Search France Today

Monday, 31 December 2007

Lights out

There’s been so much hullabaloo, or as the French prefer to say polemic, here recently over the introduction of a total smoking ban in public places, that you could be forgiven for thinking that much of the population is about to man the barricades and storm the Bastille.

The most important element in the new law – which is due to come into effect on New Year’s Day is its “totality” because in true French style there has in fact been a partial ban in operation for the past 10 months. But while airports, railway stations, hospitals and offices all stopped smokers from lighting up, cafés, bars, restaurants and discos were given a period of grace to get their act together.

At the heart of the polemic has been the perceived threat to the traditional image of smoke-filled bars with crusty old French geezers sucking away on revolting Gauloises. Or even more horrifically the big cultural shift (at least in the eyes of those abroad) of a country whose cafés have apparently long been the haunts of fag-dangling-from-lips artists and philosophers.

Quelle horreur.

Now anyone caught lighting up in contravention of the new regulations will face a maximum €450 fine, while café owners and the like, who might be tempted to turn the proverbial blind eye to someone puffing away on their premises, could be required to cough up €750.

The French of course are a notoriously individualistic lot. If their reaction to seat-belt laws or drink-driving regulations are anything to go by the ciggie police could have quite a job of enforcing the law. Children for example can often still be seen rocking around unattached in the back of cars and many New Year revellers seem more than willing to take the risk of driving home well oiled.

And let’s not forget that there has actually been a legal requirement to provide specific smoking areas in bars and restaurants since 1991, which would lead any sane person to assume that non-smoking areas were also compulsory. But this being France, many proprietors (and as a result their clientele) ignored it completely, side passed the legislation and designated the whole of their premises being as “smoking”.

A recent march in Paris of more than 10,000 protestors – mainly tobacconists – could not change lawmakers’ minds, although the rather jolly health minister, Roselyn Bachelot, displayed a touch of humanity for which this government is so renowned, by announcing that smokers will be able to puff-in the New Year without fear of having a fine slapped on them.

The new ban does not include pavement tables or open-air terraces – yet – so perhaps we can expect to see the nation’s baccy addicts hazily huddled together on street corners inhaling diesel fumes alongside their nicotine fix.

While kicking the habit might be hard to legislate, statistics indicate there is work to be done. Official figures show that around one in three French over the age of 12 are regularly regular smokers, and more than 66,000 a year die from smoking related illnesses (including around 6,000 who have never smoked).

And if the Italians, Irish, Spanish and British can all do it, why can’t the French?

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Learning from Misstakes part two

More Ho Hums of a similar sort to the difficulties facing French swimming star, Laure Manaudou, surround the newly crowned Miss France, Valérie Bègue.

Just two weeks after strutting her stuff to glory, the 22-year-old reigning Miss Réunion is “considering her future” after being asked to hand back her coronet.

And guess what’s at the heart of the controversy. Yep. That’s right. More “private” saucy pictures. This time taken several years ago when the Indian Ocean beauty was putting together shots for her portfolio.

The beauty pageant’s organiser, the ever-sprightly 75-year-old hat fetishist, Geneviève de Fontenay, has been outraged by the pictures, which include depictions of Bègue licking yoghurt provocatively and of her floating on a cross in a swimming pool.

The “suggestive” snaps, which were sent anonymously to the monthly trash mag, Entrevue contravene a pre-competition contract that contestants sign to guarantee they have never been photographed in compromising positions.

And for de Fontaney, Bègue’s fully-clothed but nonetheless controversial snaps are just as offensive as the Playboy poses that forced the premature resignation of the 2005 Miss France.

Bègue is so far standing firm, claiming the photographs were only test shots and she had not authorised their publication. She told a hastily-convened press conference that she would “take time out” to consider her future, but the likelihood is that she will have to be shoved rather than go willingly.

Ah yes, but as always apparently there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Editors at Entrevue maintain that Bègue was not the only competitor with a portfolio containing potentially embarrassing photographs. There are apparently others, say the magazine, whose shots would have sent dear old Geneviève totally apoplectic had one of them got their mitts on the Miss crown.

And therein lies yet another twist in the tale according to the hacks at Entrevue. They claim “unidentified sources” informed them three weeks before the competition that Bègue had been slated to win.

Regular outbreaks of the potentially fatal viral fever chikungunya and damage after last winter’s cyclones, have hit the island’s mainly tourist-based economy hard. Begue’s victory, suggested the informant, was fixed to bring the island a much-needed boost and positive publicity.

Such cynicism of course could just be a ruse to sell yet more magazines, which has incidentally been banned from Réunion’s newsstands.

Should Bègue be forced to step down – and the whole sorry mess should be cleared up before the end of the year – then the Miss France title could still remain overseas so-to-speak, as the runner up was Miss New Caledonia, Vahinerii Requillart

Of course whether the 19-year-old Pacific Ocean beauty’s participation at the Misses World and/or Universe competitions would then be secured would depend on what revelations, if any, were unearthed by the ever-watchful French media.

Fascinating stuff.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Learning from Misstakes part one

Two glamorous French lasses have hit the headlines this past week here in France, and not always for the reasons they might have wished. Perhaps as the New Year beckons both will have used the holiday season to take stock and learn from their mistakes.

First up involves Franco-Italian relations yet again. No not the French president’s new belle or even Alitalia’s attempts to waltz up the aisle with Air France-KLM. Instead it’s the storm surrounding French swimming sensation Laure Manaudou’s messy split with her Latin poolside lover, Luca Marin.

The 21-year-old is a marvel in the pool and a national hero with three Olympic medals, including one gold, and world records in both the 400 and 200 metres freestyle.

Her style is breathtaking and a punishing training schedule under former trainer Philippe Lucas worked wonders as she regularly powered her way off the blocks, ratcheted up the gears and left her competitors in her wake wash.

The golden girl of French sport could do no wrong. She was quite simply feted throughout the country, signed a €1 million-a year modelling contract with Gucci-owning French billionaire, François Pinault, and appeared on the front cover of the weekly glossy Paris Match.

But then in May this year Manaudou proved that once out of the water, she tended to leave her brain in neutral.

She ditched Lucas – a Gallic version of the Incredible Hulk a l’orange – and hopped across the border to train with Marin’s team in Turin. The girl was in love and didn’t mind showing it.

But the course of true love proved to be far from smooth and much shorter than anticipated. In true soap-opera style, she soon broke ranks with the Italian team manager, fended of accusations of “not trying” during training sessions and as quickly as she had fallen in love with Marin, fell right back out again.

Back in France, and without a trainer or a team, Manaudou has turned to the “expertise” of her younger brother, Nicolas, to get her back on course for next year’s Olympics. But the story was far from over and indeed worse was yet to come.

During this month’s European short course championships in Hungary, as Manaudou hauled in another four medals, “private” pictures taken with a mobile ‘phone of the formerly clinching couple and several topless ones of Manaudou herself surfaced on the Internet.

She reportedly accused Marin of releasing the pictures, and even his fervent denials could not stop the fury of the French swimmer as she confronted him during the meeting and rather publicly chucked his ring in the pool.

Ho hum. Hopefully she will be a little more careful where she points that mobile ‘phone with the new love in her life, French backstroker Benjamin Stasiulis.

Happy New Year Laure

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Sub-letting at sub-zero

As we all go about our last minute Christmas shopping, let’s spare a thought for a certain Jean-Paul Bolufer.

In the space of two days he has had his fine reputation picked to pieces by the national newspapers and now finds himself not only out of a job but also homeless – of sorts.

But hold back on the sympathy front a moment for Bolufer has got what many would consider his just rewards.

The 61-year-old (now former) high-ranking civil servant was until today the right hand man of none other than the French housing minister, Christine Boutin, and as such has been instrumental in drawing up government proposals for an overhaul of the country’s stock of HLMs (Habitation à Loyer Modéré or low-rent council housing).

A noble task indeed at a time when there is a dire national housing shortage with an estimated 1.5 million people on the waiting list and more than 400,000 families with incomes above the official entitlement threshold reckoned to be occupying HLMs.

Except it now transpires that since 1981 Bolufer and his family have in fact themselves been renting a subsidised apartment in Paris and are currently paying €1,200 per month for accommodation with a rentable value four times that amount. Furthermore, when the highly paid career civil servant’s job took him to other parts of the country, he sub-let the property – for 17 years in total.

When challenged, Bolufer initially maintained that he couldn’t recall the exact amount he paid but believed it to be somewhere near the market norm, and besides he had done nothing to break the terms of his rental agreement. He was, he claimed, being made the fall guy. Others in similar circumstances to his own, he said, were and still are living in accommodation subsidised by the City of Paris authorities.

Sadly only too true, and it’s not the first time high officialdom’s abuse of complex housing regulations have hit the headlines. In 1996, the then prime minister Alain Juppé was forced to hand over the keys of luxury apartments he and members of his family were renting from the City of Paris authorities at reduced rates. And in 2005 the finance minister Hervé Gaymard was forced to resign over a similar scandal.

To an extent though Bolufer has been hoist by his own petard. Just last month he appeared on national radio to express his outrage at the number of families living in HLMs whose monthly income was above the threshold entitlement.

Clearly the man was speaking from personal experience.

With Bolufer now demanding that a list be published of all those currently benefiting from long-term rental agreements with the City of Paris, the timing of the revelations could not have been worse for his former boss.

Boutin is battling with organisations representing the capital’s homeless, who maintain the government has created only half of the 27,000 places in sheltered accommodation promised by the end of the year.

Bolufer was her special advisor in negotiations with those organisations.

Presumably with the money he has made from sub-letting his apartment over the years and the not insubstantial salary and pension he will have accrued, Bolufer will somehow be able to struggle through the holiday period without too much difficulty.

The same, sadly cannot be said for the homeless man found dead in this morning after another night on the capital’s streets in subzero temperatures.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Defending the indefensible

Oh dear. There’s a tremendous polemic in progress here in France at the moment as journalists get their knickers well and truly twisted over the coverage of the nation’s most prominent sweethearts.

Cameras may have been a-clicking and headline writers a-titling after last weekend’s romantic photo op at Euro Disney as the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his latest belle, Carla Bruni, took to the roller coasters, but one broadcaster is adamantly refusing to air the story.

TF1, France’s main private television channel, has so far not mentioned the happy couple in any of its news broadcasts.

On Monday evening, after all the national dailies had carried front page pictures and radio ‘phone-ins had jabbered on about little else all day, the five million or so viewers of TF1’s prime time news could well have expected a comment or two.

After all at the same time, over on the country’s main public television channel, France 2, the news team’s head honcho, David Pujadas, was happily anchoring a 10-minute wrap of the Disney fable, including a video taken by a happy member of the public.

But no, TF1 had decided that the Sarkozy-Bruni day out was not newsworthy. In fact it wasn’t even a story.

The channel’s main news presenter, Patrick Poivre D’Arvor (PPDA), has since been popping up everywhere else defending the decision. Apparently his, and the rest of TF1’s thinking is that as there has been no official comment from the president, there is nothing to report – ergo there isn’t a story. The private life of the president, PPDA maintains, is exactly that, and should not be covered.

Somehow though those claims seem to be full of holes and they certainly don’t wash with the rest of the media’s thinking.

Most editors - television, radio and press – consider Sarkozy’s very public appearance with Bruni to have been sanctioned by the president himself as a chance for pictures to be taken of the two together. No statement may have been made, but the photos were authorised in terms of when and how they were taken.

There was no long lens involved, no secrecy and there have been no attempts to prevent publication.

The photos are in the public domain, and while it’s certainly open to question as to whether they are actually interesting, they are of interest. They were authorised and they are therefore news.

Still TF1 stands by its decision, claiming that the president’s private life is of no interest (to its viewers) and Tuesday evening’s programme was equally void of any mention. Of course it all raises the question as to how journalists decide what is newsworthy – a process seldom open to great viewing public.

It surely cannot be simple payback time as PPDA, his lunchtime equivalent Jean-Pierre Pernault and the weekend anchor, Claire Chazal, have all had their private lives plastered over the front pages at one time or another. And they all have a significant role in deciding the contents of the news broadcasts.

The invasion of privacy argument is even harder for TF1 to justify in light of the fact that just a couple of months ago the channel led its new programme with Sarkozy’s divorce on the same day that the train drivers brought the country to a standstill on the first of their national strikes.

And of course the delightful twist in all of this is the extra coverage the (non) story is getting everywhere – except TF1 of course.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Waiting in the wings

If the recent rumours of a blossoming love affair between the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the Italian-born former top model Carla Bruni, prove to have any substance, they won’t be the only Franco-Italian couple to be hitting the headlines this week.

Air France – KLM has outlined its offer to buy Italy’s troubled national carrier Alitalia. A daring move perhaps as when it first announced that it might be making a firm offer back in late November, shares in the Franco-Dutch airline fell by more than six per cent – their biggest drop in more than three years.

But that apparently hasn’t put off the company’s interest in proposing a deal which would see it inject around €750 million into the virtually bankrupt Italian flag carrier.

If successful it would involve a share swap, while allowing the Italian government to retain a stake in the new company.

The attraction for Air France has to be control of the profitable Milan-Rome route and the likelihood of encouraging Italian passengers to use its Paris and Amsterdam hubs for long haul flights. But nonetheless you have to admire the business nerve of any company willing to take on the risk of rescuing the Italian airline as the statistics speak for themselves.

Alitalia has a debt of around €1.2 billion, loses more than €1 million a day and hasn’t notched up an annual profit since 2002. And as if those figures were not bad enough, it also has a fleet of notoriously ageing, gas-guzzling aircraft and a 20,000 plus workforce that seems to spend as much time on the ground striking as it does in the air flying. Little wonder then that the government is so keen to offload it.

And it’s not the first time this year Rome has tried to find a buyer. A previous attempt failed after all the bidders withdrew, mainly over concerns as to the airline’s precarious financial situation.

Furthermore any potential buyer can hardly have been encouraged by comments either from the chairman describing Alitalia as “comatose” or the Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi, remarking that the company was “completely out of control.”

This will not be the first time Air France has made overtures towards Alitalia. It first started talks of a merger back in June 2001 but abandoned them opting instead to join forces with KLM three years later.

By anyone’s reckoning turning around the Italian carrier will be a hard task. But many economists rate Air France – KLM as the best bet for a long-term restructuring of Alitalia as it has far deeper pockets than either of its main competitors.

The financial risks involved could be considerable for all sides involved, but time is running out and Rome has set a Christmas deadline for the sale.

But there again a decision was due last week, was delayed – again. So expect more news this week for a marriage not quite made in heaven – perhaps.

Manipulating the media – a Christmas fairy tale

Yet again the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has proved himself a supremo at hogging the news agenda here in France and deflecting the headlines away from what maybe really should matter.

This time it’s his affairs of the heart that are once more all over the front pages of the national press.

But the lady at the centre of today’s media maelstrom is not the much-touted French television journalist, Laurence Ferrari, with whom Sarkozy had been spotted enjoying cosy tête-à-tête dinners in recent months, but former top model turned chanteuse, Carla Bruni.

The two were photographed over the weekend enjoying the attractions of a visit to Euro Disney – much in keeping with Sarkozy’s penchant for mainstream culture.

Odd though, that in a country which usually shies away from reporting the private lives of public figures – especially political ones – that the Sarkozy-Bruni story should make such a splash.

Could there be just a smidgeon of media manipulation going on?

After all, Sarkozy has regularly insisted – most notably when it has suited him – that his private life should be of no interest to anyone else other than himself.

As if to underline that point just a few months ago when the persistent rumours of a possible split with his former wife Cecilia were rife, he even stormed out of an interview with an American television programme, when the subject was broached.

Sarkophrenic behaviour - as one journalist has termed his sometimes seemingly contradictory reaction – as a few days later he confirmed that indeed he and the enigmatic Cecilia were divorcing.

Interestingly, although not surprisingly perhaps, that announcement came on the very day that the transport workers launched their first national day of (in)action. No prizes for guessing what made the biggest impact on the front pages and prime time news.

So let’s turn back to Sarkozy-Bruni’s day out. How much of a scoop is the story?

Well it was no long-lens stuff. The “official” paparazzi had clearly been forewarned and although there were no shots of the pair smooching, the happy couple didn’t exactly try to scarper from the cameras.

In fact it was almost as though they had themselves chosen a very public place in which to be photographed.

Of course there’s been no official comment from the president’s spokesman – which is enough to set the rumour mill into overdrive at the best of times.

But this time around, unlike the recent speculation that Sarkozy was dating Ferrari, all the national dailies have full colours photographs plastered over their front pages. And radio and television bulletins are all leading on only one issue.

So it must be true and even the warbling 39-year-old Bruni – no stranger to the front pages of the glossies herself – has reportedly confirmed the rumours to the editor of one of the leading weekly news magazines.

Whether it’s the simple truth or mere speculation really doesn’t matter. In spite of their normal reticence to report private affairs, the French media has shown itself more than willing to jump at the chance of a truly grand story.

And what better way for Sarkozy to ward off criticism after the five-day visit of Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, or the lack of promised funding to provide emergency housing for the homeless, or the faltering progress of the French economy, or……or…..or.

Far better to provide the country with a feel-good photo-op in the run-up to Christmas.

We await the first official fairytale kiss with baited breath.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Building for a better future

In a week when the visit of Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, made most of the headlines for many of the wrong reasons here, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has still found time for a spot of domestic politicking.

His campaign promise to review from top to bottom the country’s stock of HLMs (Habitation à Loyer Modéré or low-rent council housing) hit the news on Tuesday when he outlined his plans for reform.

An estimated 10 million people in France live in HLMs, so any change in the way they’re managed or allocated could potentially hit a sizeable chunk of the population.

At the heart of the issue is a waiting list of more than 1.5 million households who, according to government figures, qualify for subsidised housing but there’s just not the accommodation available for them.

To reduce that waiting list, Sarkozy wants to take a two-pronged approach: make sure that those who most need subsidised housing actually get it, and encourage local authorities to build.

If the government figures are to be believed then the way council housing has been allocated certainly needs to be changed.

More than 400,000 families who are currently living in HLMs have an income above the official entitlement threshold. Basically this has been allowed to happen because when families are allocated housing their income might well be below that limit but there has been no way of checking whether there has been a change in earnings.

Sarkozy wants to reintroduce “transparency” into the whole process by means-testing entitlement every three years. Such a review would not just look at income but also a change in family circumstances (where the children leave home for example) a factor that means that an additional 800,000 HLMs are apparently currently “under-occupied”.

But Sarkozy admits that the size of the waiting list is not just down to occupancy being gridlocked. Local authorities, he maintains, are often reluctant to build new subsidised housing.

His solution is to have the state lead by example by selling off land owned by different ministries – most notably by the defence ministry around Paris – to build new HLMs. Sarkozy’s goal is 60,000 new homes by 2012.

In other parts of the country, where local authorities may well lack resources, he wants the State to chip in to boost funds and simplify the process of granting building permits.

Of course all these proposed changes will require a mass of paperwork at exactly the same time as the president is looking to rationalise the French preoccupation with administrative red tape.

And where’s the money going to come from to help local authorities? After all as Sarkozy himself admitted recently in a television interview, the State coffers are pretty empty at the moment.

Ah well that’s where a dollop of 80s-inspired Thatcherism might well help out. Fulfilling yet another campaign promise, Sarkozy wants to allow tenants the right to buy.

The target is an eventual 40,000 council houses to be sold a year. But tenants will have no automatic right to buy their house or apartment – that will be determined by the independent organisation running HLMs. And local authorities can only sell if they agree to build two new HLMs for every one sold.

Yep sounds like a classic case of bureaucracy a la française.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Christmas shopping and chequebook diplomacy

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is in town for a five-day visit, camped in the centre of Paris in his luxury Bedouin tent and with a mere 400-strong entourage.

But more importantly he’s here on a pre-Christmas spending spree and has already signed deals with French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, worth €10 billion.

The agreement includes an order for 21 Airbus aircraft, 14 Rafale fighter jets, which incidentally nobody else wants to buy, and a nuclear power plant – for civilian purposes of course.

France, which prides itself as being a standard bearer for human rights and actually has an internationally recognised humanitarian in Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister, has under Sarkozy, studiously ignored Gaddafi’s appalling human rights record.

Indeed Sarkozy has justified his chequebook diplomacy by asserting that France must “speak with all of those who want to return to the road of respectability and reintegrate the international community”.

Oh well that’s all fine and dandy then. Business comes first and clearly €10 billion helps make it easier to ignore the often-alleged torture of prisoners and Gaddafi’s former support for terrorists.

And what great planning to have the Libyan leader’s ‘plane touch down on French soil on International Human Rights day.

The loudest voice of dissent came from Sarkozy’s junior minister for human rights, Rama Yade. Mind you she hasn’t exactly been in the president’s good books recently as witnessed by her being dropped at the last minute from the official delegation during last month’s billion-Euro-contract trip to China.

On Monday, Yade complained to the press about the timing of Gaddafi’s visit and her comments quickly had her hauled in to the presidential HQ – the Elysee Palace – for a severe 20-minute talking to.

Yade left promising to remain quiet and determined not to resign in protest. And that has led some cynics to suggest that in fact Sarkozy himself orchestrated the whole outburst.

It is suggested that he is content to play the boo-man to Yade’s good gal image as long as it helps rake in the contracts for France. Pure fiction?

Well perhaps not. Interestingly enough Yade’s immediate boss, Kouchner, has been noticeably silent about Gaddafi’s visit even though given his track record he cannot be that enthusiastic. Meanwhile the prime minister, Francois Fillon has been shipped off to Argentina for the inauguration of that country’s newly elected president, Cristina Kirchner.

The Socialists and some centre-right politicians have threatened a boycott of parliament on Tuesday when Gaddafi is due to address them. But it’s all really a little half-hearted – and more than a little late.

Slightly odd isn’t it that the loudest voice of dissent comes from within the government itself, from a minister who is no longer talking?

The only conclusion is that once again Sarkozy has trashed human rights and taken complete control for done deals.

A Merry Christmas indeed.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Fadela Amara – Dornröschen?

Actually Fadela Amara is far from being a “Sleeping Beauty” of any kind but she could well prove to be both the real thorn and rose in French president’s Nicolas Sarkozy’s government.

Along with justice minister, Rachida Dati, and the junior minister for human rights, Rama Yade, Amara forms part of the triumvirate of women of immigrant origin to be welcomed into the government.

But of the three, Amara’s appointment as junior minister of urban policy has been by far the most unexpected and intriguing. And unlike the other two she is the only one to have been given a portfolio related to her origins.

The 43-year-old “ghetto warrior” as she has been dubbed by one newspaper is one of 11 children born into an Algerian Kabyle family and has built up a reputation for her work as a feminist in France’s immigrant suburbs.

She’s a committed Socialist whom Sarkozy has charged with the delicate task of putting together an action plan to deal with problems in the country’s deprived inner city suburbs.

And if anyone has the credibility, drive and integrity to get things moving, it has to be Amara.

Her career has been unconventional in French terms, as it has been built upon her experience as an activist in several pressure groups, rather than the classic route of higher education.

A fierce anti-racist and feminist, she has spent years campaigning for women’s rights and although a practising Moslem has sometimes drawn severe criticism from within her own community.

Some claim she has helped “demonise” the public perception in France of young North African men and she came under fire for her support of the ban on wearing headscarves in state schools. Amara defends her stance by claiming that the headscarf has less to do with tradition, as other French feminists might insist, and is instead “archaic and a clear visible symbol of the subjugation of women”.

Obviously Amara is not one to mince her words and her fighting talk is also matched by action.

Back in 1983, she took part in the landmark equal rights march for the second generation of North African immigrants. It started in Marseille with a handful of activists but by the time it reached Paris it was almost 100,000-strong.

And Amara was back on the streets in 2003 following two high-profile cases of violence against young Muslim women in the suburbs. This time the march, which she organised, was to highlight the plight of millions of women in inner city suburbs. By the time it reached Paris more than 30,000 were demonstrating under the banner “Ni Putes, Ni Soumises” (Neither whores,nor slaves) – a movement which has since become one of the most vociferous feminist movements in the country.

The roots of much of Amara’s self-admitted “anger” at social injustice can be traced back to the death of one of her brothers when she was just 14. Malik, five years old at the time, was the victim of a drunk-driving accident. Amara looked on as the police, rather than charging the motorist, sided with him and blamed her parents, “able to mistreat them because they were Arabs,” she says.

The trappings of office have so far not changed Amara’s lifestyle. She has refused to accept the apartment that goes with the job, preferring instead to remain living in the suburbs of Paris. And somehow it’s hard to imagine her posing for the front cover of the weekly glossies as Rachida Dati did for last week’s issue of Paris Match.

Her formula for resolving the causes of the problems that set the inner city suburbs alight in 2005 and saw them flare up again just last month – is eagerly waited.

The extent of the problem and how to break the cycle of chronic unemployment, poverty and a marginalised youth may seem insurmountable. But it could prove crucial in the long run to Sarkozy’s presidency.

And if anyone is up to the challenge, it has to be Fadela Amara.

Let’s hope so.


Saturday, 8 December 2007

MISSed France

Ah the marvels of prime time TV scheduling. Saturday night here in France promises to be pure ecstasy for those couch potatoes in control of the remote with some major zapping required.

While public television will be broadcasting its annual telethon to raise millions for medical research, TF1, the country’s top (private) channel will be going head-to-head – or perhaps better said breast-to-breast - with its yearly pandering to male chauvinism.

Yes it’s time to elect Miss France – an event that never fails to pull in the audience with more than 11 million viewers expected to tune in.

This being France of course, the jamboree has a much more global aspect than beauty pageants in the rest of Europe. Competing for the crown will be 36 lasses from all the French regions. That includes of course Misses Alsace, Bretagne and Languedoc – all perhaps familiar and recognised to those outside of the country. But also strutting their stuff will be Miss Guadeloupe along with her Caribbean neighbours Misses Martinique and Guyana as well as the Pacific Ocean charms of Misses New Caledonia and Tahiti and Indian Ocean stunner Miss Reunion.

With so much international beauty on stage at the same time, it’s almost a wonder the winner bothers with the Miss World competition.

Yes the joys of France and its Departments and Territories overseas. The former of course are all officially part of the EU too, so get heaps of money from Brussels for redevelopment. But that of course is another story.

Saturday’s extravaganza promises to be something of a departure from the rather demur set–up of previous events. And it could well mark the end of the involvement for the hat fan Madame Genvieve de Fontenay, who seems to have been organising the thing for most of its 80-year existence.

Admittedly de Fontenay has managed to maintain the rule which bans two-piece swimsuits in her belief that a Miss must personify beauty and not vulgarity.

But that’s unlikely to stop sex raising its ugly little head.

This being the age of reality TV when many a twenty-something (male or female) seems ready to do just about anything to flash their wotsits or display dubious morals in front of discerning viewers, some of this years Miss France contestants are already rumoured to have TV deals lined up and shock-and-tell stories waiting to hit the weekly glossies the day after they lose.

One departure though from previous years is the equal weight given between the official judges’ preference and that of the viewers – a straight 50-50 cut this year.

Apparently if the same voting system had been used last year, it would not be Miss Oise (Rachel Legrain-Tragnini) who would be handing on her title this year, but the runner-up and audience favourite Sophie Vouzelaud, who captured the nations hearts when it was revealed in the closing stages that she was deaf.

How much longer the current format can hold its own is doubtful especially as there are a string of similarly highbrow contests planned for next year.

An alternative Miss France 2008 is slated for late January – organised by a competitor to Madame de Fontenay. And another private TV channel, W9, has announced plans for its own sexier more contemporary version of the pageant.

Meanwhile this year’s contenders include two women who stand out for very different reasons. Poor Miss Guadeloupe has already hit the headlines because apparently she cannot find a swimsuit big enough to cover her amply proportioned figure.

Meanwhile Miss Cote d’Azur has been touted as a pre-competition favourite who seems born and christened to lift the title.

Azemina Hot – yes her real name – just about encompasses everything a Miss France should be. She fits the country’s international definition of being French as both parents of this “sultry Mediterranean” came here from Montenegro in the early 1980s. And she is bright - a student of modern languages with an ambition is to work in the diplomatic service.

Victory tonight for Ms Hot would seem a natural launching pad.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Grand gestures and big business

If there’s one thing that has characterised the recent change in French foreign policy, it’s the increase in pragmatism since Nicolas Sarkozy became president in May.

Shortly after he came to office he called for a new way of thinking, a New Deal for the world – economically and ecologically – with France taking a lead role. But is Sarkozy’s vision really one of foreign policy that includes the necessary recognition of human rights and principles of democracy? Or is it rather full of grand gestures, showmanship and pandering to the needs of big business? In short what are his principles?

His latest foray has all the markings of yet another potential media circus about it, albeit a rather delicate issue. Sarkozy has taken the unusual step of appealing directly (on television of course) to the leader of the Colombian rebel movement for the release of a French-Colombian hostage, Ingrid Betancourt. She has been held prisoner since February 2002 when she was kidnapped while campaigning for the Colombian presidency.

Sarkozy’s direct intervention came just days after a video was released showing Betancourt in a weak and gaunt state. The French president has made her release one of his priorities and if he pulls it off it will undoubtedly be racked up as a major political coup.

Of course it will also be fully (over) covered by the media here in much the same way as his intervention was a few months ago in the release of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor in Libya who had been accused of infecting children with HIV, or the repatriation of a Spanish cabin crew from Chad in November following the outcry over a French non-governmental organisation’s alleged attempts to “traffic” children.

Sarkozy is clearly a great showman and revels in grand gestures. Such symbolism though loses its impact when the major driving force behind foreign policy turns out to be economic.

There’s perhaps nothing new in a country’s leader setting out to pursue a foreign policy in terms of what is perceived to be in the national interest. Everyone does it. What is so different about Sarkozy is that he is far less subtle about it.

Every official state visit so far has been a chance to sign contracts worth billions of euros to French companies – high-speed trains to Morocco, ‘planes and power plants to China or energy deals in Algeria.

He has preferred to downplay any mention of human rights issues, even going so far as to stop the minister responsible, Rama Yade, from joining him on his trip to Beijing. And there was no attempt to put pressure on French oil giant, Total, to ease back on its investments in Burma during last month’s violent government crackdown on democracy protestors in Rangoon.

His remarks during a speech in Algiers that France’s colonial system had been “profoundly unjust” and contradictory to the founding principles of the French republic, liberty, equality and fraternity were commendable.

In a twist of doublespeak, he also raised the issue of how Algeria was as unwelcoming of some of its sons and daughters as France was often accused of being. A reference to the plight of Algerians (known as Harkis) who had fought for France during the North African country’s long war of independence from 1956-62.

The Harkis that fled to France after the war were held in internment camps and have suffered decades of discrimination, while those who stayed in Algeria were massacred or imprisoned.

While France’s present and past in North Africa will always be full of contradictions – for which Sarkozy cannot be held completely responsible - the same cannot be said for his exact understanding of the term democracy.

It came in from some serious questioning from European neighbours after last week’s parliamentary election in Russia.

Collectively the European Union queried the very nature of the ballot with Germany’s Angela Merkel going as far as to describe it flatly as neither free nor democratic.

Sarkozy, it appears had no such qualms, personally calling the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to congratulate him on his party’s victory. An odd move perhaps from a man who, since coming to office, has already been much more critical of Russia’s human rights record than his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.

Opposition politicians in France have suggested that Sarkozy is perhaps once again putting economic interests first, paving the way for more deals, such as one Renault has finalised with Russian car manufacturer Lada.

Similar interests also figure high in criticism of next week’s planned visit to France by Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi for the first rime in more than 30 years. Gaddafi will meet Sarkozy twice during his five-day trip with yet more trade contracts on the table.

Back in July the two countries announced an arms deal worth €275 million – Libya’s first with a western country since the EU lifted an embargo in 2004

Clearly Sarkozy is a man of many principles.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Time for a Hallyday – finally.

It’s official. A dinosaur of the French music scene is knackered. The 64-year-old Johnny Hallyday is finally packing away his vocal chords and retiring.

But hang about – not so fast. He’s apparently not quite finished and certainly ain’t going out without a bang.

Jean-Philippe Smet – to give him his full name – announced his retirement plans on Sunday’s evening news. And what plans – a farewell tour with the kick off at Stade de France (maximum capacity 80,000 people) in May – 2009!

That should leave plenty of time for the release of yet another album (or more perhaps) to follow the success of his latest one “Le couer d’un homme”, which is currently topping the charts.

And tonight there’ll be a general love-fest as Johnny, along with buddies galore, celebrates more than 40 years of rocking the nation with a two-hour prime time special dedicated solely to his music.

So what makes this ageing crooner (whose father was Belgian) such an icon of the French music scene? Well to begin with he has a powerhouse of a voice and can still belt out a tune.

Simply put, he was from the start of his career France’s answer to Elvis and hit the big time in the early 60s as the first rock n’ roller to sing in French.

Since then the statistics speak for themselves. Over the decades he has notched up 400 tours, performing in front of 15 million people had 18 platinum albums and sold more than 100 million records.

Mind you professional success has come at a price. His personal life has rarely been out of the headlines. In the mid 60s he married Sylvie Vartan – another mainstay of the French music scene - and the two were the Golden Couple of their generation until they divorced in 1980.

His second marriage in 1981 to model Babeth Etienne lasted barely two months and then there was a highly publicised four-year affair with the actress Nathalie Baye. A two-year marriage to Adeline Blondiau in the early 90s was followed by a fourth tying of the knot at the age of 53 in 1996 to the 21-year-old Laetitia Boudou.

All those years of touring and record sales have of course boosted his coffers to an estimated princely personal annual income of than more than €6 million. But such riches are heavily taxed here in France and Hallyday caused a storm of publicity last year when he upped sticks and moved his official residence to the Swiss millionaires resort of Gstaad.

So far not even the election of his close friend Nicolas Sarkozy as president or the recent drop in the level of French wealth tax have tempted him to return.

His fiscal flight and attempts to seek Belgian nationality (now abandoned) might have disappointed his legions of fans, but there’s no denying he has maintained his popularity.

Over 40,000 tickets for the opening dates of his 2009 concerts were scooped up when they went on sale yesterday.

The tour should be a fitting climax to the career of an ageing rocker, whose concert at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in June 2000 (in front of 800,000 fans and 10 million television viewers) rated as one of the most spectacular music events ever in France,

Johnny deserves his retirement.

Monday, 3 December 2007

“My most beautiful story IS YOU.”

No not the latest historical romance from Mills and Boon, but the title of the long-awaited oeuvre from the former Socialist presidential candidate, Segolene Royal.

The blurb for the launch of “Ma plus belle histoire, c’est vous” promises readers a mix of tears and laughter, pages packed from start to finish with humour and plenty of emotion.

Grappling to find a news angle last week one respected Internet site, clearly supplied with a teaser from the author herself, claimed that Royal was in fact about to dish some real dirt. The book, the site maintained, reveals that during a secret meeting Royal had offered the post of prime minister to the already beaten centre-right presidential candidate, François Bayrou. Their “assignation” apparently took place before her head-to-head debate with Nicolas Sarkozy just days before the final vote.

Ah but remember this is the wonderful world of often unsubstantiated and usually contradictory journalism and politics. So it’s hardly a surprise that a similar speculative story as to what was actually in the book, appeared on another even more respected news site with a slightly different angle.

The offer had indeed been made Bayrou is reported to have responded, but never accepted as there was no way he could have agreed to it believing, as he did, that Royal could not win. And of course the two had never met in private.

Ho hum lovely to see supposition and rumour shedding light on what we shall all be able to find our for ourselves on Tuesday.

So no story then? Well not quite. It’s rather an indication that even though journalists have perhaps been scratching around trying to throw some titbits out to the hungry masses, Royal has been playing her cards very close to her chest and not given them a chance spoil her comeback.

And that’s the real story - she’s back – and she’s back in charge of her own destiny.

She has shaken off the shackles of the Socialist Party’s old-timers – the so-called elephants – to whom she had been virtually manacled in the closing stages of electoral campaigning. Real emancipation at last, as evidenced by the few remarks she has made in recent months that her campaign had suffered because she had been forced to accept the impracticable sacred-cow policies of the 35-hour working week and a minimum wage of €1,500 euros a month.

The book, according to Royal’s own official website, is her attempt to set the record straight in so far as it details the months leading up to her failed attempt to beat Sarkozy in May.

The (centre-right) political weekly “Le Point” says the writing of the book was itself cathartic for the former candidate - not a time to fire salvoes at critics, but more a way of drawing that proverbial line under the past.

While Lionel Jospin, a fellow failed presidential candidate and one time Socialist prime minister, took aim at what he termed Royal’s incompetence in his own version of events a few months ago, she is said to have spent time taking stock and learning from her mistakes.

Of course the pre-Christmas timing of the book’s release could not be better planned and will probably help boost interest and sales. It also clearly hauls Royal back to centre stage after months of relative silence.

She has maintained a discreet distance from the political infighting within the Socialist party but still commands healthy support and has preserved close contact with some very influential
party activists

Her revamped inner circle of advisors is in part an answer to her own admission that Sarkozy had a veritable war machine in place during the presidential election campaign. And since she booted her former partner and likely competitor for the leadership of the party (for the presidential nomination in 2012), François Hollande out of their apartment, she has also installed herself in new offices away from the party’s headquarters.

And with local elections just a few months away, Royal is busy painting the town Red – quite literally – making regular appearances at the theatre, concerts and dance performances

She has rediscovered her professional and private life – rising beyond what must be bitter lessons of being called the “mother the country never needed” or the misogynist mocking of former colleagues as being a woman who castrated men.

But Royal has worryingly kept that disturbing staccato style of saying something one day, and then almost appearing to backtrack on it the next. She initially gave her support for example to the government’s policy for changes in the funding and administration of universities and followed it a couple of days later with the qualification that she wasn’t backing reform with her eyes closed.

While “Ma plus belle histoire, c’est vous” might not send too many pulses racing or pick up accolades for literary distinction, it is important because it marks the return to frontline politics of a presidential candidate who had the backing of 17 million voters at the polls.

And in the almost seven months of a hyperactive president firing on all fronts simultaneously, the voice so far of any reasoned opposition has been all but stifled. Perhaps French democracy will decide that it needs Segolene Royal after all.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Breaking the sound of silence

It hasn’t happened often in the past six months, but there’s been something of a lull in recent weeks in the French president’s almost boundless domination of the country’s news agenda.

But hallelujah Nicolas Sarkozy is about to make yet another of his ad hoc party political broadcasts this evening - on behalf of himself of course.

There’ll be prime time TV news coverage with the usual simpering questions from two of the country’s top journalists, Patrick Poivre D’Avor - PPDA (TF1) and Arlotte Chabot (France 2).

Sarkozy will undoubtedly alternately frown and beam as he answers questions and outlines his (government’s) proposals for dealing with the riots in the suburbs, increasing individuals’ purchasing power and remaining steadfast in his resolve to reform pensions.

So he’s about to break his silence, which will come as a relief to many a journalist.

Friday’s newspapers will heave with headlines dominated by the president’s proclamations, so it’ll be a case of business as usual. Since he took office, Sarkozy has been popping up everywhere, all the time and his omnipresence even led some in the media to complain that he was getting too much coverage for every morsel he deigned to throw to the pack.

His answer was to maintain a thunderous hush as he allowed employment minister, Xavier Bertrand, to deal with the unions’ at a time when a huge chunk of the workforce was struggling its way through the transport strikes in an effort to put in their 35-hours a week.

The main thrust of tonight’s “interview” was meant to be consumer purchasing power or “pouvoir d’achat”. It seems to have become something of buzz phrase here recently with the French apparently firmly convinced they can legislate to increase it. Even the Socialists (yes they still squeak with several voices) have promised to express their disunited view on how the euro can be made to stretch further.

Nobody should hold their breath though for some magical presidential solution. It’s hard to see exactly how Sarkozy can offer real incentives, as the state coffers are all but empty after the tax breaks awarded to the better off a few months ago.

The economy hasn’t yet had the kick-start that was expected and Sarkozy resolutely refuses to increase the minimum wage. So the likely answer to drop from the president’s lips will be his oft-chanted mantra “work more to earn more”. Hallelujah indeed.

Meanwhile on the violence in the suburbs, he’ll once again be hard pushed to find a quick-fit answer as everyone agrees there simply isn’t one

He has already vowed to find those who shot and injured police officers in the rioting that followed the death of two teenagers after their scooter collided with a police car.

The most Sarkozy can realistically offer is to accelerate the current consultation process already being undertaken by the junior minister for urban policies, Fadela Amara. She’s due to deliver a blueprint for improving education and employment opportunities (especially among the young) in the deprived inner city suburbs at the end of January 2008.

But at least Sarkozy’s reaction as president has been much more measured this time around than it was two years ago when he was interior minister. The three weeks of violence in 2005 led him to remark that the “scum needed to be cleaned from the street” – a comment which did not endear him to the residents of those inner city suburbs and he made a point of steering clear of them during his presidential campaigning.

This week’s violence broke out while he was on a state visit to China signing billion-euro contracts and it was left to the current interior minister, Michele Alliot-Marie – widely perceived as a much more conciliatory figure – to deal with the immediate aftermath.

On his return Sarkozy visited injured police officers in their hospital beds and took to the streets before (finally) persuading the families of the two youths who died in the collision to come to his official residence at the Elysée Palace.

Zero tolerance may still be at the core of Sarkozy’s approach, but the reigns of office, lessons of the past and his undoubted showmanship may well help him garner support from the public at large.

Ah yes this evening’s PR show will be fascinating, if only to see whether either PPDA or Chabot dares to ask any follow-up questions about Cecilia. During their last-love in a couple of month ago, the two esteemed journalists were treated to a touching marital tribute from Sarkozy who waxed lyrical over his (now former) wife’s contribution to his political life. There was no hint of the impending divorce of course.

Maybe the name Laurence will pass his lips this time. Unlikely.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Love is in the air

Barely weeks after officially divorcing his apparent femme fatale, the enigmatic Cecilia, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy is reportedly head over heels in love again.

And this time it’s with a leading French television journalist, who recently announced she was splitting from her husband of 14 years.

Laurence Ferrari is not just your run of the mill journo. The 41-year-old presented a number of documentaries on the country’s top-rated TF1 channel and hosted a lightweight political weekly magazine with her former husband, Thomas Hugues.

Indeed Hugues and Ferrari were so-to-speak the golden glamour couple of TV news, perhaps unkindly perceived as the network’s Ken and Barbie. And they were both regular stand-ins for the daily and weekend prime time news anchors Patrick Poivre d'Arvor and Claire Chazal.

But that all changed in Autumn last year when Ferrari was poached by a competitive network – Canal + – and given her own weekly political programme, the chance for her to go one-on-one with some of France’s leading figures.

And it was on the set of that show, Dimanche +, that she met the then presidential candidate in March this year – and by all reports the two clicked.

Over the past few months the couple have supposedly been spotted enjoying candlelit meals together in Paris, and Ferrari is a frequent visitor to the president’s official residence, the Elysée Palace.

She was even allegedly seen at the same hotel in Marrakech, during Sarkozy’s state visit to Morocco earlier this month.

Ah the true stuff of genuine journalism – gossip and speculation.

If the two workaholics do get together you, can bet that the French media will be the last to confirm the relationship as it has until recently been notoriously cautious in reporting the private lives of public people. France has very strict privacy laws.

Should the rumours be true, it won’t be the first time Sarkozy has had a fling with a journalist. Two years ago he was romantically linked to Anna Fulda, a reporter on the centre-right daily Le Figaro.

True or false, the rumours of the fledgling romance persist. And the assertion by an Elysée Palace spokesman that Sarkozy's personal life was "not open for discussion" will hardly help. Much the same response was given in the days leading up to the divorce from Cecilia last month.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Claws out in cabinet

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, may well have rubber-stamped trade deals worth almost 20 billion euros during his state visit to China, but back home there has been a minor media storm surrounding one person who wasn’t invited along for the trip.

Sarkozy took a clutch of seven government ministers and a gaggle of French industrialists with him on his three-day trip, but there was no room on the ‘plane for Rama Yade.

Senegalese-born Yade was appointed as a junior minister back in June – with responsibilities in an area Sarkozy had identified as a priority for his new government – human rights.

The 30-year-old Yade, who has had a meteoric rise to political high office, is one of three women from ethnic minorities to figure in the government. The others are justice minister, Rachida Dati, who holds dual French-Moroccan nationality, and the junior minister for urban policies, Fadela Amara, whose parents are of Algerian Kabyle origin.

Sarkozy often talks about them as a symbol of the diversity and the new face of French politics.

So how come Yade has been left at home while Dati yet again accompanies the president on his travels? After all it would make sense to have her along as by any standards China has one of the world’s worst human rights records. And Yade herself wanted to go.

Ah well of course there is a purely pragmatic reason. Sarkozy simply didn’t want to offend his hosts by including in his entourage someone charged specifically with responsibilities for human rights.

As even Yade’s immediate boss, foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, pointed out beforehand, the purpose of the trip was to secure those multi-billion euro deals for two nuclear power stations and 160 Airbus ‘planes.

Far better then for Sarkozy to deal with the delicate issue of human rights himself even if it meant once again usurping the role of one of his ministers. A characteristic not unfamiliar so far during his short reign as president.

But the rumour mill has it that pure politics was not the only reason behind the decision. Personal differences and disputes normally confined to the school playground also played their part.

Hard to believe, but apparently true, Dati cannot stand Yade and accordingly threw a little hissy fit along the lines of “If she goes I stay at home.”

Home for Dati is not especially welcoming at the moment as she is trying to push through reforms to France’s antiquated judicial administrative system but is often accused of being completely incompetent.

Remember this is the woman who is a close buddy with the former Mrs Sarkozy and whom the president has withdrawn from the domestic firing line a couple of times already by taking her on his jaunts to Morocco and the United States.

Whatever the personal relationship between Dati and Yade, both women will have the chance to put their political popularity to the test next year when they stand in local elections.

Perhaps Yade will have used the past few days as a chance to get in a spot of early campaigning in her constituency while Dati picks up a few tips from the Chinese as to how to run an ultra-efficient judicial system.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Sarkozy’s trouble with women 4

When he came to power in May this year the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, promised parity within government. Real equality between the sexes at last. And he delivered…..apparently…..appointing seven women to the 15-strong cabinet.

But is and was it true parity or simply a gesture with little substance?

Do those women in fact actually hold positions of real power? Or are they simply there to make up the numbers and carry out the wishes of the president?

The evidence so far is mixed, although in his defence it should be said that Sarkozy has never flinched from interfering in each of his minister’s– be they men or women - areas of responsibilities

But his electoral promise for gender parity comes in for particular scrutiny, as the women seem to have suffered most from Sarkozy’s methods of government.

Take the case of the interior minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie.

She’s a woman with a long political career on both a local and national level, entering politics in 1983 as a local councillor and three years later winning a seat in parliament. By the end of the 90s MAM – as she is commonly known - had worked her way through the ranks of the centre-right Rassemblement pour la République party, the forerunner of the modern-day Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, to become the first woman to lead a party. In 2002 another first for MAM, when she was appointed defence minister – a post she held until May this year.

She considered standing as a candidate for the UMP presidential nomination, but eventually threw her backing behind Sarkozy in the hope of being suitably rewarded. In a sense she was, becoming (once again) the first woman to hold the office of interior minister. But her role and influence has been seriously diminished by Sarkozy’s decision to move immigration to another (newly-created) ministry, headed by one of his closest allies and personal friend for more than 30 years, Brice Hortefeux.

So MAM, who just six months ago was in charge of one of Europe’s largest defence budgets and took the occasional trip in a Mirage fighter ‘plane, now finds herself drawing up laws against dangerous dogs and accompanying the president whenever he pitches up in front of the cameras to comfort families whose loved ones have died in fires.

If the common perception is that Alliot-Marie has perhaps been sidelined, the same cannot be said of the culture minister Christine Albanel, whose role – as far Sarkozy is concerned – was never going to be anything other than minor.

Indeed Sarkozy did not have a great deal to say about culture in the run-up to the presidential elections. And he isn’t perceived as being particularly highbrow.

Another close personal friend of the president, Albanel may have the right intellectual credentials for the job, but that certainly won’t stop Sarkozy from muscling in whenever he sees fit. And that’s exactly what he did at the beginning of September, when he stepped into the role of culture minister at the inauguration ceremony of the revamped City of Architecture and Heritage museum in Paris,

And Albanel has a clear brief in a letter she received from the president himself to “democratise” culture by allowing free access to major museums encouraging more “creative and bold” cultural programmes on the small screen.

While Albanel’s job should be safe as long as she does what she’s told, Christine Boutin, the social cohesion minister, has a far trickier task. Although she has a track record in social affairs, it’s not one that endears her to everyone.

She’s an outspoken advocate of moral conservatism and founder of one of France’s largest pro-life organisations. Back in 1998 she opposed legislation to recognise same-sex domestic partnerships (PACS), famously arguing that its adoption would encourage homosexuality!

Should French television screens be filled once again with pictures of riots in the inner city suburbs, the homeless camping in tents on the streets of the capital, or asylum seekers being turfed out of sheltered accommodation, Sarkozy could well ditch Boutin and take control himself.

The last woman in the cabinet is the much-loved Roselyne Bachelot – a maverick of the centre-right. The health and sport minister was the only member of her party to vote in favour of the PACS back in the 1990s and is generally seen as the jolliest and most engaging member of the government. Paradoxically, that could be her very undoing.

She’s not averse to speaking her mind and handsomely putting her foot in it, just as she did several years ago when she let slip that former president Jacques Chirac was slightly deaf in one ear. Old habits clearly die hard for Bachelot, and recently she unofficially named a new recruit as a junior minister before Sarkozy or the proposed candidate had given their approval. The appointment was never made.

Bachelot fairly warbles her way through interviews on the airwaves and is spoofed on telly as having no clue as to what she is doing, which is true perhaps for her sporting ministerial hat. In fact she struck quite an amusing figure during France’s hosting of the rugby world cup, with a definite twinkle in her eye as the players grappled each other for the ball on the pitch.

Always smiling and loudly dressed, she comes as close as anyone to being a national institution but whether that, and her undoubted expertise in health issues will be enough to save her from a premature chop is unlikely.

How Bachelot and her fellow women in cabinet fare clearly depends not just on their own abilities but also on whether they have presidential approval. The prime minister, Francois Fillon, may be their boss, but to all intents and purposes, it’s Sarkozy who wields the potential axe.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Sarkozy’s trouble with women 3

The students are revolting! And how she must wish they weren’t.

At just 40 Valérie Pécresse is the youngest member of the cabinet and as minister for higher education and research has probably had the toughest introduction to frontline politics of any of the newcomers to the government.

Once again the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has appointed someone with limited political experience although she has been a member of parliament since 2002.

Her academic pedigree is impeccable – she’s a graduate of the prestigious Ecole nationale d’administration, the university from which much of the country’s political and business elite is drawn.

Articulate, ambitious and dynamic, she quickly threw herself into the job of carrying out one of Sarkozy’s election pledges – to overhaul the country’s creaking higher education system.

After a swift consultation period with student and university representatives she was the first minister to push through legislation in parliament – strategically timed to sail through while most of the country was on holiday.

The law allows universities more autonomy to manage their assets and budgets, recruit staff and design courses, create partnerships with business and look for additional funding from private financial corporations. It also gives special power to university heads.

Unfortunately for Pécresse, students are not buying in to the government’s spin on the reforms. Instead many of them claim the so-called “privatisation” of higher education will allow big business to fund courses only designed to fit their needs, to the detriment of liberal arts and social sciences faculties.

So with the spirit of ’68 clearly ringing in the ears, students have all but closed down a majority of France’s universities and thrown their weight behind strikes organised by transport workers and civil servants.

Pécresse hasn’t exactly helped deflate the situation. She held negotiations with union leaders in early November but refused to back down. And with an arrogance that perhaps comes from knowing she has Sarkozy’s full backing, Pécresse has been less than tactful in suggesting that the extreme left wing has infiltrated the movement to spearhead the students’ protests.

But with the Socialist party opposition hardly throwing its support behind the students, reform looks to be a done deal. Pécresse is likely to come out of the fray battered but triumphant with a political standing which can do no harm to her reputation as the rising young star of the centre right.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Sarkozy’s trouble with women 2

When he came to office in May this year the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, promised gender parity in his 15-strong government. And true to his word seven of the 15-strong cabinet are women.

But they’re not all having a smooth ride, and indeed some of them might well be marginalised in the first reshuffle, which if the French are true to form, cannot be more than a few months away.

While Rachida Dati, the justice minister, could be forgiven for her lack of experience and relative youth, surely no such excuse can be offered for the woman who has without doubt one of the most important jobs in the French government.

Christine Lagarde is the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 country and although she might be a little short of political experience (a characteristic of several of the women in the French government) she comes with a humdinger of a reputation as an antitrust and labour lawyer.

So a safe pair of hands you might think for the task of pushing through parliament all the controversial legislation Sarkozy plans to rejuvenate the French economy, including tax cuts and measures to liberalise the labour market.

In addition, Legarde is a fellow disciple of Sarkozy’s often-heard mantra “work more to earn more” and in one of her first speeches to the French parliament back in July caused a stir when she said France was a country that thinks too much and that thinking prevented reforms from being implemented!

Direct talking indeed from a woman who was the first female chairman of the US-based international law firm Baker & McKenzie and since 2005 has appeared twice in Forbes Magazine’s list of the 100 most powerful women.

But those oh-so-safe hands and plain talking have been the subject of media ridicule recently as she very ably put her foot in her mouth without anyone else’s help.

When the cost of crude oil began its dramatic rise on the international markets a couple of weeks ago Lagarde came up with a hapless solution to rocketing prices at the petrol pumps. She very helpfully suggested the French look at using other forms of transport – including bikes – which would cut down congestion and of course be good for the environment!

Unfortunately perhaps her remarks might have been better received by the general public had they not come just days before the second public transport strike, which has seen tailbacks of more than 150kms (just around Paris) during peak hours.

Political commentators didn’t let Lagarde off the hook either as they lampooned her with the image of someone who would most probably advise France’s fisherman resort to sailing boats. They were at the time blockading ports to protest the rise in the cost of fuel.

So perhaps not the most auspicious of starts for Lagarde, especially as she has such a central role in Sarkozy’s “vision” for France, but it’s hard to imagine that her swift rise in politics will come to a premature end.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Sarkozy’s trouble with women 1

What is it with Nicolas Sarkozy’s “ladies”? Ever since the French president’s (former) wife slung her hook, there’s been nothing but trouble with the women surrounding him at the Elysees palace. Sarkozy may have delivered on the promised gender parity in government when he first came to power, but there’s every chance that in the near future he’ll be looking to do a spot of early spring-cleaning. And it could well be some of the women who are axed.

Three of the seven in particular in the 15-strong cabinet women in particular are walking a political tightrope after an assortment of gaffes. But they are showing a tenacity that would well insure they avoid the chop. The rest are in serious danger of simply being sidelined.

First up is Rachida Dati, who on paper at least was a pretty smart choice. The 42-year-old Justice Minister represented just about everything Sarkozy could wish for as he set about remodelling the country.

She’s the first person, let alone woman, of North African origin to hold a top government post and her rise from relative humble circumstances as one of 12 children to high office is the stuff of every Hollywood director’s dreams.

Her appointment raised many a proverbial eyebrow as she has never run for office and is politically pretty inexperienced. And that has started to show with her receiving a fair amount of flak for the manner in which she has tried to push through reform to France’s antiquated judicial administrative system.

Even though there is general political support from all quarters for the need for reform, Dati has been criticised for total incompetence by some Socialist parliamentarians. Unfortunately she also has the tendency to look a little like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights when she faces the camera and has spent perhaps just a little too much time recently as Sarkozy’s “Second Lady” on his jaunts to Morocco and the United States.

And therein lies another problem. Dati was – and still is – good buddies with Cecilia Sarkozy and has had to face a fair amount of ridicule from the press and accusations that she only got the job over others more qualified because of the former (non) “First Lady’s” influence.

A recent “teacup” scandal over an apparent false declaration of academic qualifications before she enrolled in the prestigious National College of Magistrates will not have endeared her to the chattering classes. And the knives are definitely out over her quest for genuine political credibility when she stands for a seat in next year’s local elections. Should she fail, it could well be the end of a very short political career. Hardly a Hollywood ending.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

172 per cent timing

Ah the skill of great timing. An ability made greater still by the paltry PRESIDENTIAL pay rise Nicolas Sarkozy has allowed parliament to rubber stamp. 172 per cent!

So instead of having to struggle to make ends meet on a meagre €101,000 a year he’ll now pocket more than €240,000 a year or around €19,000 per month.

Of course his aides, and indeed the man himself, have been claiming that it’s all being done in a spirit “transparency” as previous French presidents’ real incomes were somewhat obscured within the mysteries of the total “Elysée Palace” budget.

The pay hike will bring Sarkozy’s salary into line with most of the other European heads of government – with a bit extra of course, because he is after all also head of state.

And a quick trip around some parts of the continent reveals he was certainly in line for an increase.

Britain’s prime minister, Gordon Brown, bags the sterling equivalent of €22,000 each month, and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel earns just under €18,000. Even Italy’s prime minister, Romano Prodi, brings home €16,000 worth of monthly bacon, although admittedly three-quarters of that is his chunk as an elected member of parliament.

But most importantly perhaps, it has adjusted the imbalance between the Top Job and the minions – an anomaly of the French political system, which has meant that until now the President has “officially” earned far less than his prime minister and many of the cabinet.

So, for some a raise is long overdue. Or is it? Many are asking whether the timing isn’t just a tad “off” with transport workers fighting to maintain their pensions deals and civil servants threatening to take (in)action.

Something of a stock phrase during the first six months of Sarkozy’s “reign” as France’s ever-present President has been the all-too-often repeated mantra “work more to earn more”. It’s at the heart of his philosophy, quite literally, to get France working. He has encouraged belt-tightening and undertaken to reward overtime in an effort to kick-start the country’s economy and breathe new life into people’s personal wealth.

One of his first measures of course was to slash inheritance tax in a move designed to benefit the already reasonably well off. Proof no doubt thought that he was living up to his electoral promise to raise living standards.

Well from €9,000 to €19,000 per month, at least Sarkozy’s standards will certainly have been raised, and clearly evidence that this hyperactive president holds true to his core conviction that pay should be linked to productivity.

The timing though of a pay rise for a man who has adamantly refused to increase the minimum wage in a country where half the population earns less than €1,500 per month has been slightly less than perfect.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Always Late In Takeoff and Late In Arriving

Hang about that’s an acronym for Alitalia. This has nothing to do with the Italians. But there again it IS an aeronautical story that has everything to do with failing to meet a deadline.

So the confusion could be forgiven.

No this time around it’s all about one company’s attempts to deflect attention from what is turning out to be a four-letter-word of a corruption cock-up à la Française with a triumphal tale of achievement!

The four letters are EADS. And the success story is the delivery of the first Airbus 380 - just 18 months behind schedule.

The A380 is the superjumbo set to take to the skies and revolutionise flying comfort – if we’re to believe the blurb. Change in the sense that it can carry over 850 passengers (if airlines decide to cram us all merrily into economy class) allowing us to relax more easily while we increase our collective carbon footprints.

France has a huge financial stake in the future of the A380 and the media here clearly decided that the Nation needed a morale booster when Singapore Airlines officially took delivery of the first of its 19 new ‘planes two weeks ago – just one and a half years later than promised. So what better way than trumpeting what France does best…..apart from striking of course…..corruption… sorry, that should read technological BIGness.

And we’re talking BIG here with more than a flourish of luxury.

The new giant of the skies will make its first passenger flight on Oct. 25. And Singapore Airlines has opted for a 471-sear version of the monster double decker. First class travellers will apparently be able to cut themselves off entirely from the rest of the world in their private “suites” while Business customers will have all the U.S.B. ports and in-seat power supplies for laptop computers the price of a ticket can buy. Even those in Economy will be able to swing their legs in more room than there is available for the proverbial cat.

Take off should come as something of a relief to all those concerned in the design and construction of the A380, which has been beset by persistent and costly delays, but there lurks a darker story in the background.

Airbus may well have delivered – and continue to do so at the rate of up to 45 a year by 2010 – but top managers at its parent company, EADS, are being investigated for insider trading.

Major shareholders in the Franco-German corporation sold massively just before news was released of significant delivery delays on the A380 back in 2006.

That news of course wiped billions of euros off the market value of EADS. The loss was a major blow to the taxpayer (the state holds a 7.5 per cent stake in the company) and a setback for Airbus.

An investigation may well be underway here in France, but so far everyone is denying everything and admitting to nothing. What a surprise.

The (now former) boss claims he didn’t pass on any information. The government was not informed. And nobody used prior knowledge for personal gain because everyone is innocent.

Meanwhile media attention has switched to the glories of French technology because apparently the two stories, although related, are not linked.

Once again French business practice flies high as it breathes new meaning into the term corporate responsibility and there will doubtless be plenty of under carpet sweeping before any truth is revealed – if it ever is.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

It’s Tammy Wynette day at the Elysée

Nicolas and Cecilia Sarkozy split!

While many may view October 18 as Black Thursday for the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, it did in fact have more of a ring about it of the late country singer Tammy Wynette’s two greatest hits.

True the nation was brought to a virtual standstill by a transportation strike over Sarkozy’s proposed pension reforms – a pretty murky day indeed. But that soon became the proverbial chip paper as far as most were concerned after the golden couple of French politics announced the end of their marriage.

Nobody was really surprised after weeks of media buzz. Evidently Cecilia no longer wanted to “Stand by her man” preferring Tammy’s other huge hit D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

So no JFK-Jackie O fairytale after all. Mind you their marriage (the second for both of them) can hardly have been a smooth ride, even though its end was by mutual consent.

HE is a consummate politician, fiercely ambitious, who has had his sights firmly set on the country’s top job from almost the outset of his political career. SHE shuns the spotlight, never wanted to set up house at the presidential residence, the Elysée Palace, and refused outright to slip into the traditional ornamental role of France’s First Lady.

It’s the second time they’ve split – but this time apparently it’s for good. Back in 2005, Cecilia legged it across the Atlantic, preferring the attentions of a New York-based French advertising executive to the hyperactivity of a man destined for high office.

Even though the Sarkozys reconciled in the run-up to May’s presidential election and many political commentators perceived Cecilia as an instrumental part of the campaign team, the rumour mill was rife with reports of another impending separation.

Remember, this was the same woman who failed to vote in the second round of that election and “shocked” the nation by wearing Prada at her husband’s inauguration. She also declared a sore throat as the reason for declining an invitation to tea with George W. and his missus, and was curiously allowed to who swan into Libya at the last moment to help negotiate the freedom of the Bulgarian nurses and doctor who had been sentenced to death.

A maverick who admitted to being neither politically correct nor cut out for the role of First Lady, Cecilia has been noticeable by her absence from her (now) former husband’s side over the past couple of months.

What’s most interesting perhaps about the whole sad affair is not that they’re getting divorced at all, but that the rumours, the announcement and the after-the-fact analysis have made the headlines at all. For sure it’s a first in modern French politics – a divorcé as head of state, but private matters of public figures have traditionally remained exactly that – private.

Perhaps it’s an indication that Sarkozy is now paying the price for his obsession with blanket media coverage of his every twitch.

There again a sceptic would say that it’s nothing more than cynical and calculating politicking. After all the timing was spot on. The transport strike may have been headline news in the morning, but by lunchtime the couple’s divorce was the lead story.

So after releasing the news at the moment guaranteed to make the most impact what does the (un)happy couple do?

HE flies off to Portugal for a pow-wow with other EU leaders – business as usual then. And SHE retires gracefully from public life by granting an exclusive interview to a regional daily, claiming she has been unhappy being in the limelight, wants to take care of her son and pursue her own career.

Oh yes, and she mentioned her fling in New York last year when she fell in love (again). A real withdrawal from the media glare.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

54 percent for, 55 percent against – DUH

Oh good. The French are back to their usual habits, pursing their favourite pastime. Striking.

Thursday promises to be a real joy for anyone trying to struggle into work, or anywhere else for that matter, as there will be a virtual shutdown of the country’s transportation system – yet again.

Trains, buses, the metro and ‘planes will all be providing less than the “minimum service” with the busiest places most likely to be the nation’s roads as people go nowhere not very fast.

It’s the first real test of government’s attempts to reform pensions for some public sector workers’ “special privileges”, but opinion seems to be divided as to whether there’s really public support for the day of inaction.

Of course it all depends which newspaper you read, but it’s more than slightly curious that two surveys carried out at the same time by different market research companies come out with results that are quite literally, poles apart.

And naturally nothing should be read into the fact that the one claiming a “resounding majority” against tomorrow’s strike appears in the centre-right daily Le Figaro. Or that the Communist daily L’Humanité tells us that in fact public opinion is behind the action by more or less the same margin.

Whatever the level of support everyone is going to have to face the same chaos and probably the best way to cope will be to stay at home.

Although politicians across the spectrum broadly agree that there’s a need for an overhaul of the pension system, union leaders want workers to hold on to “special privileges”, which allow some state employees to retire at 50 or 55 – on full pension – even though the official retirement age is 60

The privileges are something of a sacred cow to the unions here in France. Many date back to the early part of the last century as part of labour agreements to compensate for (what were then undeniably) dangerous working conditions or protect workers in sectors considered vital to the “National Interest”.

These include train drivers, utility workers in the energy giants EDF and even theatre staff at the Comédie Française! They’ll all be on strike tomorrow.

And that’s perhaps the most important factor. The last attempt to reform the “special privileges” back in 1995 brought the country to a three-week standstill and forced the government to abandon its policy.

This time around the unions have managed to organise just a one-day strike in spite of having almost a month to prepare - although they are balloting members on possible further action.

Meanwhile the president, Nicolas Sarkozy is apparently unfazed and maintains that he was elected on a reform platform. And he even has tentative support from what’s left of the political opposition, which has so far managed to muster up the mind-boggling response that it’s not exactly saying “no” to the need for change, but hasn’t exactly thrown it’s collective weight behind the strike either.

With such clarity it’s perhaps not surprising that the polls have decided that public opinion is both for and against but more importantly decidedly DUH.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Rugbymania – the replay

And now the end is here, and so they face the final curtain.”

So England and South Africa will battle it out at the Stade de France this weekend for the glory of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy and being crowned winners of the 2007 Rugby World cup.

Who would have thought? The Springboks presence has not raised too many eyebrows this side of the channel, but England’s narrow defeat of the French in the semis after beating the Wallabies in the quarters is something of a understated surprise.

Meanwwhile National Pride here has been seriously dented and the inevitably excruciating post mortems have dumped a fair deal of the blame on the poor old coach, Bernard Laporte. All he has to look forward to now is a career as sports minister in Sarkozy’s government. Oh that and the prospect of a meaningless playoff for third place.

But let’s not carried away with false pride or unspoken dreams. Instead now’s the chance to take a look back at some of the highlights from the past six weeks.

Highlights indeed from the Tonga team – unfortunately of the follicle variety. When they took to the field in their first match against the United Sates, their players looked as though they had all just popped down to the local salon for something more than a shampoo and set. One burly character sported an Afro any Motown singer of the 60s would surely have been proud of. Another, carefully plucked eyebrows raised in readiness, wore cutesy-pie bunches which were surely donned to give the opposition the wrong impression.

In spite of that, the hairdon’ts deservedly got a rousing standing ovation following their brave performance against the mighty South Africans in their final group match. Maybe there was something in the hairspray!

The Americans of course all looked like clean-cut, square-jawed hunks with decent, proper haircuts, which alas didn’t help their play. Four matches, four losses and one measly bonus point.

Looks and colour co-ordination seemed to be high on the agenda of many of the top teams – a far cry from the good old days!

The Italians and the French looked liked models in homoerotic outfits as they strutted on to the field in their tightly fitting cossies.

And talking about sartorially elegant cloning, why were the Scots and the Kiwis wearing virtually the same strips when they faced each other – a sort of figure-hugging blueish-greyish affair? In fact the only way to tell them apart from a distance was dash of white on the Scottish shorts – oh yes that and the fact that they were getting pulverised.

A special mention of course to the Georgians, who managed one win in spite of wearing shorts that left little or nothing to the imagination.

But the last word on what to wear has to be left to the polemic the French created around the choice of strips for their quarterfinal clash with the Kiwis. It reached gargantuan proportions in the media and only at the last moment were they allowed to don their blue shirts, settling for red shorts and white socks. The All Blacks meanwhile went All Grey yet again, which must explain their defeat.

Another feature of the Coupe du Monde was undoubtedly the pre-match prancing that went on,

While the blood-curdling antics of the All Blacks Haka was enough to put the fear of God into anyone on or off the field (although admittedly the French looked suitably unimpressed) similar attempts to appeal to tradition by Samoa and Tonga fell on largely deaf ears. There simply wasn’t the stature or the follow-through on the pitch.

But perhaps the other countries could learn a trick or two to confuse their opponents in the future. Just imagine the English breaking out the bells and tripping along merrily in a Morris dance – perhaps that would have helped them to score against South Africa in the group match. Ah a strategy for the final!

Or better still, the Irish could show a pretty foot with their own rendition of Lord of the Dance. Now that would really set the pulses racing and, let’s face it, couldn’t really harm their performance.

Off the pitch it was lovely to see one of the world’s major healthcare companies taking such an interest in the game. Commercial breaks during the televised coverage here in France featured two of the country’s most recognisable players promoting the products of one of the official sponsors. And the same company even created a special McRugby burger on sale at all of its eateries. Yum, yum.

Fans who wanted to quaff a quick half at Stade de France had no choice but to cough up €7 or £4.80/$9.70 a bottle. Either that or go without as that sponsor had exclusive rights, although it later had its wrists gently slapped by the organisers for breaching the ban on stadium advertising of alcohol. But just a slight tap as those guys bring in mega-bucks in revenue for any sporting event.

And in this case what an event. After all that’s what the competition was really about and it didn’t disappoint. There were sporting highlights a plenty. Half man half mountain totally awesome - Sébastien Chabal forced his way through a timid Namibian defence (who wouldn’t be frightened of him) as he powered his way to a try. Chabalamania reached new heights throughout the nation (we were informed) and onwards strode the French until it all ended in tears – even for the big man himself.

The pummelling New Zealand gave all their opponents in their group matches notching up 309 points and conceding only 35 – breathtaking. Sadly they ran out of puff in the quarterfinals.

Depleted to just 14 men for just over half the match. Fiji scored a heart-stopping try in the dying minutes of their group decider against Wales. The win saw them squeeze into the quarterfinals, where they held their own for most of the match against the Springboks until the fairy tale ended

But this toughest of games also displayed an elegance and sportsmanship so sadly lacking elsewhere in the sporting world.

The players may be twice the sideways size of their soccer counterparts and the game may be rough, but their behaviour was impeccable. When Peter White, the English referee in the France-Ireland match, found himself caught up in the action, he good-humouredly shook off the bruising shove in the back and got on with the job in hand, looked on by concerned players.

Everyone seemed genuinely moved and proud to be representing their countries- no matter their chances of winning – giants and minnows often tearfully belting out their national anthems before games and winners lining up to applaud losers afterwards.

But the biggest winner after Saturday’s game – no matter whether it’s a repeat for the Roses (don’t bet on it) or an on-field mashing by the Sprinboks – will probably be the capacity crowds who have so often been treated to the glories of the gentlemen’s game and shown their appreciation with standing ovations.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Little story, big meaning

It’s not always the stories grabbing the headlines that tell us the most about a country. Sometimes it’s the ones hidden away in the inside pages that reflect the true character, good and bad.

Certainly Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be everywhere all the time – huffing about reforms on pensions, immigration, labour laws and reducing the number of civil servants to name but a few policy areas. Ordering HIS government to act fast and setting deadlines, which have forced the unions to react speedily. Strikes are scheduled for next month. Hooray.

There was his 45-minute party political broadcast recently on behalf of himself. Mind you it was disguised in the form of an interview broadcast on the two major channels’ prime time news. The two much-respected top-notch journalists may have posed the questions, but there was no doubt about who had gained real control of the agenda.

Abroad, in his first address to the United Nations to reposition France’s place on the world stage, Sarkozy tentatively wandered into unfamiliar territory, as he threw in the occasional English word. By no means master of Shakespeare’s language, he called for an economic and ecological “New Deal” on a planetary scale. Watch out Mars!

And of course he weighed in on the controversy surrounding Iran’s refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment programme. He called for tougher sanctions ahead of what are, given their inability to agree so far, likely to be another round of unsuccessful negotiations among members of the Security Council. Sarkozy’s solution? Firmness and dialogue. We shall see.

So domestically and internationally there are equal amounts of gloss and substance - essentially the stuff of what politics is made – sound bites and populism.

While Sarkozy is undoubtedly trying to make his mark on the way France functions, there are signs that it will be more than an uphill struggle and he may well be overwhelmed by the way things are.

Back to that little story on the inside pages for a case in hand. A recent polemic (ah yes that word again) among political observers has been the case of Jean-François Copé. Who? You might well ask – as many French would probably too. He’s not exactly the most high profile of politicians nationally.

Copé was a former government spokesman and budget minister – a buddy of Sarkozy and widely expected to land a top job a job in government. However he was passed over and instead given the post of leader of the UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) in the National Assembly. Just as a reminder the UMP is the main French centre-right party and its candidate for president earlier this year was…….Nicolas Sarkozy.

But that’s not all. Copé is also the elected Mayor of Meaux, president of the community of the agglomoration of Meaux (snazzy little title that one) and of course a member of parliament. Until recently he was also president of the regional council, but gave that one up.
It’s all part of the so-called French political “illness” that sees one person collecting multiple PAID “mandates” or positions. It’s common practice.

You wouldn’t think the poor man had a spare moment in the week. Well apparently he has. This 43-year-old father of three is now going to spend two days a week working part time as a lawyer.

All well and good – a noble cause as he’ll obviously bring in more dosh to support his family.

Funny thing though is he has never actually studied law, let alone qualify. So how come he’s now going to be one.

Well he’s a graduate of ENA – one of the country’s major Grandes Écoles - from which the country’s political elite is drawn. Segolene Royal and François Hollande are other current high-flying graduates and basically the political and business world is stuffed to the gills with alumni from the select bunch of universities.

What makes ENARQUES extra special is the right they have to practise law after a certain number of years working in a related field. And that’s exactly what Copé is about to do. And nobody is batting the proverbial eyelid.

Proof perhaps that while Sarkozy hits the headlines with his attempts to ovehaul the way France works, at its roots it’s very much a case of “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.”

As if we had ever thought differently.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Blog Archive

Check out these sites


All photos (unless otherwise stated) and text are copyright. No part of this website or any part of the content, copy and images may be reproduced or re-distributed in any format without prior approval. All you need to do is get in touch. Thank you.