The Bosses’ Boss
Unlike many countries, the person who heads up the largest employers’ federation is a near-national figure. The election of the person who is to lead the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF) is followed closely by the heavyweight newspapers. MEDEF gets nearly a third of its €38 million budget from The State as payment for its participation, along with trade unions, in such activities as professional training. And it enjoys its status as a pillar of the State.
The man of the (Upper Class) people who will be the next Bosses’ Boss (for a 5 year term) is one Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux [he traces his ancestry back to an Alderman of Lyon in 1769]. It’s 3rd time lucky after twice failing to persuade his electorate of bosses that he should be The Man. Bezieux created The Phone House and Virgin Mobile France. So this liberal entrepreneur is now The Voice of (21st Century) Industry ideally placed to treat with The HiTech President.
Maybe, this time, the boss voters warmed to Bezieux’s inability, on RTL radio, to state the level of the guaranteed minimum wage (the Smic). Bezieux successfully overstated it by 10% [it’s currently €1170/month]. That’s seen in France as the mark of someone truly out of touch with daily life – equalling ignorance of the price of a pint of milk or an Underground ticket.
Still the previous incumbent, Gattaz, had distinguished himself in 2016 by telling France Inter listeners France had the highest minimum wage in Europe. That was, in itself, then true … except for Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Netherlands, each of which had a higher minimum wage. That was the same year Gattaz generously characterized CGT trade unionists as ‘minorities who behave rather like thugs or terrorists’. Perhaps this helps to explain why, according to OpinionWay, two-thirds of the French think MEDEF has a bad image.
Let that Transatlantic Bromance flourish and deepen
The Washington Post reported that during one of their private White House meetings Trump discussed trade with Macron [doesn’t that already sound a bit complicated and unlikely?]. Trump allegedly asked Macron ‘Why doesn’t France leave the EU?’ Trump said he’d offer France a bilateral trade deal with better terms than the EU gets from the US. The White House didn’t dispute the report (sourced to ‘2 European officials’), but declined to comment. The exclusive was by one Josh Rogin: he’s a CNN journo which makes his testimony still further suspect.
It’s not often a US President offers a bribe to dismantle an organization of America’s (theoretical) allies, all against stated U.S. government policy. However, this is the same President who, last week, said in North Dakota: ‘The European Union, of course, was set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank’. That was while Trump was complaining about the US’s $150 billion trade deficit with the EU [Accuracy Note: the true 2017 figure was a mere $10bn less.] But then that was also the President who told the G7 meeting NATO was bad as NAFTA. I’m sure he’ll get it all sorted with that nice Mr Putin when they have their First Official Summit get-together in Helsinki on 16 July.
The Wall Street Journal had asked Secretary of State Pompeo last week whether the Trump administration was out to wreck the liberal world order. No, said Pompeo, ‘The administration’s aim is to align that world order with 21st-century realities’. Be afraid, be very afraid.
The end of the line
The longest industrial action for over 30 years on French State railways operator, SNCF, is winding down. The strikes were launched to prevent the railways being opened to competition and the special status of future SNCF employees being brought in line with general employment practices. But it’s all been far from successful and Parliament has passed the necessary legislation. However, two bolshie trade unions (ex-Communist CGT/ex-Trotskyist SUD-Rail) will Carry On Striking on their ownsome well beyond the original end-date, while the ‘reformist’ unions have called it a day.
Despite many attempts, the SNCF strike was never the spark for the hoped-for convergence des luttes (‘convergence of different struggles’) or coagulation des mécontentements (‘coagulation of discontent’ – Macron’s own more elegant description). And despite coinciding with
- protests against the rise in CSG tax for the pensioners
- revolting students protesting against the introduction of the new University entrance system and the suppression of the absolute right for all students to go to a University (almost of their choice) once they’d got their school-leaving exam certificate and its replacement by Parcoursup [at 27 June only 44% of 812,000 students had accepted the offer they’d received from Parcoursup]
- medical staff complaining about lack of resources
the SNCF strike failed to ignite support always previously seen. Overall, 40% or so still seem to be on the ‘side’ of the SNCF workers. However, an Ifop SNCF-commissioned poll says 75% disapprove continuing the strike in the holiday season … but a (perhaps) more remarkable 25% approve [evidently those who prefer skiing.] But with SNCF announcing some 80%+ trains running over the first holiday weekend of July, it’s increasingly tricky to comprehend CGT’s tactics.
France’s N° 1 (political) subject, as summer hols start, is the Government’s decision to reduce the speed limit – on 400,000km of Departmental and National secondary roads – from 90 to 80kph (also applying to 500,000km of roads belonging to Communes)? As from 1 July, every two-way single carriage road, with no barrier down the middle, now has an 80kph speed limit.
I say ‘the Government’s decision’ advisedly. It’s been made clear several times that Prime Minister Philippe takes sole (and increasingly lonely) responsibility for this policy. Even Interior Minister Collomb (responsible for this area of Government action) distances himself from the policy (unsubtly): ‘But it’s the Prime Minister who’s decided; everything the Prime Minister decides pleases me’.
The PM himself said he was ready ‘to accept unpopularity in order to save lives’. End-June (and under constant attack) PM Philippe said ‘the objective is not to emmerder le monde [piss people off/mess them around] but to ensure there are less people killed or seriously injured’. Speed’s the cause of 31% of French road accidents; with drink responsible for 20% of accidents. The Government claims 350-400 lives will be saved every year by the reduced-speed measure.
Almost nothing to do with the President we’re told: his loudest contribution has been to insist it’s an experiment which will be reviewed after 2 years. On 6 April the President publicly recognised the measure’s unpopularity. But he tried rationalising the issue by claiming that the average car journey in the country lasts 40 minutes, which means only 2 minutes will be lost on each average journey. But that’s everyone else’s journey, hence the vocal discontent.
Can anything better sum up the town-country ‘divide’ than this? Condemned by motorists’ associations as being solely intended to bring about more excess speeding fines from radar ‘traps’ [they’re about to be largely privatised, so will almost certainly result in more fines] and ‘punishing’ those who have to use cars daily, unlike those in large towns.
God moves in mysterious ways
I wrote a couple of months ago on the strange relationship between The President and The Church: it’s no less complicated now.
Emmanuel Macron recently accepted the honorary title of ‘Canon of Latran’. This dates back originally to Louis XI (1482) and was revived by Henri IV (1604). When Henri renounced Protestantism, he gifted to Latran (the Pope’s Cathedral) the Benedictine Abbey of Clairac in south-west France. In exchange, every King of France – and later President – is given the honorary Canonship. Under the 5th Republic, 4 Presidents (de Gaulle, Giscard, Chirac and Sarkozy) rocked up to claim their honorific title; 3 stayed at home (Mitterand, Pompidou, Hollande). That President Macron should have gone to Rome to claim his honorary Canonship seemed in line with his April 2018 speech to French Bishops saying he wanted to ‘repair’ the link ‘between Church and State that had been damaged’.
Trade unions also move mysteriously
28 June was to have been a semi-historic day in The Workers’ Struggle. The largest French public sector union (2nd largest overall in membership), CGT, and the 3rd largest, Force Ouvrière, decided to go walkies together.
Not since the 2016 protests against President Hollande’s changes to the Labour Law had these two walked out in public together. Because of the ‘threats to public services’/continuation of austerity’/’non-re-distribution of wealth’/’decisions on taxation made in favour of the rich’/’undermining social justice’ the two trade union mastodons got together with the union representing University students and those (yes really, they’re plural) representing senior High School students to support ‘students, workers, the unemployed and pensioners’. Would this be the ‘convergence of struggles’?
But, alas, not an especially happy day for the less-than-massed ranks on this day of inappropriately-described ‘mobilisation‘ of the labour ‘movement’. Le Monde summed up the day as ‘un flop’ (vive franglais). Not many marched. No-one was hurt … apart from the already-damaged reputation of (dis)organised labour.
To celebrate this not-exactly-struggle on the road to victory for The (Un)Massed Ranks, the CGT immediately announced a further Demonstrative Day for September.
Not everyone’s yet looking for their bucket and spade
For many, politics will continue getting hotter over the coming weeks.
The President will keep an Election Campaign promise by making his 2nd annual address to a joint meeting of both houses of Parliament on 9 July. Called Congress, this appropriately takes place in The Palace of Versailles. It will be a ‘report-back’ on The Story So Far. Almost all Deputies and Senators will be there for this Presidential Speech. However, Melenchon’s far left France Unbowed, as well as the Communist Deputies, who may feel they probably know what’s going to be said, will absent themselves … claiming the jolly loses them a day of Parliamentary debate.
Parliament itself will start its own summer holidays late. They’ll be getting their teeth into heavy draft legislation:
- immigration and asylum (already causing much anguish on the benches of the Government’s Republique en Marche Party) and the coming months’ most challenging subject by far
- fake news
- constitutional revisions (including controversial changes to the way in which Parliamentary debates/amendments are taken) – however the proposed reduction in the number of Deputies, as well as some Deputies being elected by proportional election, will only be debated in September.
In a few hours, previously massed ranks of Colombian football supporters in deepest Brittany will be converted into rabid Swedish fans: so profoundly are The Brits now regarded.
Will the French be able to overcome mighty Belgium? No longer regarded with the usual disdain, the Northern Neighbours are rightly seen as being a major threat.
Should it be Belgium, Croatia and Sweden in the semi-finals, will 3 such small countries ever have progressed that far?
I shall be ‘off air’ for some weeks.