It’s been a tough few weeks in France

And this blogger has been silently watching several awful events.


Last October, President Macron finally ended France’s two-year State of Emergency. Introduced by President Hollande after November 2015’s terrorist attacks which killed 130 people, many of the State of Emergency’s provisions were translated into Macron’s much-toughened counter-terrorism laws.

However, in the first terror attacks since then, a petty criminal killed 4 and injured 16 in a series of terrorist shootings. The man was one of over 26,000 individuals named on the ‘S’ (for State Security) list of those considered at risk of radicalisation; he was under surveillance and was being monitored. The attacks followed the possible non-coincidence (it’s the 2nd such case) of the man being summoned to an ‘administrative interview’ by the anti-terror authorities. France was stunned when the gendarme who’d volunteered to be a replacement hostage for a supermarket cashier was then himself stabbed to death as he tried to disarm the terrorist.

Politicians from Right, Ultra-Right (and neo-Right) demanded Action. All part of the ‘Something Must Be Done’ response. And it’s seemingly (almost) all in line with what’s wanted by The French Public (see below):

  • leader of the right-wing Républicains, Wauquiez, called for the reinstatement of the State of Emergency, with no explanation as to how someone radicalised without warning is in any way inhibited from acting by a State of Emergency. Wauquiez crassly condemned President Macron’s ‘culpable naivety’, ‘absence of action’ and ‘irresponsibility’, accusing him of ‘a tragic error of diagnosis on Islamist barbarity when explaining it by highlighting unemployment or discrimination’. Even by Wauquiez’s standards of calumny that’s rich. Those Macron comments made in 2015 bear no relation to his statements today. Wauquiez also called for the introduction of the full panoply of Ultra-Right nostrums, including internment of the ‘most dangerous radicalised Islamists’ and expulsions of foreigners on the ‘S’ list. Following which, not for the first time, Wauquiez finds clear blue water between his own Ultra-Right solutions and those of his own Party members
  • leader of the neo-Right, Valls (ex-Socialist Prime Minister, now ‘part’ of Macron’s En Marche Party) called for the most dangerous people on the ‘S’ list to be interned. For good measure, Valls also called for the banning of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement [when PM he’d said that was neither desirable nor feasible]
  • leader of the ultra-right Front National, Le Pen, called for the immediate expulsion from France of any foreigners on the ‘S’ list, as well as any people with dual nationality (who should also be stripped of their French nationality).

Interior Minister, Collomb, tweeted that 20 radicalised foreigners had been expelled in 2017, claiming that to be a record. [Collomb – former Socialist Mayor of Lyon for 16 years and Macron supporter from the earliest days – had been on the Socialist Party’s right and, effortlessly, now finds himself to the right of many of the President’s En Marche Deputies, with his harsh immigration proposals arousing vigorous debate.]

A state ceremony honouring murdered gendarme, Arnaud Beltrame, was led by President Macron at Les Invalides, after the coffin had first been taken through the streets of a rain-soaked Paris. President Macron hailed Beltrame’s bravery and, in a speech of total dignity, said he was a hero. Calling for a ‘cohesive and united nation’ in the face of ‘Islamist aggression and hatred’, the President said ‘We will win thanks to the French people’s calmness and resilience … right and justice will triumph’. This sober, wise response deserves praise.

Subsequently, the leader of the hard left France Unbowed Party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon gave a stunningly good speech in his Parliamentary tribute. Mélenchon received the (highly unusual for him) accolade of being (almost) universally applauded. It’s below, with English subtitles. The perplexedness of Prime Minister Philippe (the bearded one with glasses) over how exactly to react is a pleasure to see.

By way of a coda, it has to be reported that opinion pollsters Odoxa seem to show that right-wing calls for The Smack Of Firm Government broadly align with public opinion:

  • banning Salafism (supported by 88%)
  • interning the most dangerous people on the ‘S’ list (87%)
  • expelling foreigners on the ‘S’ list (83%)
  • re-establishing the State of Emergency (61%) – interesting that that’s the least supported measure; evidently the public wants practical measures.

But poor old Wauquiez! (Hollow laughter). While those polled are strongly in favour of Wauqiez-style Action, 59% think Wauquiez was wrong to criticise President Macron after the terrorist attacks. They didn’t like Wauquiez trying to score political points out of terrorism. No less than 44% of Wauquiez’s own supporters thought he was wrong.

Anti-Semitic Murders

An 85 year-old disabled Jewish woman, Mireille Knoll, who’d avoided being arrested and deported in the infamous Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv’ [the 1942 Nazi-directed and Paris-police-executed round-up at the Vel d’Hiv cycling track of 13,000 Jews, of whom fewer than 100 survived the concentration camps] was murdered in her Paris social housing flat. Two young men were arrested, one her neighbour since he was a child. The investigating magistrate declared the murder to be a hate crime: the motive was anti-Semitism.

Several thousand people, including many Ministers, marched through Paris in tribute to the murdered woman and as a protest against anti-Semitism. But controversy arose when Mrs Knoll’s son stated all were welcome to join the march. This had been a response to the President of the French Jewish Council of Representative Institutions (CRIF) who’d declared the presence on the march of both Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (and their respective Hard Right and Hard Left Parties) to be unwelcome ‘because each Party contained a large number of anti-semites’. Both Le Pen and Mélenchon were jostled and shouted at … and both decided to drop out of the march.

Mrs Knoll is the 11th person murdered in France, since 2006, because they were Jewish.

And in the midst of vile terrorism and vile murder, life has (of course and thank goodness) just gone on

With a regrettable grinding of gears, there’s still a need to record some of what’s been happening elsewhere on the political scene.

Strikes, strikes everywhere. Does this smell as though there’s a nostalgic 50th anniversary whiff of Revolution ’68 wafting through the air?

Rolling strikes on the railways. Clever decision this from the rail unions: ‘maximum’ impact from ‘minimal’ strike activity. France is (this very evening) seeing the start of 3 months of rail workers’ strikes. The rail unions will carry out a 2-day-strike/3-day-work régime till the end of June, fighting Government plans to
  • institute radical reforms to State railway company, SNCF, and
  • change the special employment status of all new SNCF employees.

Lucky passengers are about to test the rail-workers’ resolve. As Easter Monday’s near-sun fades … (yes, at last, one could almost imagine that there’s some promise of better weather to come, with Ella’s incomparable voice)

… an average of 1 in 10 TGVs and 1 in 4 other trains might be a-running. Transport Minister Borne (erstwhile SNCF’s Director of Strategy) used long-hallowed conciliatory language saying she’s available 24/7 for discussions with the unions.

In fact, the Government’s already begun a bit of rétropédalage (back-pedalling) with certain plans, especially the EU-required opening up of railways to competition. There’s talk of a maximum 10% having competing operators; with Greater Paris trains (the jewel in the competition crown with its 860 million passengers/year) being open to competitors between 2023-2032 and Paris’s 5 lines of fast commuter RER trains seeing competition in the never-neverland of 2033-2039.

Minister Borne used the word ‘negotiation’ – rather than just ‘dialogue’ – for the first time last week in the run-up to the strike. This, coupled with Governmental confirmation that some of the hated reforms will not be introduced by executive ordinance, but debated in the good old Parliamentary way, and the conflict scenario may be more flexible.

Today being Strike Day Zero it’s unclear which way public opinion will fall. In the Great 1995 Strikes, when Prime Minister Juppé’s reform plans ultimately had to be jettisoned, public support for the strikes was sustained through three very tough weeks because it was recognised that the proposed pension/Social Security reforms would affect everyone, public and private sector alike.

However, by confining reform to the SNCF (far less loved than before because of the worsening cost/conditions of rail travel) President Macron’s chosen a more careful route. Ifop‘s poll yesterday, on the eve of the first strike, showed 46% (up from an earlier 42%) saying the strikes are ‘justified’.

Those who do actually make it home tonight after the Easter Weekend will find

  • rubbish soon appearing on the streets of Paris and other big towns, with strikes calling for improved conditions and the creation of a ‘national rubbish service’
  • gas/electricity workers muscle-flexing … and demanding national services too
  • Air France’s unions have called strikes for more pay on 3, 7, 10 and 11 April
  • public service TV/radio could well be off the air on 4 April
  • tensions rising in several Universities over changes to the ways students get places … unheard-of University selection replacing the student’s right to a place
  • more strikes soon at Carrefour’s major stores protesting against the ‘transformation plan’ (ie job cuts) of the new CEO – Le Figaro reported that 25,000 of the 60,000 Carrefour hypermarket employees were on strike on Easter Saturday

‘I reject the cynical view that politics is a dirty business’ (Richard M Nixon)

Should it come to pass in 2019, it’ll be a French First: a former President on trial. Ex-President Sarkozy is charged with being a major player in a ‘corruption pact’ involving influence-peddling, relating to accusations that he illegally tried to obtain confidential information from a judge several years ago. Sarkozy is appealing against the decision to send the case for trial. If the appeal fails, at least it will be snug on the accused’s bench: both Sarko’s lawyer and said judge will be sat hugger-mugger alongside him.

[A lawyer muses: Any person convicted of active corruption can be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined €1million; influence-peddling gets a max. 5 years + a €500K fine.]

PS These accusations have (almost) nothing whatsoever to do with another prospective trial which ex-President Sarkozy also faces. The latter relates to illegal funding from Gaddafi/Libya of Sarko’s failed 2012 Presidential re-election campaign.

‘Almost’ nothing because (ironically) it was that earlier Libya funds investigation which led the investigating magistrates to tap Sarko’s phone, as well as his lawyer’s. What should they hear but discussions about the best way of getting hold of confidential information concerning yet another case involving Sarko (knowingly exceeding spending limits on his 2012 campaign) which was being handled by France’s top appeal court. The idea was to bribe a top appeal judges with a sinecure in Monaco in exchange for information. And, all the while, Sarko had been (successfully) fighting off accusations of receiving thick envelopes filled with wads of notes for illegal campaign funding from the L’Oréal billionaire heiress, Bettencourt.

And the President’s reforms continue apace

What might happen if the music ever stopped? Would the balls all drop to the ground? As part of the continuing Governmental Reform Programme, Prime Minister Philippe will confirm, on Wednesday, that the planned major constitutional reforms (as promised by Candidate Macron) will proceed:

  • a 30% reduction in the number of Deputies and Senators – even if the Senate itself is still fighting the proposal
  • introducing a percentage of proportional elections for Deputies (between 10%-25% of the total) so a broader range of national opinion can be represented, and
  • after serving 3 consecutive terms of Parliamentary office, you’re out.


One thought on “It’s been a tough few weeks in France

  1. Very informative as always. On the subject of railways and the ignoring of the EU directives on open competition, Macron may well be conforming to the traditional French approach to all matters European of ‘Don’t do as I do, do as I say’ while preaching the European gospel.
    It would be interesting to try to carry out a summary (although it may become a pretty hefty tome, so summary is perhaps not the correct term) of areas in which France has chosen to ignore any EU directives which are inconvenient domestically, while taking advantage of them abroad. These would include all areas of competition, (including utilities and transport), state ownership and subsidies, failure to open contracts to non-French organisations for tender, blocking or turning a blind eye to actions against legitimate agricultural imports (Spanish & Dutch fruit & veg, British beef ), etc. All meat and drink to Brexiteers of course.


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