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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.

  • I think germany’s economic strength lies in the very broad nature of its economy. They have kept their manufacturing industry when we destroyed ours. Germany can easily survive bad economic management at the top because the base of the economy is so solid. I love cycling and I when I buy something for my bicycles which is very good often it is german. I have a very useful trailer, a hub dynamo, lights, all german and all very well made. I would love it if we were manufacturing these things. I will say that the bicycles I ride are british, the superb Moulton bicycle, the best bicycle in the world I think. So, we can do great things, that I know.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t been to Charles de Gaulle in a long time, and hope not to, now that we have Eurostar. However, it’s much worse that you can’t buy a decent meal at any airport – don’t single out Charles de Gaulle there – than a bloody coat. Perhaps the French think people might have got that sussed before travelling.

    You don’t mention that Frankfurt airport is otherwise a nightmare, Hugo Boss or not.

    As for the current crop of EU leaders, I’d settle for Schmidt even now…

  • Anna

    Patrick’s right about Germany’s broad-based economy.

    Another reason for their success is that they tend to invest any spare cash in German businesses rather than property. Renting is widespread and nothing like as expensive as the UK. Property may be a useful addition to your pension pot, but it just sits there doing nothing until you sell; whereas investment in business, especially manufacturing, creates and maintains jobs and prosperity.

    Britain has a wealth of inventiveness and creativity, yet many of our industries are starved of money for research and development (R&D); and many of our best ideas are taken up and exploited financially by foreign countries. The Germans, on the other hand, are highly focused on R&D and on nurturing skills. The wisdom of this course is there for all to see.

    My husband is a retired design engineer and forecast the skills shortage as soon as Thatcher came to power and promoted financial services at the expense of manufacturing. He also warned that skimping on R&D would cripple our prospects in a competitive world. Too often, R&D is deemed a waste of money. Short-sighted, short-termism – and we are paying the price now.

  • Alastair an excellent blog, keep up the good work

  • Olli Issakainen

    Road to serfdom.
    Helmut Schmidt was the Chancellor between 1974-1982. He represented SPD.
    Bilderberger Schmidt is a close friend of Henry Kissinger.
    Herr Schmidt co-founded AEI World Forum (American Enterprise Institute). He also founded InterAction Council with members like Esko Aho, Bill Clinton and Romano Brodi.
    Germany is, in fact, Germany Inc led by bankers. Bundesbank is the secret dictator of Europe.
    Deutsche Bank takes care of the finances of the Queen. Bank of England has also created Bank of England Nominees Ltd to hide the true wealth of House of Windsor.
    Valery Giscard d´Estaing is also a friend of Herr Schmidt. He was the president of France 1974-81.
    M. d´Estaing recommended Greece to the EU. Bilderberger d´Estaing wrote the European Constitution.
    M. d´Estaing is a Knight of Malta.
    The European Project was a Christian Democrat project up until the 1980s. It was backed by the Catholic Church.
    Then the social democrats hijacked the project with the help of a secretive “strategy group” after a banker, a former secretary of state and a former European president visited Moscow.
    There is now a secret agreement to create a United States of Europe.
    Merkel, Rajoy, Cameron, Monti, Draghi, Barroso, Van Rompuy etc are all Bilderbergers.
    David Rockefeller, founder of the Bilderberg Group, says in his memoirs that he wants to create “one world”.
    According to John Kenneth Galbraith Goldman Sachs was behind the Great Depression of the 1930s.
    Goldman Sachs also created the eurozone crisis by helping Greece to manipulate its books. Goldman Sachs was paid $200m for this.
    Goldman Sachs was also involved in the creation of the European Union and the euro.
    Goldman Sachs also contributed to the 2008 financial crisis with its dealings.
    Euro is a fatally flawed project. But it will lead to a political union.
    Fiscal union needs a single government.
    The future superstate will have command economy. It will have unelected technocrats leading it.
    It will be a dictatorship. And Europeans are now sleepwalking into it.
    Jose Manuel Barroso recently said that “we need to move towards a federation of nation states”.
    Van Rompuy wants a common budget for the eurozone.
    Vaclav Klaus says that the destruction of Europe´s democracy may be in its final phase.
    Britain and Finland must leave the EU before it is too late!

  • Anonymous

    Why in buggering heck have you not post the Katherine Turner interview that I must have tried twice to, Alastair, yet?

    She has RA as my Mum/Mom had, and I have inherited, but as all blokes, not so bad due to a genetics pisstake. Had to give up sport because of it, since my immune system complains, in order to preserve my joints. And KT speaks, ahem!, frankly about religion, Alastair. Link,

    Poor Ronnie, when he had full blown MS connected stuff from his Mam/Mom, and got him in the end, as his Mom/Mam. My great uncle had family RA, spent his last twenty years of his life making impressive well know welsh love spoons in his back shed, from Llansanit he was, at the end of one of the penninsulars othe the three prong. But got to his heart, died in his early sixties. Knew Lynette wotsername he did, from across one of those rivers/afons, as in the poet,

    Ronnie Lane, about his mam and himself, with MS – notice how he is especially at the start, fecked, and his great mates backing him up, understanding what diseased state he is in, when he was in not remission, as the neves tends to do with such,

    Have a hanky if you want, but that is life, mind or body.

    And furthermore, here goes Nov Five – thank god it has finally returned to the fifth – told local people off Sat night to keep it thus, disturbing my rugger watching. Think going into their back garden with my 12 bore, and my rabid doggie (DOWN BOYO) might have educated them, though… : )))

  • Anonymous

    Lynette Roberts as here, brought up in Buenos Ares abouts, then moved to Wales/Cymru, great poet,

  • Anonymous


  • Do you mean that Cameron was in a coat just like the one you bought or does Hugo Boss now sell paper coats?