But after the results of Sunday's European elections, this phrase now can be used to refer to something broken in French politics. With the victory of the far-right National Front party, the nationalist wave that has hit the continent finds in our country its most aggressive expression.
What kind of party topped the polls in this national election? It is a party that is anti-European, anti-immigration and committed to restoring the death penalty. It is also a party that wants to tear up the agreements on the right of asylum, to reject the Schengen agreements on the free movement of people, and to close the borders.
This significant event stains France's reputation in the world. It also sheds a harsh light on the health of our society.
Engage with people, not markets
The root causes of this break have been known for a long time.
This is a Europe that is a distant, disembodied structure doomed to austerity, and the endless economic crisis underlines year after year the powerlessness of the politicians.
The ruling class lost itself in unbridled financial markets, and seems unable to understand that the globalization that it takes advantages of is actually destroying the markers and protections the peoples believed they could count on.
France's center-left leadership needed two years to finally choose the reform to implement, and it is now paying the price of its indecision.
It was a terrible shock. But, in the long run, will it be salutary?
Of course, the responsibility lies primarily with those in charge. Europe must react by conducting a policy that engages with the people of its member nations, rather than the markets. The government in France must work continuously on the reforms it promised and at the same time spare the working class as much as possible.
With both words and action, President François Hollande must embody this difficult path and explain why the efforts he is asking are necessary.
The French ruling class must finally regain a sense of civic responsibility, to revive the economy that remains mired in stagnation and rediscover an air of patriotism. Some will say it is a lot to ask for. But without these radical changes, support for the National Front is only bound to increase.