Posts Tagged ‘France’

Sarkozy’s Iron Lady

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

What’s This?

Meet Michèle Alliot-Marie, France’s right-wing, rugby-loving new foreign minister.


International diplomacy can be a rough-and-tumble world, ripe with jujitsu fake-outs, illegal tackles, and plenty of grappling in the scrum. In the end, it all proved too much for the left-wing humanitarian Bernard Kouchner, whose appointment as President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s foreign minister started out with so much promise, but ended up with him watching from the sidelines. So perhaps it makes sense that Kouchner’s newly-appointed replacement, Michèle Alliot-Marie, is a devout student of rugby.

The 64-year-old Gaullist is more than just another passive fan of the game. The normally austere MAM, as she is known in France, revealed in a rare informal television appearance in the mid-1980s that she had nearly been kicked out of school when she was young for converting the female handball squad into a rugby team. “I think that I’d still be able to make a pass,” she noted. Given her steely demeanor — she often comes across as downright unbreakable — it isn’t impossible to imagine MAM taking a few hits on the rugby pitch. But perhaps it’s her innate sense of the game’s rules (her father was an international rugby referee) that has served her so well in the subtler but often much dirtier game of politics.

Alliot-Marie has embraced another pastime traditionally seen as the exclusive domain of men. She was France’s first woman to head a major political party — the conservative Rally for the Republic that oversaw the reelection of President Jacques Chirac in 2002 and was later folded into the Union for a Popular Movement that drove Nicolas Sarkozy’s successful 2007 presidential candidacy.

She has also shattered a number of other glass ceilings. With her new appointment, plus other stints as head of the defense, justice and interior ministries, she has scored the first ever ministerial “grand slam,” overseeing all four of the big-power ministries. In 2007, Forbes magazine ranked her as the 11th most powerful woman on Earth. With France now assuming the rotating presidency of the G-20 and Sarkozy looking to the international arena to restore his much-tarnished brand at home, Alliot-Marie’s profile is likely to rise to even greater heights.

On Nov. 17, Sarkozy’s third and most explicitly conservative government held its inaugural Council of Ministers, the first productive gathering of his new government. Chosen with an eye focused on presidential elections less than 18 months from now, Sarkozy has sought to project a new vitality, but the French are skeptical of his latest reshuffle. Approximately two-thirds of the electorate lacks confidence in the new government out of the gate, and nearly nine in 10 believe that Sarkozy’s policies will continue unchanged. Yet a majority — 53 percent — continues to have a positive view of Alliot-Marie, who has notably avoided implication in an array of scandals and court investigations that dogged Chirac and Sarkozy.

Alliot-Marie has never shied away from controversy and has made a notable impact at each of her previous appointments. As minister of youth and sports in the 1990s, she pushed through a law that permits the banning of violent sports fans from stadiums, a move that didn’t endear her to some feisty soccer-loving far-right supporters. As defense minister, she proved popular in her numerous on-the-ground visits to French troops in hot spots from West Africa to Lebanon to Afghanistan. More concretely, she further professionalized the French military via reforms (and ended the draft) and she diplomatically fended off pressure from Bush-era Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to take part in the early military stabilization of Iraq (in accordance with France’s policy) while retaining good personal relations with Rumsfeld and overseeing French military involvement in Afghanistan. More recently, at the Interior Ministry, she consolidated intelligence bodies to create a sort of French FBI, though with France facing repeated terrorist threats in recent months, the jury is still out on the impact. At the Justice Ministry, she introduced legislation that effectively banned the Muslim veil and other forms of facial covering in public settings.

Core conservatives, who are uncomfortable with the president’s frenetic — many say erratic — political methods, find Alliot-Marie to be refreshingly reliable and satisfyingly unsurprising, and rock-solid on the values that they care about. (It hasn’t hurt that she can be a strongly partisan female political voice. Of mercurial 2007 Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, she said, “We don’t need someone who changes ideas as often as she changes her skirt.”)

And yet, as a prominent minister, she has tended to serve the beliefs of her presidential or prime ministerial bosses, rather than administering any broad political vision of her own. In fact, most French people would be hard-pressed to discern her personal political views on key issues like Europe, Islam, and the cultural integration of immigrants. Even on the issue of the trans-Atlantic relationship, on which she is more closely associated with former Chirac’s multipolar vision than Sarkozy’s more U.S.-friendly one, she has avoided any public scrapes with her current boss. It is unlikely that she will bend French foreign policy to fit her beliefs. As is her habit, she is more likely to implement the key foreign-policy positions that Sarkozy has already been promoting, but with greater reliability and discipline than her predecessor.

This doesn’t mean that Alliot-Marie doesn’t have opinions on policy; she just doesn’t express them in public or in the media, unlike many of her colleagues. This might have to do with her discreet vision of her role, as well as her relationship with the president. “We have known each other for a very long time, we have shared a part of our political journey,” she said of Sarkozy in Paris Match magazine a year ago while serving as his minister of justice. “He has never lied to me, never dissimulated anything at all. Me neither. I am a loyal woman. When we have things to say to each other, we say them. That concerns us and no one else.”

It’s no surprise then that MAM has been compared to her U.S. counterpart, Hillary Clinton. The comparison is in some ways apt, though she bears a greater resemblance to Clinton as the loyal, tough-talking, get-things-done secretary of state than the combative, opinionated presidential candidate.

If Alliot-Marie’s ascendancy is a victory of technique and discretion over policy vision, it will likely come as a welcome relief for a broad swath of the French electorate. The hope is that e’s sturdy presence in the government will act as a stabilizing force, especially for a Foreign Ministry that has seen much of its influence and power usurped by other parts of the government in recent years. Her predecessor, Kouchner, who was cherry-picked from the Socialist Party to give the government the appearance of political inclusion, never had the president’s trust.

In reality, many if not most key foreign-policy issues were run out of an informal political cell in the Élysée presidential palace, leaving Kouchner as little more than a symbol of political inclusiveness, sometimes even robbing him of his role as foreign-policy mouthpiece. (Sensitive missions involving the Middle East and Africa were handled by the secretary-general of the Elysée, Claude Guéant; Sarkozy’s diplomatic advisor, Jean-David Levitte, focused on the United States and China.) It is likely that MAM’s reputation for protecting her policy turf will soon be put to the test.

While MAM has never played up her remarkable rise, Sarkozy has proudly trumpeted the impressive inclusion of women in his various governments, whether they were well-suited to their positions or not. He has since let go of prominent ones, like his flashy and less-than-diplomatic former justice minister Rachida Dati, and the very popular but insolent young secretary of state for sports, Rama Yade. Alliot-Marie, in her unsentimental way, set herself apart from such appointees when she commented: “There is nothing worse than having a woman in a position that she doesn’t succeed in; it is prejudicial for all women.”

Still, whether she wants to admit it or not, Alliot-Marie does check a number of political boxes for the ever-tactical Sarkozy, who needs to bolster his support with doubting Gaullist traditionalists and others who now fondly recall Chirac. (France is in the grip of a serious round of Chirac-nostalgia with polls regularly showing him as the most popular living politician in the country.) MAM too feels this fondness: indeed she only got into national politics when “family friend,” Chirac, suggested the idea. For three decades he has been a key political mentor. She was so closely associated with the former president, who long had fraught relations with Sarkozy, that she mulled running as his Gaullist heir in the 2007 presidential campaign. Her decision not to run — in addition to her professionalism and conservative bona fides — has helped to keep her in the Council of Ministers without pause under two presidents. Sarkozy’s decision to was doubly tactical; he has kept a potentially potent conservative competitor in the fold and simultaneously comforted members of his party who had expressed unease with the execution of his foreign-policy agenda under Kouchner.

The real question is whether MAM’s clout will allow her to maneuver more freely than Kouchner, who never fully filled his ministerial shoes. There are signs that she will. Sarkozy’s new government has restored some of the symbolic strength of the Foreign Ministry and appointed no fewer than three ministers to the Quai d’Orsay as part of the government reshuffle (Alliot-Marie at the top; the youthful former government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez responsible for European affairs; and Henri de Raincourt, who will oversee international cooperation).

But whether Alliot-Marie will be permitted to truly oversee policy is still an open question. It could be a smart move: She brings to the job a rare practical depth and breadth of field from decades of experience with security, legal, and military issues. But the challenges that face her over the next 18 months — assuming that she lasts that long — are formidable. Urgent issues include navigating through challenging geopolitical and economic relations with Russia, bolstering the struggling European project, supporting French business interests in the former colonies, and managing a constructive collaboration with the United States on great global challenges, from the Middle East to Central Asia.

If that last challenge wasn’t eminently clear, newly-appointed Defense Minister Alain Juppé’s Nov. 17 announcement that France is looking to hand over control of areas of Afghanistan to local authorities put the Washington-Paris relationship front and center. A former prime minister, Juppé called Afghanistan a “trap” for international powers, and he announced that France is looking to pull some or all of its nearly 4,000 troops out of the country (likely before France’s 2012 presidential elections).

But the no-drama MAM gives the impression that such challenges are what she lives for, not the public sniping and attention-grabbing one-upmanship of personal politics. “I settle things in person, not in the public square, nor behind people’s backs through scurrilous insinuations,” she explained in an interview with the conservative daily, Le Figaro, in October. “That might be a part of my rough character from my rugby-esque culture.”

Rugby players aren’t known for verbosity; they just put their head down and do what they can to move the ball forward. And, once again, MAM heads into the scrum.

BACk to


French pension reform becomes law after failed legal challenge

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment



Figure of old woman on stack of coins

The controversial and unpopular pension reform plan has become official law in France, as President Nicolas Sarkozy claims victory and the opposition Socialists vow to repeal it.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the national minimum retirement age officially became law on Wednesday after the country’s constitutional court rejected a challenge to it.

Sarkozy wasted no time in signing the bill on Wednesday, just hours after the court ruling. He said in a statement that while he heard the concerns expressed by opponents during the debate, it was his “duty” to ensure the pension fund’s integrity.

“With this law, our redistributive pension system has been saved,” he said. “French citizens can now be assured that they can count on their retirement and that pension payments will be maintained.”

Sarkozy’s right-of-center government insisted the reform, which raises the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62 and the full retirement age from 65 to 67, was necessary to fill a major budget gap as France’s population ages and few workers are paying into the system. The law will gradually come into effect in July 2011 and will be fully enacted by 2018.

Man stands with union flagsBildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Massive strikes and protests against the reform disrupted society

Socialists vow a repeal

Opposition Socialists and other parties asked the country’s highest court to examine the constitutionality of the law on November 2, saying it contradicted France’s principles of equality. The court rejected the challenge, but the Socialists have vowed to repeal the law if they win the next presidential election in 2012.

“The president is confusing appearance with reality, he thinks that by putting his head down and charging forward without listening, he’s showing courage,” said Socialist leader Martine Aubry. “It would have been courage to put in place a reform that really solves the problem of retirement.”

As the reform was in debate in the legislature, massive protests and nationwide strikes crippled the country’s transportation system and all but shut down the oil industry, leaving many gas stations without fuel for cars.

Unions have called for another day of strikes on November 23, but it was unclear how many would take part, as the public opposition to the bill was running out of steam toward the end of the debate.

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, AP)
Editor: Rob Turner


| | © Deutsche Welle.


French protests continue over pensions

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Tens of thousands rally on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010 against France’s pension reform legislation.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have returned to the streets across France to protest President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s controversial pension reform legislation.

Over 130 rallies were held across the country on Saturday to protest a government decision to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

The largest rally is expected to be held in France’s capital Paris.

French Unions have announced that the ongoing strikes seek to force President Sarkozy to agree to amendments to the pension law.

“Today’s day of protest marks another high point, there will be others,” Bernard Thibault, the head of the General Confederation of Labor Union (CGT) told the French daily L’Humanite, insisting that they would “go on right to the end.”

“For us, the key date is July 1, 2011, when the measures are opposed to come into effect. Between now and then we have a very real chance of creating the kind of strength necessary to open negotiations,” he said.

Meanwhile, other French trade unions have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the protests.

“If I said today we’re going to force the president to back down, no one would believe me. People would say, ‘That guy there, he’s dreaming,'” AFP quoted Francois Chereque, the leader of the French Democratic Confederation of Labor Union (CFDT), as saying.

President Sarkozy’s pension reform bill was passed by the Senate last week despite nationwide protests. The legislation is now expected to be cleared by France’s Constitutional Council before being signed into law by President Sarkozy.

According to opinion polls, between two-thirds and three-quarters of French people oppose the reforms.



Today In Athens: Firefighters Brawl With Riot Police And There Are Bombs Everywhere

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Greek riot police standing next to protesters.

Article Source

Today’s chaos in Greece involves firefighters brawling with riot police to protest impending layoffs.

Meanwhile the radical left has planted bombs around the country, which police are defusing in Hurt Locker-style bomb suits.

Ironically or intentionally, all of this is bound to eviscerate Greek GDP.

Violent riots are also occurring today in Ireland and France due to similar austerity measures.

Click here to see the photos >


Fuel blockage in France hampers feed supply 26 Oct 2010

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

various types of legume (left) and grass (righ...

various types of legume (left) and grass (right) fodder

Farmers Union FNSEA demanded that the French government takes action against the blockage of the supply fuel in the interest of the agricultural sector. Besides seasonal crop farming activities, the collection of milk and delivery of the feed is becoming difficult.
Fuel blockage in France hampers feed supply
The blockage of fuel stations, distribution centres and refineries as a protest to the Government decision to increase the pension age with two years (from 65 to 67) have been going on for two weeks now and are paralyzing France.
As a result in Brittany, the heart of French agriculture, manufacturers of animal feed are ringing the alarm bells. They fear for the supply of livestock feed.
As a result of the blockage of the majority of French refineries the French Farmers Union FNSEA fears for the feed supply to the farms. “The lack of diesel is a hindrance to the general supply to farms, and key challenges for planting and other fieldwork, but especially for the animal feed supply,” it said.
Also the collection of animals for export or slaughter and collection of milk is becoming critical.
FNSEA urges the French government to take proper action to secure that regular farm work can continue.
Ships waiting at sea
It is not only that it is becoming difficult to supply farms with feed, also ships loaded with raw materials lay in waiting to enter the French ports.
“The Ports of Montoire of Brittany, Nantes, Saint Nazaire, Lorient and Brest are blocked for several weeks. Vessels are waiting for a long time in the port and unload only sparsely,” said Lawrence Morin, director of the Afab (Association of Feed Manufacturers).
“We import a lot of soybean meal and grain, including feed wheat in northern Europe, which is less expensive than French bread wheat that is exported from Rouen. If no significant improvement in the situation is created by someone, animals will starve. Today, we can still organize ourselves to deliver the farmers, but we will run into great difficulties soon,” Morin states.
Plant closures
The lack of fuel also threatens food and feed processing plants with closure, especially in western France, the National Association of Food Industries (Ania) said in a statement, requesting that the sector enjoys priority in access to fuel.
“The area of western France, a major food-processing region in the country (over 130,000 jobs), is the most impacted by the supply problems,” Ania said.
It said that if “the fuel shortage persist in the next 48 hours and if blocking of ports continues, many plants may no longer be supplied with raw materials or meet their obligations to collect milk, among others.”
According to Ania these factories “will therefore have no choice but to close their doors or some production lines.” The organisations fears for lay-offs.


French police force open fuel depot as senate prepares to vote on pension bill

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Friday, October 22, 2010

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Top story: French police forced open a blockade of the country’s main fuel refinery today as France’s nationwide strikes continued to intensify. Nonetheless, the French Senate is planning a vote today on President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s controversial pension reform measure, which will raise the retirement ate from 60 to 62 and the age at which workers receive pensions from 65 to 67. Even if the bill passes, which appears likely, unions are planning further days of action on Oct 28 and Nov. 6.

Unions say the marches this week drew around 3.5 million people. Support for the strikes is running around 70 percent according to the latest polls. The leader of the oil workers’ union drew condemnation for comparing Sarkozy’s actions to the roundup of Jews during Nazi-occupied France.

The union had blocked off the fuel depot for 10 days until police breached the blockade today. The French government says fuel shortages at service stations throughout the country will continue for several days.

Economy: U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has called on the G-20 to cap trade surpluses.


U. S. passionate about French protests »

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Many on the Left have a particular distrust fo...

Many on the Left have a particular distrust for Nicolas Sarkozy; specific "anti-Sarko" movements hav...

Ah, France. A nation known for its passion in food, wine, love…and protests.

Many French citizens have been rallying for days against the proposed increase of their retirement age from 60 to 62, leading to riots, school closings, and the shutdown of a major airport.

What’s interesting is how passionate people here in the U.S. are getting about the French protests. Strong opinions abound in the comments, from users envying the French retirement age to saying the protesters should get back to work. And, of course, some commenters are using the story as an opportunity for some good old-fashioned France-bashing…

ntcz: “I am impressed; this has been going on for a few days and the French haven’t surrendered yet?”

RandyF offered a clever reply: “The US would not exist if it were not for the support of the French during the Revolution. Why all the sour grapes about the French? Seems more like jealousy from the 50% of folks who are going to die before they reach 65 from stress, over eating and the general American lifestyle.“

But seriously, RandyF’s sentiments are echoed by many other contributors. Some feel like the U.S. should adopt a system more like France’s, with a relatively low retirement age and increased vacation time.

zeitsev: “Good for them. A nation whose laws and society expect people to have a life, family, and happiness outside of work. Meanwhile, people in America boast working 60 hours a week while they rarely see their children. Yeah, America, good job.”

Z8888: “Retirement at age 62? Still sounds pretty good compared to the U.S. retirement age…which is retire when you are dead.”

And waspoam has a different reason for admiring the French: “There is one thing to be said for the French people…when the government does something the people do not like, they have the balls to protest. In America, all we do is sit around and whine about it.”

Meanwhile, other commenters are calling a retirement age of 60 unrealistic or even lazy.

rkt210: “People are living longer and healthier than they used to. Birth rates are also down. That means that unless the retirement age rises, the pension system is unsustainable. 60 is ridiculously low, and they’re only talking about raising it to 62.”

crazyliz: “France has created a socialist society where the people expect the government to take care of them regardless of what they have ‘paid for’ over the years. So high school kids are revolting because, just like their parents, they expect to be taken care of. America is headed in the same lazy direction. The money is not there. Go work hard and save your money and get out of debt. No one else is going to take care of you. That’s the lesson we need to take from this.”

tdsianac: “The younger French citizens are plotting their own downfall. With prolonged life due to better science in the medical industries, someone who is 21 today may live to 100 years old — on average 80 years from now. Those who are in the streets rioting today should be demanding laws be put into place denying companies the right to force retirement before the age of 80, and not demanding it be kept at 60. Their thinking is very short-sighted.”

glas45: “I love France; however, the French have to realize like we all do that we live into our 80s now. Times have changed, costs increase with the increased older population and the retirement age does have to go up.”

Horgh: “What they should be protesting is nearly 50% taxation for people who want to work, and a social system that enthusiastically subsidizes entire populations who have no desire to work whatsoever.”

jrseygypsy48: “These protestors have disrupted air travel and vehicle travel, the tourist trade, fuel distribution, and general business over the small inconvenience of working two additional years at the age of 60? And now they engage in violent protests in order to make their childish demands heard? No, I will not work until 62….stamp, stamp, stamp….beat my fists….throw my bread and cheese. In order to stabilize the economy there must be some concessions. For too long they have enjoyed government sponsored healthcare, benefits, pensions at 60 and other benefits that have drained the economy. One cannot merely expect that the government will provide for all your needs without some concessions on your part. Stop whining and get back to work.”

And finally, usullivan, who lives in Paris, doesn’t think the protests are really about the pension system at all. He says the French people are using the law as a way to channel their anger towards French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“I have to tell you the truth,” he wrote. “The problem is not the pensions but the president himself. Most of the French people are fed up with Sarkozy and his way of governing the country. And this law is a pretext on which to focus all the anger towards Sarkozy. Young people don’t think about their pensions, but need a real president to lead them towards the future.”

[Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.]

Posted by: rachel8 // 9 hours ago