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Bringing Thatcher to France

December 10, 2016

Since I don’t follow European politics this is a surprising turn of events to me (reported by CapX).

François Fillon: The man bringing Thatcher to France

It came as no little surprise when, three years ago, François Fillon accepted my invitation to participate in the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty, organised by Britain’s Centre for Policy Studies. Needless to say, no other French politician even bothered to answer the invitations I hardly bothered to send out.

In French political debate, “Thatcher” is used in the same way as “the Vichy regime” – as a label that disqualifies an opponent from office forever. Open and avowed Thatcherites in Paris are a fringe movement of degenerate right-wingers, tolerated purely as a sign of open-mindedness, in the same way as advocates of cannibalism or sado-masochism.

But there Mr Fillon was. All of a sudden, a Gaullist with a fondness for the “French social model” […] had morphed into an unrepentant free-marketeer, promising to slash taxes and liberalise the labour market with a forcefulness that would make the IMF blush. […]

Over the past few years, he has assembled a team of like-minded economists and entrepreneurs and put together a detailed program of reforms with a credible implementation timeline.

The plan includes disposing of 500,000 civil servants and cutting public spending by €110 billion. It also covers critical social reforms, such as granting a greater level of autonomy to state schools (a proposal distantly inspired by Britain’s academies) and shaking up the health care system (for example by funding non-essential treatments via private health insurance).

For that, Fillon had been the butt of journalists’ and fellow politicians’ ridicule – until the electorate unexpectedly gave him a sweeping victory in the first round of the primary election for the centre-right Republican party (44 per cent of the vote against 28 per cent for Alain Juppé, with Sarkozy eliminated after coming in a humiliating third).

How did this miracle occur? Because Fillon’s message struck a chord. From the farmer sick of spending a third of his time doing paperwork (according to the latest surveys), to the entrepreneur stifled by regulation, to middle classes strangled by taxes, a popular revolt is starting to emerge. After decades of bureaucratic doziness, could France be starting to roar again? […]

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