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.
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