Sunday, 13 October 2013

France struggles to turn good ideas into profit: is it serious Doc?

Panama Canal construction - 1896
I have often heard French people declare that 'France is good at inventing things but bad at selling them', and I was reminded of that adage this morning by a combination of the content of two articles I read on the online French press.

The first article is on Le Figaro's '100 Years Ago' pages, and it recounts the interesting story of how the Panama Canal was imagined by the French, but built and exploited by the Americans.

Various countries and leaders had dreamed of building the canal since as early as the 1500s, but the French would be the first to try. Construction began in 1881 with major funding from both industry and the state, but the project soon proved to be more difficult than had initially been planned. It was eventually abandoned due to a combination of the ill-prepareness of geological and other studies, insufficiently trained engineers with little experience, unexpectedly high death rates among the workers due to malaria, poor equipment, financial mismanagement and political corruption. The fiasco had cost a fortune in lost investment and the loss of 22,000 lives due to illness and accidents.

The result was that the United States - who were also interested in building a canal - subsequently took over the project and finished it successfully thanks to better preparations and more expertise in the field of construction. France had conceded what would have been a major commercial and geopolitical advantage to America and its influence in South America has never fully recovered to this day.

I then went to Nouvelobs' site where I came across an article with the headline 'The French invent lots of things, and foreigners profit from them'. The article discusses the results of an international classification of countries according to the number of patents for newly-invented products they produce, and at first glance France does very well indeed seeing as it takes third place.

But the good news stops there. France may possess more patents than many other countries but the vast majority of the money it makes from them comes from selling them to foreign countries, who then go on to transform the prototypes and theoretical expertise they have just bought into sellable - and profitable - products. The country's technological prowess may be excellent, but France's industrial trade balance is in deficit.

French Minister for Higher Education and Research  recently summed up the situation with the following statement, made during a parliamentary speech;
"We must overcome the valley of death that separates research and innovation here in France. [...] French mentalities have been recalcitrant with respect to the links between the academic world, the world of research, and industry for far too long." She pleads for improvements in the way France looks at intellectual property " ensure that the excellence of our research, which is financed by public money, is not pillaged by others."
So there we have it. Two examples over a 100-year timespan that demonstrate France's ability to imagine and begin projects only to fail to capitalise on them due to a lack of vision and foresight. It would seem then that France is indeed "..good at inventing things but bad at selling them'.

But does that really matter? After all, France is still one of the top six economies in the world and the French, despite their penchant for complaining, enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.

I am reminded of another expression that the French often use to describe themselves. It says that the French are 'sweet dreamers'. Perhaps they are after all, and there's nothing wrong with that in my book.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A self-confessed pedophile is released on bail to await his trial. WHAT????!!!!

A 27-year-old military serviceman from Toulon in France who stands accused of repeatedly raping his niece over a period of three years has been released on bail.

The accused man has already admitted that he raped his niece on five occasions, the first of which was on July 1, 2009. The girl was 11 years old at that time. He is also known to have accessed pedopornographic images on the Internet over a period of several months.

The judge justified his decision to free the man to await trial instead of holding him in custody pending trial by saying that he had "furnished details about all the acts of which he is accused", that nothing "would lead one to consider that he lied during his spoken statements to the police", and that there is nothing to indicate "that there may be other victims". The judge concluded that the accused "presented solid guarantees that he would not skip bail." 

It goes without saying that this judgement has outraged many people. The police are furious that long months of hard work designed to put a suspected repeat-offender pedophile behind bars has failed even before his trial, the public - and parents of young children in particular - is dumbfounded, and it's the same story for all those associations and other organisations that fight child abuse and pedophilia. 

And I am outraged too. I am absolutely incensed that in this, a supposedly modern and progressist society which says it respects human - and that includes children's - rights, a judge can free a man who has admitted that he raped a child five times. I am sickened by the judge's mealy-mouthed, totally biased and subjective reasoning, and - although I would never dream of voting for them myself - I fully understand why the French political party which is making the most positive progress in polls at the moment is the.......

.......extreme-right National Front.