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Dear Monsieur President: Hard Advice On France's Future For François Hollande

Essay: Dominique Moisi, a special advisor at the French Institute of International Relations, has a few words of advice for president-elect François Hollande. His first plea: Let's not waste the next five years.

Celebrating Hollande's victory (romytetue)
Celebrating Hollande's victory (romytetue)
Alexenia Dimitrova

Dear Mr. President...It has been a tough ride, but you've won, thanks in part to your energy, tenacity and confidence. These qualities are essential for winning power -- and even more so, for exercising it.

Your responsibility is huge and can be summed up by a slightly provocative plea: "Please don't let us waste the next five years." Neither France nor Europe can afford it. France because it lacks self-confidence, which is feeding populist shifts and protectionist fantasies; Europe because, today more than ever, the European Union is not the problem but the solution. It needs an open, inventive, creative and modern France -- a France that, instead of being a source of worry, is one of hope and recovery.

So please do not set the wrong goals, means and methods in the first weeks of your presidency. France cannot afford the luxury to take the wrong track for two years before pulling itself together. Like the vast majority of the Western world, our country has been living far beyond its means for decades. It has to start over, a clean slate.

The challenge is as much an ethical one, as it is political, economical and social. Without extending social justice, dramatically changing our lifestyles would be simply unacceptable. Fairness and realism go hand in hand. Alas, justice cannot be the sole objective in our globalized, competitive real world. In northern Europe, where countries today serve as our role models, there is no contradiction between social justice and economic liberalism.

Just the right dose of state intervention

In between deterring the rich and humiliating the poor, there is a middle ground that is found through moderation and common sense. France needs dynamic, innovative companies that are able to conquer global markets. The state cannot act as a proxy for them. Its role is to protect the weak and encourage the creativity of its most dynamic citizens, their efforts and their enterprises. And it cannot, by itself, kick-start the economy.

Admittedly, France and Europe, like the United States, need major investments in their infrastructure. There are many fields where our level of innovation, compared with the ones of new emerging Asian countries, is no longer competitive. But in 2012, when you take into account the state of our finances and the reasonable and necessary constraints of the European Union, dreaming of simply implementing a big French or European "New Deal" is simply not realistic.

It's precisely because a country cannot save itself with government intervention alone that it is an error to place the emphasis on border controls. The best protection is to win back our self-confidence by putting the focus on creativity, competitiveness and excellence. In that sense, there are lessons to be learned from the hugely successful German automobile industry.

Defining our place in today's world

During the French presidential campaign, there was an unhealthy obsession with the German model as an ideal (are we even playing in the same league?), matched only with an otherwise total indifference toward the rest of the world. During the lone debate last week between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, the word "China" was not mentioned even a single time – watching this spectacle, you might have thought that we were in another era. It was as if the fear of Islam, or the denunciation of how this fear is exaggerated, was the only thing that mattered, instead of having a meaningful discussion about today's world, of which neither Europe nor the United States is the center.

Understanding today's new world requires a diplomacy based on respect, a mix of open-mindedness and good listening, which is the best protection against isolationism and nationalism.

In short, more than ever our country need courageous long-term reforms. Reconciliation is a legitimate objective, one that puts an end to vindictiveness and the ideological slippery slope the country was on. France needs a teacher, someone who is patient, humble and full of common sense; someone who is able to bring France together, to reassure its citizens and -- at last -- set the nation on the path of reform.

Read the original article in French

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