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Good news at last: French politicians seize on Nobel glory

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For French politicians fed up with their embattled nation being the punching bag of Europe, the news of two wins in one Nobel season could not have come at a better time.

After months of economic blues and rumination over the government's unprecedented unpopularity, the victories have been seized upon as a sign that all is not as bad as it may seem.

But experts have warned it will take a lot more than two shiny medals to cheer up France.

First, French writer Patrick Modiano swept up the literature prize, which was hailed by Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin as representing the "influence and vitality of French literature in the eyes of the world."

"I think this will definitively shut the mouths of those who wrote a few years ago that French culture was dead," Vincent Monade, president of France's National Book Centre, told AFP.

French writer Patrick Modiano gives a press conference in Paris  on October 9  2014  following the a...
French writer Patrick Modiano gives a press conference in Paris, on October 9, 2014, following the announcement of his Nobel Literature Prize earlier in the day
Thomas Samson, AFP/File

And with France's place affirmed as a leading light of literature, the national ego was further boosted when economist Jean Tirole won a Nobel on Monday for his analysis of big companies, market power and regulation.

"Another Frenchman reaches the top," crowed Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Twitter, adding the country's Nobel wins had "really thumbed the nose at French bashing."

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hailed "a new mark of French influence in the world. It is the recognition of French excellence."

The message from the political class was clear: France is still relevant and not a sinking ship.

- 'I am super pessimistic' -

However, Tirole slightly dented the enthusiasm over his victory by promptly calling for a reform of the "pretty catastrophic" French labour market, which is suffering from sky-high unemployment.

"I think we need to change things if we want to give our children a future," said Tirole.

A French unemployment office in Armentieres  seen on August 27  2014
A French unemployment office in Armentieres, seen on August 27, 2014
Philippe Huguen, AFP/File

On the streets of Paris, the news didn't appear to have lifted spirits as much as the government would hope.

"I am super pessimistic, about everything, the economy. I am super pessimistic about the future, I just don't think it is going to get better," student Franck Pierron, 25, told AFP.

Luc Merlin, 51, a financial consultant, said the prize was nothing but "the fair reward for a talent."

He said the general gloom in the country was "justified. We are badly governed. There is no confidence. There is nothing. It is horrible."

Another student, Margot Villemin, 23, said the victories had "nothing to do with French bashing, but it does allow us to regild the image of France."

The term "le French bashing" has eased its way into the lexicon in a sign of the obsession over criticism of anything French: whether pessimism at home, or outsiders gleefully tallying the ways in which France has seen better days.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls arrives at the
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls arrives at the "Rendez-vous de l'Histoire" (Meetings of History) festival, on October 11, 2014 in Blois, central France
Guillaume Souvant, AFP/File

"I've had enough of this permanent criticism of France and its ability to exert influence in the world," Valls told parliament last month.

Batting away one crisis after another, the premier is fighting hard to change the subject from the country's record unemployment, massive budget deficit and inability to reform.

He admitted recently that France's economic growth had been stuck in a "long breakdown" but said people should not "resign themselves" and encouraged British businesses to invest in France.

His remarks came shortly after Andy Street -- director of retailer John Lewis -- described the country as "sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat" and "finished".

New Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has himself described the country as "sick", saying President Francois Hollande's government has not done enough to reform.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron addresses the 69th Congress of the Association of Chartered ...
French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron addresses the 69th Congress of the Association of Chartered Accountants in Lyon, France, on October 9, 2014
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, AFP/File

"The lack of confidence in France is a real handicap," said political analyst Bruno Jeanbart.

He said this was because the French want "government to be the source of everything, but at the same time we feel it is less and less powerful."

However, the analyst said, despite its difficulties France remains the world's fifth biggest economy.

"But it is not because we have won two Nobel prizes that the difficulties will disappear. It would be better for France to win the football World Cup" for a significant impact on morale.

For French politicians fed up with their embattled nation being the punching bag of Europe, the news of two wins in one Nobel season could not have come at a better time.

After months of economic blues and rumination over the government’s unprecedented unpopularity, the victories have been seized upon as a sign that all is not as bad as it may seem.

But experts have warned it will take a lot more than two shiny medals to cheer up France.

First, French writer Patrick Modiano swept up the literature prize, which was hailed by Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin as representing the “influence and vitality of French literature in the eyes of the world.”

“I think this will definitively shut the mouths of those who wrote a few years ago that French culture was dead,” Vincent Monade, president of France’s National Book Centre, told AFP.

French writer Patrick Modiano gives a press conference in Paris  on October 9  2014  following the a...

French writer Patrick Modiano gives a press conference in Paris, on October 9, 2014, following the announcement of his Nobel Literature Prize earlier in the day
Thomas Samson, AFP/File

And with France’s place affirmed as a leading light of literature, the national ego was further boosted when economist Jean Tirole won a Nobel on Monday for his analysis of big companies, market power and regulation.

“Another Frenchman reaches the top,” crowed Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Twitter, adding the country’s Nobel wins had “really thumbed the nose at French bashing.”

Meanwhile Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius hailed “a new mark of French influence in the world. It is the recognition of French excellence.”

The message from the political class was clear: France is still relevant and not a sinking ship.

– ‘I am super pessimistic’ –

However, Tirole slightly dented the enthusiasm over his victory by promptly calling for a reform of the “pretty catastrophic” French labour market, which is suffering from sky-high unemployment.

“I think we need to change things if we want to give our children a future,” said Tirole.

A French unemployment office in Armentieres  seen on August 27  2014

A French unemployment office in Armentieres, seen on August 27, 2014
Philippe Huguen, AFP/File

On the streets of Paris, the news didn’t appear to have lifted spirits as much as the government would hope.

“I am super pessimistic, about everything, the economy. I am super pessimistic about the future, I just don’t think it is going to get better,” student Franck Pierron, 25, told AFP.

Luc Merlin, 51, a financial consultant, said the prize was nothing but “the fair reward for a talent.”

He said the general gloom in the country was “justified. We are badly governed. There is no confidence. There is nothing. It is horrible.”

Another student, Margot Villemin, 23, said the victories had “nothing to do with French bashing, but it does allow us to regild the image of France.”

The term “le French bashing” has eased its way into the lexicon in a sign of the obsession over criticism of anything French: whether pessimism at home, or outsiders gleefully tallying the ways in which France has seen better days.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls arrives at the

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls arrives at the “Rendez-vous de l'Histoire” (Meetings of History) festival, on October 11, 2014 in Blois, central France
Guillaume Souvant, AFP/File

“I’ve had enough of this permanent criticism of France and its ability to exert influence in the world,” Valls told parliament last month.

Batting away one crisis after another, the premier is fighting hard to change the subject from the country’s record unemployment, massive budget deficit and inability to reform.

He admitted recently that France’s economic growth had been stuck in a “long breakdown” but said people should not “resign themselves” and encouraged British businesses to invest in France.

His remarks came shortly after Andy Street — director of retailer John Lewis — described the country as “sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat” and “finished”.

New Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron has himself described the country as “sick”, saying President Francois Hollande’s government has not done enough to reform.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron addresses the 69th Congress of the Association of Chartered ...

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron addresses the 69th Congress of the Association of Chartered Accountants in Lyon, France, on October 9, 2014
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, AFP/File

“The lack of confidence in France is a real handicap,” said political analyst Bruno Jeanbart.

He said this was because the French want “government to be the source of everything, but at the same time we feel it is less and less powerful.”

However, the analyst said, despite its difficulties France remains the world’s fifth biggest economy.

“But it is not because we have won two Nobel prizes that the difficulties will disappear. It would be better for France to win the football World Cup” for a significant impact on morale.

AFP
Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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