Transatlantic Relations Program Nonresident Senior Fellow Nicholas Dungan reviews Jacques Attali’s Urgences françaises and Hubert Védrine’s La France au défi for the January 2015 issue of International Affairs, the bi-monthly journal of The Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House in London:
In this brace of books, two lions of the French left cry out for radical reform in their country. But their roars have yet to resonate. Everything about both of these men qualifies them more than virtually any others to analyse and recommend the policies that should place France on a firm footing for the future. Jacques Attali is a pure product of the French educational meritocracy. He was first in his class at the École Polytechnique and third at the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), as well as graduating from the elite École des Mines engineering school and from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). He taught economics at Paris Dauphine university and at the École des Ponts et Chaussées, another top French engineering academy. Attali was a special adviser to François Mitterrand, the French president, at the Élysée Palace in 1981–91. He left to become the first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London. He is a founder of the not-for-profit PlaNet Finance, the largest provider of microfinance funding and services in the world. Hubert Védrine has even greater direct policy experience than Attali, having been more at the business end of power than an intellectual observer. Védrine also attended Sciences Po and ENA before joining the French Foreign Ministry. He then moved to the Élysée Palace, also during the presidency of François Mitterrand, first as a diplomatic adviser, then as presidential spokesman, before being appointed, in 1991–95, the president’s chief of staff. Védrine was then French foreign minister in 1997–2002.
Attali presided over a commission, appointed by the right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy, then newly elected, on how to ‘liberate’ French economic growth, resulting in a Rapport de la Commission pour la libération de la croissance française: 300 décisions pour changer la France (La Documentation française, 2007). Similarly, Védrine answered Sarkozy’s call to present a report on France and its struggles with globalization, La France et la mondialisation: rapport au Président de la République (La Documentation française, 2007). Among Attali’s more than 50 books, one prominent title is Une brève histoire de l’avenir (Fayard, 2006), published in English as A brief history of the future (Arcade Publishing, 2009). Similarly, Védrine wrote Continuer l’histoire (Fayard, 2007), published in English as History strikes back: how nations, states, and conflicts are shaping the 21st century (Brookings Institution Press, 2008).