What's up, Europe? Umbrellas for Bastille Day

French President Francois Hollande shakes hands with a French soldier during a reception, on July 13, 2012 ahead of tomorrow's Bastille Day.

Kai Ryssdal: Tomorrow is Bastille Day in France, commemorating the storming of the French fortress and prison of the same name -- one of the key events of the French Revolution. And with all the turmoil happening right now in France and across Europe, it seemed like a good day to ask, what's up Europe?

Joining us once again is Sophie Pedder. She's the Paris Bureau Chief for The Economist. Good to have you back.

Sophie Pedder: It's a pleasure.

Ryssdal: Well last time we spoke as I recall, there wasn't much a mood of discontent, shall we say, in France. There wasn't a whole lot of austerity going on. That has changed this week, hasn't it?

Pedder: Well, I think there has been a bit of change, partly because the government has realized that it is going to have to do something about the deficit, and that's going to involve, probably, some spending cuts which are going to be pretty unpleasant. And I think there is beginning to be a sinking in of the reality, there are going to have to be some cuts.

Ryssdal: And it's not just the government -- we saw it this week with Peugot-Citroen, the carmaker over there with about 8,000 layoffs.

Pedder: That's right and this has really been the most enormous shock for the French. It's been 20 years since the last carmaker in France closed a car factory. This is a very symbolic change. It's a big car plant, just north of Paris, and it's well known and it's a huge symbolic shock for the French. I really think it's hard to underestimate how much this is seen both as painful and also damaging. But also, somthing of a wake up call. If there is anything positive that could come out of this, it's the debate that the French have really been reluctant to engage in -- and that's about how difficult it is for company's to compete and maintain their production in France when they have such a labor cost.

Ryssdal: Speaking of wake up calls, tomorrow's a big day -- the anniversary of maybe the biggest wake up call in history: Bastille Day.

Pedder: Absolutely, and the French, this is one moment where they can celebrate themselves, and they have this sort of wonderful parade down the Champs-Élysées. This is a huge, hugely important day for them. It's also the day before they go for their long summer break. But this year François Hollande, the new president, has wanted to make this pretty discreet, keep the costs pretty low. But still, the French will be celebrating tomorrow, there's no doubt about that.

Ryssdal: Despite all the rain, I read the weather forecast, it's lousy over there. 

Pedder: Well, it's the problem with the new president in France -- almost every single time he's taken an engagement outside, everytime he gets drenched. So this forecast is exactly the same. His nickname now is 'rain man' because he can't actually go out and do anything without getting wet. We're pretty sure it's going to rain here tomorrow too. 

Ryssdal: And we won't read anything into that at all. Sophie Pedder, she's the Paris bureau chief at the Economist magazine. Sophie, thanks.

Pedder: Ok, no problem.

Kai Ryssdal: Happy early Bastille Day, everyone, and to Kevin Neely, who tweeted us today, "is 'what's up, yurp' the new standard greeting in your offices?" Yes, Kevin. Yes, it is.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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