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The Ins and Outs of French Politics #11

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
Bonjour !
It’s time for another roundup of French politics. This week: the French will (not) reform again, some of them are thinking of the presidency while shaving and — schadenfreude! — the Mayor of Paris lost a court case against… well, you will read that below.
Bonne lecture !
(🦠😷Unfortunately, this newsletter is not entirely corona-free)

France’s corona policy is at best unpredictable, at worse messy. The vaccination pace is below the - already rather low - EU average and hospitals are overcrowded. The Government keeps changing the rules in an erratic manner. Last weekend, 16 departments went into a kind of lockdown, yet President Macron prefers not to use that word. It led to some confusing situations. One-third of the French are now not allowed to travel further from home than a radius of 10 kilometres. Only essential shops (including bookshops) remain open, and working from home must become the norm. About 15% of France’s Covid-19 infections occur in offices, yet teleworking is not taking off. There are still too many bosses who like to keep an eye on their subordinates at the workplace.
Because of all the uncertainty and rising infections, Macron’s popularity is waning. Prime Minister Jean Castex hopes to save the day with a new advertising slogan explaining the rules as Dedans avec les miens, dehors en Citoyen, a phrase that could roughly be translated as “My way, our the highway”.
With a little over a year to go until the election campaign really kicks off, I will try to determine if Emmanuel Macron delivered on his 2017 campaign promises in the coming newsletters. He vowed, for instance, to introduce a modest proportional system before the 2022 General Elections. The idea was that henceforth fifteen per cent of the 577 seats of the Lower House would be elected on a proportional basis. This way, the Assemblée would better reflect the population (or not). The three political groups that hold the majority now believe that the “conditions for the proper implementation of this parliamentary reform before the 2022 elections are not met”. The reform is thus cancelled, which is a personal disappointment for François Bayrou. The centre-right politician has been trying to reform French politics since 1986, in vain. Whether time pressure is the real reason behind this decision remains to be seen: the ones who have the most to lose with such a system are the current MPs, who, in a proportional system such as in the Netherlands or Germany, would probably not be re-elected.
Emmanuel Macron
Je suis favorable à la proportionnelle de manière dosée pour refléter le pluralisme de notre vie politique. #ProgrammeEM
Desert Island Discs avant la lettre
Desert Island Discs avant la lettre
The 5th of May 2021 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon de Bonaparte on the remote island of Saint Helena. There will be many eventsaround the bicentennial of his death, but can we still honour this mythical man? According to this op-ed in the New York Times, not quite. Was the Corsican indeed a brilliant statesman? Or was he an anti-Semite and at least as brutal as Hitler? (“Non!” says the posh Napoléon Foundation, joined by some other scholars). The Little Emperor would be turning in his grave if he could hear how the forthcoming commemoration is becoming increasingly controversial.
Ever since former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius admitted that when he is shaving, he thinks of becoming the country’s next president, the masculine morning ritual has become a regular feature in conversations with presidential candidates. One of those close shavers is Dominique de Villepin. The elegant Bonapartist, bibliophile, poet in his spare hours, and archrival of Sarkozy became world-famous with his fierce speech against the Iraq war at the United Nations in 2003. He has been a lawyer for years but reportedly dreams of becoming president. One minor detail: he has never been elected to any office in his life. But then again, neither was Macron.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is also thinking of 2022. The former Education Minister never said anything about her morning rituals, but she does see a role for herself in the campaign. She is hoping to unite the left, a difficult task since one of her former party colleagues, Anne Hidalgo (61) is already in the starting blocks (also see below).
Just before sending this newsletter, the club of presidential hopefuls was joined by Xavier Bertrand (56). In an interview with weekly Le Point the current president of the region Hauts-de-France announced that he will run next year.
Premier League 2
And then there is ex-Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (see the previous newsletter). He is now the most popular politician on the right, thus knocking Sarkozy off his throne. The ‘ex’ had a private dinner party with Macron last week, but how long will he remain loyal to the Macronists?
Sarkozy, in 2003: “I think of the elections, but not only while shaving.“
Sarkozy, in 2003: “I think of the elections, but not only while shaving.“
After more than three years of proceedings, the Paris Administrative Tribunal was finally so wise to rule in my favour in my case against the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and her cabinet. What is the fuss all about? In France, any citizen can access any documents produced by public institutions. This right is comparable to the Freedom of Information Act in the US or the UK. I regularly make use of this possibility when doing research or looking for stories. Most public institutions react a little irritated to such a request because they will have to make some effort to find what I’m looking for. Yet, they almost always cooperate. In the case any administration refuses or ‘forgets’ to answer my requests, citizens can bring the decision before the CADA, the Commission that deals with the accessibility of administrative documents.
In recent years, I had to do this nine times. And nine times, I have been proved right. After such a decision, the civil servants usually comply. In 2018, I filed a request to the City of Paris. They never answered, so I went to the CADA, who gave, again, a so-called ‘positive opinion’ (on 12 July 2018). The City again never answered. So I had no other option but to go to Court. A long wait began. It would take almost another three years before the judges actually heard my case. This long delay is not unusual. The French courts are structurally underfunded. France spends just €69 per citizen per year on the judicial system, while Germany spends almost double, €131. Judges are underpaid, courthouses are in many cases derelict and often make you think of Les Misérables (the book, not the musical!).
All rise!
At the hearing last February, the judge reprimanded the City’s barrister for abuse of power by the civil service and trampling press freedom. Last week the Court ruled in favour of Yours truly. The City was ordered to pay damages of one thousand euros and to reimburse all legal costs. It is, of course, excellent for me and for journalism in general. Still, it is a pity that the Mayor of Paris violated the law and even went as far as wasting taxpayer’s money on lawyers and lawsuits. However, this ‘profit’ enables me to initiate new lawsuits against authorities that flout the rules. City Hall now has until mid-May to send me the documents or to appeal. Like many others, Anne Hidalgo already sees herself in the Elysée Palace next year. Maybe she fears that I will find some compromising facts that could harm her campaign. If that is the case, you will be the first to read about it in this newsletter.
Excerpts of the ruling by the Tribunal administratif Paris, March 11, 2021
Excerpts of the ruling by the Tribunal administratif Paris, March 11, 2021
+++ ☠️ Fifty MP’s from different parties received death threats. Still, strangely enough, only those whose surnames start with a C or an M. received the threatening emails. +++ 🎫Two decades after most other European countries, the French are now getting an identity card in the form of a bank card. For the time being, it will not be compulsory to carry it with you. +++ 💰 The influence of consultancy firms such as McKinsey on French politics has caused a stir. +++ 🦠💉 Ministers Roselyne Bachelot (Culture) and Elisabeth Borne (Employment) have tested positive for Covid-19. Bachelot had been vaccinated just a day before she became infected, and was hospitalised on Wednesday. +++ 😂 The politician who called me a ‘hillbilly’ is starting his own social network, he says, to get around the ‘censorship’ of Facebook and other social networks. You can register with an email address or with a… Facebook account! +++
👌🏼 MERCI !
Thanks for reading. Please share this newsletter with colleagues and/or friends who are also interested in French politics. All previous issues can be found here. Questions and comments are welcome at
🇳🇱🇧🇪 This newsletter is also available in Dutch. Click here.
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Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

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