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[Editorial] EU Leadership Revives “Old Europe”

Posted November. 17, 2007 08:45,   


French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s response to the largest strike in 12 years by the country’s transportation labor union, students, teachers and legal professionals is a good example of leadership.

He refused to accept the French umbrella labor union CGT’s demand to stop his pension and educational reforms, saying, “A setback for the government would be a setback for France.” But he offered a way out for the union by engaging in negotiations between management, labor and government, persuading railroad unionized members face to face, “There is no future if you take to the streets.” He is demonstrating leadership that sticks to principles but is willing to compromise, and that values public opinion, not populism.

His leadership has made people take notice. Those who opposed the strike increased from 55 percent last week to 69 percent on Wednesday when the strike began. Participation in the rail strike also dropped from 64 percent on the first day to 46 percent on the following day.

It was this kind of leadership that allowed the U.K. and Germany to re-emerge on the global scene. The U.K., once ridiculed as the “patient of Europe,” has been enjoying its longest-ever economic boom for 15 years. Germany, once blamed as the culprit of economic uncertainties in the Euro zone, lifted itself from the era of unification and laid the foundation for a second leap. The country achieved 13.7 percent growth in exports last year, dropping the number of the unemployed to less than 3.5 million this year for the first time in 12 years.

The strength that has revived the “old Europe” came from strengthened national competitiveness through reforms of the public sector, a small government, more flexible labor market, and emphasis on the market. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel have made it possible with their practical thinking and bold action.

What is the reality in Korea? The country has grown “old” much faster than the three European countries, but its public sector is still enjoying security no matter how incompetent it is. Also, its labor market keeps eroding corporate competitiveness with illegal strikes. Even at this juncture, when the choice for the next administration nears, there is no leadership competition among presidential candidates. Instead, all eyes in the political circle are on the “mouth of offender Kim Gyeong-jun.”

The free trade agreement with the U.S. and the follow-up measures, the new growth engine of 21st-Century Korea that are waiting for the approval of the National Assembly, are at risk of being scrapped in the face of political machinations to get more votes.

Europe’s revival makes us question where we Koreans are heading.