View profile

The Ins and Outs of French Politics #8

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
Bonsoir !
It’s 9PM in Paris. Railway workers, Italians and Turks are angry at Macron. The French President cannot wait until all these annoying people have been replaced by ‘artificial intelligence’.
Bonne lecture !

The recently deceased genius Stephen Hawking warned that artificial intelligence (A.I.) could annihilate mankind. Maybe that’s why France is to invest one-and-a-half billion euros ($1.8 billion/£1.15 billion) in this technology before we are all gone.
Macron announced the ‘A.I. for Humanity’ programme at a conference in Paris. Immediately afterwards, the President Macron did not speak to the French press, but gave an interview to the leading technological magazine Wired, and much to the reporter’s surprise “entirely in English”.
The new French President meeting Emmanuel Macron
The new French President meeting Emmanuel Macron
The report [PDF] on the future and opportunities of A.I. was written by Cédric Villani, who is one of the world’s best-known mathematicians, as well as an MP for Macron’s LREM. One of Villani’s nicknames is ‘Spiderman’, because of the flashy spider brooches he sometimes wears. He has also been called ‘the Lady Gaga of the Mathematicians, because of his flamboyant outfits.
Macron wants France to become world leader in A.I. and catch up with the US and China. “I think artificial intelligence will disrupt all the different business models and it’s the next disruption to come. So I want to be part of it”, he said. At the same time, the President acknowledges that A.I. can be dangerous. In his view, it is a political revolution, with all the consequences that that entails. But whatever happens, babies are still smarter than robots. For now at least.
The French ambitions are already paying off. One of Facebook’s most important research centres in the field of A.I. is located in Paris. Recently, companies such as Google, Samsung and Fujitsu opted to establish their A.I. labs in the French capital as well.
Speaking of A.I.: HAL is fifty years old this week. “HAL?” you say? That is the name of the super-intelligent talking computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stanley Kubrick’s visionary masterpiece premiered exactly half a century ago.
Five French border guards who allegedly entered Italy illegally caused a diplomatic spat. The armed officers carried out a drug test on a Nigerian man in Bardonnechia train station. Italian politicians and media are furious about the intrusion. Former PM Enrico Letta denounced the “raid” as the latest error committed by one of Italy’s partners in Europe’s migration crisis. Others called it a Blitz. Rome has summoned the French ambassador, a rare diplomatic step between the two countries. The Turin prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation for ‘abuse of power, private violence, violation of domicile’ and could extend it to ‘illegal search’. The French authorities issued a press release on Monday saying that the checks were legal. 
The dispute has escalated so much that Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of Public Action and Accounts, also responsible for customs, apologised this morning to the Italians. He is to visit his counterpart in Italy over the next couple of days.
.@douane_france ont procédé à un contrôle transfrontalier hier en gare de Bardonnechia dans les conditions prévues par l’accord de coopération franco-italien. Nous sommes à la disposition des autorités italiennes pour poursuivre cette coopération dans les meilleures conditions.
The French and Italians have a long history of border quarrels. In 1796, a certain Napoleon B. entered the country illegally, became King and stole numerous invaluable works of art. He later met his Waterloo and was banished to the remote island of Saint Helena. About half a century later, in 1860, the French annexed the city of Nice and the Duchy of Savoie. Even today, the two are quarrelling. In 2015, Italy accused France of ‘stealing’ the Mont Blanc — or Monte Bianco. According to the Italians, French bulldozers pushed the border stone 150m into Italian territory, effectively changing the EU’s highest peak’s nationality. The dispute has not been settled yet.
A French civil servant entering Italy illegally
A French civil servant entering Italy illegally
There seemed to be a rare ‘national unity’ during the national memorial service last week following the most recent terrorist attack in the South of France. However, this accord was nothing but superficial. As has become the norm in recent years, the victims didn’t even get a burial, and the opposition wasted no time in seeking out confrontation with the existing powers. Marine Le Pen called the government ‘naïve’ and demanded the Minister of the Interior’s resignation (something that the Le Pens seem to be in the habit of, father and daughter alike). Laurent Wauquiez (the chairman of Les Républicains) went a step further. He not only wants to redeclare a state of emergency but also wants to lock up potential terrorists without any form of process and is even proposing making “insulting the Republic” a criminal offence. The MPs of Macron’s LREM condemned the “shocking political recuperation”.
Greetings from Sevran
Greetings from Sevran
Stéphane Gatignon, the mayor of Sevran, a Parisian suburb with about 50,000 inhabitants, has resigned. He gave up his post to protest against the national government’s contempt towards the French suburbs, home to some 20 million people. In 2012, his town was almost bankrupt and Gatignon went on a hunger strike to draw attention to the problems.
On Twitter, fellow mayors express their support with the hashtag #noussommestousgatignon. Gatignon has been the mayor of Sevran since 2001.
The French national unemployment office will soon be able to register about 300 new inscriptions, after PM Philippe announced a series of institutional reforms this afternoon. The number of French MPs will be reduced by 30 percent (now 925 members, soon to be about 650).
As per 2022, 15 percent of the elected Assemblée will be chosen via a system of proportional representation. Also, the number of mandates someone may hold will be limited, and there will be a reduction in the number of amendments the Parliament is able to submit. There will also be a special mention of Corsica in the revised Constitution.
Although these Parliamentary innovations were part of Macron’s election promises, it is not yet clear whether the MP’s are ready to vote their own defeasance. However, voters are clearly in favour: Nine out of ten French people support the reforms.
A third of these seats will disappear in the waste bin
A third of these seats will disappear in the waste bin
One of the MP’s who could lose his seat is Bruno Bonnell, a serial entrepreneur from Lyon. He has been a Macron supporter right from the very beginning, but will probably not be missed. In the Palais Bourbon, the French House of Representatives, he is hardly ever present. He does not seem bothered. In the weekly supplement of Le Monde he said that he doesn’t give a “sh*t about what happens in [his] constituency”. In his hometown, they are now left questioning “why is he a Member of Parliament?
French-American journalist Pamela Druckerman, who lives in Paris, ponders over whether she is seeing things correctly: “Are the French the New Optimists?” She compares France to her native country, the USA. According to Druckerman, “America’s national mood has drifted in the opposite direction”. Druckerman who is best known for her book ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’* is lucid enough to state that the “French haven’t become magically cheerful, but there’s a creeping sense that hope isn’t idiotic, and life can actually improve”.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
There is something in it: the country has elected a young president, the economy is growing again (albeit less than its neighbouring countries), Brexit offers opportunities for Paris, and France seems to be playing a leading role in Europe again. However, I still see many people around me complaining about their lives. Take the World Cup Football in Russia this summer as an example: Three quarters of French people do not believe that their football team will win the tournament. Is that pessimism or realism? Pamela Druckerman doesn’t give away any clues…
*From my own experience I now know that French children do throw food. My twins actually. But they are half-Dutch, so that probably explains why there is spaghetti flying across the salle à manger…
+++ Turkish President Erdoğan accused France of “getting in bed with terrorists”, after reports that France could start supporting Kurdish militia. +++ Nicolas Sarkozy will have to stand trial on charges of corruption and influencing peddling. Only two weeks ago, the former French President was arrested, questioned and charged in another, unrelated case. +++ President Emmanuel Macron announced that school will become obligatory for all children from age three, instead of six. In most European countries compulsory education starts at five (NL, England) or six years of age (BE, DL, DK and others). +++ A Paris Appeals Court upheld Jean-Marie Le Pen’s conviction for antisemitism. The MEP and founder of the Front national must pay a €30,000 fine for commenting that the gas chambers of World War Two were “just a detail in history”. +++ The French were shocked when they learned that the best camembert doesn’t come from Normandy, but from Québec of all places. +++ Spring break: many French services and companies will be on strike over the next couple of weeks. Railway company SNCF will be on strike next Sunday and Monday. Air France will go on strike on the 7th, 10th and 11th of April. Other strikes are planned at gas and electricity providers (until June), among municipal refuse collectors and at public broadcaster France Télévisions+++ A Canadian restaurant fired a French waiter because he was “aggressive, rude and disrespectful”. Guillaume Rey has defended himself saying it is not his fault, he is just French. He is now suing his former employer for discrimination against his culture. Garçon ! +++ 
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 You can find all previous editions here.
Merci !
Did you enjoy this issue? Yes No
Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

The ins and out of French politics brought to you by journalist Stefan de Vries. Irregularly delivered to your inbox.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Created with Revue by Twitter.
Amsterdam | Paris