Struggling to come up with a title

Internal gilets jaunes struggles

Saturday’s regular noises of violence from the weekly gilets jaunes gatherings are fading somewhat, even if the gilets jaunes themselves are not. Recently, the number of those out demonstrating (according to France’s Interior Ministry) had dropped week on week. Except last Saturday, when numbers were up on the preceding week. 46,600 demonstrated. The previous week it was 41,500. (As ever, the gilets jaunes themselves claim more than double that number).  

But, for the first time since demonstrations began, a majority believe they should end. Pollster Elabe found 56% saying STOP (up 11 points in a month). Ifop said 52% want an end to it. However, before anti-gilets-jauneist(e)s get too bullish, they should reflect on Elabe finding that 58% still ‘support’/’sympathise’ with the gilets jaunes (down from the headiest 70%+ support), with only 31% ‘opposed’/’hostile’ to the movement.

Two Sundays ago was the Three Month Anniversary of pugnacious M Drouet launching his Facebook page ‘La France en colère!!!’. The Start Of It All. But the attempted gilets jaues anniversary celebrations flopped. Only 1,500 turned up in Paris. Yet something significant did occur that day: an astonishing assault on former figurehead, nursing assistant Ingrid Levavasseur. Violent. Hate-filled. Because she’d had the neck to say she’d lead a list of gilets jaunes candidates in May’s Euro-Elections.

Her political initiative instantly folded. The initial list of 10 of the required 79 names rapidly dropped to 6. Then she announced the list’s withdrawal. But that was far from enough for some. When she appeared she was surrounded by several ex-camarades, who launched an attack replete with virulently aggressive sexist language. Several newspapers reported (Levavasseur said it herself) that she was called a ‘dirty Jew’. She was quickly removed from the scene when dangers of a physical attack appeared. She then wrote a long (and thoughtful) Facebook riposte, itself condemned as an attempt to boost her media image.

This idiotic attack on Levavasseur, coupled with the infamous antisemitic onslaught against neo-con philosopher, Finkielkraut, can only contribute to a further draining of support for the gilets jaunes demonstrations.

Yet more will turn away as frightening film circulates of a police car attacked in Lyon. Two police officers try to get away despite a traffic jam. Masked people throw a barrage of objects. Some wear yellow jackets, some are in anarchist black.

Upbeat news to end. A thousand gilets jaunes lightened the mood with a picnic at François I’s  Chambord chateau, chosen because this was where President Macron royally celebrated his 40th birthday. Their moment in the sun was celebrated by soon-to-go-bankrupt-leftie-daily-L’Humanité [founded by Socialist Jaurès in 1904, it was the  French Communist Party’s mouthpiece for 70 years.]

Franco-Italian struggles

Ravenna (1512): France wins

Marciano (1551): Italy wins
World Cup Final 2006: ZZ loses it. Italy wins it.

The Great Franco-Italian Oral Wars 2018-2019

  • ‘Nationalism is reborn … You see it on the increase, like leprosy, almost everywhere in Europe, in countries where we thought it was impossible’. [Macron to Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister, Deputy PM, Leader of ultra-right League, June 2018] ‘Perhaps we are populist lepers … but insults from big loudmouths like Macron … don’t affect me, they just make me stronger.’ [Salvini’s response]
  • ‘The French Government, like others, above all thinks about representing the interests of the elites, those who have privilege, not the interests of the people’ [Di Maio, leader of Italy’s anti-system 5 Star, Deputy P.M., Jan 2019]
  • ‘Leonardo is Italian, he only died in France … National interest cannot come second … The French cannot have everything.’ [Italy’s Culture Minister unilaterally renegotiating the loan of Leonardo paintings for the 500th anniversary exhibition]
  • ‘France has never stopped colonising tens of African states … The EU should sanction France and all those countries which impoverish Africa and make these people [migrants] leave, because the place for Africans is in Africa and not at the bottom of the Mediterranean.’ [di Maio Jan 2019]
  • Di Maio – whose 5 Star ‘movement’ has become far less popular than the League, its ultra-right partner – jetted into France for a private meeting with the gilets jaunes in February 2019. ‘Don’t give up’, he told them, declaring ‘The wind of change has crossed the Alps’ [said twice for effect]. Earlier di Maio said that migrants ‘wanting to disembark in Italy would be taken to Marseille. I am going to demand sanctions against countries which colonise Africa. France creates the [CFA] franc in its colonies to finance part of its debt.’ Next day, he added ‘France produces a currency for 14 African countries with the result that their development is impeded. In fact, it actually contributes to migrants departing, who then die in the Mediterranean or disembark on our shores.’
  • France recalled its Ambassador to Italy for ‘consultations’, denouncing a series of ‘outrageous statements’ and ‘unfounded’ attacks not seen ‘since the end of the War’ – he returned to Rome on 15 February
  • [France’s attitude to Italy’s terrorists from the 1970’s and 80’s – refusing the extradition of former political extremists who’ve renounced armed struggle (the ‘Mitterand Doctrine’) – has long been a major problem for Italy. European Minister Loiseau recently signalled a change in attitude: ‘It is for the judges to decide [on extradition] on a case by case basis’. The background is here (in French)]

Former Italian PM, socialist Matteo Renzi, was recently interviewed by the Financial Times. Renzi was ungraciously thrown from office, after 3 years, by the election of the 5 Star and League populists (whose arrival to power he surely accelerated).

‘I think that the news of Europe’s death at the hands of populists has been greatly exaggerated’ said Renzi. ‘It is very easy to be populist when you are in opposition. But when you get into Government reality becomes your enemy. Populists may have been able to beat traditional parties once, but eventually reality will beat the populists.’

Renzi then refers to Germany, UK and Spain: each of which, he says, have their problems, as well as leaders in difficulty. France, he says, is the exception! TA-DA. ‘There is only one country left, and that is France’ opined Renzi, ‘Emmanuel Macron will be the leader, the kingmaker, for the next five years … Macron is a President for five years in a country with strong institutions. I am not worried for Emmanuel, he is a good guy and a leader with vision.’ Was that an unintended baccio della morte?

‘Left’-right struggles in the Presidential Party [an over-extended metaphor]

In June 2017, The Presidential Ship of Deputies embarked on its voyage to the unknown. Following the Legislative Elections, there was little to guide them but the Presidential Star. The crew of Presidential Deputies – assembled from varied political backgrounds, parties and none – had few shared objectives beyond their desire to give the President an overall Parliamentary majority. With this, The Great Reform Programme would be carried through. Following Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the Presidential Election, two months earlier, such majority was resoundingly achieved when parties forming the Presidential majority won 350 of the National Assembly’s 577 seats.

Over time, cracks appeared in that (too) rigid Legislative Ship of Deputies. Criticism of the 2018 asylum and immigration law, driven through by then Interior Minister Collomb [he, having abandoned ship, is currently wondering how to re-take control of his old Lyon fiefdom] was one of the issues which first troubled those Deputies willing publicly to acknowledge pangs of socio-political conscience.

Deputies from the President’s République en Marche party (LREM) had cover for their criticisms of Collomb’s legislation. The left (and some of the President’s own majority party) condemned the law as too repressive. The right shouted that it failed to respond to the gravity of the migration crisis. The Goldilocksian view pertained.

Next came hints of below-decks grumblings. In one case, unhappiness concerned ‘citizens vessel’ Aquarius, chartered by SOS Mediterranée. That ship successfully rescued 30,000 migrants at sea before its operations were suspended end-2018.

Then solid signs of neo-mutinous conduct. The issue concerned the draft law to ‘strengthen and guarantee the maintenance of public order during demonstrations’ (aka la loi ‘anticasseurs‘ – the anti-wrecker’s law). The Government – under pressure to ‘do something’ in relation to the violence and destruction after each week’s gilets jaunes demonstrations – endorsed draft legislation which had come through the conservative-dominated Senate (the upper Parliamentary chamber).

The draft legislation before the National Assembly was passed by 387 votes to 92. By far the most striking element of the vote was the abstention of 50 of the President’s LREM Deputies: they actually stayed below decks. Never seen before. The fact that no LREM Deputy voted against was puffed as a victory of kinds.

There’s a lot not to like in the Law, piloted by Interior Minister, Castaner. It’s described by the left and Le Pen’s National Rally (formerly Front National) alike as a ‘threat to freedom’. Many constitutional and human rights lawyers condemn the proposed legislation as a threat to civil liberties:

  • local state senior administrators (préfets) can ban someone from taking part in demonstrations, if ‘a serious threat to public order’ because of what they’ve done at other demonstrations, even if not convicted; previously, only a judge could issue such a ban, although there’s a right to appeal in Court against such ban
  • those banned from demonstrating will be formally listed on a police file
  • a maximum year’s prison and €15K fine for demonstrators unjustifiably ‘hiding all or part of their faces’ with helmets, masks or scarves
  • Government pays out to people who suffer material damage caused by demonstrators; in future, Government will be able to seek reimbursement from those who caused the damage, even if not determined by a Court.

Classroom struggles

It wasn’t really matters educative that were to be the highlight of legislation taken through Parliament by Education Minister, Blanquer (ex-leading education adminstrator under Sarkozy). Blanquer has hitherto been best known for:

  • banning portable phones from primary and middle schools, and
  • transforming the French school-leaving exam, the Baccalaureate.

Now Blanquer’s law requires (i) compulsory nursery school from 3 years of age for all (another Macron pledge fulfilled – 97% currently start school at 3, so the final 3% will attend as well) and (ii) the use of the phrase ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ in all school forms, as opposed to ‘mother’ and ‘father’ [Government was initially hostile to the latter change. It then thought things through and decided it might help to appear moderately 21st century in their approach … much to the distress of the religious right who prefer Good Old ‘Mums’ and ‘Dads’ the way they always were].

However, when Minister Blanquer comes to reflect on his career as a politician, he will surely be proudest of the educational metamorphosis which will doubtless flow from another change to school life.

An amendment was proposed by Deputy Ciotti: he’s an extremely conservative Républicain inhabiting its furthest extremes. Ciotti said every school class, from nursery through to the Baccalaureate, should display the French tricolore. The Minister accepted the proposal, trumping it by requiring the EU flag, as well as the words of La Marseillaise, also to be in every classroom.

Ciotti applauded the Minister: ‘An important advance. This will help to re-assert the values of the Republic’.

An interestingly contrasted position was taken by former senior civil servant, Maxime Tandonnet (a Sarkozy era apparatchik, part of his Presidential team). He wrote for right-wing Le Figaro: ‘Every flag is the sign of allegiance. Education has a totally different objective: to provide everyone with a basic culture, critical spirit and training enabling them to live with dignity. School and the army each have their own role and their importance. But they must not be confused … In a liberal democracy their two roles must be clearly separated. Books are to schools what flags are to regiments.’ Indeed.

M. le Ministre must have felt one set of symbolic gestures sufficed (to hell with real school problems like diminishing resources): he declined proposals that La Marseillaise should be sung weekly by every class plus formal flag-raising ceremonies. But it actually required the intervention of Government spokesperson Griveaux to overrule Minister Blanquer accepting a still more radical proposal from Ciotti – he wanted to ban people accompanying school trips from wearing the veil. [Veils can be worn in the street or at University, but not in school.]

Euro-Election Struggles

With three months to go till the Euro-Elections there’s not over-much visible excitement. There have been some public meetings. Minister for Europe, Loiseau, came to our small town west of Paris, delivered an uninspiring speech, had a Q&A session and urged all 250 of us to vote. Everyone present probably intended voting in any event.

It wasn’t much of a surprise to read that pollster Ipsos (in a poll of their large panel of 10,000) found only 42% ‘certain’ to vote. Perhpas doubly unsurprising since 31% said they’d be ‘indifferent’ if they learnt tomorrow that the European Union was coming to an end (50% would have ‘big regrets’). In 2014, last time around, 59.3% abstained. There’s every likelihood the abstention level will be at least as high this May.

The French Euro-Elections are looking increasingly like a straight re-run of the last Presidential Election. Except that, this time, it’s between ‘Presidential Centre Party’ and ‘Ultra-Right Le Pen Party’ … with all other Parties also-rans.

Taking 2019’s eight opinion polls overall there’s the following levels of support [this is scientifically useless, the figures below take no account of poll size/timing]:

  • La République en Marche (Macron’s party) – 23%
  • Ultra-right National Rally (Le Pen’s former Front National) – 20%
  • Traditional right Républicains (eurosceptic) – 12%
  • Greens (who didn’t stand in 2017) – 8%
  • Hard left Mélenchon’s eurosceptic Unbowed France – 8%
  • Hard right France Arise (ex-Le Pen stable-mates) – 6%
  • Socialist Party – 5%

[BUT today’s Elabe poll shows Macron’s and Le Pen’s parties both on 22%. Previously, 6 of the 8 polls showed Macron’s LREM party leading, with Le Pen’s party ahead in one poll.]

Three factors could affect the Euro-Elections outcome, although they’re all highly unlikely to occur:

  • support for a putative gilets jaunes Party has almost totally evaporated, being down at 3-4% – should a heavyweight figure head a list, votes would be taken from ultra-right and hard left
  • no-one knows who’ll lead the Presidential list – if they find someone charismatic it could strengthen the President’s LREM party
  • to avoid a public drubbing – and the possible humiliation of less than 5% of the total vote (which means zero Euro-MPs) – the Socialists might decide to cosy up to virtually anyone who might be willing to take them.

[Psephological footnote: in round one of the Presidential Election 2017, Macron got 24% and Le Pen 21%. So there’s not too much change for them. EXCEPT that the Right’s Fillon got 20% in 2017 and now the Right languish 8 points below at 12%; with an even more precipitous fall from grace for People’s Tribune Mélenchon who got 19.6% in 2017,  his hard left have plunged 12 points.]

Struggling for publicity 

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a President does a caring act with no-one around to record it, how can it reverberate?

In this case, the ‘No Publicity’ box had been well and truly ticked. ‘No thanks’ said the Presidential team, it’s because he cares. So there were ‘No TV crews’ when President Macron and Minister for Towns and Housing, Denormandie, went out with the SAMU [emergency medical services] to homeless people on the streets of Paris.

Happily, Presidential Photographer Soazig de la Moissonniere, was on hand to record the moment (and, yes, her photos are stunning). More happily, a Deputy from the President’s LREM party was not so far away that, at the very least, social media could share some moments of non-arrogant sincerity

Homeless Fact. The number of homeless on the streets of Paris – despite 3,000 additional beds provided by Paris and the Government last year – increased from 3,000 to 3,600 [Over two thousand volunteers and social workers, organised by Paris Town Hall, did a count during Paris’s 2nd annual Solidarity Night].


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