15 May 2012

President Hollande and us

I like Toby Young’s writing (he’s @toadmeister on Twitter), even though I sometimes disagree with him. Of course, his father’s books made an impression on my generation, The Rise of the Meritocracy being required reading for any university-bound sixth-former. Admittedly some of us might have interpreted it as encouragement rather than as satire. Also my having commented as ‘Western Independent’ on a couple of Toby Young’s Daily Telegraph blog posts last year still misleads some of his readers into hitting on here. For which I am grateful, even if it goes to show that he used to get many more readers than I ever will.

I say “used to” because @toadmeister’s Telegraph blog ceased when he started to write a column for the Sun on Sunday. On 14 May, it included the following, under the heading France feeding frenzy:
NEW French president Francois Hollande has a novel theory to explain the problems afflicting the eurozone. Forget about restrictive employment laws, unaffordable welfare systems and soaring levels of public debt. And, of course, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the folie de grandeur that is the single currency. The real reason, apparently, is because Britain treats the Continent like a “self-service restaurant”. Come again, Inspector Clouseau? What he’s trying to say is that we just help ourselves to all the goodies without wanting to pay for them. Which is quite cheeky. Our annual contribution to the EU budget has just gone up by more than £1billion to £16.6billion. How much do we get in return? Much less than that. We’ve been members of the EU for 40 years and in 39 of them we’ve been net contributors to the EU budget. So no, Monsieur le President. It’s more like an all-you-can-eat buffet in which Britain is the only thing on the menu.
The original was laid out almost entirely as one sentence paragraphs. In fact, Young’s style in the Sun is clearly focussed on what he thinks its readership has a taste for. Fortunately the distinction between pastiche and parody is unlikely to worry many of them. More analytically, the Gunning Fog Index (an Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading) is 8.61 for the piece above. By contrast his Status Anxiety article in the Spectator on 5 May had an index of 12.05 and the first section of Chapter 3 of his How To Set Up a Free School is 14.12.

But what did Francois Hollande actually say? His remarks (commented on elsewhere in the British press) come from answers to questions put by French Slate:
Vous n’avez pas non plus été reçu par David Cameron, le Premier ministre, et la presse britannique et la City n’ont pas forcément été tendres à votre égard. Sur quelles bases comptez-vous renforcer la relation franco-britannique?  
Reconnaissons que les Britanniques ont été particulièrement timides sur les enjeux de la régulation financière, et attentifs aux seuls intérêts de la City. D’où leurs réticences à la mise en place de la taxe sur les transactions financières et à l’harmonisation fiscale en Europe. Et qui s’ajoutent à une relative indifférence à l’égard du sort de la zone euro, car la Grande-Bretagne est davantage protégée de la spéculation puisque la Banque centrale peut intervenir directement pour le financement de la dette. L’Europe n’est pas un tiroir caisse et encore moins un self service.  
Je rencontrerai rapidement David Cameron pour évoquer les avantages d’une coopération plus poussée de nos deux pays au plan industriel et pour poursuivre le rapprochement engagé en matière de défense.
which can possibly be translated as:
You have not been received by David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and the British press and the City inevitably have not shown you much consideration. On what basis do you intend to strengthen the Franco-British relationship?  
[We] recognize that the British have been particularly half-hearted in the financial regulation stakes, and focussed on the particular interests of the City. Hence their reluctance towards the introduction of the tax on financial transactions and towards fiscal harmonization in Europe. And additionally a relative indifference to the fate of the euro zone, because Britain is more protected from speculation since the central bank [ie Bank of England] can intervene directly in debt financing. Europe is not a cash register, and still less a self-service restaurant.  
I will meet David Cameron soon to discuss the benefits of a more thrusting cooperation between our two countries in industrial planning and to pursue the coming together on defence matters already agreed.
(Of course, he's already met Ed Miliband).  But if the above has the sense right, it’s not the relationship between the UK and the EU which is like a self-service restaurant, but that between the UK government and the Bank of England, ie our cash register. Hollande might even be envious of it. Slate went on to ask (in English):
Mister Hollande, do you speak English?  
Yes I speak English, more fluently than the former President. But a French president has to speak French!
which was probably an énarque’s dig at Sarkozy who seemingly failed to graduate from the Institut d'études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po, one of the grandes écoles) in 1981 because of a «note éliminatoire en anglais»!

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