Europeans are different from us. In Australia, economic and social policies have been turned upside down in the past 20 years as we have made ourselves a global leader in free market reforms. In western Europe, too, changes have come, everywhere. But the determination of policymakers and people to retain the great experiment of their welfare state is much stronger.
In Paris, traffic was thrown into chaos on Friday when thousands of research scientists came out on the streets to demonstrate against government cuts to research funding. Last week saw a spectacular mass resignation by the heads of more than 1000 state research institutions, in protest against inadequate funding.
With elections to be held next Sunday for regional and local governments throughout France, the researchers are not the only ones voicing their grievances. Teacher unions called a national strike last week over cuts to education spending. The huge public hospitals sector is similarly up in arms, as those on the delivery lines of Europe’s second-biggest welfare state resist government attempts to prune it.
Jacques Chirac and his Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, are not ideologically opposed to the welfare state: far from it. Chirac is one of the last true conservatives, administering and defending the order he inherited. Overall social spending here is second only to Sweden as a share of GDP. Health spending is the second highest in Europe. Education spending is fifth highest.0