On a recent Sunday at the sprawling Marché aux Puces de St. Ouen, France’s largest and most famous flea market, crystal chandeliers glinted in a rare patch of Parisian sun.
“It used to be elbow to elbow here,” said Hamidou Debo, the owner of this shoe stall in the market. An ornate Napoleon III-era clock perched on a marble mantelpiece, and sales signs peeked from vintage clothing, vinyl LPs and other curios that have long drawn throngs of shoppers here, jostling for a bargain.
But something seemed amiss on this afternoon, as it has almost every weekend for more than a year. As with so much else now bedeviling France, the economy is to blame. French consumers simply are not spending the way they used to, and that is an impediment not only for the merchants of the Marché aux Puces, but also for the country’s ability to emerge from recession. “It used to be elbow to elbow here,” said Hamidou Debo, a shoe vendor who sat quietly in his outdoor stall as a handful of people browsed through silver-hued sandals and black leather high-tops before shuffling away without buying. “Now the crowds are around half what they used to be.”
For Mr. Debo and 2,500 other merchants in the 17-acre market on the northern edge of Paris, an economic slowdown has gripped business, and there is no telling when things might turn around. Last year, he said, he regularly made 300 to 400 euros, or $390 to $520, in sales by lunchtime. Now he barely makes 100 euros. “It’s the crisis,” Mr. Debo said. “People are no longer spending. They are worried about what the future will bring.”
Europe’s long-running economic troubles have been, for the most part, confined to the feeble countries of Europe: Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. But more and more they are coming home to roost in France, raising questions about whether one of the Continent’s biggest economies may become the next sick man of Europe.
By many measures, France is already moored in malaise. Unemployment is at its highest point since the current record-keeping system began in 1996 — 10.8 percent — and job creation has been on a downward trajectory for more than a year. These problems, coupled with tax increases and government spending cuts intended to keep the deficit and rising debt under control, mean that France is now struggling to exit a shallow recession, its second in four years. Even if the recession does end this quarter, the economy is expected to remain stagnant at best, contracting by 0.1 percent this year, according to the French statistics agency Insee.FRANCE AND EUROPE NEED TO DO A FEW SIMPLE THINGS TO AVOID CATASTROPHE:
1 - CUT ENERGY TAXES TO... ZERO.
2 - CUT WELFARE FOR NON-CITIZENS TO... ZERO.
3 - AND RELAX HIRING/FIRING RED-TAPE AND COSTS.