The President addressed 4,000 business leaders just a few days ago. Did you miss the story? Did you see the headlines over the Labor Day weekend?
The President, in this case, is Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French president. On August 30, he addressed MEDEF, the large employers federation, at their summer meeting. American presidents address business groups all the time. President Bush has spoken to NAM members several times during his presidency.
There are two newsworthy aspects of Mr. Sarkozy’s MEDEF speech. Startling to me and others is that he is the first French president to ever address the business group. The first! It’s hard to imagine such a distanced U.S. presidency that business leaders would be off limits for a presidential speech. Yet in France, business and entrepreneurs have for too long been seen as something to be managed and even dangerous. Hence the arms-length relationship.
Sarkozy knows that the French economy, as much a part of the global economy as any other country, will not thrive under the heavy regulation that has characterized it for so many decades. So the second interesting thing about his speech was the economic policy he laid out for France so that it, too, might be a thriving part of the global economy down the road.
According to the report from The Economist:
There was plenty in the speech for the business chiefs to approve of. Mr Sarkozy called the 35-hour working week an “immense economic error”, and promised to go much further in loosening it, hinting that he might give more freedom to companies and industrial sectors to negotiate their own working-time agreements. He promised to free up Sunday shop opening, slim down France’s bureaucracy, cut taxes, make more research spending tax-deductible, and introduce an American-style “Small Business Act”. France needed an extra point of economic growth, the president said, and he intended to create a more business-friendly climate in order to encourage it.
This is refreshing stuff coming especially from France. Let’s hope Mr. Sarkozy gets the domestic support he needs to bring France’s economy into the 21st century. According to a Washington Post op-ed by David Ignatius, the French so far seem to like his approach. Maybe some of the US presidential candidates will take note.
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