France, like the little village in the Astérix books, has long been the “stubborn Gallic holdout” against the fashionable neoliberal ideas popular in the West, says Jeremy Cliffe in the New Statesman. While others have embraced the free market, the French have clung to their belief in the big state. As others have embraced Atlanticism, the French have remained firmly Gaullist in keeping their distance – leading former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to dismiss France as “old Europe”. Really? While most of Europe was “blindsided” by America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, one capital wasn’t so shocked: Paris. Two years ago President Macron labelled Nato “braindead”, and in May he began to evacuate France’s Afghan employees, “gloomy about the US’s ability to orchestrate an orderly withdrawal”.
It’s not just foreign policy. Nations such as Poland are looking to emulate France’s nuclear-heavy, carbon-light energy strategy. Anglo-Saxon penny-pinchers in the UK and US are picking up the French passion for big state infrastructure projects: what is HS2 if not a 40-years-later equivalent of the high-speed TGV rail network? France’s 35-hour week looks less outlandish now its neighbours are considering four-day working weeks. And it has a higher GDP per capita than the UK, as well as higher productivity. Yes, France has problems: it’s riven by cultural and economic divisions, and its military adventures in Africa “risk becoming its own Afghanistan”. But as “old liberal orthodoxies are challenged”, the world is changing – and, “whisper it softly, mes amis” – becoming more French.