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Sep 11 memorial commemorations in France

September 9th, 2011 No comments

I hope this somber anniversary we will be safe in remembering those lost. As we move closer to a sense of closure, we can’t forget to move forward positively.

The BBC has a special report on this year’s annivesary, the Economist as well.

French daily Figaro also has a special dossier.

The famous French daily Le Monde printed a moving op-ed the day after the attacks of September 11, 2001 (available in English here, image of newspaper cover here).

Ten years later, the French have not forgotten their old ally in commemorating the 10th anniversary of the attacks. There are several events throughout the country. These are a selection. If you have more, feel free to post in the comments section for all to see.

The American Embassy in Paris also has a very informative page on 9/11 in Paris.

Paris
-Sep 11, 4:30-7:30pm: The American Church in Paris Sep 11 “Becoming a Blessing”

-On Sep. 11 at Paris Trocadero, a French association will be honoring the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with small replicas of the Twin Towers. Information can be found on Facebook, from FACC Chicago and this website.

Grenoble
-Sep 11, 11am Grenoble region: Association France-Etats Unis with Peachtree Fire Department of Georgia. Event PDF

Christine Lagarde elected head of IMF: American reaction

BBC/AFP: Christine Lagarde will start her five-year term at the IMF on 5 July

As former French Finance Minister has been named IMF head, effective July 5th, and François Baroin has been named her replacement, Le Figaro has an interesting article on Christine Lagarde from an American perspective, as well as a longer article into her path that lead her to Washington.

Meanwhile, she appeared in 2009 on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Check it out here.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde tapped for IMF job

In the wake of the DSK scandal (Dominique Strauss-Kahn), there is plenty of competition to replace him as IMF Director. French finance Minister Christine Lagarde is considered the favorite for the position, but there is debate whether or not a European should continue to be director (as has been the case since 1944, the founding of the IMF), or if an expert from an emerging economy should take the position. In any case, Lagarde just officially announced her candidacy for the position.

As is noted in the French press, the US is hesitating to give Lagarde its support since it might want to see an emerging economy director instead. The debate will continue.

She has vast experience, expertise, knowledge and was Chairman at a top firm (Baker & McKenzie) in the US, based in Chicago. She was even a guest in 2009 on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Watch here.

Strong showing for left, far right in French local elections “cantonales”

The far right (Front National, FN) seems to be gaining ground in France, in the personality of Marine Le Pen, daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen (the ultra-conservative former presidential candidate who made it to the second round of elections in 2002 against Jacques Chirac).

They recently received over 15% of the vote in the first round of France’s department local elections, les cantonales (compared to 17% for Sarkozy’s UMP Party, 25% for the PS Socialist Party, see graphic below). Although the abstention rate was very high (around 55%), it is an important alert for many French and politicians.

For France, there are worries about crime, immigration (specifically Muslim immigrants) and other issues that motivate people to vote for the hard-line party FN. But this is not a French phenonmenon, as the far right has a growing influence around Europe.

I wrote about these elections in Bonjour Paris and how the decline in Sarkozy’s popularity could undermine the strength of UMP’s election results. In fact, some members of UMP and even Sarkozy’s cabinet have called for voters to choose archrival PS (Socialists) in case the choice was between PS and FN.

Next step: the 2nd and final round of the elections will take place this Sunday March 27.

You can read more about this and the far right movement on France24 (English, excerpts below), Figaro (French, conservative), Libération (French, liberal), BBC News and The Economist. The Figaro most notably has department by department results of the election. They also have a special section on the elections.

Local elections see gains for left and far right

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservatives lost ground in nationwide local elections on Sunday that saw a low voter turnout and significant gains by opposition left-wing parties and the far-right National Front.

AP – French leftists and the resurgent far right enjoyed strong showings in local elections Sunday that left President Nicolas Sarkozy’s governing conservatives struggling to maintain prominence.

Sarkozy’s role in launching the international military intervention in Libya on the eve of the voting did not immediately appear to have swayed the outcome of the voting in France’s cantons.

The elections for France’s smallest administrative segment are relatively minor, but they are the last test of parties’ nationwide strength before next year’s presidential elections.

Turnout was about 45 percent, low for France, the Interior Ministry said. The prime minister, anguished by the low participation, urged voters to turn out for the runoffs March 27.

The opposition Socialists enjoyed the most votes overall with about 25 percent of votes, according to preliminary results Sunday night from the Interior Ministry.

Sarkozy’s UMP party and allied parties had about 32 percent of votes, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said. But French television and rival parties said the UMP itself had less than 20 percent of the vote.

The far right National Front had about 15 percent of the vote, Gueant said. The party is riding the wave of popularity of its new leader, Marine Le Pen, who has tapped into worries about Muslim immigrants.

Le Pen took the party leadership in January from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, an icon in French politics for decades who worried millions of French voters and neighboring countries when he made it into the runoff in 2002 presidential elections.

Recent opinion surveys have showed Sarkozy’s approval ratings at historic lows. Leftist voters are angry at his cost-cutting measures and say he is too cozy with corporate interests. Many conservatives are disappointed that he has not been bolder about loosening up the labor market and hasn’t eased tensions between police and youth in suburban housing projects.

A win in a cantonal election gives candidates a seat on councils overseeing France’s departments, or provinces.

French fighter jets enter Libyan air space

After the UN passed a resolution to protect the Libyan civilian population from government attacks (Libya background), with support for military intervention, French military jets are currently flying over Libya, near Benghazi. According to Figaro, there are five fighter jets preventing Libyan government forces from using airplanes to bomb civilians. Footage below from French news BFM TV. We will see how this develops.

UPDATE: 20 French aircraft are now participating, along with US and UK forces.

Japan nuclear risks and European worries about nuclear power

As BBC News reports, the current nuclear risks (and potential meltdown disaster) in Japan has brought public fears about nuclear power to the forefront of debate in several European countries, including France and Germany. Some political parties, including the Europe Ecologie, want to hold a referendum (public vote) on nuclear power in France.

Conservative daily Figaro has a poll on this issue, to which, at the time of publication, over 73% of French said there should NOT be a referendum on the issue. As the BBC highlights below, logistically speaking, it is nearly impossible to imagine France getting rid of its reliance on nuclear power, as 75% of its energy comes from it (with 19 nuclear plants and 58 reactors making it the 2nd biggest network after the US). Figaro also has an article about the risks of nuclear power.

French liberal, gauche daily Libération has an in-depth feature on this question, with a map of France’s nuclear installations that I’ve pasted below.

The French government has indeed said it wants to “learn lessons” from this case to optimize the security of France’s nuclear installations, which government officials assure have little risk.

What do YOU think?

BBC excerpts:

“…France gets 75% of its energy from nuclear power, exporting the excess and earning useful currency by so doing. In addition, some in government want to sell French reactors to emerging economies. Greenpeace immediately called for a reversal of this nuclear policy which France embraced in the 1970s after the “oil shock” when the price of oil jumped. The group Sortir du Nucleaire protested by the Eiffel Tower, unfurling banners saying “Nuclear is killing the future”.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who is a member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, told French radio that there should be a national referendum on the country’s dependence on nuclear power. “It begs the question of the need for civil nuclear power,” he said. “Is it not time to sound the alarm?” This is difficult for the government because France’s dependence is so great.

France to eliminate tax cap, reform wealth tax

France is unfortunately known for its high taxes. One of the recent fiscal measures, le bouclier fiscal or the tax cap (a.k.a. tax shield) limited all direct income taxes to 50% no matter the income bracket. I wrote about this recently on Bonjour Paris. Those who defended it said it lightened the load of taxes, but those opposed to it reckoned it protected the wealthy while not contributing to reducing the deficit and debt.

Recent debate lead up to today’s decision, announced today by Prime Minister François Fillon, to end the policy. (However, some sort of tax cap will remain in place, at an unspecified percentage, for the less well-off, which make up 52% of the beneficiaries). You can see the French article from Le Point at the link above, and the video from BFM TV below.

Below the video, excerpts from this Wall Street Journal article. Next on the agenda: reforming or abolishing the wealth tax (see more in WSJ and Bonjour Paris articles as well as a detailed report by Le Figaro), which could help as many as 300,000 households pay less tax.

What are your thoughts on these developments?

EUROPE BUSINESS NEWSMARCH 3, 2011, 7:38 A.M. ET
French Prime Minister Says Tax Shield to be Abolished

By WILLIAM HOROBIN

PARIS—French Prime Minister François Fillon Thursday confirmed the government intends to abolish a tax shield that has become a controversial hallmark of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency.

Mr. Sarkozy decreased the threshold of the tax shield shortly after coming to power in 2007 so that no taxpayer pays more than half their income in taxes. But his ratings have hit record lows and the tax shield has become a thorn in his side as many voters see it as a measure benefiting the wealthy few.

“We have to face up to reality: the tax shield has been misunderstood, and the crisis has probably made our citizens more sensitive to some of its effects,” Mr. Fillon told a conference, organized to discuss the reform of property and capital taxes that Mr. Sarkozy has promised for the first half of 2011.

The tax shield was designed in part to limit the impact of France’s wealth tax, which Mr. Sarkozy also intends to reform before the presidential elections in May 2012.

The government says it will either do away with the wealth tax completely or significantly modify it. Mr. Fillon said Thursday said the reform will free 300,000 households from the wealth tax.

Yet the government is insisting the reform must have a neutral impact on public finances at a time when France is fighting to rein in deficits. If the wealth tax and the tax shield are abolished, the government will need around €3.2 billion ($4.44 billion) to make up the shortfall.

“We won’t finance this reform with debt. Balancing the budget will be strictly respected,” Mr. Fillon said.

He also ruled out a variety of options that have been suggested in recent months. The government will not tax gains on the sale of main residences, will not reverse its reduction of inheritance tax, and will not introduce an additional tax bracket, Mr. Fillon said.

Mr. Fillon also said the reform of capital and property tax is one of the reforms necessary for greater tax convergence in the euro zone.

European leaders are negotiating a competitiveness pact for members of the euro zone. Some countries have balked at Franco-German proposals that they fear would compromise their sovereignty in sensitive areas like pensions and salaries.

Mr. Fillon said France and Germany should aim to harmonize corporate taxes, starting with the base of these taxes before looking at the rates.

French retirement reform passes; Fillon kept as PM; strikes for Nov. 23

November 14th, 2010 No comments

I write for Bonjour Paris and this week have this article about the French retirement reform passing. Be sure to check out Bonjour Paris.

Excerpts from my article below:

After two months that saw many days of strike action (sometimes marred by violence) by unions, schools and others opposed to the French government’s retirement reform, it has become law. President Nicolas Sarkozy had given ground on certain areas, such as easing pension requirements for working mothers and those who work in arduous, labor-intensive jobs.

But he did not give in to union demands to keep the retirement age at 60 and the age for full pension at 65, instead remaining determined to raise these to 62 and 67, respectively. Business newspapers give an in-depth look into the details of the pension law (in French).

In the end he succeeded, despite strike action, because of many factors including a special parliamentary procedure that did not allow for debate on each amendment and thus facilitated voting on the proposed bill in the Sénat and Assemblée Nationale. Another reason is that strikes in France do not have the power they used to, with a legal minimum service in schools and in transportation making life less difficult for everyday people. The Paris metro operated during the heat of the strike.

He succeeded in this reform where past French presidents attempting it had failed because of giving in to strike pressure. But what has this done for his popularity and chances of being re-elected in 2012?

The BBC reports that it has certainly undermined his approval ratings.

In the midst of this lack of popularity, Sarkozy is planning a TV address on Nov. 18 to announce a cabinet reshuffling, with Prime Minister François Fillon being kept in place (having been reappointed to the position today after resigning from it only yesterday) but other ministers to be changed, a traditional move by the presidency to regain popularity. But the unions are still calling for strike action Nov. 23. Although aware that they will likely accomplish nothing against what is already law, they are already preparing action on other measures to keep momentum going, like work insurance, complementary pensions, youth unemployment problems, etc.

For now, Sarkozy has won the battle. But will he win the war? We’ll have to see. The definitive answer will come in 2012.

French Constitutional Council approves retirement reform

November 9th, 2010 No comments

After several weeks of protest and the passing of the retirement reform by French Parliament, the Constitutional Council (a bi-partisan panel that examines the constitutionality of proposed laws) has approved of the retirement reform in France. As the Figaro writes, they approved of all the major tenets of the reform (retirement age from 60 to 62, pension frm 65 to 67, etc.). The Sages (“wisemen”) who make up the council rejected Socialist complaints, asserting that the reform did not infringe rights of equality. There were 13 amendments not approved, pushed back to further debate related to reforms on resident work doctors, but all the major parts of the retirement reform were adopted.

You can read more about this decision at the Nouvel Obs, and a great guide and analysis of the main points of the reform can be found here.

Next step: President Sarkozy will sign this into law. Nouvel Obs says that Sarkozy has 15 days to sign this into law, in accordance with the French Constitution. His advisor Raymond Soubie estimated before that it would be around Nov. 15.

Bonjour Paris newsletter: French government news, strike update

November 8th, 2010 2 comments

I write for Bonjour Paris and this week I have a piece about the French government cabinet reshuffle with updates on the strike movement (which seems to be dying down as the retirement reform bill is set to become law). Check out other articles on the site as well, on such subjects like French wine, hotel recommendations, Obama-Sarkozy relationship and more. Excerpts below from my article. I’ll be sure to update you on any strike situation that could affect you.

Indeed, the strikes on Nov. 6 saw significantly less participation, with unions divided about the future of the movement. Figaro asserts that the movement has loss all momentum. Le Point writes that as turnout was lower than previous days, tension is high among unions about the future. They will decide Monday on whether or not to carry out further action. I will let you know what they decide.

In the wake of several weeks that have seen strikes around France in protest against French retirement reform proposed and enacted by President Sarkozy’s government, the “movement” has calmed down significantly since the somewhat violent clashes between youth and police in Lyon and elsewhere a couple weeks ago.

Where do we stand now? The pension reform law has been voted by Parliament (both Assemblée Nationale and Sénat) and is now awaiting final approval by the Conseil Constitutionnel (the Constitutional Council, a bi-partisan board that evaluates the constitutionality of proposed laws) before becoming official law.

The unions called for a strike on Saturday Nov. 6, but following the relatively low turnout for protests compared to past demonstrations, they are thinking about the future of other days of action. Even if the reform becomes law, despite its “injustice” in the eyes of unions, they say they would continue to demonstrate and protest in policies linked to purchasing power, working conditions and other issues for them. The French Left is now considering actions to capitalize on the frustration of the streets, according to Libération, to prepare for the 2012 presidential elections.

Meanwhile the government is preparing for a reshuffle of ministers, with rumors surrounding the Prime Minister François Fillon and whether or not he will be replaced by Jean-Louis Borloo (current Minister of Ecology and Energy, Sustainable Development and Town and Country Planning).

In the conservative Figaro, a poll finds that nearly 87% of respondents want Fillon to stay on. Indeed, his level of popularity has remained higher than Sarkozy for a long time now. Many French see him as intelligent, calm and composed as opposed to the hyper-active and micro-managing President.

One thing is for sure. France is the midst of significant social change that will have an impact in years to come, and for many French, 2012 could not come soon enough. But there is a lot of time between now and then, and Sarkozy could make a come-back. That looks unlikely at the moment.

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