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Monday, 16 March 2015

Valérie Trierweiler's "non-interview" interview on France 3 TV

It was surely the most peculiar of interviews; at the same time both surrealist and seemingly beamed in from a parallel universe.

Valérie Trierweiler's first appearance on French TV since her bust-up with the French president, François Hollande, THAT ("political memoire") book and promotional tour abroad and, even more recently, the slap she gave the 33-year-old  centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement) politician Mohamed Rizki, when he (some might say somewhat insolently) asked her in the street, "How is François?"

Valérie Trierweiler (screenshot 19-20 France 3 Ile-de-France news)

Yet the presenter of the 19-20 France 3 Ile-de-France news, Jean-Noël Mirande, declined to pose any questions relating to any of those matters during the interviews because...well, journalistically-speaking apparently they weren't interesting enough or relevant as to why she had agreed to be interviewed in the first place.

Say what?

All right so the cause Trierweiler was "promoting" (not her own in this case) was without doubt virtuous - the work of the Secours populaire français, an association "fighting against poverty and exclusion in France and throughout the World".

But this is a woman who has made the headlines over the past year or so for all the wrong (or right - depending on your perspective) reasons.

And yet Mirande declined to ask one single question during the main body of the interview because he didn't want to detract from the serious nature of the Secours populaire's work.

Oh well, maybe he had gone to a different school of journalism to that of his colleagues.

The one which panders to the guest, doesn't ask the "burning questions" no matter how tasteless they might be and decides that news is set, not by events, but by avoiding any mention of them.

And just to ensure that viewers had completely understood why, he handed Trierweiler the most servile of questions at the end, when he broached the slapping incident by asking how she dealt with controversies whenever her name was brought up.

"It's difficult because a non event becomes a headline. And at the same time there are some serious things happening in the world," she replied.

"I just don't understand how such a fuss can be made out of something that is so inconsequential."

To which Mirande responded, in true probing style, "And that's the reason we decided not to talk about those subjects. But I wouldn't have been forgiven if I hadn't tried."

Valérie Trierweiler's truly absurd return to the French media spotlight as France 3 blows its "scoop".

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

(Not) Understanding French politics - the Macron reform

Quite an ambitious headline, but don't worry, this isn't about to become a pedagogical piece on the finer details of the French political system.

Neither is it going to be a dumbed-down version pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Rather it's a simple but hopefully informative observation as to how difficult it is, even for those who enthusiastically (try to) follow French politics let alone others who only dip into it from time to time, to get to grips completely with the machinations of the system.

Certainly France isn't alone in having its own political peculiarities, but that doesn't mean it's any easier to understand them when they are on full display.

Friday's edition of the excellent lunchtime news magazine "La Nouvelle Édition" on Canal + contains a short segement, presented by journalist Gaël Legras, called "Vu de l'extérieur".

Legras takes a whistlestop tour of other countries' news outlets to discover how they're covering particular stories about France; in other words "what they're saying about us".

Last Friday's chosen subjects were the trial in Lille featuring Dominique Strauss-Kahn who (don't groan) had denied charges of pimping. Paris Saint-Germain's match against Chelsea in the Champions League, anti-semiticism in France following the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the town of Sarre-Union in the east of the country and the racial slur made by a former foreign minister, Roland Dumas during an interview on BFM TV  and the so-called article 49-3 of the French constitution.

Now, that last subject might not seem particularly interesting, but its application last week illustrated perfectly just how idiosyncratic the French political system can be.

It's a tool which can be used by a government to force a bill through the national assembly without a vote being taken.

It's rarely used because, apart from being perceived as out of step with the democratic process, it is invariably followed by the opposition tabling a motion of no confidence in the government.

But that's exactly what happened last week to economic minister Emmanuel Macron's bill "designed to remove obstacles to French economic progress".

Emmanuel Macron (screenshot from interview with Jean-Jacques Bourdin, BFM TV November 2014)

The bill includes a raft of reforms such as extending Sunday shopping, opening up heavily-regulated professions to greater competition, privatising certain regional airports, ending the monopoly of intercity bus routes...and, and, and.

You can read more about Macron and the reform package in this piece by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany in The Financial Times.

In short though, the reforms came under fire from a number of Socialist party parliamentarians, rebels known as Les Frondeurs, who said they would not vote through the package.

At the same time, two opposition parties, the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) and the centrist Union des démocrates et indépendants, (Union of Democrats and Independents, UDI) declared they wouldn't be voting in favour either...even though Macron's bill was largely inspired by ideas previously advocated by both parties.

It makes complete sense - doesn't it? Well, at least politically.

Understanding that this was all going to end up very messily for a reform which was supposed to be one of the most important of the second half of his term in office, the French president, François Hollande, gave his prime minister, Manuel Valls, the green light to invoke that (in)famous 49-3 article.

The outcome - UMP and UDI tabled a motion of no confidence forcing Les Frondeurs to rally behind the government because apparently "voting against a bill (introduced by their own party) was one thing, but backing a vote of no confidence submitted by the opposition was not the same."

Not easy for the world's media to understand what the heck was really happening - and just as impossible for those in France as it seemed the political world had turned upside down.

In essence though it was a defeat all round.

The bill still has to make its way through the Senate and then back (in a revised form) to the national assembly.

The opposition has shown itself unable to stick to any sort of political principles (an oxymoron?), and the Socialist party is as divided as ever.

And...oh yes...there are local elections (départemental this time around) in March when guess whose party is predicted to lead after the first round of voting.

Yep, Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National no doubt benefitting from the disillusion many in France have with the traditional political parties.

And last week's parliamentary palaver will only have helped her cause.

But that's quite another story.

Don't worry if you've understood nothing or very little of all of the above.

You're far from being alone.

It's all...well, very French politics - n'est-ce pas?

Monday, 23 February 2015

Online banking made easy - French style

Notice out of place in the title?

Hint...the idea of a service being both "uncomplicated" and "French" at the same time - two attributes which, sadly, so often reveal themselves to be contradictory.

Of course, that's a gross generalisation.

Or it would be if it weren't for the fact that service in France - no matter in which particular domain - is not quite up to the standards of what might be expected.

The corporate cliché about the direction of a business being determined by the demands of its clientele (summed up in the maxim that the "customer is king") invariably becomes confused if not downright lost when put to the test in France.

And it's as true for online banking as it is for any other sector.

Of course it shouldn't be. The very concept of conducting financial transactions online is...well, very 21st century.

And therein lies the problem perhaps.

It's not that France doesn't have online banking.

Most of the country's main high street banks offer the service and some have even developed their own purely online affiliates: Banque Populaire has BRED,  CIC - Filbanque, Societé Générale - Boursorama and BNP Paribas - Hello bank

It's just...well, for those with regular accounts, the use of the online facilities can be...difficult.

I needed to make a transfer at the weekend.

International you'll understand, even if it meant Euro to Euro.

France to Italy (so you knew trouble would be a-brewin')

The princely sum of €150

First step was to log on to my BNP account and go through the whole  rigmarole of adding a new contact to my list of recipients.

It didn't matter that the payment would be a one-time affair (or that the amount was paltry).

The "rules" stipulate that every time you make an international transfer to a new beneficiary, the same process has to be followed.

First up, fill in the amount.

Next step - complete the recipient's IBAN (or International Bank Account Number) then the BIC (Bank Identifier Code).

Everything seemed in order - a quick double-check.


Painless so far.

The final stage was to receive a text-message confirmation on my mobile 'phone so that the transfer could be made.

Except...the number the bank had on its file was that of my previous 'phone.

I had informed them in June last year that my number had changed. And there in the "emails sent" box was a copy of what I had written.

Time for a snotty email to the person responsible for customer relations (yes, they still have real people to answer queries at BNP - just not outside of regular working hours).

So transfer aborted and over to my account at Crédit Agricole to see whether I would fare any better there.

By now, you can probably guess where this is going.

Crédit Agricole puts customers through pretty much the same palaver to make an international transfer...amount, IBAN, BIC, reason (not obligatory) and that final page telling me that it would take three days - THREE WHOLE DAYS - for the both the new recipient and the transfer to be approved.


Well, no result.

Over 30 minutes online to use a service which the banks promise is "simple, smart, and secure"  and I had got absolutely nowhere.

Update. Heard back from my personal banker at BNP later in the week to be told that I could have changed my mobile telephone number myself online.

I simply had to log on to the page which contained my personal details (lost on a website that seems to believe user-friendliness equates with presenting the maximum information in the most complicated format imaginable) and change the number.

I would then receive - by post - confirmation that I had changed the number to which text message confirmations should be sent.

So simple.

Welcome to online banking - French style.

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