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Archive for the ‘French politics’ Category

Graffiti protest in the 2007 French elections

Graffiti protest in the 2007 French elections

Infamous leader of the French far right, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has predicted that Griffin’s appearance on Question Time will boost the Brit’s popularity. Certainly Le Pen’s own performance on a similar French chat show proved a great boon for him.

Before he appeared on the prime-time show L’Heure de Vérité in 1984, his Front National had seen little press coverage and was polling at 3.5 %. Afterwards, they went on to score 11% in the European elections that year.

No wonder Le Pen called his TV stint “the hour that changed everything” and said the BNP “could now enjoy a surge in support” in an interview with the Evening Standard this week.

And his heure de vérité in 1984 was only the start. Le Pen went on to shock the French nation by coming second in the French presidential race in 2002, beating the former prime minister Lionel Jospin.

So far, so bad. But if we’re truly to understand the impact that Griffin’s Question Time performance might have, we need to look at what happened after Le Pen’s first round success in the 2002 elections.

Le Pen was totally trounced in the second round, winning 18% of the vote to Jacques Chirac’s 82%. Determined to stop the nightmare scenario of Le Pen Le Président, even voters who despised Chirac were prepared to, as the slogan ran: “Vote for the criminal, not the fascist.” (Chirac was suspected of corruption at that time).

More interesting was the “Le Pen effect” in the 2007 elections. There was an exceptional turnout of 84%, with 8 million more people voting than in 2002.  As a French friend of mine explained at the time:

I’m not particularly enamoured with either Sarko or Ségo but I’m determined to exercise my right to vote. We can’t have another embarrassment like 2002.

Success can be a double-edged sword for extreme parties. More people voting for them – or perceived to be voting for them – will lead more moderate voters who had been wavering to cast their ballots against them.

In Le Pen’s case 2002 also proved to be his peak. A million fewer people voted for him in 2007  and he came fourth in the first round. He’s now back on the fringes where he belongs.

So perhaps we can hope that the BNP’s success in the recent European elections and Griffin’s raised profile thanks to Question Time will actually be his downfall in the long term. Perhaps the spectre of an emboldened BNP will push more of us to vote than the mere 61% who turn out last time.

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French shops could soon open on Sundays for the first time if Sarkozy gets his way

A controversial and complicated debate is raging across France this week after the French parliament’s lower house voted on Wednesday by a narrow majority – 282 to 238 – to loosen restrictions on Sunday trading.

If ratified, the bill would allow shops to open on Sunday in 500 tourist areas and cities with more than a million inhabitants. Previously Sunday was designated a day of “repos”. All commercial activity in France was banned, although there were certain exceptions including markets and grocers.

But the bill is yet to be ratified. It still has to get through the Senate and even if the upper house approves it, it could still be blocked. The Socialist Party, which voted against the law has threatened to go to the Conseil Constitutionnel, arguing that the law would be unconstitutional. They maintain it would create inequality among workers, forcing some to work on Sunday, allowing others to keep this traditional day of rest.

In Britain, we’ve long taken for granted that shops should be open at our convenience but the issue of whether to keep dimanche sacré is dividing France. A poll for Libération revealed that 55 per cent of French people were opposed to allowing more Sunday trading.

The divide is not totally along left-right lines – even within Sarkozy’s UMP, despite pressure from the top, 10 mps voted against the law and 15 abstained. Rather the debate centres on the question of whether to move towards a more free market Anglo-Saxon model.

The law’s critics claim allowing more large discount stores and supermarkets to trade on Sundays would lead to smaller traditional shops going out of business. Its supporters say the changes would boost public spending and the economy.

So, as Guillaume Perrault declares in Le Figaro, despite the bill passing through the lower house:

« La bataille du travail le dimanche n’est pas encore achevée »

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Take a look at this promo video a French friend sent me. If you watch it through you’ll notice something strange. It’s meant to be a video crossing linguistic and cultural barriers – by the youth of Europe for the youth of Europe – urging them to vote in the European elections.

Yet the British are conspicuously absent. The English subtitles and a few good attempts by (my guess is) a Scandinavian at an English accent cannot mask the fact that our fellow countryman have not got involved in this project.

From my experience of living in France, Brits have a bad reputation when it comes to politics. According to the stereotype, we’re too busy drinking tea to get down to the polling booth.  

Poor British turnout in the 1999 European elections seemed to confirm this. Just under 23% of us voted, compared with the 50% of Europeans who cast their ballots.

Our performance in the last European elections was, however, much better, with 39% of Brits turning out.  In 2004 we showed Europe that, although are feelings towards it are often at best ambivalent, we at least cared enough to have a say on its policies. Unlike France, there has actually been an upward trend in Britain in voter turnout in the European elections.

Whatever the reasons for us not being involved in Five Friends for Europe campaign, we can still show our amis across the channel that we’re politically engaged enough to vote in the EU elections.

Still unsure? Try votematch – a quick online questionnaire which works out which parties you agree with most by getting you to click “agree” or “disagree” to different policy statements. Even if it doesn’t throw up the party your heart tells you to vote for, at will at least get you thinking about the issues.

See you at the polling station…

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Photo originally uploaded by jew_bokobz on Flickr

I recently came across a great article in Courrier International entitled “Obama inspiré par Sarkozy.”

Courrier International is a French weekly which takes articles from papers around the world, drawing from publications as eclectic as the Madagascar Tribune and the Yorkshire Post, and translates them into French. I wish we had an English version of this – does anybody know one?

This particular article on Sarkozy and Obama was a translation of a piece that originally appeared in Newsweek under the title “Big Government is Back – Big Time”. The author used a teasing lead-in, claiming Obama’s speeches were becoming more and more like Sarkozy’s but the rest of the article simply focused on Obama moving towards a more “European-style” paternalistic government.

Courrier International’s translation of the article was spot on (compare the Courrier verision and the original if you like) but the editor couldn’t resist sexing up the title. Use Obama in the headlines because Obama sells.

Such is Obama’s popularity in France, that in the last 12 months, Obama has been Googled by the French twice as much as they Google their own president, Sarkozy.

I found this out using Google insights. If you look at the bottom of this Google insights search, you’ll see that the most popular search terms for Sarkozy are actually for his wife, Carla Bruni.

Oh dear. It looks like Sarkozy is the one in need of inspiration.


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On French television a couple of days ago Sarkozy declared France would not commit the same economic errors as Britain, saying:

 «Les Anglais ont fait le choix d’une relance par la consommation avec, notamment, une baisse de la TVA, dont on voit bien que ça n’a amené absolument aucun progrès.»

[ “The English chose to boost [the economy] through consumer spending by lowering VAT, which, we’ve seen, has led to absolutely no progress.”]

Downing Street responded in that most typical British fashion – it resorted to irony, telling reporters:

“The Elysee have been in contact this morning to assure us that these remarks were not meant as a critique of UK economic policy – which is nice.”

Less than a year ago on a state visit to England, the French premier had promised that an “entente formidable” would develop between the two countries.

It should be no surprise that this beautiful promise didn’t come to fruition. From William the Conqueror to more modern times when De Gaulle said non to Britain joining the ECC, the Anglo-French entente has always been something of a love-hate relationship.

That Sweet Enemy by Robert and Isabelle Tombs is a brilliant book documenting this relationship from the time of the Sun King to the present. I would definitely recommend it. It’s humorous, insightful and well worth the read. Although at nearly 800 pages, it is perhaps too long, so you might want to just dip in and out of chapters.

For something far less time-consuming, see the YouTube clip below. Before you do, I just want to say I absolument don’t agree with the politics behind the video but it is funny nonetheless.

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French workers demonstrate against the conservative government’s economic policy that would impact salaries, benefits and pensions. The strike effected the transport industry.

Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos

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They’re at it again, les Français. Forget le football, we all know striking is France’s national sport and today saw a fine example of the game.

A staggering 2.5 million workers took to the streets to protest against Sarkozy’s handling of the economic crisis.

Unions are demanding that he do more to protect employment, public services and le pouvoir d’achat (the buying power of the average man).

Schools closed. Transport came to almost a complete halt with only 30% of trains running.

And yet despite all the disruption brought by this “jeudi noir” (as the French press are calling it), public opinion is behind the strikers.

According to a poll conducted for the weekly news magazine L’Express, 69% of the French public think their action is “justifié”. (Get hold of this pole here.)

People throughout France feel that President Bling, as Sarkozy is known for his love of Rolex watches, is not doing enough to help the ordinary man.

They sympathize with the strikers cry of “on ne veut pas payer pour les banquiers!” (We don’t want to pay for the bankers). They agree with FO union leader Jean-Claude Mailly’s characterisation of the French government as “irrésponsable”.

With the President not prepared to listen, things turned nasty. This evening, there are reports of youths throwing bottles and lighting fires on the streets of Paris. (See BBC.)

This isn’t your average strike, an average grève. This is revolt.

To find out more about the origins of this strike see this article in Le Monde. Or if you’re after an  explanation in English this article in Der Spiegel is good.

Le Nouvel Observateur has an hour by hour break down of the event and videos of the days events accross France.

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