Micro-reshuffle. No-one hurt.

The personal is political … sometimes it’s even a bit fiscal

The sudden resignation of environmental rock-star and TV pundit Nicolas Hulot – from his all-too-impotent role as France’s Environment Minister – was, said President Macron (in a largely unsuccessful attempt to downplay the significance of Hulot’s departure) a ‘personal decision’ which he ‘respected’.

Less than a week later, but hours before the consequent reshuffle up popped ex-fencer, Laura Flessel, the most bemedalled French sportswoman (5 Olympic fencing medals – 2 gold). She was giving up as Sports Minister, she said, ‘for personal reasons’, so she could spend more time on projects involving ‘solidarity and international co-operation’.

FRANCE-POLITICS-GOVERNMENT
President Macron, Laura Flessel and Nicolas Hulot in happier times. The family photo just after the Government’s formation 16 months ago. AFP PHOTO/THOMAS SANSOM

It’s difficult for mortals easily to comprehend the ‘personal’ element in Hulot’s valedictory Q&A. It certainly seems political: ‘Have we’, he asked ‘started reducing our greenhouse gas emissions? The answer’s no. Have we started reducing our use of pesticides? The answer’s no. Have we started bringing the reduction in biodiversity to an end? The answer’s no. Have we started moving to the point where we stop losing land to development? The answer’s no.’ In fact, said Hulot, ‘… we’re striving to maintain and revive an economic model of commerce which is the cause of all this chaos.’

Ms Flessel’s ‘personal reasons’ for her departure just might – revealed investigative website, Mediapart – have been brought into sharper focus by The Taxman inviting the Commission for Tax Offences to review allegations of possible fraud in relation to Ms Flessel’s company which dealt with her image rights. Her team (of course) insists this issue had nothing to do with her ‘personal reasons’.

Somewhat less civil society

When President Macron’s Government was first formed, under Prime Minister Philippe, much was made of the importance of introducing members of civil society to Government. It was to be part of the tangible proof of The New Politics. In fact, barely a quarter of the 20+ Ministers had no connection at all with politics. Most of the appointed ‘civilians’ clearly had strong links to, and understanding of, the world of politics, even if they’d never earned their crust that way.

So this week’s departure of 2 Ministers from civil society (even if Flessel alone was a political ingenue) was greeted in certain quarters as a visible defeat for the President’s policy on getting those unconnected with politics to become Ministers. Some newspapers heralded their departure as a sic transit gloria societatis civilis moment.

Flessel’s replacement is an ‘almost’ civil society appointment. Ex-World-Champ swimmer Roxana Maracineanu had been a Socialist Regional Councillor for 5 years. And her very first Ministerial utterance today was to condemn the ‘very brutal’ Prime Ministerial demand that 1600 jobs be cut from her Ministry of Sports. In high places, they won’t necessarily like that sort of free-thinking and free-talking.

New Environment Minister, François de Rugy, has been accorded the same high protocol position in Government as Hulot (de Rugy and Interior Minister Collomb alone have the ‘Secretary of State’ accolade). But he could hardly be a more political appointment.

De Rugy (or to give him his entire toffish name, François Goullet de Rugy) traces his noble family back to Louis XVI’s time. An elected Deputy for the Greens for 11 years, de Rugy is able to demonstrate the full political nimbleness that Macron seems to admire. Initially, de Rugy spent 20 years traipsing through several of the multiple ‘Green-ish’ Parties that, unecologically, littered the Verts political landscape.

In another aeon, de Rugy put his name forward to participate in the January 2017 vote run by what was momentarily called the Belle Alliance populaire. That was the inappropriately-named alliance between the Socialist Party and its then fellow-parties. They, temporarily, formed a deeply unpopular, and not at all beautiful, alliance for them to decide on their joint candidate, Hamon, for the Presidential Election.

De Rugy finished 5th of 8 candidates, garnering a deservedly-modest 3.8% of the vote. Just like fellow-candidate Manuel Valls (former Socialist Prime Minister, now increasingly toying with the brilliant idea of escaping from the dead end of his now-non-existent French political career by trying to become Mayor of Barcelona, with the backing of liberal right party Ciudadanos), de Rugy said he’d support the ultimate winner of the vote. Just like Valls, he didn’t. Just like Valls he slithered Macronwards.

For over a year, de Rugy enjoyed the prestigious, if not particularly political, rôle of President of the National Assembly, presiding over Parliamentary sessions. Now he will return to his alleged environmental interest.

MARKET NOTE:  the share price of French state electricity company, EDF – affected previously by worries about a possible reduction in French nuclear energy, and its replacement by renewable energy – attained its highest point in three years at the end of the week in which de Rugy was appointed. Rest assured that other players which once might have had occasion to fret over the theoretical power of Nicolas Hulot Environmental Superstar will also sleep more easily.

Who Rained On The World Cup Parade? Non Nostra Culpa 

Discontent about the bus with the World Cup winners aboard racing down the Champs Elysées lingers on. French football hero, Paul Pogba told radio station RMC that the time spent on the Avenue was too short for the players as well. It was done he said ‘for security reasons’. ‘We were disgusted, we’re sorry … 10, 15 minutes was too short.’

FakeJobsGate

Soon after this blog began (January 2017) FakeJobsGate exploded. François Fillon, the right wing Républicains Party’s (surprise) Presidential candidate was accused of having employed his wife and children on fake Parliamentary contracts over several years.

Fillon ended his political career getting 20% of the vote in the Presidential Election. he finished third behind Macron and Le Pen, so leaving the right candidateless in the Presidential Election run-off, a first under the 5th Republic. Fillon then shuffled off his political life and started coining it as an asset manager. Le Parisien reminded us this week that the near-interminable 2017 FakeJobsGate reality show still has legs. On successive days, Mrs and Mr F each spent time with the investigating judges. Decisions on both charges and a Court case will surely emerge afore long.

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes

The proposal to change over to personal tax deducted at source (a Pay As You Earn system) was planned by Hollande’s Socialist Government in 2015. Originally intended to be introduced in January 2018, it was quickly postponed till January 2019. And it’s recently caused President Macron and his Government to vacillate publicly.

As the Government prevaricated – during what Paris Match described as ‘a nightmare of a Rentrée‘ (BenallaGate, Hulot’s resignation) – stories emerged of failures in the new tax system’s technical efficacy. Would people understand why there was less in their pay packets (having already paid their tax)? Would confidentiality be respected? Would all 37 million households affected by this change be paid what they should actually receive? Hard-left Mélenchon didn’t like the idea. Ultra-right Le Pen didn’t like the idea. Should it all be pushed back once again?

Then the reassuring persona of Cool Hand Philippe, Prime Minister, came on TV station TF1 to set everyone’s minds to rest. ‘We have guarantees that this reform will be introduced without problems.’ We have go.

The PM had better have got it right. Otherwise this week’s Ifop opinion poll showing President Macron at a historic low of 31% satisfied will seem like the good times. (SHOCK HORROR FOOTNOTE: Hollande actually had 32% satisfied at the equivalent point in his troubled Presidency.)

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