In this week’s Bonjour Paris, I write about the Wikileaks scandal and the reaction in France. Excerpts below. Click on original story for links.
France has not surprisingly reacted strongly to the leaks, and many French media sites have profiled the story. This site describes, among other things, how the cables match up with different geographic locations, especially given the fact that the vast majority of the 251,287 cables are not yet available.
President Nicolas Sarkozy was described by some American diplomats as “susceptible and authoritarian”, a view many of his countrymen hold but that is revealing to find in the inner circles of American statesmanship. But of course, these messages were not intended to be read all over the world by non-diplomats, and the U.S. is far from the only country with sensitive, potentially offensive, information in its inner diplomatic cables.
Sarkozy was also profiled as “the most pro-American” president in France since WWII, and in 2006 before he took office, he had suggested that France could possibly send in forces to Iraq to help their American counterparts. This gesture was well appreciated by the Bush Administration, even if it did not come to fruition. U.S. diplomats also characterize Sarkozy as the “most influential leader in Europe” who is a “brilliant, impatient, undiplomatic, unpredictable, charming, innovative pragmatic.” American authorities were also interested in Sarkozy’s Jewish heritage and how that could affect France’s Middle East policy (it is traditionally pro-Arab). But he is also described in a bad light as “impulsive and frenetic.” Now France is “scrambling” to avoid its own scandal similar to Wikileaks.
Following my post on US election coverage in France, the media is now reacting to the results: a convincing Republican victory in the House of Representatives, in state legislatures and governors races, whereas the Democrats held on to a majority – though not fillibuster proof of 60 – in the Senate. If you want inside DC news, I recommend Politico. BBC has a quality special report on the elections as well. The Economist also features an insightful debate about the outcome of the elections and what they could mean for US politics in the next couple years:
On the French side, Le Figaro has a special report covering the people, the events and the US political system with insight. In an interesting poll asking readers if they are satisfied by the US election results, the responses are almost split: just over 50% say “no”, begging the question if readers of the Figaro are happy that Obama suffered a political setback, that the US government will be split or if they are relieved Democrats held on to the Senate. It would be better to have some context here.
Stratfor offers an interesting analysis of foreign views of the US midterms and Obama abroad.
But there is a fair share of sites in France, too. Le Figaro interviews Americans in Paris debating politics, talks about Obama campaigning for candidates, profiles young voters in the US who are disillusioned with politics, and features a midterm election special here.
I found this BBC article by Matthew Price, former US correspondent and current Europe correspondent, to be especially insightful, from the perspective of a neutral Brit regarding Americans and France. Comments welcome. Excerpts below….
What would Americans think of the French strike?
Saturday, 23 October 2010
By Matthew Price
BBC News, France
”For the last three years I have been based in the US. And the only protests I have covered, the only ones vocal enough to have been worth reporting on, have been angry mobs demanding the government stop spending and get out of their lives.
Now, just one week into my new role as Europe correspondent, I am faced with angry mobs demanding the exact opposite – an end to government cut backs and a promise that the state will continue to provide for them. Talk about a change of scene…..
…Most French know the world has changed since the days of the all-embracing welfare state..They know the age of austerity inevitably implies an age of personal responsibility….And personal responsibility is something the Americans I have lived among for the last three years have adopted as a way of life…”
I got this message from the US Embassy in Paris concerning voting in the upcoming Nov. 2 US midterm elections.
Electronic Voting System Project
October 12, 2010
Attention U.S. citizen voters:
The following 25 states, or parts of these states, are participating in an Electronic Voting System project:
Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia
If you vote in one of these states/counties, you should follow the instructions in the attached Electronic Voting System Fact Sheet to find your respective state, and use all of the voting options available to you through www.FVAP.gov. Many of these state tools allow you to use a full ballot reflecting all contests (federal, state, and local). Follow the instructions for returning the voted ballot.
If you subsequently receive your blank state ballot from your state after submitting the online ballot, you should vote and return the state ballot immediately. The state ballot will take priority over the electronic voting project ballot if both are received by the state deadline.
If you have already received, voted, and returned your state ballot, you should not participate in this project.
If you have questions about this project, or about voting by absentee ballot from France, please contact the voting assistance officers by e-mail at: VoteParis@state.gov
or, at the following telephone numbers:
04 91 54 96 10
01 43 12 29 93
01 43 12 20 93
01 43 12 20 21
United States Embassy
American Citizen Services Unit
4, avenue Gabriel
75382 Paris Cedex 08
Telephone in France: 01 43 12 22 22
Telephone from U.S.: (011 33) 1 43 12 22 22
I just got this email from the US Embassy in Paris for voting information:
Cast your vote now for the November 2, 2010 general elections.
Absentee Voting Week is September 27 – October 2, 2010. During this week, the U.S. Embassy in Paris will have a Voting Station at the Consulate where you can ask questions, fill out absentee voting registration forms or submit your voted ballot.
Please share this information with all eligible U.S. citizens voters residing in France.
You can read more on this PDF that I’ve put up for you.
The U.S. Embassy in Paris sent out this message recently to American residents abroad.
Absentee Voting for 2010 General Election
August 4, 2010
Eligibility to Vote
Voting eligibility and residency requirements are determined by the various U.S. states, and are available on-line in the Voting Assistance Guide at http://www.fvap.gov/resources/media/2010vag.pdf. Your “legal state of residence” for voting purposes is the state where you last resided immediately prior to departure from the United States. Voting rights extend to overseas citizens even though they may no longer own property or have other ties to their last state of residence, and even if their intent to return to that state may be uncertain. For those who have never resided in the United States, sixteen states allow certain U.S. citizens to register where a parent or spouse would be eligible to vote.
Voter Registration and Requesting an Absentee Ballot
Voters who have not yet registered to vote and requested an absentee ballot should do so by August 15, 2010 using the following steps to ensure that they receive their voting ballot on time:
1. Complete the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) using the instructions for your state in the Voting Assistance Guide. You may use a hard copy of the FPCA from any U.S. Embassy or Consulate in France, or use the online version.
2. Sign, date and mail the completed FPCA to the address listed in the Voting Assistance Guide. If you are sending the FPCA through international mail, please affix appropriate airmail postage. Alternatively, you can print out a postage-paid address label and ask any U.S. Embassy or Consulate to send your FPCA postage-paid through diplomatic pouch or the military postal service. Some states allow voters to send in the FPCA by fax, but they also require you to send in the hard copy by mail. Follow your state’s regulations precisely.
3. Send in a new FPCA if you have moved or changed your name since the last time you voted.
Beginning with the November 2010 general election, and for all subsequent general, special, and primary elections, state officials will be required to mail out ballots at least 45 days prior to an election for a federal office. Return your voted ballot as early as possible either through international mail or any U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Be aware of your state’s ballot receipt deadline, as well as any postmarking requirements.
The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) serves as an emergency ballot for voters who registered in time but fail to receive an official ballot from local election officials. Please note: You must register to vote and request an absentee ballot by your state’s deadline to be eligible to use the FWAB. We strongly recommend that voters who have not received their ballot by October 2, 2010 complete and return the FWAB to ensure your vote is received in time to be counted.
The official U.S. government website for overseas voters is the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website at http://www.fvap.gov.
The Voting Assistance Officer at the U.S. Embassy Paris is also always available to answer questions about absentee voting.
To contact the Voting Assistance Officer, call or send an e-mail to VoteParis@state.gov.
United States Embassy
American Citizen Services Unit
4, avenue Gabriel
75382 Paris Cedex 08
Telephone in France: 01 43 12 22 22
Telephone from U.S.: (011 33) 1 43 12 22 22
With the recent passing of the new health care bill in the US, I thought posting this piece from the New York Times was timely:
March 23, 2010, 11:19 AM
What the Health Care Overhaul Means for Americans Abroad
By JENNIFER SARANOW SCHULTZ
On Monday, Times reporters answered reader questions about how the health care overhaul will affect consumers. But one reader question that remained unanswered was how the legislation will affect Americans abroad. Here’s the answer.
According to Tom Rose, chairman of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas‘ Committee on Social Security and Medicare, the legislation doesn’t have any effect on Americans abroad, except that it exempts them from the penalty for not subscribing to health insurance in the United States. “That is only logical as most Americans abroad have coverage in their country of residence,” Mr. Rose said.
Similarly, the Web site of the American Citizens Abroad organization pointed out that, as of January, neither the House nor Senate bill would tax Americans abroad for not having insurance in the United States, and both “specifically exclude overseas Americans from proposed mandatory U.S. health insurance coverage.”
According to the organization, an earlier version of the Senate health plan would have taxed Americans abroad.
But the group noted on its site that provisions for financing the legislation were “likely to affect Americans overseas, whether they be additional taxes on high incomes or increased deductions for Medicare and Social Security (which would affect American-owned businesses abroad).”
How do you think the legislation will affect Americans living abroad? If you’re an expat, how do you think the legislation may affect you?
By Emmanuel Jarry
PARIS, Nov 15 (Reuters) – The United States is the main obstacle to concluding an ambitious agreement at the Copenhagen meeting on climate change next month, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Sunday.
Speaking after world leaders meeting in Singapore said it was unrealistic to expect binding targets to be negotiated by the time the meeting starts on Dec. 7, Borloo said Washington was posing the biggest difficulty.
“The problem is the United States, there’s no doubt about that,” Borloo, who has coordinated France’s Copenhagen negotiating effort, told Reuters in an interview.
“It’s the world’s number one power, the biggest emitter (of greenhouse gases), the biggest per capita emitter and it’s saying ‘I’d like to but I can’t’. That’s the issue,” he said.
Borloo’s comments follow a joint declaration by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Saturday, aimed at committing rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
Borloo said France was looking at an option that would allow countries that had not signed up to the Kyoto protocol, including the United States some leeway, possibly including allowing it an extra delay of some years to meet targets.
“There needs to be international pressure on the United States, that’s clear,” Borloo said. “But at the same time, we have to allow some flexibility in the formulation.”
But he said this did not mean compromising on the need for an “irreversible, binding and measurable” commitment.
World leaders agreed on Sunday to a two-stage plan aimed at securing a political accord at the Dec. 7-18 talks, to be followed by a process of working out binding commitments on targets, finance and technology transfer.
This would allow time for the U.S. Senate to pass carbon-capping legislation, allowing the Obama administration to bring a 2020 target and financing pledges to the table at a major U.N. climate meeting in Bonn in mid-2010.
Borloo said such a deal could not be allowed to get in the way of binding commitments. If a political agreement “means vague and non-binding declarations of intent, the answer is no,” he said.
“Behind the word ‘political’ there has to be precise declarations with figures,” he said.
An original piece originally published in September on Scoop44 (now ScoopDaily):
As the healthcare debate remains intense in Washington and across the country, leaving fiery protests at town hall meetings in its wake, one way to have a more knowledgeable discussion is by looking to examples of healthcare in other countries.
The Obama administration has been criticized by some conservatives as wanting to impose a socialist system in not just healthcare but also in economic matters. One of the countries referred to the most by both critics and proponents of Obama’s policies is France, the supposed beacon of socialism and the welfare state. It is important, however, to get beyond ideologies and examine the facts. What could the U.S. learn from the French healthcare system, both what to do and what not to do?
France’s public health system provides a basic form of mandatory health coverage for everyone, including foreign residents like myself with valid working papers. The main fund, Sécurité Sociale (Sécu), covers 80 percent of the population, and two other entities exist for the self-employed and agricultural workers. France also provides options for those ineligible for Sécu or below a certain salary threshold.
Everyone covered by the system uses a health insurance card resembling a debit card, called a Carte Vitale. This is equipped with a computer chip that can be read by doctors’ and pharmacists’ computers to access a patient’s insurance coverage information. All French citizens from 16 years old are required to have one; those younger are on their parents’ plans. While practical, this card can represent the excessive paperwork and hurdles that foreign residents must get through in order to obtain one. It took me several months to get my Carte Vitale, somewhat delayed because I had provided one too many pieces of identity for their comfort.
This notorious bureaucracy makes even the French cringe, but there is a silver lining: when getting laid off from a job does not result in losing a steady health insurance plan, the benefits seem worth the hassle. These are reaped not only individually but also economically. Indeed, the French social safety net played a role in bringing France officially out of the recession this past quarter, providing a stable foundation for increased consumption and other economic activity.
In addition to the public system, there exists a huge private market for health insurance in the form of supplementary medical plans known as mutuelles. These tend to pay for some of the costs not covered well by Sécu. Most French opt for these; the Boston Globe puts the rate at 90 percent of the population. For non-E.U. citizens moving to France, private medical insurance is mandatory.
These mutuelles are run by private insurers that offer a variety of plans to different groups, from students to professionals (and this is again subdivided into job sectors, like teachers). They often cover expenses not already paid for by the Sécu. For example, the standard doctor’s consultation will cost 22€ (about $31) and Sécu will normally reimburse 70% of this, or 15.40€. The mutuelle will usually make up some or all of the difference. My mutuelle is with the LMDE (la mutuelle des étudiants – student’s private option), which along with the other student option (SMERRA),offer beneficial plans to students in coverage and cost.
I just upgraded mine, and it will help cover most prescription costs, doctor visits, some dental and eye appointments as well as hospital stays. The cost for my total coverage per year? 393€ (195€ for Sécu, 198€ for LMDE) – about $560 a year ($47 a month). Not bad, considering that this covers the entirety of my asthma prescription costs for medicines I take daily, for which I’d pay a lot in the U.S. even with insurance. Not to mention a good portion of the costs incurred for hospital visits, dentist appointments and other procedures.
This is one of the key differences between the French and American systems. In the U.S., if you are prone to illness or have a chronic condition, health insurance providers will often either increase your payments or drop your coverage. As stated in the Boston Globe article, the French system makes it “more difficult for insurers to deny coverage for preexisting conditions or to those who are not in good health.”
Another difference is that associated with unemployment. If you lose your job in the U.S. and are not covered by government employee plans, you will likely have to pay more for private health insurance than through a company-provided scheme. In France, everyone is covered by the public option so that even those laid off by their employers don’t have to fear enormous costs in going to the doctor in case of illness.
One more aspect is that when ambulances are dispatched to treat injuries, a doctor comes along with appropriate equipment to start treating the patient at the scene before going to the hospital for further care. This was featured by CBS news.
The benefits can be seen in many ways, such as life expectancy: France is ranked 7th among UN nations (77 years for men, 84 for women), whereas the U.S. is at 35th (75 for men, 80 for women). Moreover, the World Heath Organization (WHO) has ranked France’s healthcare system as the best (though debatable). Indeed, according to the Boston Globe article, France’s ranking is based on “its universal coverage, responsive healthcare providers, patient and provider freedoms, and the health and the longevity of the country’s population.” The U.S. comes in at a meager 37th place. People like Fox News anchor Glen Beck should reconsider their statements.
So we see that the system in France has positive aspects, but what could be the costs of such a universal scheme? It does not come cheap, at about $3500 per capita (Boston Globe), but it is much less expensive than the U.S. ($6100). In terms of overall spending, France devotes 10.5% of its GDP to healthcare, whereas America spends 16%. More on the U.S compared to other countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) can be found in this 2004 report. As addressed by Medical News Today, the financing for the public health system is provided for by employers, employee contributions and personal income taxes, with around 20 percent of a working person’s gross salary deducted to pay for the Sécu.
There should be no surprise, therefore, that French authorities are trying to cut down on costs in the system. According to this article, instead of years ago when people would go to any doctor they wanted, “family doctors must now coordinate treatment.” I have witnessed this in France, where a patient must have the approval of his or her general practitioner before going to a specialist for a specific problem (exceptions: gynecologists, ophthalmologists and dentists – no need for referral).
There certainly needs to be reform in the U.S. of some sort. Indeed, the majority of Americans view the U.S. health system as “average” or “below average” according to the Pew Research Center. Even if a public option comes into existence in the U.S., it would likely not be mandatory for everyone, unlike the French system. The crux of the debate is whether or not a government-run public option would result in healthy competition with private insurers and lower premiums or if it would dominate the market and be a weight on business. A public health insurance option in the U.S. might dramatically increase coverage, but it will be vital in the long-term to reduce cost. Streamlining government bureaucracy could contribute to that endeavor.
Policymakers in Washington would be wise to take heed from French lessons of mixing public with private insurers. According to the American Journal of Public Health, these lessons include: “the importance of government’s role in providing a statutory framework for universal health insurance” and “understanding that universal coverage can be achieved without excluding private insurers from the supplementary insurance market.”
We can learn from France without becoming France, taking what works and leaving aside any nuisance to long-term growth while encouraging innovation to reduce costs, increase coverage and improve medicines. Our collective health depends on it.
If you would like a very in-depth analysis of the benefits and pitfalls of France’s whole economic system, I invite you to read the Economist article cited here. You can find more info on the French social protection system here and on this site.