IT IS official: the French are a nation of depressed pessimists, wracked with self-doubt and unable to see a positive future.
This gloomy portrait of the current state of Gallic morale - or rather the lack of it - was made public yesterday in a damning report by France’s prefects, the country’s top administrators.
"The French no longer believe in anything," the report said. "That is the reason that the situation is relatively calm, for they believe that it is not even worthwhile expressing their opinions or trying to be heard any more."
The country’s 100 prefects went on to use the words "lifelessness", "resignation", "anxiety" and "pessimism" to describe the attitudes they believe prevail in France today.
The report, which is dated December 2004 but has only just been made public, would appear to be contradicted by the three days of strikes launched by public sector workers this week.
However, analysts point to the fact that disillusionment and apathy are so great that not even France’s formerly powerful unions were able to predict the turnout for the strike. Opinion polls show that 65 per cent of the French support the strikers, leading observers to say that the country is showing its discontent by proxy via the strikers.
"It’s a fact: France and the French are pessimists," said Alain Duhamel, a respected French commentator.
He said: "The French doubt themselves and worry about the future. They do so more than the citizens of neighbouring countries, even when those neighbouring countries are doing less well than we are and have a more negative future ahead.
"France has been anxious about its future, about its way of life, for the last 30 years, ever since the employment crisis and doubts about identity, ever since the absence of clear perspectives and collective projects."
Politicians agree that the French are particularly upset about the drop in their purchasing power, which has led to strong group pessimism even if individual confidence is quite high.
This fear for the country’s economic future is illustrated by the fact that the French are among the most assiduous savers in the world, putting aside an average of 16 per cent of their income.
Pierre Taribo, writing in L’Est Rpublicain, agreed with Mr Duhamel. He wrote: "One is forced to say that the French no longer believe in very much. Confronted with the reality of an open economy, clearly showing less and less appetite for politics, they are disillusioned and doubt everything from Chirac to the government and the Right, which is accused of every ill, to the Left, which has no projects, and the unions, whose activism no longer inspires a reflex of blind adhesion."
All this gloom could have serious repercussions. Jacques Chirac’s centre-right government fears that widespread pessimism could have a negative effect on the referendum on the European Union constitution scheduled for later this year.
The prefects’ report also warned that it played into the hands of the extreme right-wing National Front party.