Meilleurs vœux, felice anno nuovo, aam saiid, bon nannen, ein gutes neues Jahr, akemashite omedetô !

With the New Year, many of us fellow humans get into the annoying habit of broken promises. I refer, of course, to the good resolutions at the start of the year (why on earth would we impose ‘dry january’ on ourselves in the land of Chassagne-Montrachet?), and in a more collective form, that of the greetings of leaders (more advantageously accompanied by Veuve Cliquot). It’s fashionable to deride the naivety of the former and only listen with a distracted ear to the latter. In reality, they are an important opportunity to pause and take a healthy step back and, in homage to Janus, who contemplates both the past and the future, to place the individual and the collective in the continuity of a narrative.

Towards the end of December, for the exhausted pen of the head of state who rushes through the New Year’s address before returning to his books, the cosy sofa and the log fire for a few days’ well-deserved holiday, Janus is a good soul: the New Year’s speech is a relatively easy exercise in style, with its topos and obligatory passages. In the past there is satisfaction, in the future positive tension. ‘We worked well last year, even though the situation was not easy. As we’re particularly strong when we’re united, we’ll see what happens next year if we roll up our sleeves’. The variations, more or less fortunate, are in tone, style and priorities. Olaf Scholz, for example, gave a sober demonstration of deutsche qualität: we expected the worst, but ‘things have turned out differently because we have put the brakes on the economic recession. We saved energy and prepared in good time. We all did it together. We can lean on any headwind and win’. In an election year for the British, Rishi Sunak is quick to offer enthusiastic, if somewhat immodest, praise for his own actions: ‘We can look back on a memorable year. We have given record funding to the NHS and social care. English schools are rocketing up the world rankings. We’ve boosted the economy. We’ve halved inflation. We have introduced the biggest cut in corporation tax in modern British history. And in the last few weeks we’ve seen an incredible £60 billion of investment in the UK (…) We should look to the future with pride and optimism, thinking about what we can do together to build a better future for everyone.’

The structure of the speech is in place, the fire is already crackling, the chartreuse, vodka or sake are chilled; all that remains is to add the breath, the spiritual ingredient, the mythological tale, the anima that will drive the collective. Corporate communicators think they’ve invented this recently under the name of raison d’être,’ sneers our writer, who has always known that pounds sterling are not enough to really get a group moving. In perpetuating the poetry of the long march, Xi Jinping is anchored in self-sacrifice: ‘We have weathered the winds and rains, we have seen beautiful scenes unfold along the way and we have achieved many things. We will remember this year as one of hard work and perseverance. We have every confidence in the future. Against a backdrop of ‘fear of the return of war, of downgrading, of losing control’, President Macron chose to reactivate the French mythology of the rebound, that of Joan of Arc, Choiseul, Renan, Clemenceau or Jean Zay, of those periods of low water that require rearming. We remember President Sarkozy in 2007 blithely trumpeting the fact that ‘France is never so ready to spring back into action as when it is thought to be in decline’, or Ernest Renan in his Réforme intellectuelle, which seems to describe our situation in 2024 when he talks about the reasons for the defeat of 1870: ‘While we were carelessly sliding down the slope of an unintelligent materialism or an overly generous philosophy, almost allowing all memory of national spirit to be lost (without thinking that our social state was so unsound that all it took to lose everything was the caprice of a few imprudent men), an entirely different spirit, the old spirit of what we call the ancien régime, lived on in Prussia, and in many respects in Russia’. Vladimir Putin, for his part, appeals to the motherland, a large family on the scale of the country: ‘We are proud of our common achievements and happy with our successes. And we have stood firm, protecting our national interests, our freedom and security, and our values, which continue to be our unshakeable foundation (…) And the main thing that has united us is the destiny of the fatherland’. In the land of the Statue of Liberty, Eisenhower and Reagan, after the Covid collapse, ‘the American people understand that we are better placed than any other country to lead the world’, observed Joe Biden. Finally, Fumio Kishida seeks to activate Japan’s capacity to adapt and assimilate by pointing out that ‘during periods of enormous change, whether it was the Meiji Restoration, post-war reconstruction or the period of rapid economic growth, Japan seized on these trends and turned change into strength’.

In short: introduce a major notion shared by a common history, whether it’s self-sacrifice, rising above, the motherland, a return to leadership or adaptation, and the discourse is folded. The pen notes in passing that the words she has chosen this year smell more of blood and tears than of a rosy tomorrow, more of the end of the party than of the dolce vita and sea, sex and sun. Let’s add a few more concrete reasons for hope, she says to herself, after all I may just still be suffering from my post-covid depression. He remembers Philippe Muray. Even if we’re back in tragic history, the party is probably still one of the markers of our post-modernity, at least in terms of inertia. Let’s insist on a positive and fun touch, a moment of mobilisation and fair play competition: with his boxing gloves around his neck, President Macron reminds us of the festive side of sport and the values of Olympism. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden appeared live on the big screen in Time Square with the New Year’s Eve crowd. A true ‘family man’ accompanied by his wife, he greedily described the pasta, chicken parmesan and chocolate chip ice cream that he had just devoured like a real American. His father taught him what’s important, that it’s jobs that give you dignity. And ‘we’ve brought a lot of jobs back to the United States. People are now able to earn a living’. He told his fellow Americans that ‘we’re back, and it’s about time’, so as not to fall behind his rival’s ‘make america great again’. For his part, Olaf Scholz, always conscientious in his deustche qualität, talks about the unity needed for the European elections, about reducing the number of people crossing European borders, and about future investments in major infrastructure projects and strategic sectors such as batteries and microprocessors, lower taxes and improved social benefits for the poorest. This is more or less the strategy put forward by Rishi Sunak, who likes economic recovery but doesn’t like illegal boats crossing the Channel either. He also insists on energy sovereignty and education, probably still dissatisfied with its 11th place in the PISA 2023 ranking (Germany and France are ranked 22 and 23). Finally, to cheer us up, Xi Jinping reminds us that this year, ‘China will certainly be reunified and all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be linked by a common goal and share the glory of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’.

The mention of Joe Biden’s chicken parmesan having made him hungry, our pen botches the end of his speech. Perhaps he can treat himself to a portion at the station. The clock is ticking, and the SNCF holiday train, while systematically arriving late at its destination, closes just as systematically early. Despite everything, he tells himself that as long as the barman on the TGV has the bizarre nickname of barista and can get him a pot of organic chocolate chip ice cream bearing the signature of a Michelin-starred chef, life – and therefore the year ahead – are worth living in this miraculous country of France.

By Xavier Desmaison