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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

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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At a lecture at City University yesterday, media commentator Roy Greenslade blamed Britain’s press for the British public’s continuing negative attitude towards Europe.

He pointed out that the papers rarely covered the goings on of the EU and that when the EU did hit the headlines it was often portrayed in a negative light.

According to Greenslade there are two competing narratives advanced by Euroskeptic Fleet Street: Underlying most news stories is either the assumption that there is a Franco- German conspiracy to run the EU together or the assumption that the EU is a sham because individual nations are constantly at each other’s throats.

Certainly the big EU story of the moment is the Czech President’s call for an EU summit to prevent French “protectionist” measures. The move came after Sarkozy announced a €6.5bn rescue package for French carmakers and said that they should consider relocating their plants in the Czech Republic back to France.

The difference in the coverage of the events by the French and British media is really interesting and seems to offer a good example of Greenslade’s thesis. While the Brits tended to focus on Czech- French tensions (see this article in the BBC for one example), the French looked at how the European Commission was investigating the matter first, and Czech accusations only second (see this article in L’Express).

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this one event. What do you think? Is the British media’s EU coverage too negative? Is the French media’s coverage any better?

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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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In 2006-07, I was working as a French language assistant in Sète, a smallish fishing port on the Mediterranean cost. It’s a beautiful place and I’d definitely recommend visiting it if you’re ever in the south of France.

I had a great year and was lucky enough to experience that special French event – la grève (the strike) not once, but five times.

A couple of times the teachers themselves went on strike. One time it was over working hours. The government had plans to get rid of a system whereby certain professeurs could work fewer hours in the classroom to compensate for time spent preparing for lessons.  

When I first heard about the strike, I was tempted to think it had been called as a chance to do some Christmas shopping. It was on 18th December, after all.

But I remember the heated discussion that went on in the staff room. On one side there were the teachers bent on striking to defend their rights. On the other were those who felt this was an unnecessary strike, that the pupils would suffer and that there were more important battles to be fought.

It was thrilling to witness people so passionate about politics when in England I’ve only ever encountered apathy.

Of course, it also helped that the strike meant I could have the day off. Even if some teachers were coming in, I was told that most pupils would use it as an excuse to take a day off.

 

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