The BBC has an interesting bit on French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s attempts to reform France’s national pension system. As Raffarin is quickly finding, the labor unions and protests are making that job impossible despite the fact that the French pension system no longer correlates with the aging population and low birth rates.
This is why I don’t see the European Union as being economically workable in the long term. Systems like this are common throughout Europe, and removing them is virtually impossible without government-toppling waves of protest. The only option the EU has is expansion in the hopes that the more dynamic economies of Eastern Europe can pick up the slack. It’s boils down to a form of economic exploitation as Western Europe lures the East into the EU with offers of more open trade, then saddles them with burdensome regulations and locks them into EU foreign policy.
Even expansion cannot cure the EU’s underlying structural problems. Only vigorous efforts at reform in core member nations like France, Germany, and Italy can keep the EU afloat in the long term. However, given the way in which the populations of those countries decry any attempt at cutting social benefits the chances of that happening seem slim.
(Thanks to Justin Paul for the link.)
UPDATE: Merde in France has this amusing French joke that’s been circulating around.