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Saturday, 28 September 2013

Your week in French politics - from a wannabe gun-toting UMP senator to Roma-bashing Manuel Valls

This week's look back at what has been happening in the marvellous world of French politics begins with a little light relief...um...of sorts.

It was supposedly a "slip of the tongue" (or was it?) provided by the  youngest member of the French parliament, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

The 23-year-old far-right Front National députée who in true "Dynasty"  - click on the link if you're already in need of a musical interlude - fashion (she's the granddaughter of Jean-Marie and niece of Marine) looks set for a long political career, was one of the guests invited to debate on France 2's "Mots croisés".

In wanting to respond to the claims by a fellow guest, a Socialist party (PS) member of the Senate André Vallini that (don't laugh) the idea of a "naïve Left reliant on a culture of excuses was over", Maréchal-Le Pen showed her youth - and perhaps her past television viewing habits.

Rather than suggesting Vallini was using the much-employed and beloved "Méthode Coué" (autosuggestion), Maréchal-Le Pen gaffed and referred to a former television "comedy/entertainment" programme "La Méthode Cauet".

Ah well. Youth.



Maybe Maréchal-Le Pen needs to take a lesson or two in the art of communication from Eric Doligé, a senator for the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

Never heard of him? Never mind. Outside of the département of Loiret, for which he is senator, not many have probably.

Doligé clearly belongs to the traditional school of French politics which believes holding several elected offices at the same time is...well, perfectly acceptable.

He's a Conseiller général to the Canton de Meung-sur-Loire (where he just happened to be mayor from 1983 until 2011). It's a position he has held since 1985. He's also president of the Conseil général du Loiret (since 1994) and a senator of course. Somewhere along the way, he also manages to be a Chef d'entreprise. Talented man.

Anyway, the 70-year-old professional collector of political positions has had enough of the current lot in government. And he said as much in the most eloquent fashion as UMP parliamentarians from both houses got together for a pow-wow on Tuesday.

"I have to say that I have a killer instinct right now. I'm like most people, I cannot stand Hollande and his band," he said as he outlined how he thought government ministers were destroying the areas for which they had responsibility.

"Rather than shooting at each other, we should be taking aim at those running the country and I have a list of 40 I would like to shoot...they're all in the government."

Just to add to the "fun" a fellow UMP senator and another collector of political positions, Jean-Claude Gaudin (the current mayor of Marseille and seeking a fourth term in next year's municipal elections) chipped in with, "I can provide the Kalashnikovs!"

Such a sense of humour these gentlemen from the UMP.

Moving swiftly along and there was no getting away from (when is there ever?) the interior minister Manuel Valls this week.

First up he was laying in to Maréchal-Le Pen's aunt and leader of the FN, Marine Le Pen, saying that her "level of geopolitical analysis was zero".

That was his direct (and probably not unfounded) response to her comments that Bashar al-Assad was the "least worst option" for Syria and that France had become nothing more than "a harlot" with a government "supporting Islamic fundamentalism".

More tough talk from Valls a couple of days later when he appeared to go into FN mode as he followed in the footsteps of his two immediate predecessors at the interior ministry, Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, by displaying less-than brotherly love for (certain) foreigners in France.

Yes, he was on his favourite Roma-bashing bandwagon, saying that "very few of them would ever be able to integrate into French society" and that he would continue with the policy of dismantling their camps and expelling them.

With the European Commission (Romania and Bulgaria - the countries to which Valls wants to "send back" the Roma are both due to enter the European Union's Schengen area of borderless travel next year, although the decision could be delayed yet again) human rights groups and some within the PS and the Greens looking on in horror, it was left to the government's spokesperson, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, to come up with an official reaction to Valls' comments.

And she did herself proud, saying Valls had the government's backing because its policy on the matter was to act with "firmness and humanity."

OK. That's all right then. Looks as though the Socialist party is determined to redefine "humanity".

As for the country's president, François Hollande. Well he began the week in New York.

François Hollande with Hassan Rohani (screenshot M6 news) and on CNN (screenshot from CNN video)

While he didn't really say anything he hadn't already said before, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Hollande did find time to meet and greet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

Hey there was even that significant "smile for the camera" moment as the two men posed and shook hands.

While in New York, Hollande couldn't pass up the opportunity of an interview with CNN's redoubtable Christiane Amanpour.

Yes it was pre-arranged and yes, it gave Hollande the rare opportunity to say nothing new once again.  But it also allowed to show his command of English by answering questions in French.

And here's the thing. Hollande's replies were dubbed into English by...a woman.

What a strange editorial decision.



And finally "music" - although strictly speaking you could question that - from France's former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

She was among a host of French singers invited to perform during a concert on Wednesday to raise funds for research into Alzheimer's.

But just moments after Bruni struck the first chords of her 2003 hit "Quelqu'un m'a dit" she had a momentary power failure as she forgot the words.

Maybe it was down to the bum notes in the opening sequence or, as she said, "that she was moved".

Still, she gave it a second bash and was soon strumming away, her husky voice no doubt delighting those present.

Enjoy the clip of the moment and your weekend.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A prime ministerial week in French politics - present, past and...er...future?

Bienvenue! to another look back at a week in French politics and as you can see from the title, the focus this time around is on prime ministers.

Before plunging head first into the "news" though, a few words on the position itself.

It's an odd sort of role in France because it's the president who gets to appoint (and sack) the person he thinks is the best man (or on one occasion, woman) for the job.

He (or she) has to come from the majority party in parliament . That's why there have been three periods of so-called "cohabitation" since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958 when the prime minister and president have come from different parties.

But the position doesn't have to go to the leader of the majority party.

Had that been the case after the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, François Hollande would have chosen Martine Aubry to be prime minister.

Perish the thought!

In fact, rare though it might be, the job doesn't even have to be given to an elected representative.

During his second term as president, for example, Jacques Chirac appointed career diplomat Dominique de Villepin as prime minister for two years.

Sometimes viewed as playing second fiddle to the president, the holder of the office of prime minister is (quoting from the constitution here) charged with "directing the actions of the government, being responsible for national defence and ensuring the implementation of legislation."

And oh yes, if you happen to be Jean-Marc Ayrault, practising the art of the Coué method.

Which brings us nicely to the end of the potted (with cavernous gaps admittedly) overview and allows us to get cracking with the news.

Where better to start (although you could probably think of one) than with Ayrault himself.

In an interview with the regional daily Presse-Océan - which just happens to cover the city of Nantes, where he was mayor for 23 years (ah, can't you just hear the echoes of Arnaud Montebourg's cutting comment that Ayrault "ran the country as though it were a local council"?) the prime minister was in...well...almost "Spice Boy" mode.

Yes, he seemed to have taken a little too literally the lyrics of Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty's 1997 hit "Spice up your life" with an "all you need is positivity" approach.

"There are positive signs that the economy is recovering," he told the paper.

"And we must do everything we can to encourage it because our priority has to be employment."

Oh change the record M. Ayrault.

Speaking of which, do you fancy some music?

No?

Tough.



Ah. That's better. Don't you all feel full of "positivity" now?

Well you'll need to if you're going to understand what's happening with the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

It managed to spend the first part of the week tying itself into knots over which political direction it would or wouldn't take rather than fulfilling its role as a credible opposition.


François Fillon (screenshot BFM TV report)

And it was all down to François Fillon, Ayrault's predecessor at the Matignon.

He dropped a bit of a bombshell at the weekend saying that in next year's municipal elections, UMP supporters should vote for the "least sectarian" candidate in the second round if the party's candidate didn't make it through and it came to a straight run-off between the far-right Front National and the Socialist party.

Yikes!

What the heck was he saying?

Break with the party's policy of urging supporters to vote for neither or was he actually shifting his position?

Nobody really seemed to know and the party went into headless chicken mode as its leaders assembled to clarify policy - all agreeing that the "neither nor" strategy was the one to be followed.

Fillon even appeared in front of the cameras afterwards to repeat that he had "always been against an alliance of any sort with the FN and it had been something he had fought against all his political life" and "he had no intention of changing his position."


Fillon: "j'ai toujours combattu les alliances... par BFMTV

So. What was he up to?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the grass roots support there is among UMP party  members for some of the FN's policies.

As revealed in a poll at the beginning of the week, over 70 per cent "agreed" with what Fillon had apparently said and were in favour of the FN being considered as a "normal" party.

Also, let's not forget that Fillon is campaigning to be his party's candidate in the 2017 presidential election.

By creating a "buzz", he had not only proven himself a little less colourless than some might have thought, but had made life a little more difficult for the party's leader, Jean-François Copé.

Yes, Fillon looks set to continue with his operation "Stir everything up" for the next...three years.

Wonderful!

So that's present and past dealt with. What about the future?

Well, there was bad news of sorts for the man tipped by many (including himself) to be a future prime minister (president and master of the universe), Manuel Valls.

The interior minister is no longer the country's favourite politician.

In the monthly (yes, these things really are produced that frequently) poll Ipsos conducts for Le Point on political popularity (rather like a hit parade but without the moo-sick) Alain Juppé (a past, past prime minister among many other things) ranked Number One with a song taken from his most recent album "I'm really the man who should be president but I prefer sitting on the sidelines and appearing all statesman-like".

Valls meanwhile, who had been Top of the Pops since October 2012, slipped a place without blowing so much as a gasket.

Now, if, for some peculiar reason, you would like to follow the progression (or otherwise) of your (least) favourite French politician from month to month, you can check out the baromètre de l'action politique Ipsos / Le Point here.

And finally - because it's just too difficult to resist - François Hollande's interview on TF1 with Claire Chazal...as interpreted by those folk over at Les Guignols de l'Info over at Canal +.

screenshot from Les Guignols video

Take the recent chart-topping hit single (yes music has been rather a laboured leitmotif during this piece) "Papaoutai" (Friday's French music break a couple of weeks ago) from Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae, fiddle with the lyrics and put them in the mouth of Hollande's puppet et...voilà "Emploioutai"

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo


And that seems a suitable point at which to wish you a great weekend.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Friday's French music break - Cats on trees, "Sirens call"

Following previous Friday's French music breaks which featured songs from the likes of Yucca Velux and As Animals, this week's choice comes from another group with an improbable name singing in English.

It's Cats on trees with the song "Sirens call"

The duo of Nina Goern (piano and vocals) and Yohan Hennequin (percussion) are far from being an overnight sensation.

The pair, who both come from Toulouse, have been together since 2007, building up a loyal following over the years, releasing an EP and working on songs for their debut self-titled album - "Cats on trees" - due for release on October 21.

(screenshot from album cover)

"Sirens call" has been described as a gentle but distinctive "pop ballad with a haunting melody", including shades of Snow Patrol's "Chasing cars" perhaps in the opening bars before Goern's almost "ethereal" voice takes over.

In fact there's something about her voice. It's not the strongest around but it certainly has that delicate and fragile feel to it that suits the group's repertoire (check out their cover Tears for Fears 1982 hit "Mad World")

Maybe their website is a little exaggerated in suggesting that in their "virtuosity and energy" the group has "found the perfect osmosis, the mixture of sounds and rhythms that speak to the body and the soul."

But hey, that's what you would expect from the blurb.

Perhaps an indication of the direction they wish to take can be found in the acts the duo says have been their musical influence: among them are Tori Amos, Bjork and Radiohead.

And then there are the "performance" artists they also like (ones you know will never be mainstream) with sometimes even more preposterous names including Akira and the airbones particles, My own private alaska and Psykup

And that album? Well it isn't bad either.

It's full of alternative pop music, if you like, with 11 original tracks - all sung in English - some more upbeat pop than others but on the whole a pretty mellow sound.

Well worth a listen. You can check out excerpts here.

If you feel like seeing them live, they have a number of dates lined up including one at le Café de la Danse in November. For a full listing, take a look at their website.

For the moment though, here's that single "Sirens calling".


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.



Ah

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 trying...in 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.

Er.

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 to...um...procure 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".

Who?

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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