Sunday, February 26, 2017

France presidential elections - update

Further to my recent post about the ups and downs of the French presidential elections, the two main contenders - François Fillon, formerly Sarkozy's prime minister, and Marine le Pen, deader of the far right Front National, are facing further problems.

François Fillon is now the subject of formal investigation on a number of counts, including the payment of salaries to his wife and two children, with the appointment of a team of senior judges from the financial court. He is however continuing his pre-election campaign until further notice. His part - Les Républicains - appear not to have a Plan-B in the event that formal charges are made against their candidate.

Marine Le Pen meanwhile is refusing to attend a police investigation when a summons was issued last week, pleading parliamentary immunity (as a member of the European Parliament) which protects deputies while in office. She is continuing with her campaign meanwhile.

Sadly the above two cases, potentially involving election to the the highest office in the land, arrive at a time when a number of police officers are under investigate for alleged rape of a (black) social worker, provoking demonstrations and riots nightly in Paris and elseshere, with prime time television coverage. The Government has also chosen this moment to launch a series of television advertisements lauding the virtures of the Republic.........

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

France still a nation of meat eaters.....

I wrote recently about about the growing organic (bio) movement in France and that there were encouraging signs that consumption of meat in France was showing a slight decline, which started several decades ago, after the end of the war and the post-war boom years up to 1980.

Sadly - for vegetarians like me at least - latest figures show that the average consumption per head is now 86 kilograms annually and that 3 million animals per day (or 1 billion annually) are slaughtered in French abattoirs in order to keep pace with this demand.

These figures and other revelations - for example, that only 20% of abattoirs inspected by the authorities conformed to current regulations - are revealed in a French TV programme next Tuesday 28 March, if you have the stamina to watch it.

'Le Monde en Face' series, Channel 5, Tuesday 29 March 2017, 20.50, followed by a discussion at 22.00.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Who might be the new French President - a brief guide

France is in the throes of an election campaign which kicked off last autumnn and is due to last another three months until voting in May. Who will replace François Hollande after five years as President is far from clear at this time.

There have as usual been numerous opinion polls and several pre-selection processes but the picture is far from clear though there are four principal candidates in the running. They are Marine le Pen (Front National) who has an outright lead (24% currently) over the others but is under something of a cloud as a result of problems with the European Parliament - as has her father and founder of the FN - over allegedly illegal  payments for parliamentary assistants who were not resident in Brussels according to the rules. Yesterday the police raided the FN's French offices on behalf of the European Commission. Both MEPs have denied any breach of the rules.

The rest of the field is made up of a curiously mixed bunch - including François Fillon, who survived for five years as former president Sarkozy's Prime minister. He is the preferred candidate of the right wing of the the Republican party but also under a cloud regarding alleged 'salary' payments to his wife Penelope and two of his children, paid out of public funds, amid claims that their jobs as 'parliamentary assistants' were fictitious. The sums involved approach 1 million euros going back over many years and investigations are continuing, with the prospect of a prosecution not ruled out. Les Républicains are sticking by their man - for the time being, with the election just weeks away. Compared with  the other candidates he is also the one with the most experience at parliamentary and ministerial level

The two other contenders are newcomers Emanuel Macron and Benoit Hamon. Macron was a former advisor to François Hollande and worked at the Elysée Palace, before transfering to parliament as Minister of Economics, and then resigning and setting up his own party known as En marche ('on the move'). He has been campaigning for several months throughout France and accasionally abroad and is more or less on the right wing,  and popular with young and older voters alike. Having formed his own party may complicate his progress

Benoit Hamon, an ecologist and to the left of the socialist party, was (briefly) Education Minister under François Hollande and is the favourite choice of young voters. His comparative youth and lack of practical experience in government might be seen as a handicaps to being elected.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

France - land of the bureaucrats? Not true!

There are many myths about France and among them that the country is over-run by fonctionnaires (public officials employed by the State). However a more serious analysis of the figures shows that France falls somewhere in the middle range compared with the rest of Europe - and has roughly the same number state employees as Great Britain for much the same size population.

A simple analysis shows that some 2.4 million are employed by central government - bearing in mind they have to cope with 360 different taxes, 410,000 norms and regulations, or 103 diffrent types of social aid*. Nearly two million are employed by local authorities at regional and local level (there are nearly 37,000 communes); and just over 1 million work in hospitals and the public health sector.

What do they get in return? I wrote recently about the daily sweeping and washing down of streets in the town centre where I live and I can testify to the efficiency of health services - same-day appointments with ones GP or within days with specialist services such as a blood test, X-ray or appointment with a specialist at the local hospital.......with strict adherence to appointment times.

The system however does throw up some anomalies however, such as delays in civil and some criminal courts. Even in the case of former President Sarkozy: only now is he being prosecuted (he is appealing) for alleged offenses regarding the funding of his election campaign over a decade ago. Even more curious that his former Prime Minister François Fillon is calling for a reduction of 500,000 fonctionnaires as part of his current election campaign (somewhat tarnished by allegations about sums paid to his wife as his 'parliamentaty assistant'.........).

Although they enjoy a certain job security and comparatively generous pension arrangements, compared with Britain for example, research** shows that at the lower and middle grades, the salaries of  fonctionnaires are more or less on a par with those in the private sector; while at the senior level they tend to lag behind.

Finally Britain leads in Europe with the privatisation of many public services, which the same research admits can aid the introduction of frehs talent and new ideas but requires close supervision by (established) fonctionnaires. That said, the French had recourse to 'outside' private sources for 30% of its functions in 2015 (compared to Britain's +50 per cent).

* 'On va dans le mur'  by Agnès Verdier-Molinié, Albin Michel, 2015
** 'Alternatives Economiques'  February 2017, pp 64-72

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Aiding refugees and migrants - at your peril!

France seems to have an ambivalent attitude towards migrants and refugees who arrive in France, often after a hazardous journey from their home country, and take advantage of the free movement within the European Union thanks to the Schengen agreement on open  borders. Many as we all know know face a block when they reach the French channel ports and try to travel to Britain,

The result has been the accumulation of up to 10,000 refugees - including many young children and teenagers - in huge makeshift camps, which were finally cleared towards the end of last year and the occupants dispersed to 'reception centres' all over France. Not all them agreed with this policy and set up their own camps in central Paris and elsewhere, only to be dispersed again by the authorities. Reports indicate that many have also driffted back to Calais and there is increasing concern for large numbers of unaccopanied minors and young adults, regarded as specially at risk. There is a sad irony in all of this, as many wish to join their families already settled in Britain but face growing intransigence by officials and prejudice from many individuals, as the pro-Brexit vote shows.

Sterling work has been done by the acknowledged helpinng organisations such as the international Red Cross, buit private individuals have been prosecuted for 'aiding and abetting a person illegally living in France' despite another French law which also prosecutes for 'non-assistance to persons in danger' - such as ignoring a person injured in the street or driving away after a traffic accident.

Some of the individuals accused of  aiding and abetting refugees found themselves prosecuted for simple gestures such as charging mobile phones or providing temporary accomodation or food. Fortunately, such help can be provided by joining one of the recognised charity organisations but many individuals have continued to 'do their own thing' and face the verdict of the French courts and organisatons (established or hastily formed) have found themselves in difficulty. A group of jurists and some 250 voluntary organisations have banded together with two old established French campaigning organisations Gisti and Cimade and to press for changes in the law.

Web addresses:;

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France - at last! - has long distance coach service, sort-of..................

It may surprise you to learn that it is just over one year ago that France introduced long-distance coach services between cities, similar to the old established National Express network in Britain.

The idea was the brainchild of Emmanuel Macron, former socialist minister of economics (briefly) now leader of his own party in a bid to become the next president of France in next May's elections.

The only mystery is why it took so long when the figures for the 12 month period to September 2016 show that 5.2 million passengers took to the coaches against TGV rail (an estimated 1.3 million travellers), car sharing or driving their own vehicle.

Principal attraction is the low cost compared to alternatives but the network suffers from a lack of city centre bus stations and general publicity about the network, services and tarifs. In my local town I have no idea where or how to find a long-distance coach service.......

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

A trade union for freelancers?

Freelancers are probably best known for being non-joiners, valuing their freedom to experiment and make mistakes, perhaps at the cost of their financial survival. As a freelancer all my working life, I know the feeling.

That said, two French associations have recently appeared in France - the first a company called WeMind founded by two individuals (not a lot about them on their website) and based on the principle of bulk buying of goods and services such as public liability insurance and (additional) medical cover. As of Janiary 2017 they talk of 'over 10 000 members' and joining fees have been waived unil the end of Februay.

The second is an offsoot of a trade union (the CFDT) and called F3C  which is shorthand for 'the federation (of) communication, counseil (= consulting) and culture' to distinguish it from small business associations, such as the FSB in Britain, and concentrate on 'the intellectual professions'. Among the services proposed are the usual insurance packages and importantly advisory services for members experiencing problems with the tax authorities or social security office (in my experience, much needed). Membership costs 1% of the member's annual income.

Source: Alternatives Econoloiques February 2017, p. 59. Author Céline Mouzon.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Brexit - the triumph of misinformation?

The slow and still uncertain progress of the United Kingdom towards a final severance from the rest of Europe seems to me little more than a victory for misinformation - or, more charitably, widepress ignorance about how the European Community actually operates.

When I read stories of 'Brussels bureaucrats' dictating what British citizens should or should not do, it is clear that the writer/speaker is either disguising the truth or is woefully ignorant of the process of decisions that eventually become European law. There is in fact a complex procedue of negotiation at many different levels, including summit meetings of Heads of Government (presidents or prime ministers of Member States), government ministers (say, defense or finance), European commissioners (nominated by Member States), the European Parliament of MEPs democratically elected by each Member State, the ESC (Economic and Social Committee, a group of specialists elected by Member States), the Committee of theRegions - and finally the European Commission itself, a body of bureaucrats drawn from the Member States, and responsible for initiating legislation and finally working out the details for implementation in each Member State (once debated and finally adopted by that State).

One can even add the role of lobbyists in all this - yes, there are hundreds of them representing every shade shade of opinion, from bankers to charities, and registered and published in a directory accessible to all.

There is no excuse for reputable journalists to not know how the process works. For the 'general public' they tend to believe what they read, even when they are being misinformed.

Which brings us to the question of Britain's trade with the rest of the world and the exciting new future promised by PM Theresa May. Currently Britain exports some 44% of its goods and services to other European Members - worth about £220 billion (out of a total £510 billion exports) - and it is this huge market that she seems to think Britain can throw away - and find exciting new markets elsewhere - such as Turkey! The top supplier to this progressive country of 80 million citizens  is the USA with a modest $11.88 billion........Britain does even appear among the top ten suppliers.

I shall end with a quote from the French monthly journal Alternatives Economiques* :
'Europe is already very open-minded about trade with the rest of the world and discussions about commerical agreements with the United States (Tafta) and Canada (Ceta) have already shown that the gains in trade are small. And who can believe that the British on their own can negotiate a better deal with China than the European Union acting together? '

* Christian Chavgneux, p35, February 2017.

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