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Since 1st March, 1999
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France a nation of losers, says ad top gun

Paris, July 31: The president of one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies has issued a damning state-of-the-nation assessment that describes France as being in steep decline and his countrymen as “narrowed and stunted”.

Maurice L'vy, the head of the media giant Publicis, whose company owns Saatchi and Saatchi and has offices in 100 countries across six continents, said France had failed to get the 2012 Olympics because the world now saw it as a nation of perdants ' “losers”. For good measure, he described the 35-hour week as “absurd” and the wails of complaint that followed Paris’s loss of the Games to London as “pathetic”.

His forthright critique was published in the opinion section on the front page of the Le Monde.

It was in stark contrast to the slick advertising campaigns dreamed up by Publicis to promote its international clients, which include BMW, Renault, Coca-Cola, L'Or'al, and Club Med. Such campaigns helped earn the company net profits of '130 million euros ('90 million) for the first six months of this year.

Yet L'vy, 63, told The Sunday Telegraph that he stood by every word of his criticism and had received scores of messages of support. “What I wrote was hard, but true. France is not in a crisis, it’s worse than that. A crisis is usually sudden and short, while we are in an endemic situation,” he said. “I’ve just had enough and wanted to say what I felt.”

In the article, L'vy said the French had only themselves to blame for losing the Olympics, and that the country needed a wake-up call. “We have narrowed and stunted ourselves and we paint ourselves as losers, and no one wants to be among the losers. It’s time we opened our eyes wide, took an icy shower and looked reality in the face: we are in decline, going down a slippery slope.

He said unemployment, at more than 10 per cent, was a “cancer that gnawed at our society”, complaining that companies had lost their competitiveness and job creation had broken down.

“In the global economy we give the impression of being a Gaulois village, but unlike those in Ast'rix, it doesn’t make us laugh and it will raise even less of a smile among our children and grandchildren in 20 years’ time.

“The general gloom is based on the idea that nothing can be done and nobody seems to have a solution. In fact our politicians have long played fathers of the nation, protecting their flock and hoping to save we the children from crises. It’s praiseworthy and generous. Thank you. But it doesn’t prepare us for the harsh realities of life.

“Remember the day after the first petrol shock, when the Dutch took to their bicycles to save petrol while our good President explained to us that we could (and deserved to) set off in our cars for our weekends away.

“Later, when it was necessary, alas, to make redundancies, the compensation was set at 90 per cent, therefore allowing those made redundant to earn yet more without working. Why in that case, make any effort to find a job'

“The final straw has to be the absurd decision to introduce the 35-hour working week when we were told repeatedly that we could work less and earn more. How on earth in this context can we expect the same French people to accept necessary reforms'”

L'vy said it would take a brave person to introduce the necessary changes.

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