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France: Eventful History and Modern Ability to Punch Above its Weight

Date Posted: 2000-06-23

We continue our series of profiles of countries that will participate in the G8 Summit. Today we look at France: its antecedents the current government and G8 Agenda.

France has a long eventful history. The Roman army conquered the tribes living in Gaul, roughly the equivalent territory of modern France. During the Middle Ages various myths grew up which are still potent in France today. One such is the story Joan of Arc, the conquering maid of Orleans, who has about as much historical credibility, in terms of verifiable facts, as Robin Hood. In later centuries France came to the fore in literature, philosophy and art. In these fields the country has a great heritage. The ideas that gave rise to the French Revolution in 1789 also had a seismic effect on world political history.

France now has the fifth biggest economy in the world. (It held fourth position for the last 30 years or so, but the latest economic indicators put the UK ahead of its old rival). France’s formidable industrial muscle, its well educated population of 60 million, possession of nuclear weapons, permanent seat on the Security Council and strong ties with its former colonies, particularly in Africa, have allowed the country to punch above weight in the world political arena.

Co-Habiting Chirac Tries to Boost Public Image The current administration is in the unique position of having the two most powerful seats in government, the Presidency and the Prime Ministership being held by competing parties. Jacques Chirac, representing the right wing conservatives, holds the stronger role of President, while Lionel Jospin of the leftist socialist party is Prime Minister.

This arrangement, known as “cohabitation” has existed for about fifteen years and has, in the past, resulted in debates on who should represent the country in such functions as the G-8 Summit. Confronting this two-headed government is the formidable unemployment block, which is at a staggering 12.4 percent. Cradle-to-grave social benefits threaten to quench the fire that has propelled the French work force for so long. In one attempt to tamper with these benefits, President Chirac was greeted with a three week general strike that nearly paralyzed the city of Paris. If anything from Chirac’s administration is going to reignite the people’s weakening flame, it will be his recent link to election tampering. Charges date back to 1989, when Chirac won re-election as mayor, sweeping all 20 districts in Paris, which in turn helped re-established his image after losing the 1988 presidential race. Fifteen officials are currently under investigation for fraudulently registering voters from right-wing strongholds in their district to help ensure a Chirac victory.

Ironically enough this current investigation comes mere weeks after his praise of former French colony Senegal’s democratic elections. Chirac wrote to Senegal’s new president, "Your election as president of the republic bears witness to the deep rootedness of democracy in your country. This is a very good example for Africa which demonstrates that constitutional paths enable citizens to make decisions in civil peace”. Chirac and his Gaullist RPR party are gearing up for crucial elections.

The French Agenda at the G8 Summit Expect France to take lead of the Information Technology (IT) agenda. Earlier this year France hosted and chaired an IT summit to address the growing problem of cyber-crime. Here it proposed expanding the duties of Interpol, Europol, and various federal faculties to police and protect the net. France would like to see more co-operation in maintaining order in a chaotic cyberspace.

Areas from copyright infringement to defense cyber-attacks must be countered with an international effort. An example of French passion on this particular topic was demonstrated in a recent action by a lower court that went so far as to find the United States based Yahoo guilty of selling Nazi goods on the net. Such auctions are filtered in the French version of Yahoo, but since French citizens have access to the American site, the court held the company accountable.

President Chirac will be looking to boost his faltering public image during the G-8 Summit. A strong effort toward protecting the computer industry from cyber attacks or protecting Frenchmen from copyright infringements will serve to boost the French blitz on e-commerce as well as his public image.

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