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Monday, 31 March 2014

French is the language of the future - really?

This sounds (or rather, reads) like an April Fool but it's apparently completely kosher.

The language of the future is...er...French.


Well, that's one way of interpreting a recent study carried out by the French (what else)  investment bank Natixis which indicates that there will be more people in the world speaking French in the year 2050 than any other language.

Ahead of Mandarin or English?

Cue that great French thinker of our time, TV reality "star" Nabilla Benattia (who, you'll doubtless be happy to know, has had her Wikipedia entry reinstated), "Allô ! Non, mais allô quoi!"

Apparently the Nataxis report predicts there'll be 750 million French speakers worldwide because that's the language spoken in countries with some of the fastest-growing populations - particularly sub-Saharan Africa.

A bit of a stretch for Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing in the business magazine Forbes, who questions the study's methodology because "it counts as French-speakers all the inhabitants of countries where French is an official language, which probably won’t be the case."

At the same time though, he concedes that "French is still a fast-growing, global language" and "will continue to be present on all continents by 2050."

Time to break out your "Bescherelle" and "Le Petit Robert"?

Friday, 21 March 2014

Friday's French music break - Ibrahim Maalouf, "True sorry"



You don't need to be able to speak a word of French to be able to understand this week's Friday's French music break.

No, it's not another one of those groups with a somewhat ludicrous name singing in English.

In fact there are no lyrics at all - because "True sorry" is just a wonderful instrumental brought to you by Ibrahim Maalouf.


Ibrahim Maalouf (screenshot from Les Victoires de la musique)

It's a track taken from his most recent album, "Illusions" which earned Maalouf the "World music album of the year" award at the Victoires de la musique (the French equivalent of the Grammys) in February.

Born in Beirut into a family of musicians (his father Nassim is a trumpeter and his mother Nada, a pianist) Maalouf moved to Paris during the Lebanese civil war.

The 33-year-old is described  as "a pioneering figure in the world of contemporary jazz, blending the genre with pop, soul, electro, hip-hop, French songs and his own Lebanese roots" and he has the international awards to prove it.

He has worked with international artists such as Sting, Amadou et Mariam and Vanessa Paradis, composed music for the cinema, collaborated with symphony and chamber orchestras, created his own label to produce his albums and other projects and artists, and, and, and.

In fact you can read Maalouf on his official site, here.

Maalouf is currently taking his "Illusions" tour around France with concerts also scheduled in Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Morocco.

http://www.ibrahimmaalouf.com/concerts/

Olympia in Paris already full  but extra dates have been added in the capital when he plays at La Cigalle in October.

He'll also be appearing at a number of jazz festivals,

For those of you who might adhere to Joey "The Lips" Fagan's description, in the 1991 film adaptation of Roddy Doyle's "The Commitments" that "jazz is musical masturbation (he actually used a more vulgar term in the film)" Maalouf might well make you think again.

While for jazz aficionados, Maalouf will most certainly be a welcome addition to your collection of he isn't already.

Anyway, enough words.

Pin back those lugholes and listen to what Maalouf does best.

"True sorry" is four minutes of pure magic.

And because you can never really get enough of a good thing, three different versions.

First up that performance from Les Victoires de la musique, followed by a (perhaps more refined) duo trumpet-guitar interpretation from a recent appearance on Anne-Sophie Lapix's "C à vous" on France 5  and finally the studio recording.







Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Celebrity candidates in the French local elections

No, it's not a newly-invented television programme along the lines of  "Celebrity Squares", the British comedy game show based on the original US "Hollywood Squares".

Instead it's a look at some of those French "celebrities" who've taken the plunge and decided to stand in the country's local elections.

And with more than 900,000 declared candidates fighting it out for places on one of the 36,552 councils up and down the country and the 128 overseas, it's perhaps not surprising that a few "famous faces" have decided to jump on the political bandwagon.

Perhaps the best-known one is the popular TV game show host Vincent Lagaf'.

The 54-year-old presenter of such delights as "Bigdil" ("Let's make a deal" in the United States) and most recently  "Le Juste Prix" ("The price is right") has taken time out from his day job to campaign in his home town of Cavalaire-sur-Mer in the département of Var.

Lagaf' (under his real name Vincent Rouil) occupies last place on Philippe Leonelli's 29-strong list so stands no chance of being elected, but that hasn't stopped the TF1 showman from throwing himself into "the cause" of increasing the profile of the town.

"It's by no means a political reconversion," he said.

"It's just that I would like to suggest ideas for activities and events - my area of expertise."

Vincent Lagaf' (source Wikipedia, author - M.Mopie)

Mathieu Johann is a name some of you might (???) remember if you were glued to your boxes watching the fourth series of the TV talent show "Star academy" back in 2004.

Since then, he has carved out a moderately successful music career (not taking into account the one album he hs released) by opening a couple of café-concert bars in his native town of Saint-Lô in the département of La Manche.

And that's where the 33-year-old has decided to stand, announcing to his "fans" on Facebook that he would be appearing on the list headed by François Brière.

Johann is third on the list - so stands a pretty good chance of being elected - but maybe it would help if he pointed out to people that he appears under his real name of Mathieu Lepresle.

Moving swiftly along, and another singer - this time one who can claim real success - has also taken the decision to stand in the town in which he was born.

It's Grégoire (surname Boissenot) of "Toi + Moi" fame (you surely remember his first hit in 2008) and a string of singles since including last year's  pretty awful  ""Si tu me voyais" from his third album which was kindly "chosen" for your "delectation" as a Friday's French music break.


Have no fears though, Boissenot isn't planning to give up his music career. The 34-year-old is just "lending his support" to the current mayor of Senlis in the département of Oise, Pascale Loiseleur, on whose list the singer is 28th out of 33 candidates.

Grégoire (screenshot from the official video for "Si tu me voyais")


Another candidate who took his first tentative steps in the world of music (the first season of X Factor) before moving on to modelling and now politics, is Bruno Clavet.

The 24-year-old has decided to throw in his lot with the far-right Front National (FN) and is the party's candidate in the race to be mayor of the IIIème arrondissement in Paris.

When he announced his candidacy and published a photo of himself with the party's founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen on Twitter, Internet users had a field day, reworking some of Clavet's former modelling photo's into fake campaign posters.


Bruno Clavet, spoof campaign poster (source Twitter)

"When I first approached Jean-Marie Le Pen, I was a little unsure as to how he would react," said Clavet, who now describes himself as a "student in strategy and public affairs"

"But he was 100 per cent behind me and happy that young people wanted to become involved in politics."



Municipales à Paris: quand un candidat FN... par leparisien


From the realms of TV reality (well, you know it had to happen) comes Cindy Lopes - a former contestant on that intellectually challenging show "Secret Story".

The self-proclaimed "grande gueule" is to bring all her charm and diplomacy to Guy Juin's list in the town of Villeneuve-le-Roi in the suburbs of Paris, where she has been living for almost three years.

Fourth on a list of 33 candidates, Lopes says that, "Being a big mouth is very popular in politics. I am well respected in this town and I have also great respect for people."

Should she be elected, Lopes says she'll still have plenty of time to continue making television appearances (in delightful programmes such as "Les Anges de la téléréalité"  presumably, in which former reality contestants try out for new careers in...oh, you Google it) because "politics won't be a full time occupation."

Now there's a great campaign slogan.

Finally, Alexandre Piel was supposed to have lent his considerable bulk to Laurent Bonnaterre's list in the town of  Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf in the département of Seine-Maritime.

In fact there was a great deal of media interest when Piel, who was crowned one of the Mister Universe winners in Hamburg last year, announced in January that he would be standing on the Socialist party's list.

But it all went a little pear-shaped for the 39-year-old a few days later when he was taken into custody for questioning.

While that might be an ideal launching pad for political life at a national level, neither sex nor financial impropriety was the reason for Piel being questioned.

Rather it was the suspicion of doping after police intercepted a package from Thailand addressed to Piel that contained anabolic steroids.

Bonnaterre issued a statement saying he had spoken to Piel and the bodybuilder had "presented his apologies as well as his intention to withdraw himself from the list."

Monday, 17 March 2014

French local elections - for two candidates, Henriette Frantz and Elise Machado, age makes no difference

Recently nonagenarians Arthur Richier and Roger Sénié decided to call it a day - politically speaking.

At 92 and 93 years of age respectively and after more than 60 years each in the job, both men thought better of standing yet again to be mayor of their villages.

But they are (almost) mere babes (all right, let's not exaggerate) compared to Henriette Frantz.

She has decided to put herself forward as a candidate in this year's local elections...at the age of 100.

The former headmistress occupies the last but one position on Yves Crubellier's list for the far-right Front National (FN) in the town of Saint-Genis-Laval (population just over 20,000) not far from the city of Lyon.

"I've always been to the right of the political spectrum," she said. "But at the same time I'm not really that politicised," added the woman who also stood at the last local elections for the FN back in 2008.

"I’m really happy to be a candidate because I think I can make a difference. The future isn't bright and I long for a serenity that no longer exists," she continued.

"Marine (Le Pen) is good, but she does not have the same stature as her father (Jean-Marie)," she said, admitting that the founder of the FN had made some errors in the past, but they had "to be excused".

Frantz isn't the oldest candidate seeking election though. That honour goes to a 103-year-old woman in Marseille, according to official statistics published by the interior ministry.

Henriette Frantz and Elise Machado candidates in the French local elections (collage of screenshots from France TV info)

Meanwhile at the other end of the age scale is Elise Machado who'll be standing as a candidate in the village of Le Mémont (population 41) in the département of Doubs in eastern France.

At just 17 years old, Machado is the youngest candidate in this year's local elections, beating the minimum age limit of 18 required to be eligible to stand because...well, her 18th birthday falls on March 22, the day before the first round of voting.

Machado says the decision to stand "represents the first steps in her adult life."

"It doesn't necessarily mean I'm interested in politics which sometimes appears a little 'fuzzy' (sounds as though she's pretty clued up already)," she said.

"What interests me most is to give my opinion on what happens in the village in which I've lived since I was born."

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Let's play odds and evens - the French government's answer to dealing with high pollution levels in Paris


There's nothing like dealing with a problem when it occurs.

Just ask the French environment minister Philippe Martin.

Philippe Martin (screenshot TF1 news)

Parts of France have been hit by high pollution levels over the past four or five days because of (to put it very simply) the mix of "cold nights and warm days, which have prevented pollution from dispersing".

And what has the environment minister done to deal with the situation?

Well he has waited and watched, announcing that he was "working on sustainable measures to fight against pollution," (yadda, yadda, yadda) and that there would be "an announcement by the summer of a plan to protect the atmosphere of the areas most affected.'

Par for the course really from the man who took over the ministry after his predecessor Delphine Batho was sacked in July 2013, and has faced bad weather conditions with remarkably enterprising resolve coupled with the usual political platitudes

When heavy rain, thunderstorms and hail battered towns in Brittany for weeks on end, Martin was quick to give his expert opinion that "the flooding could be related to climactic disturbances."

Really? Now there's a novel concept.

And during the flooding in Var at the beginning of February, he took to a helicopter to "understand the reasons behind what had happened". How very reassuring.

In fact helicopters and having a look seemed to feature largely in Martin's method of helping out flood victims.

Anyway, back to the high pollution levels. Finally the government has taken a decision.

It announced on Saturday that Paris and its suburbs would be subjected to "alternate driving days" as of Monday because of the continued "high pollution levels" that were expected.

Jean-Marc Ayrault's office even issued a statement saying, "The prime minister is aware of the difficulties that this may cause to the everyday lives of Parisians, but this extra step is necessary."

And get this, Ayrault "trusted in the spirit of responsibility and citizenship of each and every person."

Hello! We're talking Parisians here, deservedly or not, hardly world-renowned for their civility.

The statement wasn't enough though. Martin had a sales job to do and up he popped on TF1 prime time news to give the reasons for decision and brandishing, in  "show and tell" fashion, two licence plates - both old and new - to explain the difference between an odd number and an even one.


Philippe Martin in "show and tell" mode (screenshot TF1 news)

"Public health is what most concerns us here and in spite of the measures taken since the beginning of the week (measures introduced by the local authority in Paris such as free public transport) there's a risk of another rise in pollution levels at the beginning of the week," he said.

"We had to take this decision and we're relying, of course on the responsibility of Parisians which will allow us to cope with the situation," he added, proving he had a) been briefed and b) read the prime minister's official statement before going on air.


Friday, 14 March 2014

Friday's French music break - Christine and the queens, "Nuit 17 à 52"

Friday's French music break this week is something a little special.

It's "Nuit 17 à 52" from a real all-round talent, Héloïse Letissier, who has chosen another of those daft English names as her professional "alias" - Christine and the queens.

But that's all there is that's "daft" about  Letissier who is not just a singer-songwriter.

Christine and the queens (Héloïse Letissier) screenshot from "Nuit 17 à 52" official video

The 25-year-old has a Masters in theatre studies  (Nanterre) obtained while she was also studying in Lyon at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and taking acting classes at the city's Conservatoire.

She cites among her musical influences artists such as Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Andy Kaufman, Klaus Nomi, Michael Jackson and "Gainsbarre" - a mixed bunch much which inevitably manifests itself in her music which is "pop" without being inane (yes it's possible)

In other words eclectic and focused on the presentation.

There's also the visual side to her live performances, described as "ambitious" and those highly polished androgynous videos to accompany her songs.

Christine and the queens is Letissier's project to, in her own words, put a whole package together and not just about making music.

"I like music that's accompanied by videos, drawings, photographs," she said in a 2011 interview.

"I could not just write songs and put them on MySpace. Christine (whom Letissier sees almost as her alter ego and capable of doing everything she cannot do) is a bit narcissistic, and as soon as she puts her mind to something, she does it."

Yes. Maybe Letissier takes herself and her "act" too seriously - or perhaps not seriously enough.

Talent she has - and it has been recognised.

In 2011 she was a finalist at the Inrocks Lab, an annual showcase for new French music talent and a year later won the Best Discovered Act at the prestigious annual music festival Le Printemps de Bourges in 2012.

And at the recent Les Victoires de la musique, along with winners Woodkid, Letissier was one of the four acts nominated in the category "Group or artist stage révélation of the year". The other two acts were Albin De La Simone and 1995.


So far, as Christine and the queens,  Letissier has released three EPs including most recently "Nuit 17 à 52" which includes apart from the title track, "The loving cup", "Starshipper", "Wandering lovers" and her cover version of William Sheller's "Photos souvenirs"

Christine and the queens (Héloïse Letissier) screenshot Les Victoires de la musique


 An album - her first - is promised for release at the end of April.

Anyway, here's "Nuit 17 à 52", both the live performance during Les Victoires de la musique and the official video.

Take a listen to both - a good musical start to the weekend.

Have a good one!





Thursday, 13 March 2014

Local elections in France - the problem of gender parity

One of the new features in the upcoming local elections is that in every town and village of more than 1,000 inhabitants, all lists must contain an equal number of men and women.

It's part of drive to have more women involved in politics at a local level and a decision to be applauded (depending on your opinion of course).

But at the same time it has also presented a problem in a number of villages throughout France such as Pérouges (population of just over 1,200) in the département of Ain, where the current mayor, Paul Vernay has had a hard job persuading enough women to join his Socialist Party - Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV or Greens) list in his attempt to be re-elected.

"The answers I have come up against from women have included the lack of time to devote to local matters, or some of them simply don't feel they would be competent enough," he said.

"And then there are others who don't want to get involved in politics."

But it's not just small villages which have run into problems on the gender parity requirement.

The Green party in one of France's biggest cities has also had to rejig its list - because of an initial oversight.

Antoine Maurice (screenshot Le Journal du Dimanche video report)

Antoine Maurice is the EELV candidate for the city of Toulouse. At 31st position on Maurice's list (so with little or no real chance of being elected) up until a few weeks ago was a certain Florence Bertocchio, a 54-year-old engineer who has been living as a transgender woman for the past five years and is a spokesperson for the LGBT rights group in the city.

Bertocchio had her civil status changed from man to woman in December 2012, a decision made formal in July 2013 but somehow the Greens had got into something of a muddle and actually given her a position on the official list which had been "reserved" for a man.

Florence Bertocchio (screenshot Le Journal du Dimanche video report)


When Maurice was made aware of the "mistake" he said correcting it would just be a matter of "moving things around a little" - in other words shifting Bertocchio one position up the list and dropping another woman and bringing in an extra man.

"It's really a chance for us to emphasise how our list is the most diverse," he said.

"It's one that includes men, women, gays and trans."


VidéoVilles : Florence Bertocchio, candidate et... par lejdd

Monday, 10 March 2014

François Hollande - a Gangsta rapping French president in the making?


François Hollande's speeches could be about to become more...er...interesting.

At least if one of Hollande's newly-appointed speechwriters lives up to his past reputation.

You see, Pierre-Yves Bocquet who is, predictably perhaps, an énarque - a graduate of the prestigious École nationale d'administration - and has been a high-ranking civil servant at the Elysée palace ever since Hollande was elected has another speciality.

Or maybe that should be "specialty" given his particular area of interest.

Because under the pseudonym "Pierre Evil", the 40-year-old has been leading something of a double life...as a music journalist, specialising in American Gangsta rap.

As such, Bocquet/Evil has produced a documentary "Black Music – Des chaînes de fer aux chaînes en or" with Marc-Aurèle Vecchione in 2008 for the Franco-German TV network, Arte.

And he has written two books; "Gangsta rap" in 2005 currently unavailable on Amazon.fr, but maybe that'll change now and the soon-to-be published "Detroit Sampler".




A fellow music journalist, Fred Hanak, describes Bocquet/Evil, who is apparently a fan of the hip hop duo Dead Prez (hmmmn) as "among the best rap reviewers in France".

So out with Hollande's somewhat bumbling and hesitant style so easily lampooned in Les Guignols de l'info on Canal + every weekday evening (even if they also have him "re-interpreting" some of the most popular songs around - see the video)

And in with the hip expletives delivered with a "flow" that'll appeal to the younger generation Hollande courted so much during his presidential election campaign?

Unlikely, as Bocquet says he'll "put on hold his private writing" and besides, "the only person who actually writes François Hollande's speeches is François Hollande. My role will just to be to 'prepare' them."

Shame.


Friday, 7 March 2014

Friday's French music break - Twin Twin, "Moustache"


Friday's French music break this week is the song you've been waiting for - France's entry to that annual musical jamboree, the Eurovision Song Contest.

Yes, the song that will carry the hopes of a nation and (probably) disappoint as usual has been chosen.

Representing France in Copenhagen in May will be the trio of Lorent Idir, François Djemel and Patrick Biyik who make up the paradoxically-named Twin Twin.



Twin Twin (screenshot France 3 "Les chansons d'abord"

Their gloriously dire "Moustache" was chosen by a combined panel of music "experts" and the voting public from among three "finalists" and the "winner" was announced on France 3's "Les chansons d'abord" on Sunday March 2.

"Moustache", bears more than a passing resemblance to Belgian singer Stromae's (excellent) "Papaoutai" with a dash of former child star Jordy's 1992 hit (the ghastly) "Dur dur d'être bébé!" thrown in for good measure.

If you need a bit of convincing, close your eyes and take a listen to Twin Twin and Stromae back-to-back or you could listen to all three titles (just click on the links provided) on the mashup made by DJs on Virgin radio.

Although the group has admitted there's some (!!!) similarity at the beginning of both their song and that of Stromae, they've denied accusations of plagiarism saying that the song was written a year before the release of Belgian singer's album ("Racine carrée").

"We're flattered to be compared with Stromae," the group said. "He's a great artist but the word 'plagiarised' isn't really appropriate."

All right. How about "copied" then?

France hasn't won the Eurovision Song Contest since 1977 and in recent years has placed (to say the least) poorly.

The method over the last six years for choosing the country's entry had been for the execs at France Télévisions to choose an artist and then the song.

All very democratic and hugely unsuccessful; producing a string of also-rans with last year's entry from Amandine Bourgeois finishing in 23rd place.

So a change of strategy was adopted this year with three artists and three songs being put to that combined "expert" and voting public vote - the first time it has happened since 2007.

Mind you, that doesn't bode particularly well either.

That year's entry -  Les Fatals Picards with "L'amour à la française" (the link also has Terry Wogan's "Gosh, wasn't that awful" commentary) totted up a magnificent 19 points to finish 22nd out of the 24 finalists.

Here you go then. Here's Twin Twin with "Moustache".

France "nul points"?

Er...enjoy (!!!)

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Nicolas Sarkozy's Socialist party "heir apparent"?


Let's talk football (or soccer, if you like) for a moment with just a dash of political "intrigue".

Sunday saw the so-called return "Classico", "Classique" "Derby" or whatever you wish to call it, of the season between arguably the country's two most popular (in terms of fan base at least) teams.

Paris-Saint Germain (PSG) entertaining arch rivals (bring out the sporting clichés) Olympique de Marseille (OM) at home with the Qatari-owned club (that's PSG, just in case you were wondering) running out the winners 2-0.

Over 45,000 attended the match - almost full capacity - at Parc des Princes.

And as entertaining perhaps as events on the pitch was the chance to people-spot as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from all walks of "celebrity" life took their places.

They included (in no particular order) singer Julien Doré, entrepreneur (yes, they do exist in France) Jacques-Antoine Granjon - the president and CEO of Vente-Privée.com, radio and TV presenter Cyril Hanouna, Olympic medal winning judoka Teddy Riner, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and OM president Vincent Labrune (not seated together obviously), , Swedish former model Helena Seger dutifully watching her partner Zlatan Ibrahimović, and many, many more.

Also out in force were those "darlings" of the press - both serious and...er less so, in recent years - French politicians.

They included Paris mayor hopefuls Anne Hildalgo (Socialist party) and her main challenger, centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) candidate Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

Well even if neither was that interested, with just a few weeks until Parisians (and the rest of the country for that matter) go to the polls in the local elections, both women had at least to show willing.

The education minister, Vincent Peillon was also present as was the man so warmly welcomed by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week during a private tête-à-tête in Berlin last week, followed by a speech at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung broadcast live on BFM TV.


Nicolas Sarkozy at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (screenshot BFM TV)
 
Yes, the former French president, and a declared  PSG fan, Nicolas Sarkozy was at the game (accompanied by a couple of his sons) to press the flesh and flash his face while sharing a relaxed moment or two with those sat next to him.

One of whom - was...well, who do you think?

The photographs are under copyright, but before you click on this link or this one, hazard a guess at who appeared to be so "chummy" with the former president.

Hint, he has been described as "a Socialist Sarkozy".

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

French Socialist party leader Harlem Désir calls Jean-François Copé's bluff over party campaign finances



Jean-François Copé, the leader of the opposition centre-right Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement) went on the "counter attack" on Monday.

He cancelled a morning interview with one of France's toughest radio and TV journalists, Jean-Jacques Bourdin and instead concentrated on his "solemn declaration" that he would deliver later in the day to answer allegations published in the weekly news magazine Le Point that smacked of political cronyism and financial corruption.


Jean-François Copé delivers his "solemn declaration" (screenshot BFM TV)

In its most recent issue, the magazine maintained that Copé had been partly responsible for "ruining the party's finances" during Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 presidential campaign by channelling party funds to communications companies run by some of his (Copé's) friends.

Those companies, said Le Point, had charged inflated prices of 20 to 100 per cent more than the "going rate".

So how did Copé answer those accusations?

Well, he didn't.

Instead he offered up the sob story of a man who had become the victim of a "public lynching", a "man hunt" a "plot to discredit him" and of "journalism worthy of the Inquisition."

He would "sue Le Point" and in a wonderful turnaround from the man who was had been against the government's introduction of a law (after the so-called Cahuzac affair) requiring first ministers and then all parliamentarians to "declare all their assets", Copé now insisted that his party would "open all its accounts to public inspection if other parties agreed to do the same".

What's more he would introduce a parliamentary bill later this year to make it a legal requirement for all political parties.

Er hello?

Isn't there already a law on the books requiring French political parties to be accountable for their spending and funding especially if they qualify for state subsidies (ie: having some of their election expenses reimbursed)?

Yes there is.

So Copé's bill would be a pointless exercise.

Besides, the Socialist party is ready to call his bluff with its leader, Harlem Désir, saying on Tuesday that his party would be "more than happy to make its accounting details public."

"There's no need for a law," he said. "It's just a question of 'wanting to do it'," he continued.

"We're more than happy to make it easier for M Copé and the UMP to be more transparent by allowing journalists access to our detailed public accounts."

Local elections in France - Sandrine Cocureau, a woman of extremes?


Most political pundits in France will tell you that the upcoming local elections could be marked by voter apathy.

And then there are also the stories circulating of just how difficult it is to get a list together in some places.

But the tale of Sandrine Cocureau bucks both those apparent trends because she appears to be someone desperate to be involved in local politics.

The only problem is, she doesn't seem to know what part of the political spectrum would best suit her.

The 43-year-old's name appeared on the list submitted by the far-right Front National (FN) in the town of Mérignac, a suburb of the city of Bordeaux.


Mairie de Mérignac (source - Wikipedia, author Erdrokan)


Cocureau's name appeared on the list submitted by the far-right Front National's candidate Jean-Luc Aupetit in the town of Mérignac, a suburb of the city of Bordeaux.

"She seemed to express ideas that were totally in keeping with the Front National's philosophy," said Aupetit about the first meeting with Cocureau at a market back in June 2013.

"We talked for a while and she agreed to figure provisionally on the list: a decision she confirmed in December."

All well and good. Except Cocureau didn't stop there.

Because at the same time as she was agreeing to be on the FN's list, she was also accepting to be on that of Guillaume Perchet, the candidate for the far-left Lutte ouvrière (LO)!

"She didn't come to us by chance," claimed Perchet. "She genuinely seemed to want to help the voice of the working class be heard."

Cocureau's rather weird "dual alliance" came to light when both lists were submitted for official scrutiny to the préfecture of the département of Gironde in mid-February.

And, not surprisingly, when it came to light that her name appeared on two lists, both parties withdrew her and quickly found replacements.

"There was no way we could keep her (on our list)," said Aupetit. "She was clearly trying to make a fool of us, perhaps in an attempt to have our candidacy invalidated."

"We decided by mutual agreement not to include her on either list," responded Perchet, suggesting that it might also have been a pre-election "trick" dreamed up by the FN.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Local elections in France - Ungersheim, a family affair, but maybe not what you think


It's no great secret that in many villages and towns across France, when a mayor retires someone from the family or a serving member of the council (or perhaps both) is likely to stand in his or her place.

Yep, handing down the sash from one generation to the next, especially in small communities, is not unheard of.

And in the village of Ungersheim (population around 2,000) in the Haut-Rhin département of the Alsace region, something along those lines is happening...but with a difference.

You see, in the upcoming local elections the current mayor, Jean-Claude Mensch, who has only been in the job for the past 25 years, has no intention of retiring and is, obviously, seeking another term in office.

But going up against the 67-year-old is none other than his estranged daughter, Catherine Muller.

Catherine Muller (screenshot from Alsace 20 TV report on "Ungersheim demain" list Facebook page)

The two apparently haven't spoken for the best part of 15 years but, insists Muller, that hasn't influenced her decision to stand and there's nothing of a family grudge match about the battle to become mayor.

"I've managed to ignore the fact that the current mayor is my father (right, we believe you)," says Muller who agreed to head the opposition list, which is not affiliated to any political party, when the former candidate died in an accident a couple of months ago.

"My father and I haven't been in touch for 15 years so it's no longer a question of being 'in conflict' with him (???)," she added.

"At some point you just have to (don't groan) 'turn the page' (so very French) and there's no reason why family ties should prevent me from becoming a candidate."

That sort of explanation is as lucid as those the 45-year-old gives about why she wants to stand and what she represents.

"I do not want to criticise him - the current mayor - (oh really? what sort of campaign are you going to lead then?) as he has done some very good things," she admits.

"But we want to inject a dynamic that isn't there. Some things must change."


Jean-Claude Mensch (screenshot BFM TV)

Mensch has remained "stumm" about his feelings towards his daughter's decision to stand.

But what of his record - and yes he has been a long time in office - with it's apparent "lack of dynamic"?

Well, Mensch isn't affiliated to any particular political party either, but he has followed a very Green policy over the years - so much so that Ungersheim regularly makes the news for projects that illustrate how the world could be "post-petrol".

Those schemes include the installation of wood burners, solar panels, a "100% organic" canteen and the creation of green spaces without using pesticides.

Very "old hat" and totally out of touch with the modern world, don't you think?


Sunday, 2 March 2014

A (Ségolène) Royal return to the French government?

Those in the "know" have been speculating about a government reshuffle in France for months and in particular the focus has been on whether the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is for the chop.

It's a popular media pastime - just ask Ayrault's predecessor in the job, François Fillon, who was constantly the centre of media conjecture as to who would replace him and when.

Jean-Marc Ayrault putting on a brave face at the Salon de l'Agriculture 2014 (screenshot France 3 television)


In the end, Fillon survived the full five years as prime minister during the "reign" of Nicolas Sarkozy's as president.

So far, under François Hollande, not much has happened in the game of ministerial musical chairs.

There has been the minimal of tinkering with only two high profile cabinet members losing their jobs.

In March 2013, the former minister for the budget Jérôme Cahuzac stepped down for "financial improprieties" (aka tax fraud).

And four months later, the ecology and environment minister, Delphine Batho, was effectively fired for openly criticising the government and the budget restrictions being imposed on her department.

They were replaced by two less-than charismatic figures Go on, try to remember their names - the answers at the end of this piece. No cheating.

Apart from that though the 38-strong government has remained unchanged.

Sure there have been disagreements, public spats and "hiccoughs" along the way, most notable perhaps in the relationship between the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, and the interior minister Manuel Valls.

The two haven't always seen eye to eye (far from it) but have been at pains to show how united they are when it counts.

Housing minister (although, as a leading member of the Greens, she probably really, really wants the environment portfolio) Cécile Duflot and the education minister Vincent Peillon have also "spoken out of turn"  - most memorably over their (personal) views on the decriminalisation of cannabis.

And then there's the dear old (well at 51, not so old really) minister of industrial renewal Arnaud Montebourg who, in spite of efforts by both Ayrault and Hollande to restrain him (and others), has happily ignored all attempts to make him hold his tongue.

Remember Montebourg telling Ayrault that the prime minister "ran the government as though it were the local council in Nantes (the city in which Ayrault was mayor for 23 years) ?


Or better still (you can do the translation), "Tu fais chier la terre entière avec ton aéroport."

Anyway, with the local elections just a matter of weeks away, the media has gone into government reshuffle speculation overdrive once again.

Political pundits insist there'll be a major shake-up at some point between the end of March (after the second round of local elections) and the European elections in May.

Ayrault will keep his job for the moment but will in effect just be keeping the seat warm for everybody's darling Valls as the "man of action" and right person to head the government during the second half of Hollande's presidency.

There'll be fewer ministers (well, there could hardly be more...now could there) and some heavyweights (that means party elephants) will be wheeled in to entertain us.

And the names on everyone's lips will be familiar (how surprising) to anyone who has followed French politics over the past couple of decades...honestly.

Valls as prime minister would mean a vacancy at the interior ministry. The media's favourite?

Sit down for a moment.

Ségolène Royal!
Ségolène Royal refuses to be drawn about a possible entry into the government, Salon de l'Agriculture 2014 (screenshot BFM TV)

At the justice ministry, Christiane Taubira has "done her job" and would most likely be succeeded by Élisabeth Guigou, a real blast from the past as she held the same job back in 1997 for three years.

Former Areva boss (at last, someone with experience of industry) Anne Lauvergeon is one of those tipped to take over at the finance ministry (here's a question, why does France need both a finance minister and a budget minister when it has neither the money nor the ability to fund public spending?).

The soon-to-be former mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, will take over as minister of education.

And so on and so forth with room being made - should she so wish, for Martine Aubry,

Yes, it's all speculative. But that's what the media does best when "reporting" politics.

Perhaps though, it really is time for Hollande to start living up to his presidential election campaign slogan of "Le changement, c'est maintenant".

It would certainly make life more entertaining.




In case you're still scratching your head about the "replacement" ministers they are Bernard Cazeneuve (budget) and Philippe Martin (ecology).
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