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French Socialists Primaries: François Hollande comes out on top in first round

October 10th, 2011 1 comment

Bonjour!

A brief French news update….

The French Socialist Party held the country’s first general political primary in order to choose their party’s candidate for the Spring 2012 Presidential election. François Hollande came out on top, with Martine Aubry coming in at a close second. The second and final round will take place next Sunday Oct. 16. You can read more about the election here and here (in French). For coverage from a left-leaning paper, check out Libération

They had a very heavy turn-out and more politically liberal voters generally seem quite happy with the primary system. Now the question is who losing candidates will support in the run-off next week, and more importantly, who presents the best case and chance to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in the elections. Sarkozy is very unpopular, and there is a wave of frustration with his administration and its policies and a sense that people are tired of having him in power. This could well be an omen for any chances he may have at a second term. Only time will tell.

Francois Hollande is thought to appeal to a wide cross-section of the electorate (BBC News)

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.

Bonjour Paris article: French politics, Libya, Burqa ban..

I write for Bonjour Paris, a valuable resource, with summaries of French news. This week I focus on French politics, NATO intervention in Libya, regime change in Côte d’Ivoire and the debate on Islam in France.

Bonjour Paris: French politics, 2012 elections

This week’s Bonjour Paris features an article I wrote that talks about French politics, the fallout from the recent local elections and commentary what this might mean for the upcoming 2012 presidential and legislative elections.

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: Sarkozy’s new cabinet

November 20th, 2010 No comments

In this week’s Bonjour Paris, a great resource, I write a piece analyzing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s new cabinet after the reshuffling. It talks about changes, Prime Minister François Fillon, the French economy, Bettencourt scandal, Sarkozy’s 10 big challenges for the remainder of his administration and 2011 Senate elections and 2012 presidential election. Excerpts below.

Just an FYI: there are strikes planned for Nov. 23 against the now lost-cause of retirement reform, but they are not expected to cause much disruption. Nonetheless I will update my blog Nov. 22 with any relevant information.

As promised, President Nicolas Sarkozy finally carried out the long-awaited reshuffling of his cabinet. This is a traditional move by French presidents during their administrations, regarded as an effort to regain popularity and credibility after facing approval-rating problems. Mr. Sarkozy has certainly had those.

The Economist cites a poll by Ifop that puts Sarkozy’s approval rating at 36% and that of Prime Minister François Fillon at 55%. This is one principal reason Fillon was kept in office – defying the modern trend of presidents changing prime ministers once or twice per administration. In fact, as the same article notes: “If he keeps his job until 2012, M. Fillon will become the first prime minister in modern times to have survived a president’s entire term.” This is due in part because “his calm, reassuring style makes him the antidote to the hyperkinetic president.”

So the fact that Fillon stayed on makes this both an uneventful reshuffling and an exceptional one. You can see a group photograph and learn the names of all cabinet members on the Elysée website here. You can also read coverage of it in the New York Times. Some of the most notable changes come at Defense Minister (old: Hervé Morin; new: Alain Juppé) and Foreign Minister (old: Bernard Kouchner; new: Michèle Alliot-Marie). Overall, it is a government that is more right of center, and one of the most unsurprising changes was at Budget Minister, where François Baroin replaced Eric Woerth. Woerth had been entangled in the Bettencourt scandal. But Nicolas Sarkozy supported him fully in a speech to France about his reshuffling.

Sarkozy will face 10 big challenges during the second half of his term, according to weekly Le Point: strengthening his UMP party unity for 2012; regaining approval ratings; keeping the French Senate to the right (Senatorial elections are in September 2011 and could swing left); reforming fiscal policy; financing aid for the elderly; supporting employment; improving France’s image abroad; getting support from students and the youth with convincing plans; and mastering the internet.

For more information, The Economist has quality coverage of this event. France 24 also covers it.

The challenge now is implementing further reforms – on the heels of the unpopular retirement pension reform now law – to improve the French economy while remaining popular enough to have a chance at reelection in 2012. But there are already many candidates from several parties waiting in the wings, most notably IMF head and Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former Prime Minister conservative Dominique de Villepin.

This just in: French strikes planned for Oct. 19, fuel supply to Paris airports cut

October 15th, 2010 1 comment

Wow, French unions are calling for yet another “day of action”, this time for Tuesday Oct. 19. This will combine public transport strikes and high school closings, as well as a continuation of the blockade of oil refineries that is threatening to cut supply in the country.

The French government is being urged by oil representatives to open up the emergency supply of provisions, as they state there are only 10 days worth of stock left. All of 12 French refineries have been either shut down or blockaded by protesting workers, leading to this situation, but riot police have successfully intervened and reopened 4 refineries. However, the fuel supply to the 2 main airports in Paris, Orly and Charles de Gaulle, has been cut. Consequently, CDG could run out of fuel by next week, whereas estimates on stock for Orly are for another 17 days. See article below for more information. You can also look at the Paris airports website for information. Check with your airline companies too.

As BBC notes in this insightful report, President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing record low approval ratings, but he has insisted that his government will not cede in the midst of opposition to pension reform. Meanwhile Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry and others from the left are calling for renegotiations, but the left remains split between those who would be willing to raise the age to 62 amid concessions and those who do not want to negotiate. The President of UMP (Sarkozy’s center-right party) in the Sénat, Gérard Longuet, has called out the Socialists as hyocrites for suggesting retirement age 60 because people would not be able to get full pension.

The UMP’s youth and student arm is trying to reach out to high schoolers in the midst of strikes and protests to inform them about the retirement reform; you will see many students protesting, but dig deeper and often they are not that informed.

Stay tuned. I will update my blog on Oct. 18 with pertinent transport info for the country. Meanwhile, watch out for disgruntled strikes tomorrow (Saturday Oct 16) as protests are planned for around the country as well that day. Hang in there!

Fuel supplies to Paris’ main airports through a major pipeline have been cut off amid strikes over pension reforms.

“The company that operates the pipeline told French media that the capital’s main airport, Charles de Gaulle, could run out of fuel as early as next week. There are fears of fuel shortages as all of France’s 12 oil refineries have been hit by strikes, and many oil depots remain blockaded.

Unions are opposed to government plans to raise the retirement age. Trapil, the firm that operates the pipeline to Paris’ airports, said supplies had been cut off on Friday.

A company spokesman told AFP news agency: “Orly airport has stocks for 17 days, and Roissy [Charles de Gaulle] for at least the weekend.”

In recent days government officials have tried to play down fears of petrol shortages, insisting that France has enough to see out the industrial action.However, panic buying has broken out in some areas, putting supplies under greater strain.

Earlier in Friday, riot police reopened oil deports that had been blockaded in Fos-sur-Mer in the south; Cournon in central France; and Lespinasse and Bassens in the south-west, AFP reported. French Junior Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau told reporters: “We cannot afford petrol shortages. One must bear in mind those of us who need transport.”

However, new blockades were set up at least five other fuel depots.

On Thursday, France’s petrol distributors urged the government to release emergency fuel stocks, warning that only 10 days’ fuel was left. Demand at petrol pumps has surged by 50% in the past two days.

In the port of Marseille, more than 70 ships carrying crude for refining are stranded as dockers continue their rolling strike.The protests erupted after centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, and from 65 to 67 for a full state pension.

More than a million people took to the streets in the latest national protest on Tuesday. France’s main unions have since stepped up their action, calling for the fifth in a series of strikes and street protests on 19 October. Students, who joined Tuesday’s demonstrations in large numbers, held further protests on Friday. More than 300 secondary schools across France – about one in 15 – remain affected by strikes and blockades.

September 7th day of strikes: What you should know city by city

September 6th, 2010 2 comments

Oh là là. Pas encore. Especially for striking against raising the retirement age, a necessary evil if the French government is to not go broke and be able to finance its public debt. They’ve announced raising it from the current 60 years old to 62 over the course of 8 years. If you’re in France on Tuesday September 7th, look out for heavy disruptions in public transport, among other services (post office, schools…). RATP, the Parisian region transport authority, has posted updates for tomorrow’s traffic here. SNCF, the national railway operator, has posted information as well here. You can find information for other metro areas transport below, mostly in French. Figaro gives a good breakdown too, en français.

Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux,Strasbourg, Lille, Nice, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Brest, Caen, La Rochelle, Le Havre.

Former Socialist Party Presidential candidate Ségolène Royal has stated that “if the French come out in numbers to demonstrate in the street, the government will have to take that into account.” More on this tomorrow…I know I have an important meeting on the other side of Paris tomorrow morning for work, might risk the RATP system, Vélib it or taxi…we’ll see. Bon courage à tous!

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