Asterix Economics

There is no doubt that the EU Budget debate will warm up considerably this week. Unfortunately, as Le Monde suggests it is a case of “Le budget europ?en entre rabais britannique et subventions agricoles” (The EU budget: between the British rebate and the agricultural subsidies). Now it does occur to me that there is another dimension here:

Generations of French children have grown up on the “Asterix” comic books and the myth of the leisurely British who were conquered by Rome because among their shortcomings was a horror of working on weekends. Today, instead of poking fun at their island neighbor, some in France are wondering whether they can learn from it.”

Now *a* generation of French children grew up on this because there was a time when it bore some relation to reality: let’s say in the 60’s and 70’s. But things have changed. Today, according to French Socialist politician Henri Emmanuelli:

You can’t speak about Great Britain without specifying that to earn a living, people there have to have two or three jobs….Even better than that would be slavery with a bowl of rice as recompense. That way there would be no unemployment at all.”

There is just one snag attached to all this fun-poking at the expense of the Brits, and it is called the rebate. If things in the UK are going so badly, then how come they are considered to be so rich they can afford to pay proportionally more? There appears to be an inconsistency here. Isn’t someone about to find themselves hoisted on their own petard?

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

11 thoughts on “Asterix Economics

  1. If the French could think their way out of this paper bag then they wouldn’t have Jacques Chirac as their president.

  2. It’s remarkable how the issue of the British budget rebate has suddenly, if one is to believe the media, become top of the agenda for this weeks EU summit; testimony to the machiavellian political ability of Chirac perhaps, or to the power of the media.

    Evidently the rejection of the Constitution, by two of the EU’s founding member states, need to be played down.

  3. What follows- a series of quotes from French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy – show what may be the real situation, much of this may in fact be a ‘smokescreen’ to cover a major French backdown on the CAP.

    “After the French ‘no’ and the ‘no’ in the Netherlands on the (EU) constitution, we are in crisis, there’s no hiding it,” he told RTL radio.

    But, he added, “we mustn’t add a financial crisis to the political, institutional crisis.”

    “We therefore need a compromise and I’ve said so to my (British) counterpart Jack Straw with whom I’ve spoken… we cannot not find a compromise.”

  4. In view of that comment, Edward, you might be interested in these excerpts from de Villepin’s speech to the S?nat (found on the French UK embassy’s website):

    “I?m thinking particularly of farmers, of all those who live off the land and see restrictive directives imposed on them. Yes, they receive subsidies. Yes, the Common Agricultural Policy is a major asset for our country. But subsidies don?t replace the feeling of dignity or reward for effort.”

    Is that a meaningful “but”? Who knows…

  5. Did anyone else find Emmanuelli’s reference to Chinese workers — “slavery with a bowl of rice” — a tad, shall we say, edgy? But perhaps I have been in the USA too long.

  6. “a tad, shall we say, edgy?”

    No, no, this was my first association too :).

    It’s xenophobic, and not about the Brits.

  7. Quite tricky to see the common ground here

    The french won’t re-open the deal from two years back unless they have absolutely no alternative. and they’ll be supported on that by several member states.

    And the British won’t give significantly on the rebate unless they get something really big – the political costs are just too high (and, let’s face it – they have a point on the structural problem with the budget).

    I’m predicting a freeze in the rebate, with a generalised correction mechanism maybe to come a few years down the line. And some minor concessions on ongoing CAP reforms and the Brussels ceiling.

    I’ve no crystal ball though

  8. Are we British so rich ? I value my leisure time more than any of my possessions, and Western Europeans do rather well in those terms. In terms of productivity per hour worked, I thought France was substantially ahead of the States, Germany at about the same level and the UK way down. I don?t kbow if this is accurate but that?s what the ECB seems to reckon, according to WSJ online:

    ?In comparing 2002 GDP-per-hour levels in the four countries with the U.S. fixed at a base of 100, France tops the list at 103, Germany comes in at 101 and the U.K. bottoms out at 79.?

    Yes Dave, the but is indeed meaningful. One of the problems the French have with the Luxemburg agreement is that by delinking subsidies to small farmers from production, they might be turning those farmers into recipients of a kind of welfare, with attached loss of personal dignity. In Britain, the idea of paying small farmers to manage the land for non-agricultural purposes has been mooted too ? it?s just that ours are mostly stuck out somewhere in the hills of North Wales, and there are so few of them.

    I agree with Edward; all this bluster on both sides could well be to ensure room for manoeuvre. I certainly hope so.

  9. One of the problems the French have with the Luxemburg agreement is that by delinking subsidies to small farmers from production, they might be turning those farmers into recipients of a kind of welfare, with attached loss of personal dignity.

    And popularity. A subsidy can be sold as a protection against unfair foreign competition. A welfare grant is simply a welfare grant. It’ll cause envy. The CAP is in long term danger if this welfare business goes on.

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