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NYT: How France is confronting change

August 27th, 2013 2 comments

The New York Times had a piece the other day talking about the French economy and political system and its confrontation with social realities. “A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline”.

This is certainly not a new theme. Indeed, in my travels and living in France, I often heard the refrain “France changes not by evolution, but by revolution.” It echoes perhaps true today, with a political system that sees its citizens protest in the streets in an attempt to get their voices heard – it’s the French equivalent of citizen lobbying and activism that can come off as much more noticeable than activist efforts through citizen groups like NGO’s in the US.

It’s an insightful read, no matter where you stand in the political spectrum.

Here are the first few excerpts:

The New York Times
Steven Erlanger
August 24, 2013
Memo from France – A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline

“For decades, Europeans have agonized over the power and role of Germany — the so-called German question — given its importance to European stability and prosperity.

Today, however, Europe is talking about “the French question”: can the Socialist government of President François Hollande pull France out of its slow decline and prevent it from slipping permanently into Europe’s second tier?

At stake is whether a social democratic system that for decades prided itself on being the model for providing a stable and high standard of living for its citizens can survive the combination of globalization, an aging population and the acute fiscal shocks of recent years…”

French news update (politics, G8..)

I write for Bonjour Paris and you can find my latest article here. It covers a lot of topics (Dominique Strauss-Kahn, G8, IMF), and Bonjour Paris is a great resource.

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.

French 2012 election dates set

The French government has set presidential election dates for April 22nd and May 6, 2012 and parliamentary election dates for June 10 and June 17, 2012. French elections are traditionally held on Sundays over two rounds.

Right now it looks like the UMP candidate will be current President Nicolas Sarkozy, and polls indicate that the strongest Socialist Party candidate would be current IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Meanwhile, far-right FN candidate Marine Le Pen is fairing surprisingly well in polls, but most people think she will not be a serious contender for office.

More from BBC News below (BBC actually made a mistake, it’s May 6th, not May 5th).

You can also read more at Le Point.

11 May 2011 Last updated at 11:39 GMT
France sets 2012 presidential election dates

The two rounds of the 2012 French presidential election will be held on 22 April and 5 May, the government has announced in Paris.

A two-round parliamentary election will follow on 10 and 17 June, said government spokesman Francois Baroin.

Opinion polls suggest sitting President Nicolas Sarkozy would struggle against a strong Socialist contender.

The popularity of far right leader Marine Le Pen has alarmed other parties across the political spectrum.

Since Mr Sarkozy won the 2007 election by a convincing margin, the centre-right leader has had to grapple with public anger over his austerity policies.

While the Socialists have yet to pick their candidate, opinion polls suggest IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be their strongest choice.

French politics, news, economy, wedding coverage…

As you know, I write for Bonjour Paris, and this week I have an article covering many subjects. You can read it 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.

Bonjour Paris: Libya, French elections, tsunami, Chirac

This week’s Bonjour Paris features many interesting articles. I have one that covers a variety of subjects (Chirac trial, French elections, Libyan crisis, Japanese tsunami) you can read here.

Bonjour Paris: end of French 35 hour work week?

January 16th, 2011 2 comments

This week’s Bonjour Paris features an article by me. Check out Bonjour Paris, a great resource.

The End of the 35-hour Work Week in France?
By Michael Barrett

French politicians from across the political spectrum are debating whether or not to change the law on the 35-hour work week even though most people work longer than that. Whether or not it happens, there will be heated discourse.

Ask someone outside of France what they think of French workers, and the majority of the responses will most likely involve strikes, protests and perhaps some “bossnappings”. This satirical article is just an example.

But, another aspect is the 35-hour work week that became law in 2000 during the presidency of Jacques Chirac and the government of Socialist Lionel Jospin (Prime Minister at the time). Proposed by Martine Aubry (current Socialist Party head, Lille Mayor and potential 2012 presidential candidate), the idea is based on the belief that by decreasing the number of hours worked, there would be more room for new hires.

Although France has one of the most productive workforces in the world, its competiveness as a place to do business is less than stellar. (There is an interesting comparison between France and the US here). It has had mixed results.

This could be explained by several factors (also depending on political opinion and sources), but certainly the 35-hour work week could be considered as a divisive issue. One of the most remarkable calls for its repeal came from Socialist Manuel Valls, who France 24 (in an excellent article) rightly calls “a maverick”.

This has lead to loud criticism of him in his party for going against the grain and criticizing a staple policy from when Socialists held governing powers. Valls thinks the policy undermines French competitiveness in the world economy.

Now the conservative UMP party (that of President Nicolas Sarkozy) has called for a debate on the 35-hour work week. But Sarkozy so far has refused repealing it in the short-term.

This topic will certainly be contested during the next year until the 2012 elections. Stay tuned for the news.

Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France.

Sarkozy, Bettencourt & the media: my comments on Al-Jazeera

November 27th, 2010 No comments

Al-Jazeera English recently approached me to comment on a story about French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Bettencourt Affair and the government’s influence on French media. The background story can be found here and the video report here. I’ve also embedded the video below.

The French story goes from 12:25 to 20:36, with my comments featured from 19:33 to 19:56. It was edited of course, so I’ve posted my original full comments below the video (my goal being to provide a balanced perspective). Very interesting story for a quality news organization, so I was glad to contribute.

My full comment, pre-edited:

Many people have accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of interfering in the press to advance his personal agenda and those of his administration.

Mr. Sarkozy indeed has close friends who control a significant portion of the media (newspapers, magazines, TV and radio). They include Arnaud Lagardère, Serge Dassault, Martin Bouygues, Bernard Arnault and François Pinault. Mr. Sarkozy also holds sway at France Televisions, the state-run TV company.

Most recently his government has been accused of spying on journalists and their sources at Le Monde who helped uncover the alleged Bettencourt scandal. The government denies any wrongdoing in this affair.

So while Sarkozy does hold sway in the media, there remains a healthy presence of leftwing and moderate media that is critical of his administration. So what emerges is a delicate political balance that could be threatened if allegations of wrongdoing prove correct.

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