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Friday, 30 August 2013

Whoopee! Another week in French politics with best buddies, Manuel Valls (again) and Inspecteur Gadget

The political week in France began with the Socialist party holding its annual summer shindig in La Rochelle.

Well strictly speaking it was last weekend, but hey ho. Give a guy a little temporal (as related to time rather than spiritual) break please.

The great and the glorious were there, including the party's new best friends, the interior minister Manuel Valls and the justice minister Christine Taubira.

We know they're now best buddies, in spite of the former recently trying to tell the latter how to do her job properly, because Valls said so, insisting that they were both "working hand in hand to achieve the same thing - a fair and effective policy."

Valls was certainly good value for money.  Up there on the podium, he looked ready to implode (he so often does, don't you think?) as he seethed, spluttered, yelled and sometimes cooed his way through 20 minutes. There's no doubting, he sure can orate.

Valls: "L'immigration doit être régulée et... par BFMTV

Sadly the same could not be said for his immediate boss, the prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who closed the conference on Sunday.

Sure he tried to bring the whole shebang to a conclusion with a speech showing who was in charge (and don't say "nobody") and a warning that, "Personal games could ruin the collective efforts."

But really. Even if he thought anyone was listening and taking note, did he honestly believe they were taking any notice?

A far less apoplectic Valls (yes that man again) popped up on the revamped "Le Grand Journal" on Canal + on Monday evening.

He was the guest of honour as the show's new anchor, Antoine de Caunes, and his team went on the attack.

That photo spread with his wife in Paris Match, his own personal crusading Tour de France over the summer, and the media love-in for a man who clearly knew where the cameras were.

"Wasn't it all a bit too reminiscent of a certain former French president," he was asked.

The interior minister more than held his own - and kept his cool. But it was a little like watching a double of the real thing (Nicolas Sarkozy, just in case you were wondering) in action.

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

The programme would probably have been a good deal more interesting had another guest not been disinvited.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit had also been slated to appear, but the invitation was withdrawn at the last moment because "Valls wanted to be the only one on the programme" according to Cohn-Bendit who is now a political commentator on Europe 1 radio.

"It's not important. In fact it's rather amusing really," he said. "But it's symptomatic of what I call a 'presidential virus' in which he (Valls) is trying to project a presidential image."

Tous candidats à l’élection présidentielle ! par Europe1fr

Nothing of the sort, according to the show's production team.

It was simply that the same sort of editorial decision had been taken as similar programmes on other channels: namely to concentrate on a debriefing after the conference in La Rochelle.

Ho hum. We believe you.

Back to Ayrault for a moment, and the prime minister finally unveiled the government's proposals for pension reform...or non-reform as the "reformettes" have also been described.

Although it's an important subject, pensions can also appear terribly tedious stuff and successive French governments have shown a talent for regularly tinkering with a complex system and making it even more incomprehensible.

The current government is no exception.

But just in case you want to try to understand what is being proposed, here's a link to a piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Finally, the French president, François Hollande, came out of his hidey hole this week to deliver an impassioned speech on the situation in Syria.

"France is ready to punish (ooh puhleeze, who the heck was his speechwriter?) those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents," he told an annual meeting in Paris of French ambassadors from around the world, undoubtedly striking fear into the very heart of Bashar al-Assad's regime.

And while Hollande waits for other international leaders to decide what, if any, action should be taken, the weekly news magazine Le Point was once again poking fun at him with a very telling front cover of its latest edition.

It features a head and shoulder shot of a half-smiling Hollande, left hand held aloft and the gloriously appropriate headline "Inspecteur Gadget"...described by that online bible of all that is true and factual, Wikipedia, as "a clumsy, dim-witted cyborg detective".

Gadget, that is. Not Hollande.

Or there again.

That's all for this week folks.

Have a great weekend.

screenshot front cover Le Point

Friday's French music break - Yucca Velux, "Love"

Friday's French music break this week is a real treat. It's the title track from the EP "Love" from the eccentrically (well there's really no other word for it) named Yucca Velux, a four-piece "symphonic pop" group with an extraordinarily and delightfully different sound.
Yucca Velux (screenshot from Europe 1 radio)

That's mainly down to lead singer Mélo's voice which even manages to make bum, almost flat, notes sound simply delicious.

"Love" is the group's first release since they won Europe 1 radio's "Jeunes talents" early on in the year.

Sung in English, it's a sort of tongue-in-cheek girl-power recipe on how to catch and retain your man.

Clever lyrics which occasionally sit uncomfortably with the melody so that the whole structure of the song sounds somewhat contrived.

But hey, any "love" song which includes the words "quiver" and "qualm" has to be worth a listen.

And it most definitely is, coming across as a sophisticated, classy sound with an almost symphonic-like ending reminiscent of ELO or even the Beatles?

So, sit back - with a glass of red wine as suggested in the lyrics - and let it pour over you.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Another week in French politics with la rentrée, crystal balls and, of course, Manuel Valls

Government ministers returned to work this week refreshed from their short break and intent on cracking on with the business of running the 2025.

They all sat down and decided to cope with the problems currently facing France by gazing into their collective crystal ball to predict the rosiest of futures with "full employment, plenty of cheap housing, a new Industrial Revolution and Police 3.0."

Do what?

Yes apparently "anyone who wants a job will be able to get one," according to the finance minister Pierre Moscovici. And the country will have "regained its fiscal sovereignty."

Oh yes. And France will be officially renamed "Cloud Cuckoo Land".

Eat your heart out, Émile Coué!

Back to reality though and the week started off with a wannabe prime minister, Claude Bartolone, and a wannabe president Arnaud Montebourg (presumably one of the architects of that 2025 Industrial Revolution) holding hands (metaphorically speaking, you understand) unified for la Fête de la Rose de Frangy-en-Bresse.

It was all very casual. A no-tie, open-collar, friendly (well, as close as it gets in politics) sort of affair to show how 'unified" they both were; the president of the National Assembly and
the minister of industrial renewal.

Smile for the camera guys!

Over at the centre-right UMP (renamed until further notice Union pour un mouvement pauvre), another wannabe leader was staking his claim.

Laurent Wauquiez his own footsteps (or the tradition of the former Socialist president François Mitterrand who used to make an annual ascent of the roche de Solutré) by taking his once-a-year hike up mont Mézenc.

What is it with politicians and hills?

Surrounded by his personal fan club from the like-minded "droite sociale",  Wauquiez was apparently showing what a free-thinking, independent kind of politician he was...well at least until it becomes necessary to foster alliances with the forces of darkness from another part of the UMP.

Meanwhile yet another wannabe - prime minister, president and master of the universe - and darling of the right, the interior minister Manuel Valls, "shocked" some in his own (Socialist - and you might need to be reminded of that now and then) party with statements that seemed...well, a little off message.

France faces two major challenges in ensuring how people here can all live together happily, according to the interior minister.

Number One - the birth rate among those of African origin in France would "force a rethink of our immigration policy and the issue of family reunification would have to be reviewed."

And Number Two - to show that "Islam was compatible with democracy."


"Non, mais allô quoi?" to quote one of the great French thinkers of our time.

Weren't those exactly the sort of remarks Jean-Luc Mélenchon had been talking about during his interview with le Journal du Dimanche when he said, "Valls had been contaminated by the (thinking of the far-right) Front National"?

All right, so as the self-appointed leader (or at least one of them) of one of France's far-left parties, Mélenchon might get a heck of a kick out of putting the proverbial boot into his former Socialist party colleagues, but he has a point, hasn't he?

While on the subject of Valls - after all there was, and is, no getting away from him - the interior minister was quick to react to the latest deaths in Marseille, a city that has "long grappled with high crime rates that have increasingly become more violent over the years."

It was during Valls' appearance on BFM TV on Tuesday morning to explain what approach the government would be taking in Marseille, that"real" prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, got wind that the "wannabe" one (Valls) would be heading off to the southern French city to "sort things out" (paraphrasing).

Manuel Valls (screenshot BFMTV August 20, 2013)

Ayrault, always a man of action, reacted promptly, putting Valls firmly in his place and swooping on Marseille himself surrounded by five - yes count them - ministers: Valls (that'll learn yer sonny), Christine Taubira (justice), Marisol Touraine (social affairs), Cécile Duflot (housing) and Marie-Arlette Carlotti (junior minister for the disabled and from Marseille herself).

And just to show how much in charge he was, Ayrault annouced exactly what Valls had been planning to say - measures to beef up of the police presence in the city.

Way to go, M Ayrault!

Finally - skipping over the first cabinet meeting and the proposed reform of the status of the auto-entrepreneur, the handling of which seems to epitomise the government's clarity and coherence on the subject, no political rentrée would be complete without yet another failed attempt at a comeback by the country's first lady of politics.

In her capacity as president of the region Poitou-Charentes, Ségolène Royal had planned a get-together lunch and a press conference for other Socialist party regional presidents as a "prelude" to the traditional annual meeting of party activists the last weekend of August in the town of La Rochelle.

Only it has been cancelled  because of lack of interest or, as Royal tweeted, "postponed by several days to prepare for the September 11 meeting at the Matignon (the prime minister's official residence)."

La Rochelle, you might remember, was the scene of Royal's ignominious defeat to fellow party member Olivier Falorni in last year's parliamentary elections.

And that, dear reader, is a round up of some of this week's political stories making the news here in France.

Bon week-end.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

French sports minister Valérie Fourneyron's latest sporting gaffe

The French sports minister, Valérie Fourneyron, has proven herself once again to be a true expert in her governmental portfolio.

Valérie Fourneyron (screenshot Public Sénat TV)
 Now you would think she might have learned her lesson from her Olympic gaffe last year.

Remember how Fourneyron appeared on (French) television during the games in London to outline the vast range of events from which there were to choose as she "entertained" this country's president, François Hollande, during his visit?

So "on the ball" (to use an inappropriate sporting chliché) was Fourneyron that she managed to muddle fencer Laura Flessel-Colovic's discipline...deciding she could best be seen on the tatami.

An easy mistake to make as Flessel-Colovic had previously only won five Olympic and 12 World Championship medals and, in London, was France's official flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

Well, the woman with a background in sports medicine, and therefore clearly with her finger on the proverbial pulse of her governmental portfolio, chose at the weekend "to boldly go" (let's split the infinitive in time-honoured Star Trek tradition) where no right-thinking minister should choose to go - Twitter.

Yes, Fourneyron plumped for social networking to congratulate France's only gold medallist at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, triple jumper Teddy Tamgho.

The only problem was that emotions clearly got the better of the minister as she tweeted her excitement.

"Thierry Tamgho won the first gold medal at the Athletics World Championships," she tweeted.

"A breathtaking performance."

Teddy Tamgho, World Championship triple jump gold medallist, Moscow 2013 (screenshot France Télevisions)

Er "Non, mais allô quoi" to quote that great French ("celebrity") commentator of our times, Nabilla Benattia.

Thierry Tamgho?

Who's that then, Teddy's twin brother.

Teddy Tamgho, World Championship triple jump gold medallist, Moscow 2013 (screenshot France Télevisions)
Fourneyron realised her clavis...but not in time to prevent a flurry of Tweets poking fun at her mistake.

Now what gems could Fourneyron have in store for us next year should France qualify for the World Cup (soccer this time) in Brazil? That's if she's still in the post of course.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

A week in French politics: hard hats and handbags at dawn

They might be on holiday, but there's no getting away from the men and women (politicians) who run  France (or would like to us to think that's what they're doing).

And for your edification, dear reader, here is this week's subjective top choices from the wonderful world of French politics.

If you've been watching the (French) news this week on the telly or listening to it on the radio then, among a domestic schedule dominated by the weather, travel conditions and places to visit, you might have heard about "pénibilité du travail".

Don't yawn (as someone did when I hinted I might be tackling the subject). After all, for those who live and work in France, pensions, of which pénibilité is a part (according to the current government) are a matter of future concern.

"Pénibilité" is a word French politicians love using to define those jobs that at one time were considered particularly arduous.

And even though in some cases working conditions may have changed (where are the men shovelling coal on the steam locomotives?) the special retirement provisions to those working in sectors still defined as "pénible" remain as an untouchable in the country's complex pensions system

Anyway the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, fresh from his seven-day break, has been doing his bit for the country this week.

He has been continuing the PR exercise begun by François Hollande who stepped out of the limelight following his week-long whistle stop Tour de France passing the mantle to his prime minister.

And just to prove he was more than up to the job, Ayrault even donned a hard hat and Gaultier-inspired (you wish) uniform as he dragged social affairs minister Marisol Touraine and employment minister Michel Sapin along for an early Tuesday morning photo-op at the building site for a new tramway in the département of Yvelines.

Don't they all look so happy?

Eat your heart out Jean-Paul Gaultier, here come the government Hard Hats
Michel Sapin (left), Jean-Marc Ayrault (centre) and Marisol Touraine
(screenshot France Télévisions)

Top of the agenda during what had been billed as Ayrault's week, was meant to be (until a political flexing of muscles between two  government ministers pushed it off the front page - more on that in a moment) "pénibilité du travail" with the prime minister insisting that it has never really been addressed in previous (and there have been many) pension reforms.

It's all still in the "being mulled over stage", but the idea of how some sort of points system awarded to those working in jobs considered "pénible" would translate into pension rights put it simply, not.

Simple that is.

In fact the very concept is probably enough to make even the bravest economist break down in tears of frustration.

But it's something being considered (with just about any and everything else you can imagine) as the government tries to put together a pension reform plan (yes, another one) which it hopes will please everyone but you kind of already know will just end up making a confused situation even more bewildering.

One to watch - perhaps.

Another one to watch is the eventual outcome of the "handbags at dawn" moment between two of the government's big hitters - the interior minister Manuel Valls and the justice minister Christine Taubira.

The opening shots were fired in what the media (and the opposition probably) is hoping will be a "declared war" when Le Monde published details of a "private" letter sent by Valls to Hollande telling him how Taubira should be doing her job (paraphrasing here).

Hollande, not a happy bunny to see two of his top ministers disagreeing so publicly, kept his head down (after all he was supposed to be on his hols) and let Ayrault handle the situation...which he duly did in his own inimitable doing nothing.

Finally - and just to show how "pénible" (aren't you impressed at how rounded this piece is turning out to be?) a French politician's job can be, a little light relief.

It has to be said though, that "comedy" was probably not on the mind of the centre-right l'Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) parliamentarian, Henri Guaino, when he came up with his classic complaint at the beginning of the week.

Guaino, the speechwriter and special advisor to the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been a member of parliament for all of five minutes...

Oh all right then since June 2012.

The poor man obviously thinks he (and other members of the National Assembly) need better treatment - not for when they're retired mind you, but right now.

Parliamentarians are "very poorly paid," he said in an interview with a weekly magazine. "We work in deplorable conditions."

Add as many exclamation marks as you like to both of those preposterous statements.

Oh dear, oh dear. Guaino is obviously struggling on the €5, 148 net a month complemented by monthly expenses of up to €5,770 brut and then up to another €9,000 per month to recruit staff (their spouses?), pay for offices and a whole host of other goodies listed on the National Assembly's official site.

Anybody feel like starting a whip round for Guaino and co?


Oh well.

Continued Happy hols and roll on the parliamentary rentrée (although we have each of the main parties summer conferences to look forward to next...that's if the heavily indebted UMP - cheekily and cleverly dubbed Union pour un mouvement pauvre by the weekly news magazine Le Point) can afford one.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

France 2 prime time news hits five-month ratings high

France 2 can give itself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Its prime time news is once again flying high (so to speak) in the television ratings (handbags at dawn scenario).

Helpfully for those in France who might have a tendency to forget certain things or find televison schedules confusing, both TF1 - the country's main private channel - and France 2 (public TV)  broadcast their flagship news at exactly the same time every evening - 8 pm.

Right now there are stand-ins for the regular weekday anchors who are taking a well-deserved summer break.

Julien Arnaud is filling in for Gilles Bouleau on TF1 while over at France 2 another Julian - but this time with an "a" as in Bugier - is keeping the chair warm for the regular host David Pujadas.

And Bugier seems to be doing a great job because France 2 news has just achieved a "record rating" (or at least the highest since March 2013) with 4.4 million viewers tuning in for Monday evening's edition.

Part of the reason probably is the "show" immediately preceding the news.

France 2 has the rights to the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, and Monday evening was one of the highlights (for the French) with the country's Olympic champion pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie going for gold.

To the disappointment of those watching and the suitably OTT and annoying commentator Patrick Montel, Lavillenie only managed silver.

But the other most likely reason for the upswing in ratings is Bugier himself.

The 32-year-old is personable, professional these things clearly matter in a visual medium - has a face definitely made for television.

Julian Bugier - he looks good even in blurred screenshots (from France 2)

Bugier, you might remember, was the anchor who put journalist Robert Ménard firmly in his place about his opinions on the death penalty during an exchange when both men were working for i>Télé back in 2010.

He joined France 2 in July 2011, firstly as the stand-in (or "joker") for the weekend anchor  Laurent Delahousse when he was away, and then two months exchanging roles with Marie Drucker to become the replacement for Pujadas when the regular anchor was on leave.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Welcome to Geneva - Switzerland's capital, according to TF1

It would seem that France's main private television channel, TF1, has decided to follow a lead set by the country's president, François Hollande, in showing just how geographically challenged it can be at times.

Remember Hollande's gaffe back in June while on a trip to Japan when he mistakenly expressed his condolences to the Chinese rather than the Japanese for those killed during a hostage crisis in Algeria in January?

Well, TF1 decided to go closer to home for its foot-in-mouth blooper.

It came during a recent pre-recorded (and therefore perfectly editable) lunchtime news report as part of a delightful series "La France à bicyclette".

It took viewers on a trip around Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva if you like, because it's one and the same thing) from Lausanne to...Lausanne. A round trip.

Gorgeous scenery - both on the Swiss and French sides - although guess where the traffic was a little more difficult?

Cyclists take to the streets of the "Swiss capital Geneva" (screenshot from TF1 report)

Breaks for meals and meet-ups with other halves - enjoying the countryside and a leisurely lunch before setting off again to the encounter the liveliness.....of the capital, Geneva!

Listen at two minutes and three seconds.

Now, it might be all right for far flung countries and their broadcasters to get things wrong geographically speaking - and CNN certainly has in the past and will probably also do in the future

But how can a French reporter get his (in this case) information so obviously wrong about a country with which it shares a border and to some extent a culture?

Easily probably, especially if there's nobody around to take a listen to the piece before it's broadcast.

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