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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.

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