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Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hortefeux says heavy snowfall in Paris made travel "complicated"

Perhaps France's interior minister Brice Hortefeux was living on a different planet on Wednesday.

Or maybe he just hadn't seen a news report or stuck his nose out of the window.

Because at four o'clock in the afternoon, after snow had been falling in the French capital and its suburbs for a couple of hours, Hortefeux held a press conference.

Or should that be a "I haven't got a clue what I'm talking about but I'm going to say something because it's my job" session?

Using what can surely only be termed as political pussyfooting, and thereby denying any responsibility for the authorities having been ill-prepared, Hortefeux told the assembled hacks that getting in and around Paris and the surrounding region of Ile de France was "complicated" but not a "mess".

Brice Hortefeux "There isn't a mess" during press conference (screenshot TF1 news)

Just a slight error in the minister's description of the situation though as anyone in the French capital at the time could have told him.

It was indeed already a "mess", had been for many for several hours and would continue to be so for the rest of the afternoon, evening and through the night.

Just half an hour before Hortefeux made his statement, flights at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport had been suspended (they resumed a couple of hours later), heavy goods vehicles had been banned from the motorways in Ile de France, and only a handful of buses were running.

The snow was falling thick and fast (11 centimetres in total according to Météo France) and tailbacks were already beginning on each of the major axes in and out of Paris.

As television news reports in the evening showed, many motorists were well and truly stuck and would remain in their cars for most of the night.

Tailbacks measuring in total (a record) 394 kilometres were reported at one point, special reception areas were opened for those who were stranded, and even those who tried getting around on foot were having problems.

Extra police were deployed to help out but still the situation in Paris and its suburbs wasn't a "mess" because the interior minister had said so.

Interviewed later on Europe 1 radio, Hortefeux insisted that he hadn't been trying to deny that there had been problems but simply that the situation had worsened very quickly.

And he was backed up by the environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet who said (and here there's a bit of paraphrasing going on) that even though the region had been put on alert beforehand, the real problem had been the amount of snow that had fallen.

Ergo even though all the evidence at the time pointed to the contrary and Paris was indeed paralysed for several hours, as far as officialdom was concerned the situation was not a "mess".

Reflecting maybe on the reality of the situation, Hortefeux released a press statement on Thursday morning calling on motorists to avoid Paris and its suburbs.

Of course this isn't the first time recently that a government minister has managed to put a rather rose-tinted spin on what is actually happening.

When oil refinery workers went on strike in October, the then environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo urged French motorists to remain calm and reassured them that there was no risk of a fuel shortage.

A statement which unhappily proved to be far removed from what happened.


Anonymous said...

Well for sure he neither drives his car no takes public transport!

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