By Emily Senger - Friday, March 22, 2013 - 0 Comments
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is being formally investigated for campaign financing which he…
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is being formally investigated for campaign financing which he received in 2007 from Liliane Bettencourt, 90, who is the richest woman in France and heir to the L’Oreal empire.
There are concerns that Sarkozy could have abused Bettencourt’s frailty while soliciting thousands of Euros to help fund his campaign.
The formal investigation does not mean that Sarkozy will necessarily stand trial, but a judge’s decision allowing the investigation to go ahead has lead other right-leaning politicians to defend the former president’s record, reports The New York Times. “It’s a political act,” lawmaker Thierry Mariani told Le Monde. “Certain magistrates have grudges to settle with the former president of the republic, and have hidden political urges.” Continue…
By Jamie Dettmer - Monday, October 15, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Searching for meaning in former French president’s stubble
“If I lose, I quit politics—you will never hear of me,” Nicolas Sarkozy threatened weeks before losing the French presidency to socialist François Hollande in May. And he appears to be keeping his promise, dashing off with glamorous wife, Carla Bruni, and their young daughter for a sun-blessed three weeks in Marrakech, then to the family’s seaside residence at Cap Nègre on the French Riviera. The normally hyper Sarkozy seemed determined to swap edginess for calm, and flaunt a relaxed non-combatant status with new designer stubble.
But beware vanquished politicians who grow beards. After losing to George W. Bush in 2000, a traumatized Al Gore disappeared from sight for several months, only to reappear whiskered, prompting an American commentator to postulate that he looked “like a Bolshevik labour organizer.” Gore’s beard didn’t signify penitential withdrawal, but more the return of the prophet fortified by a short period of reflection—after all, free of the trappings of office, the former American vice-president was able to set his sights on the more noble task of trying to save the planet. The scraggly white beard sported by former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn following his fall from grace also appeared to have a rehabilitation purpose—he appeared, to some commentators, less haughty and imperious, more down to earth.
Signs are that Sarkozy’s stubble shouldn’t be taken as anything but camouflage. “Never” seldom stands the test of time, and according to close friends, the former French president is “boiling with impatience” to get back into the political fray. Behind the scenes, Sarkozy has been busy plotting, searching for ways either to position himself to run for the French presidency in 2017 or to carve out high-profile roles in European politics like Tony Blair, say sources close to him; the former British prime minister has been among several ex-leaders to call Sarkozy with advice, Britain’s Independent reports.
Sarkozy has been careful to avoid expressing his preference between the candidates competing for the leadership of his party, the conservative Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), but he has lunched discreetly with one of the leading contenders, his former prime minister, François Fillon, who would likely be the most supportive of a Sarkozy 2017 run. Sarkozy has nudged ahead of Hollande in opinion polls, with nearly half the country saying he would do a better job navigating the economic crisis than the man who replaced him just four months ago. Battered by embarrassing revelations about the enmity between his ex and his current partner, Hollande has faced public wrath for rising unemployment, and a policy U-turn where he replaced promised growth initiatives with austerity measures. “Sarkozy has discovered that Hollande is his best publicity agent,” Grenoble’s former mayor, Alain Carignon, told Le Figaro.
The French media, ever fascinated by the glamour of Sarko and Carla, is also an ally, if unwittingly, with frequent coverage of the couple, prompting an irritated Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s new prime minister, to urge journalists to seek treatment. “We really need you to detoxify,” he grumbled.
By Martin Patriquin - Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 3:48 PM - 0 Comments
The former French president, now under investigation for illicit campaign financing, has close ties to Quebec business titan Paul Desmarais
While police rifle through his Paris residence, recently defeated French President Nicolas Sarkozy is vacationing in Quebec at a country abode owned by one of Canada’s richest families.
Fresh off his defeat in France’s June elections, Sarkozy is apparently suffering from a touch of burn out, according to a report in French magazine Le Point. The ex-President’s timing is auspicious: on Tuesday, police raided his home and office as part of an investigation into illegal financing of his 2007 presidential campaign.
Sarkozy, who lost his immunity from prosecution after losing to François Hollande on June 15, faces charges that he accepted €50,000 ($63,837) from cosmetic heiress Liliane Bettencourt. The amount is significantly larger than the €4,600 ($5,873) donation limit allowed by French law, and it fueled the popular caricature of Sarkozy as a stooge to France’s idle rich. (Sarkozy denied he took the donation.)
What is perhaps more interesting on this side of the Atlantic is Sarkozy’s choice of accommodations. Located roughly one-hour’s drive north of Montreal in Quebec’s Laurentians district, the house is owned by the wealthy and discreet Desmarais family. Sarkozy is a longtime friend of patriarch Paul Desmarais, who in 1968 bought the suitably named Power Corporation and turned it into a media, insurance and investment juggernaut with 2011 revenues of just over $33 billion. (He is #248 on the Forbes list of world billionaires.) No less than three former Prime Ministers—Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin—worked at Power during their careers. Chrétien’s daughter France is married to André Desmarais, Paul’s son. Sarkozy has frequently vacationed in Quebec at the behest of Paul Desmarais.
Sarkozy and Paul Desmarais, 85, reportedly met in 1995, when Sarkozy’s career was slumping. The pair walked the forests and grounds of Sagard, the Desmarais palacial spread in the Charlevoix region in Quebec’s hinterland. “You must get yourself together, you’ll get there, we must build a strategy for you,” Sarkozy remembers Desmarais saying to him. Wealthy in both assets and contacts in French political circles, Desmarais helped guide the precocious Sarkozy into the President’s office in 2007. “If today I am president, it’s in part due to Paul Desmarais,” Sarkozy said in 2008.
The president certainly returned the favour. In February 2008, in a ceremony attended by Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Sarkozy bestowed on Desmarais the grand-croix de la Légion d’honneur, France’s highest order. The ties run even wider: one of Sarkozy’s former close advisors, Eric Le Moyne de Sérigny, was once married to Desmarais daughter, Sophie. Today, de Sérigny is himself embroiled in the campaign financing scandal.
The Sarkozy-Desmarais relationship has had profound (if largely unspoken) consequences for Canadian unity. Under Sarkozy, France abondoned its policy of “non-interference, non-indifference” to become a wholehearted ally of a united Canada. It is widely believed that this is due in large part to Desmarais, a dedicated federalist and noted scourge of the Quebec separatists. (Some of the fringe elements of the movement often point out how, as a native of Sudbury, Ontario, Paul Desmarais isn’t a true Québécois.) “Indeed, I love your coutnry. I love Canada’s beauty and the warmth and the generosity of its people,” Sarkozy told CanWest News in 2008.
It remains unclear how long Sarkozy will stay in Morin Heights, though if their relationship is any indication the ex-French president can count on the Desmarais clan for comfort and security, no matter what fate awaits him in Paris.
By Andrew Stobo Sniderman - Friday, June 15, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
François Hollande has won the presidency, but now he has to stack the house in his favour
French President François Hollande is riding high in the polls, as one does so soon after victory over a reviled opponent. The French left waited 19 years for a president to call their own, and his reception recalls the adulation enjoyed by U.S. President Barack Obama after the George W. Bush years. Now, Hollande will try to translate his popularity into a parliamentary majority for his Socialist Party in voting that concludes June 17.
In France, voters pick a president, take a breather, then elect a parliament. Hollande, who has effectively been campaigning since his win over Nicolas Sarkozy on May 6, continues to cultivate an image of austere normalcy—a deliberate contrast to his ostentatious predecessor. He was sworn in alone, sporting a stern look on a drizzly day; there were no foreign heads of state, nor even his children or partner. He soon cut his own salary, and that of cabinet, by 30 per cent. Where possible, he travels by train. His motorcade reportedly obeys traffic lights. He wishes to be, in short, a reassuring bore.
There is socialist substance beyond the symbolism. He has already lowered the retirement age to 60 from 62 for certain workers, partly unravelling Sarkozy’s hard-fought reform in 2010. This to the delight of some 110,000 workers expected to take advantage of the change in the coming year, at a cost of over a billion euros in 2013 and up to three billion euros per year by 2017. Hollande is also moving to shrink the salaries of heads of public corporations, and sticking to his pledge to pull French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, two years ahead of schedule.
“Almost every French president enjoys a honeymoon of about six months,” says Martial Foucault, a professor at the Université de Montreal who specializes in French politics. “The question is what happens after elections, when he tries to pass concrete policies.” The bulk of Hollande’s promises will hinge on who controls the new parliament. Projections suggest that his Socialist Party will win the most seats, but they may still have to rely on the support of more extreme leftist parties to pass their legislation.
Hollande has proposed adding 60,000 teaching jobs and paying for them by increasing taxation on millionaires. As with most campaign talk, the numbers don’t quite add up. The proposed 75 per cent tax rate on France’s highest earners will only pay for a fraction of the costs projected for the new teaching staff.
“Mr. Normal,” as the French press has anointed him, eschews superlatives, but he faces big problems and high expectations. Unemployment is at a 12-year high of almost 10 per cent and rising, along with national debt. He has sold a majority of France on a vision of a more just and less unequal France. He will now have to try chasing this dream without aping the fiscal crises of debt-addled Italy, Greece and Spain.
Meanwhile, Hollande allows himself some less advertised exceptionalism. His motorcade was filmed by a journalist exceeding 170 km/h on the autoroute between Paris and Caen. No matter: Sarkozy was filmed doing the same last April, but he managed to crack 200 km/h.
By Michael Petrou with Stavroula Logothettis - Friday, May 11, 2012 at 2:05 PM - 0 Comments
Europe is reconsidering the fiscal pact. Get set for another round of chaos
Among the casualties of national elections in France and Greece last weekend, Nicolas Sarkozy’s now-finished career is a comparatively insignificant footnote. The outgoing French president suffered a historic defeat, becoming only the second incumbent presidential candidate to lose in half a century when he fell to the Socialists’ François Hollande. But the election wasn’t really about the two men—or at least it wasn’t about Hollande, the bland and modest lifelong politician who possesses little of Sarkozy’s flair and mercurial arrogance.
What is really at stake in France, and across Europe, are competing visions about how the continent might recover from a crushing financial crisis.
In December, 25 of 27 European Union states agreed to a “fiscal compact” to coordinate financial policies and enforce budgetary discipline. But these austerity measures are deeply unpopular in parts of Europe with soaring unemployment and sizzling social unrest. Greece is regularly rattled by strikes and protests. Millions of Spaniards have flooded public squares to protest public spending cuts and record levels of joblessness. In France, where unemployment hovers around 10 per cent, even modest pension reforms provoked massive demonstrations.
By Paul Wells - Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 11:24 PM - 0 Comments
Well, so much for that guy.
During his five years in Elysée Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy came up with one plan after another that had nothing to do with his election promises or with France’s most pressing problems. His economic reforms were amazingly consistent: they made every problem worse. He had one advisor who took care to ensure he never made sense on economics, and another who used to write fan notes about Jean-Marie Le Pen. He rigged a public appointment for his son and took a vacation on a billionaire’s yacht. When he was nominated as his party’s candidate five years ago he assured everyone, “I’ve changed.” This turned out to be optimistic. Continue…
By Gustavo Vieira - Friday, May 4, 2012 at 11:46 AM - 0 Comments
More than 80 per cent of registered voters are casting their ballots
As Sunday’s final round of presidential voting approaches in France, only one thing seems certain: turnout will be high. With incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy polling in a dead heat with his socialist challenger, François Hollande, it may even surpass the first round of voting two weeks ago, when more than 80 per cent of registered voters cast ballots. Few Western elections see anywhere near this degree of enthusiasm: in Canada, barely 60 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in last year’s federal election, while the U.K. saw a slightly better turnout of 65 per cent in 2010.
The fact that it’s a tight race certainly helps, says Lawrence LeDuc, a University of Toronto expert on voter behaviour, but that’s just part of the story. “Presidential elections are a big deal in France,” he says, because citizens vote directly for a president, whereas Brits and Canadians don’t cast ballots for a prime minister. LeDuc also credits proportional representation, which, during parliamentary elections, gives voters the sense every vote counts. And the French, LeDuc adds, simply have a strong culture of political participation—a revolutionary holdover. There, it seems, the principle of citizenship still manages to excite.
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 11:33 PM - 0 Comments
François Hollande was in Nevers today, in the Burgundy region south of Paris. Five days before the runoff vote in France’s presidential election, and on May Day, the Socialist candidate had come to lay a wreath at the grave of Pierre Bérégovoy, two-time socialist finance minister and then prime minister during the last days of the Socialist parliamentary majority from 1992 to 1993.
I was in Paris 19 years ago tonight when I heard Bérégovoy had shot himself to death. I’ll never forget where a bunch of us students were when we heard the news. It wasn’t just grief over the Socialists’ legislative defeat that made him do it; it was a personal humiliation. As budget minister in the 80s and again in the 90s, he had to rein in Socialist spending while defending social-democratic goals. He had been attempting a similar feat — think Chrétien or Clinton or Schröder a couple of years later — when France’s voters tossed his party out. He’d lost his party’s favour for being a bad Socialist, and the electorate’s for being a Socialist. It was brutal treatment at history’s hands, and he killed himself.
Of course everyone thought the world of him as soon as he was dead. The last honest man, focused on results instead of image, why can’t politics be more like him, all of that. Today he is not often mentioned. In France as in other places, politics is polarized, the engaged voters are the ones who like to pick a side, and Bérégovoy remains essentially a confusing figure.
His appeal between rounds of a Presidential election is obvious, however. Continue…
By Leah McLaren - Monday, April 30, 2012 at 10:46 AM - 0 Comments
The French president narrowly lost the first electoral round. He’s running scared and needs new friends—fast.
Last Sunday evening in Paris the mood outside François Hollande’s Socialist party headquarters was prematurely jubilant. A crowd of 2,000 mostly young, ethnically mixed urbanites, looking like a giant Bennetton ad with their jaunty scarves and European and rainbow flags, gathered in the Rue de Solférino, just up from the Musée d’Orsay in the city’s leafy Left Bank, to watch the results come in from France’s first round of voting in its presidential election.
For Hollande supporters, the news was good. Well, sort of. After months of campaigning, the Socialist leader secured nearly 29 per cent of the vote, beating out reigning President Nicolas Sarkozy, who got 27 per cent. As expected, the final runoff vote on May 6 will be a tight race for the middle ground between Sarkozy and Hollande. On closer look, there are more complicated political forces at work here. As with so much about this race, the final result will, in large part, be determined by the voting behaviour of extremists.
When the beaming, ice-blond Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right National Front, appeared on the jumbo screen for her concession speech, the Socialist crowd’s mood turned dark. The happy Benetton models began to boo and hiss. Le Pen is now out of the race but you’d never have known it from her smiling declaration, “My friends, dear French people, nothing will ever be the same!” In a sense she’s right. With nearly 18 per cent of the vote, Le Pen has scored a historic victory for her party and the hard right in France—even better than her father’s second-place finish of 17 per cent in the 2002 election. Hollande supporters might loathe Le Pen, but it’s believed her votes will determine the final outcome of the presidential election. If Sarkozy fails to woo LePen’s followers by swerving hard to the right (as he’s expected to do) it will be good for Hollande. However, if they line up behind Sarkozy for lack of a better right wing candidate, the opposite is true.
By Gabriela Perdomo - Friday, April 27, 2012 at 3:13 PM - 0 Comments
Last week, we wondered whether Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials were too stubborn to notice that their push for austerity is choking Europe’s economy. There’s a chance they aren’t.
On Wednesday, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi called for a European “growth compact,” acknowledging that fiscal austerity is “starting to reverberate its contractionary effects.” Merkel agreed with Draghi, though she immediately specified what type of growth she would–or rather wouldn’t–like to see:
By Paul Wells - Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 2:26 PM - 0 Comments
Campaigning on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the first round of Presidential election voting in France, Nicolas Sarkozy said this:
“If there is a candidate from the National Front, it’s because she had a right to be a candidate….So from the moment you run in an election you have the right to run in the election, as far as I know. You are compatible with the Republic.”
Libération, the leftist newspaper, turned that into this morning’s front page:
A lot of people in Sarkozy’s party aren’t happy. “An outrageous, dishonest and unacceptable attempt at political misinformation,” the secretary-general of Sarkozy’s party says in a communiqué. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Monday, April 23, 2012 at 4:07 PM - 0 Comments
Take a look at Nicolas Sarkozy’s official campaign posters from 2007 and 2012.
In a lot of ways he’s running the same visual play: the blank stare, the sort of half-smile what-is-that expression, the reassuring message. And in a lot of ways, the French president must surely believe he has run the same campaign, in general, to be re-elected that he ran to win five years ago. He’s an outsider — son of immigrants, not educated at the grandes écoles, unpolished, friend to the little guy — running, not precisely against privilege, but against elite systems designed to keep guys like him out.
It was enchanting in 2007. He won without real difficulty. It has not worked in 2012. He came second in Sunday’s first-round voting and will probably lose in the runoff (the best short analysis I’ve seen, in French, is here). Obsessed by the record support French voters gave the far-right Front National under its founder’s less abrasive daughter, Marine Le Pen, Sarkozy apparently intends to double down on a populist, protectionist message with a dash of xenophobia (here’s Henri Guaino, the scuttling little thug who writes his speeches, losing his cool after an opposition spokesman busted him for musing on “the problem of national identity”).
The article I linked above quotes a Sarkozy advisor, who says the Sarkozy message leading to the May 6 runoff must respond “to a need for authority and protection: European protectionism, economic patriotism, defence of the authority of the State and of the Republic.” In the same article, Sarko helpers are gleeful at the high Front National turnout. They can go get that electorate! The socialist, François Hollande, can’t! Suddenly — well, actually, not suddenly at all — the Sarko campaign’s MVP is Patrick Buisson, who spent the 80s writing mash notes to Jean-Marie Le Pen in a Front National fan-club pamphlet called Minute. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 23, 2012 at 1:48 PM - 0 Comments
Brian Topp looks to Francois Hollande.
First, Hollande campaigned on a relatively gutsy platform. It offers a fairly clear choice, within the mainstream of a western industrial democracy, with some impressively clear commitments. For example, much media coverage has focused on Hollande’s proposal to restore fair taxes on high incomes. The details are less important than the victory Hollande scored in how this proposal was debated. It was widely discussed in terms of whether or not to dispense with cadeaux fiscales – fiscal gifts, to the wealthiest of the French – rather than the populist right-wing “smaller government, lower taxes, more freedom” slogans that have delivered none of these things, while building grotesque income inequality here in North America. In short, Hollande found a way to win both the frame and the debate over economic equality.
Not mentioned by Mr. Topp, but not to be discounted: this music video. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Monday, April 9, 2012 at 11:07 PM - 0 Comments
Much debate in France over reforms to the country’s rules for obtaining a driver’s license. Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent centre-right arriviste incorrigible doofus, has a plan; so does François Hollande, the soft-focus socialist challenger who seems likely to beat him. Perhaps inevitably, a French car magazine followed the various candidates around and wrote about their violations of the highway code.
When The Economist devoted its cover, a couple of weeks ago, to an editorial complaining that the entire campaign was “in denial” about the economic trouble the country was in, the coverage in France was amused: Oh, look at those Brits with their odd preoccupations. But The Economist has a point.
France is not in existential crisis. Downgraded by Moody’s, it can still, after a fashion, afford a deeply frivolous campaign. Genteel capital flight, depressed investment, and the continuation of an oppressive pessimism caused in part by an absurdly over-complicated public sector are all luxuries the country can afford to give itself, election after election. Which is good because that’s what it’s about to do, again.
Reading France’s top papers — I look at Le Monde and Le Figaro most days, Libération a couple of times a week — I’ve garnered little sense of François Hollande’s strengths and weaknesses as a campaigner. The French press is obsessed with Sarkozy, chronicling his every mistake with care, benefitting from his campaign’s eagerness to explain its every move. I’m surprised at how much energy Hollande shows in his campaign ads, and tickled by his willingness to swipe his opponent’s most precious symbols and predecessors: yes, that’s Charles de Gaulle in a Socialist ad. Sarkozy did exactly the same in 2007, appropriating Socialist heroes, essentially accusing his opponent (Ségolène Royal, who was then Hollande’s domestic partner) of betraying her own party’s best instincts. It’s a tactic we haven’t seen yet in Canada. Imagine Tom Mulcair saying some variation of, “Diefenbaker helped build a great Canada and Stephen Harper has lost sight of what made Canada great.” Perhaps that’s too complex a manoeuvre for our politics.
But anyway, campaign symbolism has little to do with economic policy. Hollande would impose a 75% top tax rate, which is lovely but it would simply encourage rich French people to move to Switzerland, hardly a rare phenomenon already. My guess is that Hollande would manage to be worse for France’s economy than Sarkozy has been, but on balance I’m hoping for Hollande’s victory, so Sarkozy will exit in disgrace and the odds of a disciplined, simplifying candidate (come on, François Fillon) leading Sarkozy’s party in 2017 will increase slightly.
Sarkozy has been an abject failure. In 2007 he raised hopes he has done nothing to address. He visited the big cities’ banlieues frequently, scoring points with the far right by growling threats at neighbourhood hoodlums, but also promising economic opportunity. It was a rare, uncharacteristic and fleeting insight: if young, often Muslim French kids could hope to get out of the ghetto, they would not simply sink into bitterness.
At one point Sarkozy campaigned in the City of London, because economic opportunity had made it a global headquarters for young French kids. Le Monde covered that campaign stop, spoke to a couple of bright French kids who’d moved to London to work in the brokerage houses, mentioned only near the end of the article that one of the kids was Arab and the other black and that neither could hope to find as good a job back home. Sarkozy offered that hope. He suggested a better-functioning economy would allow kids to move out of the banlieue by moving up. Of course nothing of the sort has happened since.
It’s no coincidence that among the general French population under 25, Marine Le Pen, the more presentable daughter of far-right stalwart Jean-Marie Le Pen, is the candidate with the fastest-growing support. When no candidate offers realistic hope, resentment becomes more appealing.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, March 30, 2012 at 10:13 AM - 0 Comments
A Jihadist murderer might have hoped to spark wider terror. But a nation pulled through.
Mohamed Merah, the self-proclaimed Islamic holy warrior whose contribution to jihad consisted of murdering three children and four innocent adults, grew up in Les Izards, a Toulouse suburb of low-slung apartment buildings and gangs of loitering hostile youth.
Many of its residents are Muslim Arabs: immigrants from North Africa and, increasingly, their French-born children and grandchildren. Arson is common, one resident said. Cars and buildings are torched.
In a public square in the neighbourhood, civilian “mediators” patrol. Their job is to liaise between residents and the police, who are often present in large numbers but hang back and don’t readily interact with those who live in the district.
By Emma Teitel - Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:52 AM - 0 Comments
The lands of foie gras and puppy mills are suddenly horrified by animal slaughter
With the American Republican primaries in full swing, it’s easy to forget that U.S. politics doesn’t have a monopoly on ignorance. Thanks to France’s right-wing National Front party, and Canada’s very own, very left-wing Parti Québécois, it appears that SantoRomNewt may have something in common with French leaders (despite Newt’s attack ad on Mitt Romney for speaking French): a penchant for anti-Muslim rhetoric. At issue is the halal meat controversy, possibly the most bogus animal rights campaign in recent history. Its chief spokesperson is sometimes-starlet, sometimes-xenophobe Marine Le Pen, of the aforementioned NFP. Le Pen is deeply disturbed by the notion that non-Muslim French citizens are “unwittingly eating halal meat,” which she contends comes from animals that are being inhumanely slaughtered. The ritual method through which halal meat is slaughtered (as with kosher meat, using a single incision to the jugular) is just as legal in France as the secular alternative (“captive bolt stunning,” in which the animal is sedated via stun gun before it’s killed), but Le Pen maintains that halal’s “horrible cruelty” warrants special condemnation. “This is a moral point,” she says. “Don’t French people who don’t want to eat halal have the same rights as Muslims who do?” Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who once accused Le Pen of stirring up an “artificial controversy,” has made the alleged cruelty of halal slaughtering a cause célèbre in the upcoming presidential election—perhaps to reel in the country’s right-wing base.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
The presidential nominee for the centre-left Socialist party is a nerd famous for his lack of star power
How do you lead a party out of the political wilderness and back to power against a charismatic incumbent? In France, the answer may be a short, bespectacled nerd famous for his lack of star power. François Hollande is the presidential nominee for the centre-left Socialist party, which used to dominate the presidency but has been out of power since François Mitterrand’s defeat in 1995. With the increasing unpopularity of centre-right President Nicolas Sarkozy, and a strong showing in the 2011 Senate elections, the Socialists see the upcoming April vote as their best hope to regain the top job. And they’re doing it with a guy nicknamed “Mr. Normal.”
Hollande might seem, at first glance, like the last person you’d pick to upset an international man of mystery like Sarkozy. Though he was Socialist party secretary for 11 years, he’s the type of functionary who always steps aside for more interesting people. In 2007, he lost the presidential nomination to Ségolène Royal, his partner at the time and the mother of his four children. This time around, the Socialists were prepared to pick the more glamorous Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but sex allegations against him proved too much for even the French.
With Strauss-Kahn unavailable, Hollande got the nomination almost by default, even though, as Foreign Policy’s Eric Pape put it, other politicians have tagged him as “spineless, too conciliatory, and the embodiment of the ‘mushy left’—and that’s just the commentary from members of his own party.” Things are no better for him on TV: On Les Guignols, a popular French show with marionettes, Hollande is portrayed as a pimply-faced nerd with a bad toupée and a tendency to giggle at inappropriate times. His image in France is comparable to that of Stéphane Dion in Canada—a plodding team player, not a winner.
By Paul Wells - Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 11:07 PM - 0 Comments
In one of the elaborate prime-time TV interviews with selected interrogators that are a staple of French presidential politics, Nicolas Sarkozy tonight put his fate in the hands of Angela Merkel. He announced a modest increase in, basically, the country’s GST — to kick in after April’s presidential election — to pay for reductions in business taxes to stimulate employment. That was a key feature of Merkel’s economic policy, designed to make it cheaper for employers to hire. He waved his hands a lot and alluded, in vaguer terms, to much tougher reforms implemented by Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, in 2004.
But that wasn’t even the most extraordinary news in German-French relations this weekend, not even close. No, the most extraordinary news is that Merkel will campaign actively in France for Sarkozy’s re-election, going so far as to attend campaign rallies at his side. Continue…
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
How Europe’s power couple makes the unlikeliest of pairs
Things were, as they say, touch and go there for a while between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy—way too much “touch” for the German chancellor’s taste (aides say Sarkozy loves greeting her with his country’s customary cuddle and double-kiss, largely because he knows she detests it), not near enough “go” for the French president (“France is acting, while Germany is only thinking about it,” he exploded a couple of years ago, as Europe slid into the economic abyss without, as Sarkozy saw it, appropriate intervention from Germany).
But since the eurozone crisis took hold some months ago—all that bad Greek debt threatening to contaminate weaker European economies, like Spain and Italy—Merkel and Sarkozy have entered into an uneasy but powerful rapprochement. What else could they do? Germany and, to a lesser extent, France, are the economic superpowers who must either prop Europe up or watch it collapse. And so Sarkozy and Merkel now embody France and Germany’s long-time roles—the “dual engine of European integration”: they cozy up, meet endlessly, often into the wee hours, kibbitz on the horn, and even tag-team haranguing phone calls to recalcitrant colleagues like Silvio Berlusconi (whose unkind words about Merkel are much too salty to reproduce here). As Sarkozy put it: “It is vital that, in the face of this unprecedented crisis, France and Germany speak with one voice and form a common policy.” They are so united a front—the Maginot Line erased, a terrible booboo—that, as with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (and Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck before them), observers truncate the pair into a single, sentient being: Merkozy. At times their joint efforts elicit the rhetoric of erotica—for example, when Joachim Fels, chief of global economics at Morgan Stanley, called their suggestion that Greece might leave the eurozone “taboo,” as though monetary policy and forbidden love are closely aligned concepts.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 10 Comments
Paul Dewar calls on the Harper government to support a financial transaction tax at the G20.
“The FTT will be small change for banks, but a major boost to the fight against inequality, poverty and climate change” said Dewar. “It will also cut the excesses of speculative market which were central to the most recent financial crisis.”
The FTT is supported by many European leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Prominent international economists such as Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs back this change as do George Soros and Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Dewar supports an FTT implemented with the widest possible international agreement through multilateral forums such as G20.
The EU proposal is supported by France and Germany. Two U.S. Democrats are proposing a similar measure. The Harper government opposes the current proposal and has opposed similar proposals in the past.
By Colby Cosh, Jaime J. Weinman, and Richard Warnica - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Miley gets political, the Pope gets stung and Julian Assange gets an autobiography he doesn’t want
No, they didn’t walk home
Two American hikers convicted of espionage in Iran were released after the sultan of Oman posted US$930,000 bail for them. Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, 29-year-old pro-Palestine activists and former Berkeley classmates, were seized along with a female friend while on holiday in 2009; Iran claims they illegally crossed their border on foot. The woman, Sarah Shourd, Bauer’s fiancée, was freed last fall on medical grounds. Bauer and Fattal’s release, with both in apparent good health, is seen as a political victory for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over hardline clerics in the Islamic republic.
Only in France is having it and not flaunting it a crime. Last week, a court outside Paris fined two women for refusing to show their faces in public. Hind Ahmas and Najate Nait Ali were the ﬁrst Frenchwomen charged under a law that bans full facial coverings outside the home. Passed last spring, the ban was aimed, rather transparently, at France’s substantial Muslim minority. It may also have been an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy to shore up his vulnerable right flank. But if anything, the law has galvanized supporters of the niqab. Ahmas told reporters she intends to challenge her fine in the European Court of Human Rights—while Kenza Drider, who also wears the niqab, now says she intends to run against Sarkozy in the presidential election. “When a woman wants to maintain her freedom she must be bold,” Drider told the Associated Press.
By Alex Derry - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 1 Comment
A new ban against street prayer in France sends Muslims looking for space to worship
Just as Muslims throughout France prepared for their Friday prayers, the government passed a ban on Sept. 16 outlawing the increasingly common practice of praying in the street. Despite the ban being seen by some as an example of Nicolas Sarkozy’s government kowtowing to right-wing voters seven months before an election, and a small group of worshippers protesting the new measure in Paris, many among France’s five-million-strong Muslim population welcome the prospect of getting off the streets, provided they have somewhere else to pray.
France has enforced the separation of church and state since 1905, but a growing tide of anti-Muslim sentiment among the country’s more right-leaning groups has put pressure on Sarkozy to crack down on religious displays in public spaces. Particularly in cities, such as Paris and Marseilles, mosques are located in small buildings and storefronts with little space, leaving many worshippers no other option but to face Mecca in the street. Marine le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has equated Muslims praying in Paris’s streets to the Nazi invasion of France in the Second World War, albeit “without the tanks or soldiers,” but instead with fundamentalist displays in a proudly secular society. “Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism,” Interior Minister Claude Guéant told Le Figaro. “All Muslim leaders are in agreement.”
Mohammed Salah Hamza is one of those leaders. As the imam who leads some 2,000 Muslims at a makeshift mosque in a vacant fire station in northern Paris, which opened on the day the ban became law, he says that moving worshippers into an actual place of worship is “the beginning of a solution.” But Hamza called on the government to be more accommodating to France’s Muslim population—the biggest in Western Europe—and opposed being herded into makeshift spaces. “We are not cattle,” Hamza told France’s TF1 News. The 2,000-sq.-metre fire station was only handed over to worshippers under a three-year lease two days before the deadline, after an uneasy accord was reached with municipal authorities. In Marseilles, a disused hangar was set aside as a temporary mosque in a similar deal, but is in a state of such disrepair that it was unusable for the Sept. 16 deadline. Guéant estimates that half of the country’s 2,000 mosques have been built in the last decade.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 8:50 AM - 0 Comments
Because of disease, all of the Canal du Midi’s plane trees must be destroyed
The canopy of plane trees that guard the banks of France’s Canal du Midi have created such scenic vistas that UNESCO calls it a “work of art.” Now that beauty is under threat by an invasive fungus in what President Nicolas Sarkozy calls “a great tragedy.”
For five years, officials have tried to contain Ceratocystis platani—believed to have arrived on wooden American ammunition boxes during the Second World War—by cutting and burning diseased trees plus the surrounding healthy ones. But the disease kept spreading along the historic canal, a 360-km network of waterways built in the 17th century to connect the Mediterranean with the Atlantic.
Now France has admitted defeat. It will fell all 40,000 trees. The chopping and replanting with resistant varieties, costing an estimated $300 million, will be carried out gradually to avoid leaving bald spots on the waterway’s banks. However, it will be decades, if not centuries, before the new trees are mature enough to recreate the magical views.
By Jason Kirby and Michael Petrou - Friday, August 19, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 16 Comments
Europe’s grand experiment seems to be failing
Until recently, the tiny German town of Guben was best known—to those who knew it at all—for two things. With only the narrow Neisse river separating it from the Polish town of Gubin, it is one of few place where Germans and Poles live so close together. That, and Guben is also where the controversial anatomist Gunther von Hagens, famous for his museum displays of skinless human cadavers seated at poker tables, set up a factory six years ago to treat and preserve corpses.
Now Guben’s mayor, Klaus-Dieter Hübner, has set off alarm bells in Europe by calling for border controls to be put in place to stop Polish “criminals” from looting German businesses. Since 2007, when Poland joined the Schengen zone, a border-free travel area consisting of 25 European countries, Germans and Poles have freely criss-crossed into each other’s countries to shop, dine and work. With his call for security checks at the border, Hübner has challenged one of the pillars of modern Europe: the free movement of people and goods between nations.
Taken on its own, the border squabble in Guben is a seemingly minor concern, but it comes as the twin forces of economic stagnation and surging nationalism threaten to tear Europe apart. Even as European leaders struggle to halt the spread of the debt crisis—a task that they increasingly appear unable to handle—a wider backlash against European integration poses an existential crisis for the continent. Europe is failing, both economically and politically, leading to the question: can it be saved, or is Europe destined for the embalming slab in Guben?
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 10:43 PM - 21 Comments
“Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, on Tuesday called for closer coordination of economic policy among the 17 countries that share the euro currency and proposed that they enshrine in their constitutions an obligation to balance their national budgets.”
— New York Times, tonight
“France and Germany will propose that the 17 member states of the Euro zone adopt, before summer 2012, the golden rule on budget balance, to write into their Constitutions the objective of deficit reduction. The prime minister, François Fillon, will make the ‘necessary contacts’ with the various French political forces to see whether a consensus is possible to adopt this golden rule, Nicolas Sarkozy said.”
— Le Monde, tonight
M. Fillon should not waste too much time on this. Even if there were a consensus in France on a constitutional amendment to require budget balance, or at least to require a fond willingness to pretend to be moving toward something approaching budget balance (it is satirical to call something this vague a “golden rule”), I’m here to tell you there is no way to amend 17 national constitutions for any purpose before next summer.
Besides, as everybody knows, there is no way on Earth to make Nicolas Sarkozy serious about budget restraint. Might as well try to make him modest and tall. A brief stroll down memory lane: Continue…