The “Stop au France Bashing” campaign is the latest in the beleaguered French government’s efforts to draw attention away from itself. Last week, it posted 10 statistics on its website to demonstrate why citizens should be proud of France. Now, I love living in France and can think of a lot of things to praise. But equally, after 17 years here, I feel I’ve got past the starry-eyed stage. So let’s take a closer look at the reality behind this promotion.
First, some general remarks. The whole thing is presented in a negative light. The slogan, “Stop au French Bashing”, apart from being alarmingly Franglais, is terribly defensive. And who is it aimed at? The French themselves? Or the Anglophone world, hence the Franglais? It’s a moot point as to who does the most France bashing.
I’m not going to go through all of the 10. And I have no problem with some of them. They are, indeed, things to be proud of. For example:
- “France is the top tourist destination in the world.” Rightly so. It is a wonderful place to visit, with glorious countryside, picturesque towns and villages and a fascinating history and culture.
- “The country is in the top three in Europe for receiving foreign business investment.” Astonishingly, despite its poor economic performance (see below), this is true and I can verify it from research I have done for my day job.
But I do have problems with some of the others. First, no explanation is provided of the story behind the bald statistics: presumably, because once you start explaining statistics you have to hedge them round with too many caveats. For example, “Wind power grew 70% in first 6 months of 2014.” From what base? I am a proponent of forms of energy that don’t require carbon or nuclear fuel as a basis. But how much of the country’s electricity requirement can wind power realistically provide?
Second, some are a bit misleading. “France is the world’s biggest wine producer.” According to OIV figures for volume of wine produced, it was in 2014, but the figures are still an estimate and may change. And which country took first place for three out of the four previous years? Italy.
And what about this one? “France is the 5th economic power in the world.” They don’t specify on what measure, but it must be GDP. However, if you look at GDP per capita, in 2013 France was in 26th place (IMF data) or 24th place (World Bank data). France’s economic record is not exactly inspiring: an eye-watering national debt, struggling industry, a Leviathan of a civil service, high unemployment, and a tax system that penalises enterprise, the engine of the economy, and the middle classes.
Third, bald statistics without comparisons are meaningless. “France’s 1,200 museums receive 62 million visitors a year.” That’s a lot of people. But how does it compare with other countries? Is it good, bad or indifferent?
Finally, some of the chosen items smack of barrel scraping. For example, “The world’s biggest start up incubator will open in Paris in 2016.” This is very laudable, but it’s not happened yet so, clearly, no one can say anything about its achievements for some years to come.
I’m not bashing France. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that there’s a lot about France that I celebrate. I am simply making the point that if you are going to bandy statistics about you have to make sure you can back them up. To me, this looks like an exercise concocted by a civil servant on a Friday afternoon and not sufficiently thought out.
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