Prime Minister’s actions is a possible 4.2 billion euro fine, which the European Commission is threatening for failing to take sufficient measures to liberalize the economy. But the French government is claiming it needs another two years to bring the nation’s budget deficit below 3 percent of GDP, using the new economic laws as proof that it’s trying to make progress.
As Europe remains mired in a stagnant economy, are the French government’s actions too little, too late? Harvard historian Niall Ferguson explains that taking measures such as bypassing parliament to enact new economic regulations has not typically been the way the West has succeeded. More often, its anti-authoritarian political institutions have created healthy political and ideological competition:
“To talk about capitalism misses the point that Western Europe also had phenomenal competition between multiple institutions in the political sphere too. Autonomous cities you really didn’t find in the great Asian empires. … It was partly a consequence of the weakness of broad authority that there was no emperor in Europe as powerful as the Ming emperor of China.”
Should France face a hefty fine from the European Commission, perhaps it can hedge the cost with its new 5.2 billion euros in revenue from sales of fighter jets to Egypt. Then again, if that is what counts as making economic progress in the European Union, let’s hope the continent’s financial targets receive some humanitarian review above French families losing Sundays in the park.
Read more at Forbes.