The title is the literal translation of Maurice Lévy's Le Monde article about the dismal state of France, reported on in the Torygraph as "We French are pathetic losers, says ad chief". I'm not going to quote from either article - since they should probably be read in full. I will however add a little to the anecdotal evidence that some people in France realize the hole that France is in.
In addition to my neighbours - whom I quoted recently - I could add my companions at dinner last night. Said dinner was forced to be moved from its original restaurant because the proprietor kindly decided to go on holiday from July 31 instead of August 1. Anyway we ate at the only moderately priced restaurant in the vicinity that was open yesterday evening, which was a Chinese one. The ethnicity of the staff was noted and there was considerable discussion about how the French seem to consider holidays to be a sacred entitlement, along with generous unemployment benefits, 35 hour weeks etc. and how ridiculous it was. We were eating in a suburb of Grasse, and it was pointed out that the perfume business - Grasse is still the perfume capital of the world - sees most of its natural scents produced in countries such as Georgia or Tunisia where the cost of labour is rather lower than it is nearby - those fields of lavender or roses that show up in tourist postcards of Provence are exactly that, tourist attractions not "working fields". Likewise the reason why so many organic chemists find employment in Grasse is because synthetic molecules are so much cheaper.
This, of course, lead on to discussion of other problems facing Grasse, of which there are plenty. Grasse is, IMO, practically the poster-child for what is wrong with France, and the table - which included a number of French - was able to identify a whole raft all of them. Starting at the top: Grasse has a communist mayor. Opinion is divided as to whether he is stupid, incompentent or actively malicious, but the no matter the cause the results are clear. Compared to surrounding towns Grasse has higher local taxation with far worse services provided. It doesn't help that the mayor seems determined to spend masses of money tarting up roundabouts and hanging flower baskets on lamp posts rather than actually fix roads that are being eroded by their adjacent ditches/drains. The latest roundabout folly has everyone who passes it shaking their heads - an entire fake traditional stone Mas is being built in the middle of the roundabout. Not only is the quality of the work high (and thus undoubtedly highly expensive) the roundabout in question is surrounded by standard box-like ugly factories, supermarkets and the like which will detract from the beautified roundabout in ways that are reminiscent of the way that the Japanese stick ugly yellow eletricity wires around ancient temples. Then there is the problem of the immigrants: Grasse has a number of immigrant communities, including one right in the middle of the old town. These communities are, without exception run-down neighbourhoods, unemployment is high, crime is high, and assimilation is practically 0. Worse there is considerable evidence that the next generation in these places is growing up to be basically unemployable in anything more than basic manual labour because they aren't learning and not thinking of themselves as French - something I mentioned a while back. Needless to say the locals are worried about "delocalisations" of the fragrance industry from Grasse as well. There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly because of the cost of labour and the lack of locally produced scientists it is getting hard to find good employees at reasonable cost and secondly because there are numerous rumblings that the EU might want to start applying some of its environmental laws to Grasse and it is clear who is going to have to pay. As someone who lives (sort of) downstream I can say that I have considerable sympathy with that idea, but in practise what it is going to mean is that individual enterprises are going to have to build their own waste-handling plants because the city's sewerage system is broken and shows little sign of ever being fixed. I could go on but there dosn't seem much point, Grasse is the (hairy) armpit of the Côte d'Azur and it isn't going to get a shave and application of deoderant anytime soon. The problem for France is that too many of its municipalities are like Grasse.
PS further evidence of the decline of France is visible in Sophia Antipolis where a certain amount of delocalisation is also occuring - to wit some pharmaceutical companies have transfered themselves to England....