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The Ins and Outs of French Politics #9

Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries
Bonsoir !
It’s 6PM in Paris. Here is your roundup of French politics.
Bonne lecture !

The missile strikes carried out overnight in Syria by Britain, France, and the US “destroyed a large part of [Damascus’s] stocks of chemical weapons”. France disclosed evidence that Bashar Al-Assad has used chemical weapons in the attack on Douma.
Although not everyone was in favour of French actions in Syria, there is little public debate. The President can decide whether or not to launch a barrage of bombs and grenades on other countries by himself. He simply needs to make sure he informs Parliament three days later (art. 35 of the French Constitution). It is only when military deployment abroad lasts longer than four months that the government has to request the Assembly’s approval to continue. There will a debate (without a vote) tonight about the events last weekend.
Although Emmanuel Macron said he would strik Syria “when the time is right”, logistical preparations were already well underway earlier last week. A reader of this newsletter, who lives in the south of France, sent me an email on Thursday night. He wrote that over the last couple of days he has seen an unusual number of low-flying fighter jets in his region, near the air force base at Mont-de-Marsan. He notes from experience that this is routine just before an international strike. He was right again: only 24 hours later, the French were taking part in bombing Syria.
Agence France-Presse
@JY_LeDrian @jcartillier Neuf avions de chasse, cinq frégates de premier rang, et pour la première fois, des tirs de missiles de croisière navals : la France a mobilisé d'importants moyens pour frapper en Syrie #AFP
Russian intimidation
As expected, Moscow criticised the strikes. In the build-up to the air raids, the Russians tried to intimidate the French. Last weekend, the frigate Aquitaine was threatened in the Mediterranean by a Russian fighter plane. This is one of the French navy’s most advanced ships.
It is not rare for Russian fighters to come close to NATO partners, but usually, it happens from a greater distance. On Sunday, the plane flew extremely close to the ship, and it was also armed, according to sources cited in the weekly Le Point. The provocation of the Russian fighter jet probably served as a message from the Kremlin to the French. The Aquitaine was used on Friday night in the actions against Syria. It is equipped with sixteen new MdCN cruise missiles that have a range of more than a thousand kilometres, three of those were fired on Syria, each one costing the French taxpayer 2,86 million euros.
The Aquitaine (photo: Armed Forces Ministry)
The Aquitaine (photo: Armed Forces Ministry)
François Hollande is back! On Wednesday, almost a year after the presidential election, he published his new book Les leçons du pouvoir, or ‘The lessons of power’. In this opus, Hollande reckons with Macron, his young and promising pupil who finally put a dagger in his back. Expect blood, tears and much political revenge.
For the fans: Hollande will be signing his new book on April 23rd in the Galignani bookshop in Paris, conveniently located on the ground floor of the former president’s new office.
“I could have defeated him [Macron], but I did not want to” - François Hollande
Les leçons du pouvoir, François Hollande | Stock
Brigitte Macron, France’s unofficial First Lady, has reported identity theft. Using the French President’s name, scammers tried to book tables at top restaurants, tickets for events and VIP treatments in Australia, Morocco and other countries. They sent emails from the official looking address Even though the smart guys were not successful in their nefarious plans, Brigitte’s cabinet filed a complaint: “It is a clear attempt to damage her reputation”. The investigation has been entrusted to police with the rather prosaic name of Brigade for the control of refined delinquency (BRDA), aka the clever-crime-squad.
“Who booked a table under the name of Brigitte Macron?”
“Who booked a table under the name of Brigitte Macron?”
In the midst of social unrest (railroads and students among others, see below), Macron chose to counterattack. On Thursday he gave an interview to TF1’s 1 o'clock news, a bulletin watched by predominantly by older people in the province. The news studio was moved to Berd'huis primary school for the occasion. In this village of 1100 inhabitants, Marine Le Pen won the first round of the presidential elections last year with more than 30 percent of the votes. Macron only came third.
It was a well-considered choice by Macron (in France, politicians usually choose the journalists, and not the other way around). By going to the countryside, Macron hoped to shake off the image of the ‘president of the cities and the rich’. However, the “rich do not need a president. They can take care of themselves” he told Jean-Pierre Pernaut (68), the presenter of the show, seemingly quite irritated. Around 6,4 million viewers watched the programme (the highest number of viewers for a midday news bulletin in Europe), but the interview yielded little news.
The school that was turned into a six-camera TV set (photo: Google Maps)
The school that was turned into a six-camera TV set (photo: Google Maps)
Last night (Sunday), Macron was live on two national television channels. This time, the Chaillot Palace was turned into a lavish studio, with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop. For almost three hours, he was challenged by two journalists, Jean-Jacques Bourdin (BFMTV) and Edwy Plenel (Mediapart). The two are, just like Pernaut, elderly white men. Plenel, Mediapart’s editor-in-chief, understood that this did not paint a good picture of journalism. He, therefore, took up quite a lot of space on his site to explain why he said, ‘Yes,’ to this “symbol par excellence from the slide of power to a monarchy”.
Sunday night's interview with Emmanuel Macron
Sunday night's interview with Emmanuel Macron
In several cities, students are occupying faculty buildings. They are protesting against Parcoursup, a new online enrolment system for higher education. This system is one of the measures to limit the failure of first-year students. More than half of French students drop out of university in their first year. Traditionally anyone in France with a ‘bac’, the high school diploma, is allowed to go to the university. A full year only costs €184. Forty percent of the students pay nothing. Opponents believe that the new system, which is struggling with some teething issues, introduces a sort of pre-selection. It is, therefore, a threat to the principle of equality.
In the suburb of Nanterre, at the university where ‘May 1968’ begun, the police violently intervened against the occupiers. The Tolbiac faculty in Paris has been particularly restless over the last few days. Buon Tan, an MP from Macron’s party, who lives near the building, was pelted with tomato sauce and toilet rolls when he visited the site. In other parts of the country, universities such as in Metz, Bordeaux and Montpellier are also occupied.
A new May 1968
Every time there is social unrest around about springtime, French activists hope their movement will turn into a new edition of ‘May 1968’. “Maintenant ça va pêter”, now everything is going to explode, is a slogan that belongs just as much to spring as “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé” belongs to autumn. As with that infamous red wine, after the ‘uprisings’ there is often nothing left but a hangover. As soon as the exam periods start, and the summer holiday arrives, the dust settles. Usually, nothing is accomplished, and everything becomes peaceful again. Until next spring that is.
The Gare du Nord in Paris (photo: Paul Fleury)
The Gare du Nord in Paris (photo: Paul Fleury)
Despite the continuing strikes, the Assemblée approved a partial reform of SNCF, the French state rail company. In response, the trade unions have hardened their position. In spite of this, it seems that there are fewer strikers than last week. The SNCF is guaranteeing 200 TGVs on the two strike days this week (Wednesday and Thursday) instead of the regular 700. The trains will be driven by non-strikers and office staff who are trained as train drivers. Last weekend, fewer people were on strike than earlier this month.
The strikes have already cost the French railways 100 million euro, while the tourism sector claims the conflict will cost them 400 million euros. The employees refusing to work are also losing money: they are not paid a salary on their strike days and receive only a small allowance from the trade union fund. Because their pockets are almost empty, they have set up a crowdfunding campaign. In France, such action would not be complete without the support of well-known intellectuals. At the time of this newsletter being sent out, they will have already raised almost eight hundred thousand euros. The money will be given to the strikers.
Tit for tat
On the Metz-Luxembourg railway line, the passengers gave the train-workers a taste of their own medicine. To protest against the many technical incidents and the low frequency of commuter trains, they refused to show their tickets. Every day almost 100,000 French people travel to the neighbouring country of Luxembourg to work there. Often the salaries there are thousands of euros higher than in their own country, for the same work. The connections between the two regions are mediocre: public transport is bad, and in the morning and evening the roads between the two countries are paralysed by long traffic jams.
Aujourd'hui 12 avril, partout en France et sur @TER_Metz_Lux des associations et collectifs de voyageurs remettent l'usager au coeur du débat ferroviaire !
Renseignez vous sur
+++ Britons living in France got angry during a Brexit information session organised by Her Majesty’s Embassy in Paris. “I went there seeking reassurance and I came away terrified about my future,” one of the attendees said. There is the impression that the diplomats had no idea of what is to come. +++ The unions called for a national strike on 22 May. +++ Good news for hunters: Macron halves the price of a hunting license. It’s a gift to a not insignificant group of voters: five million French people possess said document, whose price will be reduced from 400 to 200 euros per year. +++ At the end of a three-day visit by crown prince Mohammed ben Salmane, French companies signed contracts worth $18 billion with Saudi Arabia. +++ Former state secretary and former senator Jean-Vincent Placé was arrested for drunkenness in a Parisian neighbourhood. He was pestering a girl at a bar and then launched racial insults at the doorman who intervened. Placé was arrested and spent two nights in jail. He will have to appear in court in July. He denies the allegations but says he wants to quit drinking. +++ Emmanuel Macron will give a speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg tomorrow (Tuesday). He will have to face a tough debate with the MEP’s about his plans for the future of the EU. On Thursday, the French President travels to Berlin, hoping to convince Angela Merkel of the need to reform Europe. +++ 
Thank you for reading this newsletter. If you liked it, please feel free to share it 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 !
Stefan de Vries
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Stefan de Vries
Stefan de Vries @stefandevries

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