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Saturday, 14 September 2013

Your week in French politics including the Sarkothon and the governmental diesel cock-up

Time, for those who are interested, for a look back at some of the political stories in France from the past week.

And what a start to the week for the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

Happy days again, as it's not longer "Pauvre" (Le Point's pun from earlier this year).

Remember how in July the Conseil Constitutionnel refused to validate the party's spending during Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 presidential campaign?

The decision sent the UMP into a deep financial depression and forced the former president and party bigwigs to launch a campaign for funds - aka the Sarkothon (what else?).

Well the target has been reached. A cool €11 million has been raised in just a couple of months and the party's president, Jean-François Copé couldn't contain his delight at a conference in Le Touquet.

"I'm happy to tell you that today we've achieved our target," a radiant Copé said.

"We're raised the €11 million necessary."

And just in case anyone had missed the news, he turned to Twitter to tweet...uh...exactly the same thing.

Mind you, Copé wasn't the only relieved UMP member to take to Twitter.

Nadine Morano (yes her) was at her tweeting best too.

Phew. We can all sleep soundly now, knowing that there's a real opposition party capable of offering alternative and credible policies to those proposed by the current government.

Er...can't we?

And just to top it all off, came the news that all those who coughed up dosh "for the cause" are going to get a personal thank you...from the overspending man who got the party into the mess in the first place.

Not surprisingly Sarkozy was equally unable to supress his emotions and turned to...where else but Twitter.


Thank goodness for social networking.

Moving swiftly along, and you probably know there'll be local elections here in France next year.

Well, there's apparently something of shift in the political landscape going on in France's second largest city, Marseille.

It might have been in the news for quite different reasons over the past year, but a recent poll (and you have every right to be suspicious of these sorts of things) came up with some chilling political predictions.

The incumbent Jean-Claude Gaudin (UMP), who has been mayor for donkeys years (well since 1998 to be exact), looks set to secure a fourth mandate next year.

But it's what's happening behind him that's of interest

Latest figures show that the far-right Front National (FN) candidate, Stéphane Ravier, could well beat the Socialist party into second place - forcing a three-way second round battle.

Back in 2008 Ravier secured just nine per cent of the vote. Currently he's at around 25 per cent.

There are of course a number of (local) factors to take into account - not least of which is that the Socialist party hasn't yet named its candidate.

It's still dilly-dallying around with a primary for which there are six candidates including government minister Marie-Arlette Carlotti and the outspoken senator Samia "bring the army into Marseille to help out" Ghali.

Maybe future polls will show a reverse trend for the FN once the Socialist party has got its house in order...maybe they won't.

The mouthwatering possibility of a three-way second round fight will, of course, delight the FN's leader, Marine Le Pen.

From a party which builds its foundations on the cult of personality (and some pretty abject beliefs) back to one which is seriously lacking character and backbone.

The Socialist party of course.

Mind you, the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is both senses of the word.

screenshot from Les Guignols de l'info

After his rousing speech to close the party's summer conference a couple of weeks ago (remember his nonsensical gesticulation which looked as though he was trying so hard to put into practice something he had learned in a video training exercise) Ayrault now wants to project the image of a tough guy.


He has seemingly discovered a way to prevent those nasty Americans and Britons from spying on what the government here is up to.

Ayrault has apparently sent a three-page letter to ministers telling them to be careful with what sort of information they share via their smartphones and tablets.

And how do we know this? Well from that very letter, a copy of which the weekly news magazine L'Express managed and  publish.

Hey. France's "allies" don't need high tech programmes to discover what the country's movers and shakers are up to. They can just wait for the French media to publish a story.

Finally, two words for you. "Philippe Martin".


You know, the minister of the environment and the man who was given the job after his predecessor, Delphine Batho, was unceremoniously fired in July.

Poor M. Martin seems to have got himself into a bit of a pickle this week and it's all to do with diesel: not the Italian design company, rather the stuff that many motorists in France still pour into their cars.

In 2012, 72.9% of cars sold in France were diesel.

The Greens (the Socialist party's "partner" in government, although nobody really seems to understand why) have been pointing out for some time the health and environmental risks attached to diesel fuel and had (they thought) secured a firm commitment that there would be an increase in the price at the pump.

Since the mid-sixties successive governments have kept the price of diesel down by levying a far lower tax.

The tradition apparently began as a way "to foster economic activity, knowing that at the time diesel was the only fuel used by farmers, road haulage companies and business in general."

A diesel dilemma of sorts - and one you can trust this government to tackle with its usual clarity.
Enter M. Martin.

First up he informed a press conference that in the 2014 budget, ""there would be no provision relating specifically to what might be called the fiscal convergence of diesel and regular unleaded petrol."

A government colleague, Alain Vidalies - the junior minister in charge of relations with the parliament - interpreted that as meaning what everyone else had understood, namely that the idea had been shelved. And he said as much in an interview.

With the Greens frothing and furious at the apparent "betrayal", the environment minister was then forced to back pedal with an explanation which...well...shed little light on what had been or hadn't been decided.

"I'm not saying that the door has been closed on whether there will be an increase in the price of diesel," he said.

"I do not know and I can not say."

Bravo M Martin. That just about sums it up doesn't it?

Bon week-end.

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