Ali Ettefagh at PostGlobal

Ali Ettefagh

Tehran, Iran

Dr. Ali Ettefagh serves as a director of Highmore Global Corporation, an investment company in emerging markets of Eastern Europe, CIS, and the Middle East. He is the co-author of several books on trade conflict, resolution of international trade disputes, conflicts in letters of credit, trade-related banking transactions, sovereign debt, arbitration and dispute resolutions and publications specific to the oil and gas, communication, aviation and finance sectors. Dr. Ettefagh is a member of the executive committee and the board of directors of The Development Foundation, an advisor to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and an advisor to a number of European companies. Dr. Ettefagh speaks Persian (Farsi), English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Turkish. Close.

Ali Ettefagh

Tehran, Iran

Dr. Ali Ettefagh serves as a director of Highmore Global Corporation, an investment company in emerging markets of Eastern Europe, CIS, and the Middle East. more »

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It's Cyclical, France Will Be Back

French politics is a fascinating process for outside observers. This year’s elections in France will set new standards for citizens’ rights and democracy. The season has already brought real and festering issues to the forefront of public discussion. Debates surrounding this election began two years ago, when Paris erupted in ethnic riots and Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, quipped about summarily deporting “scum” in France back “home” to Africa.

The election discourse has been dominated by fundamentally domestic challenges, and the question of how to run a country. Lofty topics of foreign policy (Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, democracy and Islam, and absorbing Turkey into the EU) as well as convenient one-liner religious zingers are remarkably absent. The talk is all about jobs, work hours, immigration, unemployment and pensions – rather than attributing the root of all trouble to such devices as Saddam Hussein, Iranian nukes and Al Qaeda.

It is refreshing to see some contrast between the right and the left today. The “third way” trends of the last ten years are fading away: the Blair-Chirac-Clinton mixture or the old strategy of appearing on both sides of every issue. The front-runners are young candidates without claim to protégé or hereditary politics (akin to Mr. Bush, Mrs. Clinton or Gordon Brown in the UK). It is no surprise that on May 9th, Mr. Blair is planning to announce his resignation from the Labour Party, a few days after the results are announced of the second round of elections in France.

France as a country is changing, along with the social and demographic fabric of the nation. Reports indicate that voter turnout was high for this election, notably including first-time voters from minority and immigrant communities. Active citizens prevent the decay of a system as they defend their right to choose – and the right that most needs defending: the right to be wrong.

Over the years, the French have expected the state to lead and deliver services of the highest standards. In fact, the state has delivered excellent public health care, a vast and modern public transport network, cheap nuclear electricity and a notable education system. All has been financed with high taxes, and always at the envy of the British, who pay the same taxes but are routinely short-changed on quality.

The French economy is a bag of mixed news but the sum of it all is not a story of decline. The Paris stock market has been one of the best performers in Europe, growing more than 20% a year for the last four years. French companies are expanding their business abroad, especially in Asia where demand is strong. They are among the top performers in most industries. Real growth in French companies’ foreign assets is considerable. Wal-Mart’s primary competitor in China and Korea, for example, is a French company.

Domestic decline in France’s economy and perhaps its society is in step with the stark realities of the EU, global competition and the WTO. It is also most likely a cyclical decline. Absorbing a large number of immigrants in 1990s into urban areas was bound to generate tensions and political debate a decade later. Strict labour laws in France and a maze of bureaucratic obstacles have discouraged the growth of small and medium enterprises. French businesses set up offices in England, Spain, and Italy (while British families move to France, if only to enjoy the higher standards of living).

Ultimately, France is probably at the end of a natural 10-year cycle of decline, owing mostly to a changing demographic in a medium-sized developed economy. Its society is moving in a new EU-influenced direction, adapting to the changes in its population. The British experienced similar trends in the 1980s when their industrial base eroded. The United States may be on the cusp of a similar shift, as Hispanic immigrants make up an increasing portion of the population, while the country’s manufacturing base falls behind the dominant services sector. But no one talks about either of those countries being doomed for good.

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