Not since the days of Napoleon have such far-reaching changes been set in motion in France.
Paris FRANCE, in 1981, broke with the past. A spectacular series of prophetic events involving all Europe is being set in motion. The Socialist slogan in last year's election promised the French they would be "Living otherwise." And that's precisely what the citizens of France will be doing — at work, at play, in school and in the military if the new Socialist government can fulfill its goals. In many respects it amounts to the restructuring of a whole society. The sweeping social and economic transformation is spear-headed by the most extensive program of nationalization ever undertaken by a Western democracy. Overseeing this massive effort, Socialist President Francois Mitterrand has declared, "I am doing through nationalization what de Gaulle did in the field of nuclear strategy: I am giving France her economic force de frappe."
Other Nations Watch
Measures immediately discussed by the newly elected government included a 10 percent raise in the minimum wage. A 25 percent increase in allowance for the handicapped, poor and elderly. More vacation time for all workers on salary. A shortening of the basic work week from 40 to 35 hours and the creation of thousands of new government jobs. Particularly important are steps to deal directly with unemployment. It was one of the greatest concerns among the French electorate. By itself, the number of young people entering the job market each year requires the creation of 250,000 jobs just to keep the employment rate steady. And this is in addition to the number of people already in the job market who are unemployed. A poll taken here revealed that in choosing Mr. Mitterrand over former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, 44 percent of the voters said theirs was a protest vote against unemployment. They hope the Socialists will be able to cure the problem. Mr. Mitterrand believes that with all of the machinery and robot technology available, humans ought to be able to produce more and better goods and services and at the same time have more opportunities and time to enrich themselves culturally and educationally — to enjoy a better quality of life. This was apparently alluded to during the election campaign by very effective posters. They showed Mr. Mitterrand against a background, not of belching factory smokestacks, but of a restful pastoral setting. His slogan was "La force tranquille" or, "Peaceful strength." For many Frenchmen, the promises are attractive. Not everybody is cheering though. Businesses and individuals with large personal incomes fear new taxes and restrictions that will come with a socialized economy. And other nations watch.
Not Since the Days of Napoleon
The program of the French Socialists goes beyond addressing a troubled economy. The most far-reaching and ambitious reform under the new administration is going to be the decentralization of government. Since the days of Napoleon, the central government in Paris has had rigid control of decision-making in all of the 95 departments (counties) into which France is divided. Throughout France, everything from parking laws to management of municipal services to the allocation of tax revenues has been regulated through Paris. Now, in a process that will take at least two years, much of the responsibility for local government will be given to town and regional councils. Fitting right in with the move toward decentralization is an astounding new railroad system that allows for speedy and affordable access to all parts of continental France, thus promoting freer exchange between Paris and the provinces. Other examples demonstrate the wide scale on which French society is being reshaped. These include bills, proposed or already passed, to give students a greater voice in running the universities, to abolish capital punishment (in contrast to biblical civil law), to eliminate first-class coaches on the Paris subway system and to reduce military service from a year to six months. One issue which doubtless will cause a stir is the future of private (mostly Roman Catholic) schools. Mr. Mitterrand is a firm supporter of public schools and public schoolteachers, a fact that causes many Catholics to fear for the continued existence of parochial education. It is interesting to note that of the newly elected Socialist members of Parliament, 43 percent are teachers. Of the new Communist members, the figure is 28 percent. In line for change are school vacation schedules to avoid the traditional disorder of the month of August when most of France takes off on vacation. All these and more internal changes are an effort to create a more equitable and smoother functioning society as the Socialists conceive of it.
New Foreign Policy
One thing that Mr. Mitterrand has shown no desire to change is France's relationship with NATO. There has been no shortage of statements pledging continued faithfulness to traditional NATO allies, the United States in particular. But, as has been the case since 1966, France will continue to maintain independent command over its own military forces. The clamor for pacifism, ban-the-bomb and even anti-Americanism being heard in many parts of Europe is hardly noticeable here in France. Unlike French leaders de Gaulle and Giscard, President Mitterrand rejects the policy of a special relation ship between Russia and France. To put it bluntly, Mr. Mitterrand does not trust Moscow. As a counterbalance to the threat of Soviet militarization, he favors deployment of U.S. missiles in West Germany and other NATO countries, as well as production by the United States of the neutron bomb. In fact, he has confirmed that France will study the development of its own neutron bomb. As President Mitterrand has declared: "I want to be sure that in 1985 the Soviet Union and its allies do not gain the strength to dominate the world." Some suggest, however, that the French relationship with the United States, the Soviets and NATO could eventually change depending upon the success or failure of domestic programs. If France now agrees with the Reagan administration on the necessity of maintaining a strong European defense, there is sharp disagreement on relations with the Third World. Mr. Mitterrand, for example, does not feel the United States should try to prop up shaky military dictatorships in Central America. He believes the trouble in that region to be the result of genuine popular revolts against tyranny, rather than purely the result of communist expansionism. His view is that w hat is taking place is largely inevitable social reform which must not be stifled.
A "New Wind" Blows
The example of the Socialist victory in France could have wide-ranging effects in the rest of Europe and therefore the. world. If Mr. Mitterrand succeeds in his programs, he could prove to the leftleaning nations of Western Europe as well as nations of Eastern Europe that there is an alternative to communism Soviet-style or capitalism a l' Americaine. To judge from the election in Greece, the French fever may already be spreading. "A new wind is blowing on the Mediterranean," headlined a French newspaper after the landslide victory of the Greek Socialists. "Yesterday France, today Greece, tomorrow Spain," triumphantly boasted newly elected Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. Two hundred years ago, the French Revolution served as an example for revolutions in other nations. Some are saying that what is happening in France is nothing short of a revolution. If that is so, and if it succeeds as the Socialists expect it will, to what extent will it also serve as an example to an emerging New Le(t in many nations of Europe and elsewhere? Referring to the reforms now taking place in France, Jean-Francois Revel, former editor of L'Express magazine, wrote in The Wall Street Journal: "If this experiment is carried to its logical conclusion, if it spreads to other European countries, it will change· international relations much more profoundly than will the current discussions and differences of opinion on the future of the Atlantic Alliance." The Plain Truth staff, armed with an understanding of Bible prophecy, says to its readers: Watch France!
Fastest Trains on Earth by Clayton D. Steep
Lyons Modern technology is now setting the stage for the prophesied union of Western Europe. Even before the sleek machine pulls out of the station for its run to Paris, its streamlined appearance suggests motion. It is one of a new breed of French trains named the TGV, short for trains a grande vitesse — ("very fast trains"). Test runs have shown them easily capable of reaching 235 miles per hour, making them the fastest on earth. Temporarily, however, they are "reined in" at a maximum of 162 mph even when they are on their own newly laid track. When they must travel on the older tracks, they are limited to a snail's pace of 100 mph. All this is expected to change, though, as more specially constructed track is laid. The new tracks have concrete ties instead of wood. Individual rails are welded together into one continuous, seamless rail, and there are no grade crossings — all human or animal cross-traffic passes underneath the fenced-off right of way. As more cities are linked to Paris and to each other by the new rail system, the eventual goal is to have these trains darting from station to station at 238 mph. And not only in France! The trains already go into Geneva. It is expected to be only a matter of time before they go to Brussels, London (whenever the tunnel is finally built under the English Channel) and other European cities. Quiet and smooth are the best words to describe the ride. Passengers lounge in reclining seats. For refreshment there is a snack bar in second class. In first class cars, hostesses serve several-course meals from airline-style carts. Each train has a sloping-nosed engine at both ends and is composed of eight coaches. The coaches are not meant to be separated, since they share one group of wheels (a bogey) wherever two coaches join. All eight cars form one single aerodynamically designed unit. With only half the number of wheels of a conventional eight-coach train, there is correspondingly less weight and friction. Adding to its streamlining, the TGV rides about two feet lower than ordinary trains. Looking out the large tinted windows at the beautiful French countryside rolling by, we catch a glimpse from time to time of small groups of villagers or farmers as they pause to watch this orange, brown and white blur streak through the pastoral setting. Are these country folk merely shaking their heads over the necessity for human beings to be in such a rush? Or is it a sense of pride they are feeling since this fastest train in the world bears the label "Made in France"? Any American railroad buff can draw a sad comparison with the rail passenger service in the United States. At the same time the TGV was breaking records, some fanfare was being sounded about the inauguration of a new train running between Los Angeles and Sacramento, California — a distance of about 400 miles. To make the trip, American commuters can plan on an overnight jaunt of 13½ hours. What is more, the energy expenditure for a full TGV on such a trip would be the equivalent of less than two gallons of gasoline a passenger. The French all-electric TGV, originally conceived of more than a decade ago, in the era of cheap gasoline, has turned out to be a case of extraordinary foresight. Not only is the TGV energy-efficient, but, at a time of worrisome unemployment, construction and operation of this new system is providing jobs in a wide range of fields. By making travel throughout France easier, the new trains are also helping to overcome the dominant role Paris has played in day-to-day French affairs for nearly 200 years. While the Socialist government cannot claim credit for the TGV, the inauguration of service fits in conveniently with the programs of the new government.