On France’s non economy, German efficiency, and Helmut Schmidt’s view of the world
Posted on 4 November 2012 | 5:11pm
I know there are few things more irritating than powerful or well-known names (I was allegedly the former once, and in so allegedly being became the latter in some parts of the world) hitting the blogosphere or twitterland to bemoan bad service, a late train, a delivery that hasn’t arrived. Indeed, I suspect the most common reaction on reading that said powerful or well-known name has been inconvenienced is, to misquote our alleged Prime Minister, LOL.
However, my tweets earlier today about failing to find anywhere at Charles de Gaulle airport to buy a coat went beyond a mere whinge. I was fascinated by it. So fascinated that, with a bit of time to spare before my flight to Germany, I several times boarded the navette linking the airport’s three terminals so that I could check them all out, Terminal 1 having turned out to be a shop ghost town, unless you were keen to buy a newspaper or a Paul croissant. A nice man with a badge suggested I try Terminal 2, which turned out to be bigger, but still devoid of shops. A nice young lady with a Disneyland board suggested I try Terminal 3, but she didn’t hold out much hope and she felt that if I had time, I should get the train into the centre of Paris.
I didn’t have time so I hopped aboard the navette again and headed for Terminal 3. There a nice lady at the information desk appeared not to possess the information I needed, namely was there anywhere at one of the most famous airports in the world, in the capital of a country famed globally for its love of and dependence on fashion, where I could buy a new winter coat for the cold months ahead?
She too suggested that I head into the city centre, as if to suggest I was mad to think one might buy a coat at an airport. On which point, the next time I see a celeb tweeting about queues at Heathrow or Gatwick, I will tweet them to the effect that at least you can buy a bloody coat, or indeed any other item of clothing totally absent from Charles de Gaulle. I couldn’t even console myself with a nice French meal. What on earth would de Gaulle think if he were to come back and see that the traveller through his airport can get a Big Mac or a Starbucks but nowhere so it would seem enjoy a good French slap up meal.
And so, or ‘und so’, as the Germans say, onto Frankfurt (I was going there anyway, I didn’t just go for the coat) and on the plane, I bet myself, as you do, that I would find a coat within ten minutes walk, or eight shops, whichever was the quicker. Seven minutes and seven shops from arrival, and there was Hugo Boss, and a gaggle of lovely assistants, and within minutes I had the coat I had been hoping to get in Paris.
What’s more – how is this for efficiency – within minutes of tweeting out a picture of said new coat, I was tweeted by Frankfurt airport telling me how pleased they were that I had found what I was looking for. Got to love these Germans. That efficiency is no cliche you know.
Or is it? I picked up a magazine which had a terrific interview with Helmut Schmidt, one of the great figures of modern European history, still going strong at 93, surely one of the oldest lifelong chain smokers on the planet.
He looks a lot younger than 93, still has a good head of white hair, and still has opinions worth heeding. With my mind still racing at the economic incompetence of an airport that makes it impossible to spend money, I was intrigued to read his analysis of the current European leadership, and his singling out of Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and David Cameron as having no real economic experience and clearly in his view very little economic judgement.
In so far as Germany’s economy is doing better than expected, he puts it down to reforms brought in by Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. Schmidt felt he and his old French partner Valery Giscard d’Estaing put economics and pragmatics ahead of ideology but that today’s leadership in Europe always put politics first. Hence those countries like Greece being shoehorned into a euro they were not ready for. And he is scathing about their underestimation of the change that China’s rise represents for the whole of Europe. As for the Nobel peace prize for the EU, don’t get him going.
He even manages a dig at the Eurosceptic British press, and their madness in suggesting Germany now walk away from the euro. Anyway, a good interview, and I strongly recommend a Brit journalist trying to track him down and hear what he has to say. If not, L’Express finds. Meanwhile I have just seen a picture of Cameron in a UK paper which looks alarmingly like the one I have bought.