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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.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Fighting talk

The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner has raised more than a few eyebrows since his appointment four months ago.

His latest salvo came in radio and television interviews earlier this week when he warned that the world should prepare for the worst if a solution could not be found to Iran’s refusal to end its uranium enrichment programme. And the worst, in his words, is war.

His comments quickly made the international headlines and critics at home leapt on them as evidence once again that the man with the real power, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants to change the approach of French foreign policy by adopting a harder line in attempt to improve relation with the United States.

It certainly reflects a break from life under the previous president, Jacques Chirac, when French foreign policy was characterised by a seemingly instinctive distrust of the US. But similarly it would be wrong to imply that Paris is about to become the unofficial European spokesman for Washington. Far from it.

After all just last month Kouchner caused quite a stir when he was quoted as saying that the Iraqi government was not functioning and that its US-backed prime minister, Nouri Maliki, should resign.

Those comments were hardly out of character. Kouchner is a humanitarian heavyweight rather than a diplomat and has often been described as a loose cannon given to plain talking. Rest assured he is unlikely to fear upsetting the White House when he has criticisms to make of US policy.

His appointment four months ago came as a surprise to many. Sarkozy had been rumoured to be about to offer the job to a former Socialist foreign minister, Hubert Védrine - a man much more in the usual mould of the French diplomatic tradition.

But in a daring move, he gave Kouchner the post.

Kouchner is very popular in France, regularly topping the list of the country’s favourite politicians.

In his youth he was a member of the Communist party – until he was expelled – and was one of the leaders of the 1968 students revolt.

He was a co-founder of both Médecins Sans Frontières and later Médecins du monde (he left the former after a bust-up to help set up the latter) and, although never a fully paid-up party member, he served as health minister in three Socialist governments.

In 1999 he was nominated as the first UN Special Representative in Kosovo, a post he held for 18 months.

Kouchner twice narrowly missed out on top international jobs – in 2005 when he was, a candidate for the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a year later when a contender to become Director-General of the World Health Organisation.

Although he is an internationally renowned and respected figure many put his failure to land either post down to reluctance within the international community to throw their support behind an advocate for humanitarian interventions.

Such qualms however did not deter Sarkozy from offering him the foreign ministry.

Just like his boss, Kouchner holds a world view much more in line with the US model of action than the European one of quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy. It’s an indication perhaps that we can expect a shake-up in French foreign policy along the lines of the one Sarkozy has promised on the domestic front.

There again custom has it in France that foreign affairs are very much the domain of the president. Sarkozy has not chosen the option of appointing a quiet hard-working diplomat unlikely to create a stir, but still has the safety net of tradition. Sarkozy is more than likely to step on to the international stage whenever he sees fit and that has already been demonstrated.

Just weeks after taking office, Kouchner found himself rather neatly pushed to the sidelines in the release of six Bulgarian nurses and a doctor who had had been in jail in Libya since 1999. Rather than Kouchner it was a Sarkozy – albeit that Lady of Mystery and wife of the president who shyly accepted all the glory for her intervention.

A sign indeed that French foreign policy is no longer what is once was.

JS

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

“Forgive them for they know not what they do”

…..was the biblical citation that ricocheted from the other side of the Atlantic during Segolene Royal’s four-day visit to Canada.

The Socialist party’s candidate in this year’s presidential election was responding to extracts from an upcoming book by former prime minister, Lionel Jospin, published in Monday’s edition of the Left leaning daily, Liberation.

Jospin, a fixture on the French political scene for decades, describes Royal quite simply as a minor figure in public life, who has neither the human qualities nor the political clout to be the party’s next leader. Furthermore he maintains she is not the right person to spearhead the Socialists campaign for the next presidential election in 2012.

Royal said she was given to quote Christ’s words on the cross because the party’s leaders apparently don’t realise they are doing less harm to her than they are to the themselves or indeed the entire Left.

Yep that’s right, the Socialists are continuing their infighting and posturing just four months after their double defeat in both this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

But let’s take a time out to look at what gives Jospin the right to make such claims.

Ah yes, he was prime minister in a government of “cohabitation” (a term used to describe a leftwing government under a rightwing president or vice-versa) from 1997 until 2002 during Jacques Chirac’s first term in the Elysee palace.

It was his administration that oversaw the introduction of the hugely successful 35-hour working week – the foundation on which France’s current economic success is built.

He twice ran for president. In 1995 he lost narrowly to Chirac, but will probably be better remembered for leading the party to a spectacularly shocking electoral loss in the presidential race five years ago. Not only did he fail to make the second round, but he also finished behind the wonderfully popular far right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who went head to head with Chirac in round two.

So clearly Jospin is well qualified to pontificate on who should lead the party in any presidential campaign.

He’s also obviously a man of political integrity. He “retired” from political life after that humiliating defeat only to resurface briefly last year as the Socialists were going through the nomination process for their presidential candidate.

Wisely perhaps, he quickly dropped out and retired again. Royal won the nomination with over 60 per cent of the party members voting for her. If Jospin is to be believed they were evidently misguided in their choice

The limelight beckoned again midway through Royal’s campaign, when Jospin joined the rest of the party’s so-called “elephants” to smile sweetly for the cameras and rally behind her. Integrity in one hand, knife in the other.

So what is driving this man, who undoubtedly understands the true meaning of loyalty – he himself appointed “the minor figure in public life” as family minister in his government – to be so outspoken in his criticism of Royal?

At the ripe old age of 70 he cannot surely have pretensions of the nation’s highest office. Kind speculation would suggest he perceives himself compelled to be a would-be kingmaker. He is reported to be about to throw his weight behind Bertrand Delanoë’s bid to be party chairman next year – the expected launch pad for any presidential campaign for 2012.

Delanoë is the high profile mayor of Paris and is rumoured have his sights firmly set on bigger things.

A word of warning perhaps. Given Jospin’s combined track record of integrity loyalty and electoral success perhaps Delanoë would be well advised to look elsewhere for support, or at the very least to invest in a well padded knife-resistant jacket.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Whatever happened to the Third Man?

It can’t be easy being an almost-ran. Just five months ago François Bayrou, then leader of the centre-right UDF party, was riding high in the polls for the presidential election. He was the so-called Third Man of French politics.

There was talk of him squeezing past the Socialist party’s candidate, Segolene Royal, to make it through to the second round head-to-head with Nicolas Sarkozy. Opinion polls even put him ahead of Sarkozy in a hypothetical run-off.

But as we all know he fell short of the two leading candidates in spite of garnering a highly respectable 18 per cent of the popular vote.

As the Third Man he played his part as bad loser pretty well, tentatively “reaching out” to Royal to present a quasi Centre-Left alliance to counter Sarkozy, but ultimately refusing to endorse either candidate in round two, preferring to retreat sulkily to the sidelines.

After seeing Sarkozy triumph, he then suffered the ignominy of witnessing most of his party’s parliamentarians desert him as they ran into the welcoming embrace of Sarkozy’s UMP. Even his election manager and close buddy (until then) Hervé Morin accepted a prime post in the new government as defence minister.

Bayrou retaliated, displaying all his possible spoiler tactics in creating a new Centre party – the Movement for Democracy (Or MoDem) for June’s parliamentary elections. It was supposed to be a new way forward, a party of solidarity to unite all hues of the political spectrum. But simultaneously Sarkozy, from a position of real power, was doing exactly the same thing – and picking off the best talent from both the Socialists and the UDF to form his own version of open government.

MoDem won just four seats in the elections for the 577-strong National Assembly.

While the Socialists spent much of the summer squeaking in indignation and blaming each other – its leaders are still bickering among themselves - Bayrou took time out (thank goodness) gathered his troops and remained gloriously silent.

The media focused on the wound-licking of the Socialists, the “matrimonial” split between the party’s chairman, François Hollande and Segolene Royal, the defection of Médecins Sans Frontières co-founder Bernard Kouchner (now foreign minister) and Sarkozy’s proposed candidature of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (a former contender for the Socialist nomination for president himself) to head the International Monetary Fund (still not a done deal). Nothing was heard from Bayrou.

Well now he’s back.

The first official MoDem party conference took place over the weekend. It was an eclectic mix of the seemingly disillusioned – Socialists, UMPers and a smattering of UDFers alike. Over 2,000 faithful attended, including a roll call of national non-entities many of whom appear to have achieved political stardom by getting themselves elected to the European parliament.

The whole shebang was even broadcast live on telly. Not bad for a party with so few MPs. Unfortunately perhaps the coverage was on a much-respected, but little-viewed private channel and probably roused only the interest of only the most avid political nerd (!)

Still it’s a start. And Bayrou followed it up with an appearance on the national evening news, commending Sarkozy (with whom he had coincidentally been granted an “audience” on Thursday) for his energy in his first few months in office. Praise indeed, coupled with an admission that it was rather the opposition parties who had shown their fatigue over the same period of time.

But he didn’t hold back on the criticism either, accusing the President of aligning France too closely to the US model of “doing” politics and as a consequence diminishing the country’s independent voice on the international stage.

On the domestic front Bayrou denounced Sarkozy’s “peoplisation of political life”, where ministers take on celebrity-like status at the expense of policy, and charged the government with pandering to big business, providing tax breaks for the wealthy and doing little to reduce social inequality.

Fighting talk indeed, but lacking in substance for the moment. Perhaps though Bayrou will be able to forge an effective Centre-based opposition – he has the next five years to find out. And there is conceivably a far-fetched possibility on the horizon.

While the Socialists have opened discussions with France’s own version of the (not so) loveable Looney Left and Greens, they remain divided by personality clashes and a distinct lack of direction.

Could a daring leap into the unknown prove to be their salvation with Bayrou himself proving to be the catalyst for some dramatic shake-up of the French political landscape?

Although she’s being fired on from all quarters within her party, Segelone Royal (still immensely popular among the party’s grassroots) is keeping a relatively low profile. Would she at some point be willing to join forces with Bayrou and form a real opposition or is that just idle speculation?

Sarkozy marches on, but for any democracy to work effectively it needs a viable opposition – and maybe, just maybe, Bayrou is the man to help provide that.

A week may be a long time in politics but five years must seem an eternity. Still at least it will give Bayrou the chance perhaps to prove he is something more than simply the Third Man.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

White dwarf

The death of a telly icon

Jacques Martin died on Thursday.

His is not a name that will ring many bells outside of the Francophone world, but he was a giant of the small screen here in France. Not only that, he was also a journalist, raconteur, crooner, animateur, comédien (in the French sense of the word) and comedian (in the English)….in fact a general all round bon vivant, immensely and multi-talented and a huge influence on today’s telly presenters and much beloved by the viewing public. And he still managed to squeeze in time for three marriages and eight children from four different women. You do the maths.

His death on Thursday brought glowing tributes from all quarters, reflecting how important a figure he was on the French cultural scene. Yep, that’s right. Even though France may often wish to view itself a civilised notch or two above the rest of the world, it can be as grubbily lowbrow as the best. Telly rools. OK!

Martin shot to fame as the host of a series of hit comedy shows on French television, including the satirical "Le Petit Rapporteur," It was a spoof newscast that ran from 1975-1976 and is often cited as the forerunner of the critically acclaimed “Les Guignols – a Spitting Image-type satire which wickedly continues to lampoon politicians on a daily basis. Both Martin’s programmes and his humour shaped the futures of a host of presenters who currently dominate the airwaves of French telly.

Rather sadly perhaps, younger generations will remember him more for his “L’ecole des fans” – a sickly sweet nonsensical Sunday afternoon institution in which he gently cajoled children into singing in front of a live audience. It drew “oohs” and “ahs” all round (especially from the proud parents sitting in the public) but was light years away from the groundbreaking and trendsetting work of the 70s and 80s

For over 30 years Martin’s face was familiar to millions, popping up frequently on the television in a series of programmes until a stroke ended his career in 1998, forcing him to leave his last show, "Sous vos applaudissements" (With Your Applause), abruptly.

On the news of his death, the tributes started pouring in – in a manner normally reserved for the greats of cinema, literature and art. Even the Culture Minister, Christine Albanel, chipped in with her two penny worth, calling Martin a "free spirit, an impertinent spirit, very funny, full of talent."

Television and radio re-jigged their Friday evening schedules (apart from TF1 which broadcast live England’s crushing humiliation at the feet of South Africa – aie, aie, aie) to honour him.

But there remained one voice noticeably absent from the roll call. There was not a squeak from the Elysees Palace, usually so hot in paying homage to the passing of an important national figure. Just last month the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, interrupted his US vacation to fly back for the funeral of a former Archbishop of Paris.

All right, all right so a journalist/television presenter cannot perhaps be compared to a man of the cloth. But there is one delicate issue here that cannot be neglected.

Back in 1984 when Sarkozy, was mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly, he officiated at Martin’s second marriage to a certain Cecilia Ciganer-Albeniz. The couple had two children before divorcing. So what’s the big deal? Well Cecilia is now married to Sarkozy and safely ensconced at the Elysees Palace with those two teenage blonde beauties, Judith and Jeanne-Marie.

The silence is deafening.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Potential pension pickle peril

There are indeed “interesting times” ahead for the French government, even if the actual subject matter doesn’t exactly grab the imagination initially. Pensions – and forgive the admittedly awful alliteration in the title – are about to become news BIG time.

An ageing population and how to handle increasing pension demands is a major headache for governments throughout the whole of Europe. But France of course has its own peculiar twist on the issue.

Some public sector workers here enjoy “special privileges” and are allowed to retire at 50 or 55 – on full pension - even though the official retirement age is 60. The result is, as people of all political hues agree, a huge financial burden on the nation’s purse strings.

On Sunday the prime minister, François Fillon, declared that draft legislation for reform – especially of those special privileges - is now ready and he’s keen to press ahead.

The president, Nicolas Sarkozy was reportedly surprised by his prime minister’s announcement last weekend, but it’s hard to suspend disbelief that he wasn’t fully aware of what Fillon was planning. The truth in France is that the president is the guy in charge. He appoints the prime minister and sets the policy agenda. Indeed Sarkozy ran for office promising a substantial overhaul of the pension system.

So the week’s grace that Sarkozy has given himself – he has said he’ll make an official statement on September 18 – is more than likely a clever way of sounding out what sort of opposition there is likely to be.

And already there are signs that a repeat of the national strikes that crippled the country back in 1995, when the government tried similar sweeping reforms, is unlikely.

The Socialist Party – squeaking with its by now expected diffident voice – has said it’s not exactly saying “no” to the need for change, although how far they’re likely to support a rightwing-led reform is questionable. They must have some pride left even if the other side has poached many of their top bods for prime jobs.

And although the unions are likely to strut their stuff, at least in front of the cameras, even the left-leaning national daily “Liberation” doubts whether they’ll be able to wield the clout they did 12 years ago.

What’s clear is that Sarkozy needs to tread very carefully and make sure he has everybody singing from more or less the same hymn sheet – something he has been pretty successful in doing so far during his short time in office.

You can bet your bottom euro that if the reforms go through relatively painlessly, he’ll take all the credit. But no matter how close he might have been to Fillon in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year, there’s no doubt who will be blamed if millions take to the streets and the country is once again brought to a standstill.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Rugbymania – a mightily padded spectacle

The Nation is holding its collective breath in anticipation of six weeks worth of sparkling sportsmanship culminating in a wished-for, wonderful win for the hosts.

Well that’s certainly the impression being given by the media and promoters of the rugby world cup.

The country’s hopes are pinned on the 15 Dieux de Stade, (or rather the full squad of 30) - who’ve taken time out from posing for shots for the next raunchy edition of their annual pin-up calendar - to bring glory and pride on a level not witnessed since the glory days of the 1998 football world cup.

Not surprisingly perhaps, even the President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has jumped on the bandwagon and is reportedly brushing up his knowledge of the gentleman’s game. The team manager, Bernard Laporte – a man who speaks faster than a TGV train travels – has put his lads through months of gruelling preparation and is determined to finish his coaching career on a high. And the country expects great things of the Great Tinkerer and his prodigies, especially after convincing performances in their warm-up games.

There again, if it all goes pear-shaped for him, Laporte still has the comfort of a new job once the tournament is over, as he’s due to take up his new post in government as a junior sports minister. So much for not mixing sport and politics.

In spite of all the hype there’s one major problem with the event. There are simply too many countries involved who will be either fodder or warm-up practice for the top teams during the group stage. Padding on a major scale has led to the inclusion of 20 countries, many of them with little or no real tradition of playing rugby. Portugal, for example, only has 4,000 registered players back home – all of them amateurs. And even if the whole lot took to the field in their match against the mighty New Zealand, the chances are they would still be thrashed.

The US will also be fielding a largely amateur team as they take on giants South Africa and England, and will probably stand as much chance of reaching the knock-out stage as Namibia, who in the 2003 competition narrowly lost to powerhouse Australia 0-142! Oh yes and spare a thought for the Japanese, who in one of their preparation games squared up against a second string All Blacks – and managed just 17 points against 147.

So expect some cricket scores in the opening games, before the real competition starts in the quarterfinals.

Of course the organisers will argue that the best way to promote rugby internationally is to include those smaller nations. But in the five previous tournaments, countries in the top tier (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and France) have filled 35 out of the 38 places in the knockout stages.

Argentina and Samoa will hope for a repeat of their previous exploits and prevent one of the favourites making it through, and Italy are also likely to be spoilers in their group. But the simple truth is that there is a huge imbalance of power and the skills in the rugby world and this tournament just ain’t going to chance that.

Still, when the nonsense of the first couple of weeks is over, the real competition should get underway – and that promises some delicious match-ups. Australia versus England, or New Zealand versus Ireland in the quarterfinals for example. Now even President Sarkozy, with his newly discovered love of the game, would be up for that. And better still if, as hoped, the French get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup on October 20 (against New Zealand?) that’ll surely provide a lovely “bounce” for everyone this side of the channel.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The dog days of summer

It’s La Rentrée – the period immediately after the long break when the French rather reluctantly head home en masse. A sure sign that summer is almost over. The motorways were chock-a-block last weekend, familiar faces and programmes are back on the telly and the usual round of “Universities” have come and gone. Ah yes the “Universities” – the term used here for the big annual powwows organised by all the political parties, unions and employers.

For the Socialist Party this year’s event was a chance for even more navel-gazing than ever. Mind you not all the big cheeses were around for a group wound licking, and that left the door open for the former golden couple to stake their individual claims of their visions for the future of the party.

All well and good perhaps, but while they’re doing what they do best (very little) Nicolas Sarkozy continues his “open government” cherry picking with his latest appointment to a parliamentary commission, Michel Rocard – a former Socialist prime minister (under Mitterand from 1988-1991).

Ho hum.

Meanwhile an apology – of sorts.

It appears that there is more than one spelling of the world “People” here in France. It all depends on where you source your celebrity gossip. Readers of the broadsheets (or the French equivalent thereof) will be treated to the borrowed word in its original English spelling (God forbid).

However, if your tastes veer more to the weekly glossies crammed full of paparazzi pics, the chances are you’ll be delighted by the phonetic “Piple”. This revelation came after perusing the pages of “Closer”, which had won the right to publish photos of the Socialist Party chairman, François Hollande, smooching with his new woman during his summer hols. He had tried to stop publication, but the courts upheld the rag’s right to “publish and be damned” slapping a miserly €15,000 fine on the magazine. So following on the heels of Sarkozy’s airbrushed love handles and Segolene’s week on the beach, it’s now official on all levels. Politicians are Piple and fair game for any long lens.


Back to political policy and the government was quick to react to the latest horror story of a so-called “dangerous dog” when a 15-month old girl died after having been attacked by an American Staffordshire terrier.

The Interior Minister, Marie Aliot-Marie immediately promised to enforce existing laws (there have been three passed by Parliament since 1991 – the most recent was in March this year) and introduce even stricter controls.

These include limits on the import of dogs from Eastern Europe and the requirement for vets to be present during the purchase of certain breeds. Potential owners will also have to follow a special education course – which might not be a bad thing across the board rather than just limiting it to types. But unfortunately the media got hold of the one angle that shed the undoubtedly good intentions in a rather less serious light; The ban on certain crosses – most notable among them the labrador-boxer! Hardly two breeds known for their aggressive nature.

So a summer of mad dogs, paedophiles, gruesome infanticide and a fair share of Piple news comes to an end with la Rentréé heralding not only the return to work but of course the start of the school year.

And Sarkozy was on hand to promote two of the promises he had made at his inauguration as President in May. The first is most admirably to integrate children with handicaps fully into the state education system.

The second is to make compulsory in all secondary schools, the reading of letter written by a World War II teenage resistance fighter. Guy Moquet was just 17 years old when he wrote to his parents on the night before his execution back in 1941. Earlier this year Sarkozy said that Moquet should serve as a model for today’s youth, presumably in keeping with his belief that France needs “to take risks and follow initiatives.”

While the letter may well tug at the hearts of many children, there are the inevitable grumblings and rumblings from teachers. Not because of its contents but rather at government plans to “rationalise” the number of positions available. The unions of course are claiming that it will lead to an increased workload for teachers and a deterioration of educational standards.

Critics maintain Sarkozy’s honeymoon period is almost over and that the true test will come in the shape of pension, education and labour reforms expected over the next couple of months. But who will be left to rouse the opposition into action? And with Permatanman already jumping on the country’s hosting of the rugby world cup as yet another vehicle of his own self-promotion campaign, a home would likely boost his popularity.
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