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The Ins and Outs of French Politics #7

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
Bonsoir !
It was a busy week in French politics: While trains were on strike, Sarkozy was in custody and Macron went to The Hague and Brussels.
Bonne lecture et bonne semaine !

Thursday saw the first real test for Emmanuel Macron’s reformist drive. Rail workers, hospital employees, school teachers, air traffic controllers and other government services took to the streets in protest. Although each group had different reasons for dropping work to join the demonstrations, the trade unions were hoping to increase the pressure on Edouard Philippe’s government with a joint day of action.
France’s 150,000 railway workers are particularly angry at Macron. The President wants to abolish the special status that the ‘cheminots’ have been enjoying since 1909. This elevated position makes it almost impossible to fire them from their posts. As it currently stands, they’re able to retire between the ages of 52 and 57, and they enjoy a favourable, yet costly, personal, pension scheme. Macron wants to put an end to these privileges, at least for new employees. According to the government, the reform is necessary to make the SNCF competitive within the European rail sector in the upcoming year.
This was the first of no less than 36 strike days planned by the trade unions. Their 48-hour strikes are scheduled to take place every five days, for the next three months. The unions call this a grève en pointillés, a dotted line strike, which causes the highest level of disturbance to public transport without making the country completely inaccessible.
The strikers, however, were to get a taste of their own medicine. For logistical reasons, the SNCF cancelled some of the trains that protestors were intending to use to travel to the rallies in Paris on Thursday. The unions are now accusing the management of sabotaging their movement.
"Macron is derailing" (Photo: @raphaellebd)
"Macron is derailing" (Photo: @raphaellebd)
It is unlikely that Macron was impressed by yesterday’s protests. Last week, he said, “We will continue to reform. We will not stop tomorrow, nor next month, nor in three months’ time”. He is going to implement the railway reforms by decree, and is expecting to get the job done within two months. He is ready to confront the unions. If the protesters fail to keep up the strikes in the coming weeks, then Macron has little to fear. For the time being, public opinion seems to be on the President’s side. The Minister of Employment, meanwhile, has put forward other suggestions for surviving the strikes, advising people to stay home and work remotely.
“We will continue to reform” - Macron
The locomotive calling the kettle black
It is ironic that the employees of the Parisian transport companies SNCF and RATP are now protesting against the impending liberalisation. Both companies are happy to participate in open markets in other countries. Keolis (an SNCF subsidiary) is a global leader in public transport, the RATP (“Your Future. Our Destination.”) runs streetcars as far away as Tuscon, AZ, and Casablanca (Morocco), while Transdev (owned for 70% by the French State) is running the new Q-Line in Detroit, as well as commuter rail services in the US, and in many other countries.
Lacklustre movement
About 35% of all rail workers and 12,8% of all civil servants participated. An estimated 47,800 demonstrators took to the Parisian streets. There were also several hundred thousand across the rest of the country. The demonstrations were, thus, not a huge success, but not a failure either.
A new national day of action is due to take place on April 19th.
Voici les chiffres de participation à la grève dans la #FonctionPublique :
👉🏼Fonction publique d’Etat : 12,80 % (rappel dernier mouvement du 10 octobre 2017 : 13,95%)
👉🏼FP territoriale : 8,11 % (rappel : 9,5%)
👉🏼FP hospitalière : 10,9 % (rappel : 10,4%)
Cc @olivierdussopt
On Tuesday morning, former president Nicolas Sarkozy had to report to an anti-corruption police station in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre. He was taken into custody and interrogated about his role in the so-called Libya affair. In 2011, the Mediapart website revealed [€ paywall] that the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi had promised Sarkozy fifty million euros for his 2007 Presidential campaign. A French-Libyan businessman confessed that he had acted as a courier. He travelled with five million euros in cash in three suitcases between Libya and Paris, and handed the money over to Sarkozy and his campaign director, Claude Guéant
“50 million?” — “Deal!”
“50 million?” — “Deal!”
For several years now, there have been suspicions surrounding Sarkozy’s involvement in the ‘Libyan connection’, yet Police have never questioned the former President. According to Le Monde, investigators have recently handed a report to magistrates detailing how cash was being circulated within Sarkozy’s campaign team. These documents were apparently enough evidence to bring him in for questioning. At the end of the interrogation, the former president was formally indicted on three charges: corruption, illegal campaign financing, and misappropriating public money. He was also put under judicial control. This means, among other things, that he is not allowed to speak to the other suspects involved in the case, this includes Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, close friends of his, but also his ex-wife Cécilia. He is also banned from travelling to certain countries including Libya and Tunisia. Sarkozy announced that he would be challenging this barring order.
“I have been living in the hell of this slander since 2011” - Sarkozy
The former President vehemently denied all of the charges against him: “I have been living in the hell of this slander since 2011,” as noted today in the daily Le Figaro (owned by his ally Serge Dassault). On the television channel TF1 (owned by his ‘best’ friend Martin Bouygues), Sarkozy was given ample air time to plead his innocence. “There is no evidence, there is only hatred, mediocrity and slander,” he said on the 8 pm news show. However, Le Monde’s fact-checkers showed that his defence was, at best, weak. Sarkozy’s supporters have been speaking about manipulation, a conspiracy of justice, and the media. The investigating judges, conversely, have some quite different ideas about this.
The former president is also involved in a ‘patchwork of legal woes’. He has to appear before a criminal judge vis-à-vis the ‘Bygmalion’ scandal and he is also being charged for a misuse of power in the ‘Paul Bismuth’ (a pseudonym of Sarkozy) incident.
If the judges do convict Sarkozy in this Libyan affair, he faces ten years in prison. Sarkozy’s former opponent, Ségolène Royal, wondered what would have happened had he not deceived the voters in 2007…
Ségolène Royal
As I am receiving a lot of questions on the case of N. Sarkozy, I would just like to say one thing : despite challenging conditions, justice is making progress. My thoughts go to those million citizens in the right to know wether or not it was a fair competition #democracy #CNN
Macron went to The Hague to meet with the Dutch PM, Mark Rutte and the Dutch King, Willem Alexander. Rutte and the French president seem to have become each other’s opposites in the European Union. Macron’s plans for further European integration are systematically torpedoed by Rutte.
“I think there are too many chefs in the kitchen.”
“I think there are too many chefs in the kitchen.”
Yet on Wednesday, the air seemed to have cleared. The two tried to build bridges. Macron visited the ‘Torentje’, Rutte’s modest office in the centuries old Parliament building. The two leaders had a romantic dinner at a local French ‘bistro’. According to the Politico website, it was the most important European meeting of the week.
Buddies: Mark and Macron
Buddies: Mark and Macron
For two centuries, French parliamentarians have been entitled to a funeral allowance of up to €18,255. It’s also been possible to use this money to cover the funerals of MPs’ partners and children. Last year alone, these post-life benefits cost the French taxpayer € 573,000. This week, the Assembly (Lower House) has decided to limit this to € 2,350 euros (the same amount that MEPs are entitled to). Not everyone supports the change. A prominent MP called the measure “an attack on Parliament” [€ paywall]. The Senate, often considered the retirement home for French politicians, decided to snub the proposal. Senators will still be able to get their lavish funerals, financed entirely by mere tax-paying mortals.
France's Third Chamber
France's Third Chamber
This week marks the half-century anniversary of the beginning of the movement that sparked the events of ‘May 1968’. One of their leaders was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, or ‘red Dany’, who now, fifty years later, acts as an advisor to Macron. +++ The Socialist Party (or what is left of it) elected its new leader. Oliver Faure received forty percent of the votes. +++ Macron brought a state visit to India recently. If we are to believe the very reverential weekly Paris Match, “even the goats of the capital bowed” when the French president passed by. +++ Macron’s victory has put the traditional parties on the edge of the abyss, financially. The Socialists sold their headquarters last month, and now the offices of Les Républicains are up for sale. By selling the 5500 square meters, the party hopes to pay off part of their 55 million euro debt. They intend to rent back the building. +++ France’s budget deficit reached 2,6% in 2017, beter than expected and respecting EU rules for the 1st in decade. Public debt is still too high though: 98,1% of the GDP, or €32,600 per capita. +++ The Paris mayor wants to launch the debate that will make the entire public transport network free for everyone. On the days without strikes, that is. +++
Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you liked it, please share it on Facebook or Twitter, or with your colleagues and friends who are also interested in France. I welcome your questions and comments on
So French!
Merci !
The start of the (r)evolution, in March 1968...
The start of the (r)evolution, in March 1968...
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Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

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