August 29, 2013

The British Are Now the French


In a stunning turn of events, the British Parliament has defeated David Cameron's call for action on Syria. If the world goes to battle against the Assad regime, the UK will be watching from the sidelines. The BBC reports that Parliament was not in favor of military action, even if the UN confirmed the use of chemical weapons. The British Defense Secretary, Philip Hammond, believes that the bitter aftertaste of the Iraq War made MPs and the public skeptical of intervention.

There are two points to be made.

First, it is disheartening that the British Parliament is incapable of separating the past from the present. The Bush-Blair team is nothing at all like the Obama-Cameron team. Unlike the Iraq War, we actually have evidence that something horrible happened: Besides video footage depicting flailing victims, we have intercepted phone calls which indicate that somebody in the Assad regime is responsible for launching the chemical attack.

France, which opposed the Iraq War but acted unilaterally in Mali earlier this year, is preparing its military to attack the Assad regime in Syria.

What a role reversal. The British are the French, and the French are the British.

That leads to point #2. UK Prime Minister David Cameron was in charge of a fragile coalition with the center-left Liberal Democrats. With this failed vote on Syria, it's become crystal clear that he is unable to control his own Parliament. Unlike the American system, a Prime Minister must remain firmly in charge of the legislature. Otherwise, he is, by definition, completely ineffective as a leader.

Losing what may have been the most important vote of his premiership could be a fatal blow to Mr. Cameron's ability to continue governing. Thus, it is time for David Cameron to resign.

(AP photo)

July 8, 2013

The French Indoctrinate Their Kids Early and Often

Showing Adam Smith the door.

In the United States, the term "textbook wars" conjures images of dinosaurs, evolution and climate change. Even the Founding Fathers have come under extra scrutiny. But textbook wars are not solely an American obsession. All over the world, teachers and parents are rightly concerned about the proper way to educate our children. Indeed, much is at stake.

In France, many students are essentially taught that capitalism is evil. That probably explains why, as The Economist reports, "only 4 percent of the French agreed that free-market capitalism works well, next to 27 percent of Americans and 22 percent of the Chinese."

How are French kids indoctrinated? The Economist article explains:

The analysis of social structure starts with Marx. One textbook's subheadings move depressingly from "More and more suicides at work", to "More and more insecure jobs". In another textbook, a chapter on "social justice" asks: "Do high revenues threaten fairness?", and illustrates it with a 19th-century engraving of a bourgeois couple and a photo of a modern-day French demonstrator with a placard reading "Tax the rich".

And just to hammer the point home, in their final high school exam, students are asked to answer essay questions like "What do we owe the state?"

Therefore, we shouldn't be surprised when French leaders make head-scratching remarks about economics. Francois Hollande, the French president, recently claimed that the Eurozone crisis was over. (It is not ... not even close.) And one year ago, when car maker Peugeot announced layoffs, Mr. Holland responded that it was "unacceptable" and proposed that the government should provide the company with a plan.

Perhaps this explains why the French economy is in the doldrums?

June 24, 2013

Francois Hollande: Europe's Pollyanna

Greetings, Earthlings.

Two weeks ago, in front of an audience of Japanese business leaders, French President Francois Hollande brazenly declared that "the crisis in Europe is over." Based solely on this comment, it cannot be precisely pinpointed upon which planet Mr. Hollande currently resides. (Perhaps Angela Merkel should contact the European Space Agency.)

Right now, the Eurozone is barely treading water. Unemployment has hit an all-time high of 12.2 percent; bad bank loans are putting Slovenia at risk of becoming the sixth nation to require a bailout; and the Greek government had to reshuffle its cabinet after it lost one of its coalition partners, making reform that much more difficult. And all of that bad news is just for the month of June.

Also, it's not like things are going well in France. The country recently entered another recession, and its large social welfare programs are causing France's budget deficit to miss the European Union target of 3 percent.

Mr. Hollande should try to be optimistic. Any psychologist will tell you that there is power in positive thinking; there is none, however, in wishful thinking.

(AP image)

April 3, 2013

France Will Now Pay For Your Abortion


French President Francois Hollande campaigned on a promise to offer 100 percent state funding for abortions, up from the 80 percent currently covered by the state -- and he's now delivering on it. The measure to fully cover the costs of French abortions was included in the 2013 social security budget.

Also included in the new budget is a measure to offer free and anonymous birth control to children between the ages of 15 and 18. Before, teenagers had to pay 70 percent of the costs.

Estimates on the number of abortions in France vary widely: L'Express said that 225,000 French women have abortions each year. The AFP said only 12,000 abortions were performed in France last year.

(AP Photo)

March 25, 2013

The French Are 'Taught to Be Gloomy' and So They Are


That's the thesis of Claudia Senik, a professor at the Paris School of Economics. In a forthcoming paper, Senik argues that France's "cultural mentality" and educational system inspire miserableness among its citizens.

Despite a high standard of living, the French have gloomy expectations for 2013, a Gallup poll found. They also have a high depression and suicide rate.

As Jamie Doward and Hussein Kesvani report in the Guardian, Senik drew her conclusions about French misery from a survey of opinion data:

Crucially, however, Senik finds that French people who live in other countries report lower happiness levels than the natives, while immigrants who move to France are more happy than the indigenous population. The longer immigrants live in France and become part of its society, the less happy they claim to be.

"This suggests that there is something in the culture that makes French people miserable," claims Senik.

A low level of life satisfaction among the French has been documented extensively as far back as the 1970s. One theory – that language could be a factor – appears to have been discounted by Senik. She finds that French-speakers in Switzerland or Canada are as happy as people from other communities.

(AP Photo)

February 28, 2013

Hollande Least Popular French President in a Generation


Bad news for France's socialist President Francois Hollande: he's wracked up the lowest approval rating of any president since 1981, according to a poll published by Le Figaro.

Hollande's support has been on the decline as France's economic woes have risen. Unemployment in France is at a 15-year high and its service sector is shrinking rapidly. Financial analysts are increasingly alarmed about the sharp divergence between the French and German economies.

The thus-far successful war in Mali has not provided any political lift to Hollande, proving that "it's the economy, stupid" is a trans-Atlantic truism.

(AP Photo)

February 21, 2013

France Embraces the Rumsfeld Doctrine


French defense analyst Murielle Delaporte writes that France took an almost Rumsfeldian approach to the war in Mali:

The French approach is very much about how to intervene and to trigger coalition operations in order to stabilize the situation with regional partners, rather than to simply stay in place for a long time.

It is "shock and awe" to deter the enemy and to trigger space for coalition success, not "shock and awe" for the sake of staying.

France has obviously learned the lessons of both Afghanistan and Iraq, which is that foreign "stabilization" forces (particularly from the country responsible for initiating hostilities) end up getting bogged down in costly insurgencies.

The current French approach won't necessarily lead to a Mali that is unified and stable, but given a choice between a chaotic Mali with hundreds of dead militants and no French occupation force and a Mali with an on-the-march Islamist movement steadily making gains, it's a pretty clear choice. The trick, of course, is in the getting out. France currently has its full contingent (roughly 4,000 troops) in the country -- and they're still battling Islamist rebels.

(AP Photo)

February 20, 2013

U.S. CEO Blasts French Work Ethic


Maurice Taylor is the CEO of Titan International, a tire dealership (he also ran for President of the United States in 1996). Mr. Taylor had evidently been in talks with the French about taking over a Goodyear plant there. It seems Mr. Taylor was none too impressed with the French work ethic, according to a letter he wrote to a French minister which has since become public:

I have visited the factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three, and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that's the French way!

The Chinese are shipping tires into France – really all over Europe – and yet you do nothing. In five years, Michelin won't be able to produce tire in France. France will lose its industrial business because government is more government.

Sir, your letter states you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with money and talent to produce tires. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government.

Not very diplomatic, is he?

(Photo: Titan)

January 23, 2013

Pushing Back on the Mali Blowback Meme


Anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse dismisses the idea that the overthrow of Gaddafi or U.S. military training led to the chaos in Mali:

This would make sense if most of the US-trained officers in Mali’s armed forces had defected to the rebels. But that’s not the case: Pentagon-sponsored training was provided to a broad cross-section of officers and NCOs in the Malian military, of which the defectors (most of them Tuareg) made up a minority. US-trained personnel fought on both sides of the conflict: at best the effects of their training were canceled out, at worst they were negligible. The problem with the US military’s training program wasn’t that it benefited the wrong people, it’s that it didn’t work. Following exercises in 2009, detailed in Wikileaks, even one of the Malian army’s most elite units got poor evaluations despite lengthy collaboration with US trainers. Whatever “advantage” such collaboration may have provided, it was the last thing the Tuareg — experienced desert fighters — needed to defeat Malian government forces.

Whitehouse also clarifies the nature of the conflict:

Moreover, I’m not sure how accurate it is to call the forces fighting against the French “Malian rebels” or to describe the conflict as a “civil war“–the command structures of AQIM and MOJWA in particular are dominated by Algerians and Mauritanians. Malians widely perceive these groups as foreign invaders, motivated by racism and greed as well as a perverted, even ignorant view of their faith.

We cannot say that the war in Mali is primarily about natural resources, Western meddling, or religion. We can say, however, that it is a direct consequence of state failure, which as I have argued elsewhere came about largely due to factors internal to Mali.

Via: Sullivan.

(AP Photo)

January 17, 2013

How Does France Feel About Lance Armstrong?


Feelings are apparently mixed following the disgraced cyclist's doping confession in an interview with Oprah Winfrey:

Many French gloated over the exposure of a man who humbled Europe by crushing its greatest competitors in one of its most cherished competitions, the 110-year old bike race that captivates the nation as it winds through the French countryside and Pyrenees and concludes at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

In typical French fashion, cynicism about the fraud is not reserved for Armstrong alone.

"They have been taking drugs since 1903," said 24-years old Coline Benoist. "When I watched the tour when I was little, I used to wonder if they were human!"

(AP Photo)

November 28, 2012

France Beware: The Rich Might Flee After All

Earlier this month I noted a study suggesting millionaires may not necessarily flee a country in response to high tax rates. New figures released in the UK indicate otherwise:

In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.

This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.

The figures have been seized upon by the Conservatives to claim that increasing the highest rate of tax actually led to a loss in revenues for the Government.

It is believed that rich Britons moved abroad or took steps to avoid paying the new levy by reducing their taxable incomes.

It's not clear how many millionaires fled, used tax avoidance loopholes or simply lost too much income due to the financial crisis to no longer be counted. Still, Mr. Hollande will want to take note before he levies a much steeper tax bill on his own country's millionaires.

November 9, 2012

Maybe France's 75 Percent Tax on the Rich Won't Send Them Packing After All

When French president Francois Hollande unveiled his 2013 budget and kept his promise to hammer the rich with a 75 percent tax rate, conservatives howled. Bernard Arnault, France's richest man, filed for Belgian nationality. Reuters estimated that 300,000 French millionaires might pack up their yachts, private planes and butlers and head for greener pastures.

While Hollande's "millionaire's tax" may yet prove ruinous to the French economy, there's one thing it's likely not going to do: spark a rich exodus, at least according to a research report (PDF) from Stanford's Cristobal Young and Charles Varner. Studying California income tax records they found that the movement of millionaires to and from the state had almost no connection to the tax rate. It echoed findings from a similar study conducted in New Jersey.

While the Eurozone has made it easier for citizens to move around Europe, it's doubtful that it's made relocation easier than state-hopping in the U.S.

October 2, 2012

The Decline and Fall of France?

They don't call him "Dr. Doom" for nothing:

Nouriel Roubini says France is on the cusp right now and poses the question in a recent note to clients: “A core or periphery country?”

Roubini says that France is currently on “honeymoon” with French investors who have cut their holdings of PIIGS debt and rotated into French sovereign debt due to a “home bias.”

However, according to Roubini, “many problems are brewing in France” at the moment, and there are a few reasons for serious concern if you’re holding French bonds.

Matt Gurney is a bit more optimistic:

It could happen. Empires have collapsed before. Only our hubris would lead us to think that our generation is somehow special or different. But is Mr. Roubini’s prediction the most likely outcome? Probably not. Unless we re-imagine the place of France (and other European nations of comparable stature) so that we’re not comparing it to failed states in the Middle East and Africa, but to other nations within Europe.

If we consider the European Union as its own economic system, we end up with core and peripheral countries there, too. Germany, clearly, would be the core country, and Greece the peripheral country. The others would be grouped between them, with rather more Greeces than Germanies in the lot. And given France’s economic, political and social problems, while it has thus far avoided the kind of major problems that are rocking the so-called PIIGS — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain — it could rapidly join their ranks. Leaving us, with, what? The PIFIGS? The FIGPIS (pronounced “fig pies”)?

That would bruise the legendary French ego, but would be in some ways a recognition of the inevitable.

July 15, 2012

French President: Peugeot Layoffs 'Unacceptable'


The French car maker Peugeot has fallen upon hard times. It recently announced that it was laying off 8,000 workers. But the new French president, Francois Hollande, is having none of it. According to the Associated Press:

He told two interviewers from the major television networks TF1 and France-2 that the "plan is not acceptable as it stands and therefore it will not be accepted."

The layoffs are unacceptable? Companies do not like to lay people off; they generally do it as a last resort to prevent something worse ... like bankruptcy. Calling layoffs unacceptable is therefore complete nonsense. It would be akin to calling chemotherapy unacceptable.

Hollande's solution?

He added that the government would soon unveil a plan for the car industry...

Good luck with that.

(AP photo)

April 9, 2012

What the French Want

CNN asked several Parisians what it is that they want from the 2012 American election:

There are two interesting (and similar) comments. The first is at 0:37. The woman being interviewed responds, "What I want is... America understands that it's a global world." At 0:55, another woman says, "There are a lot of us in this world, it's not just the United States and everyone needs to work together with regards to the economy."

Both women gave good advice. The French should follow it themselves.

It is true that recognizing we live in a global world is very important. But the French government doesn't always act that way. In 2010, the lower house of parliament passed a ban on burqas 335 to 1. Last month, President Sarkozy threatened to pull France out of the passport-free travel agreement known as Schengen due to a disagreement over European immigration policy. (He wants to cut the number of immigrants allowed into France.) And for good measure, he demanded support for the economically protectionist "Buy European Act," which would force EU governments to purchase European products over foreign ones. If Sarkozy doesn't get his way, he has threatened to implement the plan unilaterally.

The French are correct that the U.S. should embrace a globalized world. But the French need to recognize that there is a world beyond the borders of the European Union.

February 28, 2012

French Taxes

In the U.S., the only politically acceptable discussion regarding taxes is generally how deep they should be cut. In France, not so much:

The Socialist tipped to become France's next president took aim at the wealthy Tuesday with plans to slap a 75 percent tax rate on top earners.

Francois Hollande said it was simply a case of "patriotism to accept to pay extra tax to get the country back on its feet again" and reverse the policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy that he said favoured the rich.

February 8, 2012

Whom Do Britons Dislike?

According to Angus Reid, the French and Greeks don't rank so highly in British esteem:

In the online survey of a representative sample of 2,011 British adults, about a third of respondents say they have an unfavourable opinion of France (35%) and Greece (32%).

The difference between the proportion of favourable and unfavourable opinions for both Greece and France is only ten points. Half of Britons (49%) have a favourable view of Germany, while one-in-four (25%) disagree.

At least half of respondents hold favourable opinions of all of the other nations included in this survey, such as Luxembourg (53%), Portugal (55%), Italy (57%) and Belgium (also 57%). The highest ranked EEC members are Spain (63%), Ireland (67%), Denmark (also 67%) and the Netherlands (69%).

January 30, 2012

France Readies Pirate-Busting Ship

Even in an atmosphere of austerity, French defense planners appear to be awake to the threat of piracy:

Blind them with light, drench them with water cannons or deafen them with sound blasts: these are some of the on-board anti-pirate features that figure in a project being developed in France....

A series of traps and non-lethal defenses are set to be installed on board the Partisan, a French military training vessel, in a 12-million-euro project piloted by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME)....

The anti-pirate measures on the Partisan begin with radar systems and infrared cameras that detect the danger as early as possible, allowing the crew to alert the authorities in the hope of being rescued by a warship.

If the pirates move closer to their target on board their skiffs, they can be hit with "long range acoustic devices" that blast them with pain-inducing sounds. They might then be hit with beams of blinding light.

If they are still not dissuaded, powerful remote-controlled water cannons can continue to blast them while the crew takes refuge in a "citadel", or safe room hidden in the boat.

From there the crew can use cameras to monitor the pirates and continue to sail their ship.

If despite all that the pirates manage to get on board, they will be met with tear gas canisters. The ship's corridors are plunged into darkness and flooded with smoke to disorientate the pirates.

July 13, 2011

French Libya Policy in Disarray

Bruce Crumely reports:

There's currently a lot of activity, a good measure of confusion, but no real sign of progress in France towards an eventual resolution to the NATO-led intervention in Libya that Paris was instrumental in launching. And it's against that backdrop of somewhat chaotic operation slog that the French parliament is being asked Tuesday to approve or refuse the extension of President Nicolas Sarkozy's four-month military action in Libya. The good news for Sarkozy is there's virtually no risk of even opposition politicians objecting to a continuation of the Libyan campaign. The bad news is such bipartisan support won't do much to mask the reality that no one has any real idea of how or when the mission initially sold as a short one might actually end—which will doubtless leave the unity behind it with a rather limited shelf life.

At least it's reassuring to know that incompetence is a trans-Atlantic phenomena.

May 18, 2011

French See a Set Up

Via Arthur Goldhammer, a new poll shows that a majority of French (57 percent) think IMF head Strauss-Khan was set up:

In contrast 32% of them do not consider it a "victim of a conspiracy," 11% not ruling. Among Socialist supporters, 70% of them believe in the conspiracy, against 23% who do not and 7% who did not comment.

April 14, 2011

The Libya Farce

It might be worth pointing out that the thing that has driven Libya to the point where it is in danger of becoming a failed state is the military intervention that did just enough to fracture the country into two parts. Where was all this concern about the Somalification of Libya a month ago when people were calling for turning it into another Somalia by attacking Libya? Escalating the Libyan war and toppling Gaddafi isn’t going to make the Somalification of Libya less likely, but will in all likelihood guarantee the disintegration of whatever political order remains. The U.S. and NATO are in their current predicament because too few people in charge of making decisions paid attention to unintended consequences and worst-case scenarios. Now would be a good time to fix that bad habit. - Daniel Larison

As further evidence of that lack of foresight, now Britain and France are whining that other NATO states haven't taken some of the burden of the Libyan air war off their shoulders now that a stalemate is clearly in the making. But as the U.S. found with its own boondoggle in Iraq, allies aren't keen on being dragged into wars not of their own making with little to no relevance to their own security or interests.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress can't quite clear the calendar to discuss Libya:

The Senate probably won't be debating the Libya war anytime soon. Top senators on both sides of the aisle are still negotiating over language for a resolution to express the Senate's view on the U.S. involvement in Libya, while the budget battle pushes the intervention to the back burner.

Congress was upset with President Barack Obama last month for committing U.S. forces to the international military intervention in Libya without seeking congressional consent or even really telling Congress about it in advance. But now, almost a month after the attack began, the appetite in the Senate for holding a full-fledged Libya debate on the floor, much less passing a resolution, just isn't there.

"I don't know if there will be time" to debate a resolution before senators leave town for a two-week recess next week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.

Is it any surprise that the executive branch doesn't really take Congress seriously when it comes to matters of war and peace?

December 22, 2010

How Seriously Do the French Take Truffles?

This seriously:

Police say they have arrested a farmer on the edge of France's fabled Provence region who fatally shot a trespasser he suspected of trying to steal highly coveted truffles.

The 32-year-old farmer told police he was guarding his truffle patch in the town of Grignan when he was frightened by the intruder and shot him in the legs and head with a hunting rifle.

October 28, 2010

Polling French-U.S. Ties

Harris Interactive has released a new poll conducted on behalf of the French-American Foundation that measures French and American attitudes toward one another. Some findings:

According the Foundation’s study in 2005, back when “freedom fries” were still being served, only one-third of French adults (31%) said they generally liked the U.S. This year, that number has shot up considerably, as two-thirds of French people (65%) now say they generally like the U.S. As for the U.S., Americans are more likely now than they were in 2005 to say they like France (48% say so now, compared to 35% in 2005). In fact, an increased number of people in both countries also now say, given the opportunity, they would like to live, work and/or study in the other country.

In 2005, just two in five French (39%) and Americans (44%) said they considered the two countries to be “somewhat partners.” This year, that number has jumped to seven in ten in both countries (71% and 70%, respectively), proof relations have improved. While half of Americans say France is a “sometimes unloyal ally”, the study revealed this is an indication of improving relations as well, as there are notable increases in the number of both French and Americans who say the other country is a loyal ally this year, compared to previous years.

Over half of both French and U.S. respondents view immigration as a problem although in general, Harris found the French to take a more relaxed view about threats such as terrorism and pandemic disease.

September 16, 2010

Sarkozy: Popular Among Roma


No, really:

Amid all the furor stirred by the French government’s decision to repatriate hundreds of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma, many would be surprised to learn that Sarkozy is a pretty popular name among the Roma communities in Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. No, not French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but the name Sarkozy -- or rather Sárközy.

September 8, 2010

Israel's Military Deal with Russia


Earlier in the year, France was poised to sell its Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia (negotiations are still ongoing). The U.S. was not pleased. Secretary Gates voiced his concern about the deal. In the media, the reaction was more robust. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Reuben Johnson went so far as to declare the NATO alliance itself was a threat to peace:

If Europe is now only for Europeans -- and NATO is a threat rather than guarantor of peace -- then the U.S. needs to rethink how it handles its own military sales arrangements with those European nations who express these sentiments either by words or deeds. If these deal goes through, perhaps it might be time to reset the U.S. military relationship with France.

So maybe Johnson cares to comment about this:

Israel and Russia made history on Monday, signing for the first time a military agreement that will increase cooperation on combating terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also could lead to the sale of Israeli weaponry to the Russian military...

Russia is particularly interested in acquiring Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In 2009, Russia bought 12 drones from Israel Aerospace Industries, following its war with Georgia, during which Georgian military forces used Israeli Elbit Systems Hermes 450 UAVs.

(AP Photo)

August 9, 2010

France a Mideast Favorite


Looking through the full release of the 2010 Arab Opinion poll published by Brookings, it seems that France comes out pretty highly regarded. When asked which country they would like to see be the world's only superpower, 35 percent of respondents said France. China followed with 16 percent, Germany with 13 and Britain with 9.

When asked which country they would like to live, 51 percent of respondents choose France, followed by Germany with 17 percent and Britain, with 10 percent. France is also seen as playing the most constructive role in the Middle East, ahead of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

July 14, 2010

The Sarkozy Style


Arthur Goldhammer observes the French president during a TV interview:

Sarko seemed tense, drawn, angry at times, exasperated at other times, didactic, impatient, and rude. His voice at first was surprisingly hoarse, as if he'd been shouting for hours. Many of his familiar rhetorical tricks were on display. Questions were deflected and turned back on the questioner: What would you have me do? How could I do otherwise? All our neighbors have done X, what choice did I have? David Pujadas tried gamely to give the president the répondant he claims to want, but the president's style is designed to make follow-up seem petulant and petty. "I've already thought of everything you can possibly ask me," he seems to be saying, "and my answers are tailored for maximum efficiency. Any dawdling over details is a waste of time, and time is pressing."

(AP Photo)

July 13, 2010

French See Pension Reform as Unfair

With Prime Minister Sarkozy proposing to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, the French are apparently not pleased:

Most people in France say a government proposal to reform the national pension system is unfair, according to a poll by CSA published in Le Parisien. 52 per cent of respondents share this opinion, while 38 per cent call it a fair reform.

Two years seems rather modest to me. AFP has more.

May 20, 2010

Sarkozy Still Deeply Unpopular


Via Angus Reid:

French president Nicolas Sarkozy remains highly unpopular, according to a poll by Ifop published in Paris Match. 66 per cent of respondents disapprove of Sarkozy’s performance, down one point since April.

Appointed prime minister François Fillon holds better ratings, with 54 per cent of respondents saying they approve of his work.

(AP Photo)

April 24, 2010

French Supportive of Limited Burqa Ban


Nicholas Sarkozy is expected to introduce a bill on Monday that would ban the wearing of full veils in public. A new poll shows the French support some restrictions on the Burqa in public:

Two-thirds of French people want a law limiting the use of face-covering Islamic veils such as the niqab and the burqa, with only a minority backing the government's plan for a complete ban, a poll showed Saturday....

The TNS Sofres/Logica poll, which was carried out on Thursday and Friday, showed that 33 percent of French people want a complete ban, while a further 31 percent want a more narrow law applying only to certain public spaces.

The results of the survey of 950 people were roughly the same for men and women. Support for some kind of legal restriction on the full veil cut across age groups, professions and political affiliation, though it was stronger among right-wing voters -- more than 80 percent of them favored a law.

(AP Photo)

March 30, 2010

Critics and Consistency


Responding to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's backhanded praise for American health care reform, Kevin Drum writes:

Sarkozy was something of a darling of the right when he was first elected, thanks to his support of laissez-faire economics and general embrace of American values. But the financial collapse of 2008 turned him into something of a regulatory hawk, and now there's this. I'll bet the American right doesn't think much of him anymore.

I'm not so sure. So long as he - or any leader of an allied country, for that matter - continues to criticize President Obama's performance abroad, I think the critics will continue to find praise, warranted or unwarranted, for Sarkozy.

I think this goes back to a point we've made repeatedly here on this blog, and that is that the president's critics have thus far demonstrated a serious lack of consistency when it comes to foreign policy. Neoconservatives in particular have been bemoaning the cultural and global decline of Europe for nearly a decade, but once administrations changed, so too did the tone.

This makes for some oddly inconsistent rhetoric, particularly from the right. So either Obama fails to meet the Sarkozy standard, or he leads a party too heavily influenced by the French. What does that even mean? Does it have to mean anything? Probably not; we're talking about the world of politics after all, where things needn't make sense in order to be repeated over and over again.

(AP Photo)

March 15, 2010

France & Britain: The Entente Cordiale

The Financial Times' has a lengthy analysis of British and French moves to better coordinate their defense strategy and military procurements:

Geopolitics too are forcing Paris and London to think harder about their common future. Britain has long cherished its “special relationship” with the US. There is little doubt that London, in the years to come, will continue to regard Washington as its strategic partner of choice. But fears have been growing since President Barack Obama took office that the US no longer sees the relationship as so “special”, and that Washington’s security focus is moving away from Europe, which has proved too weak an ally in Afghanistan, and towards China.

France too is rethinking its alliances. “President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken France into Nato, a factor that makes co-operation with Britain easier,” says Etienne de Durand of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales in Paris. “But France is also coming to terms with Germany’s unwillingness to spend more on military capabilities. France is therefore recognising that, for now, pan-European defence structures are unlikely to do more than short-term crisis management.”

One of the central articles of faith in American security policy is that absent the overt presence, preponderance and guarantee of U.S. military power, harmful arms races will ensue. But as the Financial Times piece makes clear, the opposite is happening, at least with respect to Britain and France. Faced with budgetary constraints and evident uncertainty about America's commitment, France and Britain are exploring cooperative ways to make declining defense budgets go further while still retaining military capabilities far superior to most countries. They aren't surrendering to the enemy dejure or clamoring to piggyback with China. They're adapting.

UPDATE: The other thing to add is that Germany, far from rearming and threatening Europe (as was feared even during the unwinding of the Cold War), is doing the opposite.

March 4, 2010

French Still Down on Sarkozy


Via Angus Reid:

Just under two thirds of people in France are disappointed with the leadership of Nicolas Sarkozy, according to a poll by Ifop published in Le Journal du Dimanche. 63 per cent of respondents are dissatisfied with the president’s performance, up two points since January.

The past three months worth of polling data shows a pretty consistent 2/3 of French respondents saying they're unhappy with Sarkozy's leadership.

(AP Photo)

January 19, 2010

French Claim U.S. Occupying Haiti

No good deed goes unpunished:

The French minister in charge of humanitarian relief called on the UN to "clarify" the American role amid claims the military build up was hampering aid efforts.

Alain Joyandet admitted he had been involved in a scuffle with a US commander in the airport's control tower over the flight plan for a French evacuation flight.

"This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti," Mr Joyandet said.

Well, the French would know.

January 11, 2010

Views on Cameron, Sarkozy


Angus Reid passes along the latest polling:

Few adults in France are expressing positive views on their president, according to a poll by TNS-Sofres published in Le Figaro Magazine. 32 per cent of respondents have confidence in Nicolas Sarkozy to face France’s problems, down seven points since October.

In addition, 37 per cent of respondents have confidence in French prime minister François Fillon.

Across the Channel, things look better for David Cameron:

Two-in-five Britons choose a positive word to describe the leader of the Conservative party, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 42 per cent of respondents think David Cameron is intelligent.

Conversely, 48 per cent of respondents think current prime minister Gordon Brown is out of touch, and 46 per cent deem him boring. In addition, 28 per cent of respondents consider Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as intelligent, and 22 per cent believe he is open.

Personally, I think "boring" isn't necessarily a terrible quality to have in a leader.

(AP Photos)

January 5, 2010

The French Empire


The Times reports on how the French have held onto pieces of their empire:

Napoleon described the outre-mer slightingly as “this confetti of Empire”, but France is determined to hang onto its imperial remnants in a quasi-Napoleonic manner which far outstrips the post-colonial politics of other western nations. If you live in the outre-mer, you are French to your core, no matter what your skin colour, your maternal language, religion or background. You carry a French passport and, in theory, the French state will support you...

...This is how life goes on in one of the Départements et Territoires Outre-Mer, or Dom-Toms. The Dom-Toms are distant, isolated, extremely expensive and produce virtually nothing of any use. Their only role is to promote the continuing glory of the French Republic.

Evidently even post-colonial, vanity empires are a boondoggle.

(AP Photos)

October 26, 2009

Sarkozy: Not So Much


Angus Reid's Gabriella Perdomo says that French President Nicholas Sarkozy has hit a rough patch:

Nicolas Sarkozy has fallen prey to the 50 per cent curse. With one notable exception, the French president’s popularity has remained in the lower half throughout 2009. With two and a half years to go in his term, and the bulk of his proposals yet to be discussed in the legislature, Sarkozy faces a tough road ahead.

One of the president’s main problems is precisely what helped him get elected—a sort of personality cult epitomized by an addiction to being in the media, for whatever reason. The French have not been impressed with this attention-loving president. Sarkozy’s approval rating fell after he publicized his marriage and honeymoon with former super model and singer Carla Bruni, and many people wanted the story out of the airwaves.

On the other hand, France the country was enjoying favorable global poll numbers as recently as January 2009.

(AP Photos)

January 22, 2009

Chirac Attacked....


By - I kid you not - his "depressed" dog:

Former French president Jacques Chirac was rushed to hospital after being mauled by his own 'clinically depressed' pet dog.

The 76-year-old statesman was savaged by his white Maltese dog - which suffers from frenzied fits and is being treated with anti-depressants.

The animal, named Sumo, had become increasingly violent over the past years and was prone to making 'vicious, unprovoked attacks', Chirac's wife Bernadette said.

I can't wait for the Daily Show tonight...

Photo from edavid3001 under a Creative Commons license.

January 11, 2009

China: All over the Map on Gaza

In line with its desire for stability both at home and in the international system in order to foster its ongoing “peaceful development,” the Chinese government has been generally opposed to Israel’s recent actions in Gaza. When Israel began launching airstrikes two weeks ago, the initial reaction from the Chinese foreign ministry was an expression of “serious concern” and a condemnation of “actions that have caused civilian casualties.” After ground operations commenced, Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed the situation in Gaza as a “humanitarian crisis” and called for all sides to “immediately stop their military activities.” On Jan. 7, China was one of the 14 UN Security Council members who voted in favor of the resolution calling for a ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza.

The Southern Metropolis Daily, one of the leading commercial newspapers in China, draws attention to a Jan. 5 blog posting by Renmin University professor Zhou Xiaozheng in which he proclaims that Israel is a “good country” and praises various aspects of Jewish culture and civilization. The sociology professor does not address the Gaza situation, but the timing of his post seems to be a response to the discourse taking place over it, most of it presumably negative towards Israel. Zhou writes, “Chinese are apt to describe their modern history as ‘full of disasters and tragedies.’ Much of that was due to causes originating from ourselves. For the Jewish people, however, the causes are almost all external. All of the enormous calamities they have encountered for the past thousands of years have been solely due to their religious faith. These suffering people who have endured years of wars, who have long wandered in exile, and who have gone through a crucible of famine, torture, killings, and humiliation, have held on to their faith from beginning to end. They prospered in adversity and exhibited stubborn resolve in their growth and development. Not only did they keep from falling down, they were even able to miraculously garner worldwide recognition for their great achievements in technology, military, education, modern agriculture, and other fields.”

Zhou’s blog post has attracted over 350,000 views and nearly 5,000 comments which range from harsh condemnation to unabashed praise. The Southern Metropolis Daily article states that Zhou’s post has given rise to “pro-Zhou” and “anti-Zhou” camps in the blogosphere. The anti-Zhou blogger highlighted by the article writes, “Your defense [of Israel] brings to mind the behavior and actions of Japan and its people. If you choose to ignore their perpetration of inhuman massacres and pillaging, there are also many things you can praise about the various achievements of their culture and civilization. … The problem is that this admiration of Japan’s achievements and my understanding of its crimes of invasion against China, Asia, and the world are two different things!”

The pro-Zhou blogger featured in the Southern Metropolis Daily article writes, “During the War of Resistance against Japan in Shanghai, kindhearted sons and daughters of China, while under attack from the Japanese devils, welcomed Jewish refugees who were fleeing a murderous German Fascist regime. Half a century later, no matter whether China adopted a radical Leftist policy or a pragmatic policy, the Israeli people have always felt a deep gratitude towards the Chinese people. Even after being misunderstood by China for 30 years, this country and its people had still quietly done so much for China. To be frank, as a Chinese citizen, I hold positive feelings towards Israel and the Jewish people. A people that understand gratitude are the true friends of the Chinese people.”

In the absence of strong historical, ideological, or religious connections to the Middle East, Chinese views of the Israeli-Palestinian issue are all over the map as the different viewpoints above illustrate. However, what is notable is that in spite of nearly universal condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the Chinese government’s critical remarks, there still exists a significant vocal contingent of Israel supporters and admirers in China.

France: From Gaza to Kiev

Two subjects were on top of the list in the French media this week: The hot war in Gaza and the cold war between Kiev and Moscow over natural gas supplies.

Let's start with Gaza. Up until Nicolas Sarkozy's successful bid for the presidency in 2007, the French position on the Palestinian question seemed, at least from this shore of the Atlantic, mostly pro-Palestine. In fact, former president Jacques Chirac was widely perceived as pro-Arab. I need not mention the fact that among Israeli political elites, president Chirac's decision not to run for reelection in 2007 was greeted with sighs of relief. They knew that Sarkozy, the emerging leader of the UMP, was a lot more pro-western and that he had a very good shot at winning the presidency.

Even if I have yet to find a single piece of significant legislation passed by this French government regarding internal affairs, I must admit that Mr. Sarkozy's record on the foreign policy front is impressive. He harnessed France solidly into the Western bloc and it shows in the very moderate comments put forward by the Elysée regarding the situation in Gaza.

But this did not discourage left-wing parties and associations to organize rallies against what they call the "Israeli massacre". On Saturday, the biggest of these rallies so far too place, as organizers claimed the presence of up to 100,000 protesters. A lot of these rallies are taking place in other European countries, as it seems that pro-Palestinian groups are speaking much louder than pro-Israeli ones. But all in all, the only interesting story here is the change of tone that the Sarkozy foreign policy has imposed upon the debate. France can definitely be written off the pro-Arab list of countries.

Aside from the crisis in Gaza, the showdown between Moscow and Kiev regarding gas supplies was the other big story this week. As reported by Le Figaro, Ukraine and Russia did sign on Saturday an agreement regarding gas prices and accumulated debts by Kiev.

I would like to remind our readers that this is not the first time that Moscow has tried to bully Western Europe with its natural gas pipelines. The crisis did get jump-started by Kiev's decision to shut down deliveries to Western Europe, but this is mainly noise. We need to keep our eyes on the ball; the main narrative for this crisis is Moscow's will to bully neighbor countries. From a French perspective, we cannot say that president Sarkozy spoke in full force on this issue. As outspoken as he has been regarding the situation in Gaza, the crisis in Georgia in August 2008 or other topics, he has been remarkably mute regarding Moscow's actions and intentions.

Does the Elysée have a plan to diversify its energy sources in order to rely less upon Russian gas deliveries? Not sure; but if they do have one, we have not heard much of it yet.

December 28, 2008

France: 2008 in Review

Interestingly enough, Le Monde published Saturday the top stories to forget in 2008. Here are the top five entries :

- Italian president Silvio Berlusconi's racist remarks
- Socialist "fraternity" according to former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal
- The presidential wedding between Mr. Sarkozy and Ms. Bruni
- Sarah Palin's campaign
- George W. Bush's accomplishments

As for the memorable ones, two stories made it to this analyst's list:

1. President Sarkozy's presidency of the European Union
2. Warfare within the Socialist party

Continue reading "France: 2008 in Review" »

December 21, 2008

France: Socialists Bent on Self-Destruction

Remember the nasty turn that the French Socialist Party leadership race took not more than a month ago? Reminder: after casting their ballots to make their choice between centre-left (and former presidential candidate) Ségolène Royal and leftist Martine Aubry, Socialists found out that the margin separating the winner from the loser was only 0.04%, and a legal battles over a few ballot boxes ensued.

In the end, it did not get as nasty as it could have. Royalists (supporters of Royal, that is, not monarchists!) showed some sense of party unity by pulling the plug on ongoing legal battles and accepting the verdict of PS militants who picked, albeit by a slim majority, Aubry as their leader.

However, this sense of party unity was doomed not to last long. The scars from the leadership race are still fresh and it is said that Ms. Royal, after having been her party's presidential candidate, cannot get herself to accept the fact that the Socialists have rejected her charismatic personality for a more left-leaning woman.

Now, how did these divisions play out in the latest Socialist drama?

First, remember that France is undergoing yet another battle between the government and students unions. Socialists, in recent years, have shown less and less interest for classic leftist organizations who rely on classic left-wing mobilization like street demonstrations, such as students unions. However, recently, the leftist wing of the party has tried to build back bridges with such organizations in order to help rebuild their party from its base. This leftist wing is identified to Aubry. Of course, centre-leftists identified to Royal disapprove of such moves. And, after the bitterness of the leadership race, it showed. How?

Julien Dray is a Socialist MP from Essone. He is identified with the left-wing of his party. This week, the Ministry of Finance got a warrant to search his office and his home. The warrant also allowed French police to search the offices and properties of left-wing organizations close to Dray such as SOS Racisme and FIDL (a students union). Of course, Mr. Dray claims his innocence as he is being accused of having received large sums of money from these two organizations. They also both deny any involvement in criminal activities.

Officially, the Socialist Party is offering no comment on the matter. But Le Monde reports that anonymous sources from within the PS have been quoted as saying that this affair has a smell of political retribution. Not formally charging anybody of doing anything wrong, of course, Le Monde concludes that the atmosphere within the PS is worse than ever.

Now, if supporters of Miss Royal leaked information incriminating Mr. Dray, it surely adds to the explosive ambiance that has become the norm in the PS. Both wings of the party will grow more and more suspicious of one another, hence seriously increasing the risk that these divisions will grow into a straight-out party split between centre-leftists and leftists.

President Sarkozy, who just recruited an ex-Socialist into his party, the UMP, must be delighted to watch this. Of course, the next presidential election will be held on 2012, so the Socialists have a shot at reuniting in order to defeat Sarkozy. But my guess is, we haven't heard the last of divisions and bitterness in the PS. And with François Bayrou's centrist party still being a player in the next few years, France could be headed for a big political realignment from its center to its left.

November 30, 2008

France: Mumbai Attack Monopolizes News

Following news outlets worldwide, the French press was in shock this week on the brutal terrorist attacks that took place in Mumbai. There were strong reactions to the survivors who flew back to Roissy on an Air France plane and regarding Pakistan's presumed involvement in these senseless killings.

First, France received and gave assistance to 77 survivors of the attacks (among them 29 French, 19 Italians, 17 Spanish, and 5 Germans) Saturday. A French tourist traveling in Mumbai, Johanna, 24, relates how she witnessed the atrocities in Le Figaro:

"We were eating when our attention was caught by many young people who came in with huge backpacks on their shoulders. They took heavy weapons from their bags, threw 3 grenades and started shooting at everybody with their machine guns. The gunmen were not hiding their faces, looked Indian and particularly young. Some people got out running, others, like us, hid under the tables. All those who took refuge in the kitchen were killed."

But this story is far from unique. Accounts such as this one are, in fact, numerous. And it always poses a problem for the press: how much can you ask of survivors who are still in shock? Among the survivors who came back to France Saturday, a woman answered in her own way by telling the reporter: "This is too much! Leave me alone!"

Now, aside from the individual horror stories, the French media have been keen, as have the Indian ones, to quickly point a finger at Pakistan's fundamentalist-infiltrated secret service. Based on what? On the fact that the only terrorist caught alive who is now in custody is Pakistani and admitted his membership in Lashkar-e-Taiba, a jihadist-separatist group operating in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Le Monde reports that this militant terrorist group had had links with elements from Pakistani secret service.

On top of all that, Indian security sources have confirmed that the terrorists could not have carried out such an attack without undergoing military training: they were using heavy weapons, communicated and attacked like professional army commandos. These facts do add to the suspicion towards the Pakistani secret service.

Therefor the Al-Qaeda lead has mostly been pushed aside in favor of indigenous terrorist organizations such as Lashkar. Which pushes to ask the burning question: is the epicenter of jidahist terrorism slowly but surely moving towards South Asia?

November 23, 2008

France: Whither the Socialists?

Is the Socialist Party Headed for Collapse?

This resounding question was asked this weekend in an op-ed piece in Le Figaro. To the outside observer, another question comes to mind: How could François Mitterand's party slide down so low on the slippery slope of divisions?

Of course, left-wing parties are known worldwide for their lack of discipline when compared to their right-wing counterparts. But this time, the French Socialist Party is evenly - and bitterly - divided between two powerful blocs: center-leftists who support Ségolène Royal and leftists who support Martine Aubry. Indeed, after a vote in which almost 140,000 Socialists cast their ballots in favor of either candidate, Aubry came out on top with a 42-vote majority, a margin of 0.04% between the two candidates!

Such a result was bound to reinforce the growing feeling of distrust between the two coalitions, but the situation has worsened as Ms. Royal has legally challenged the results, which are now being recounted. As they often do in those kinds of situations, accusations of fraud have flown from both sides, contributing to the growing feeling of animosity that has now overwhelmed the Socialist Party.

Indeed, things are definitely looking awful for the Socialists. On the other side of the question, Le Monde asks if Mr. Sarkozy's UMP will be able to benefit from their political foes' misfortune. Of course, UMP officials were eager and satisfied to tell the press that the Socialists had shown the worst side of themselves and that socialism itself was outdated in France.

In my opinion, those left-leaning French electors who may be embarrassed by the main opposition party's divisions are not likely to jump in the UMP boat. In fact, in the same article, Le Monde suggests that such rivalries within the left might spark some "anarcho-unionized" troubles, suggesting that France could be headed for a wave of public strikes. For Le Monde, the only real winners from such a volatile situation on the left are François Bayrou from MODEM (centre) and Olivier Besançenot from LCR (extreme-left).

But for now, all of this is speculation. First of all, we have yet to find out who the real winner of the Socialist race for leadership is and for that, we have to wait for the results of the recount and of possible judiciary actions coming from either Aubry or Royal. Second, European elections will take place next year and they will give us a glimpse of what the balance of power has become on the left side of French politics: Will the extreme-left be able to garner support among disillusioned Socialists? That much will be told by European elections.

However, this much is clear: It's not a good day to be a French Socialist.

November 16, 2008

France: 21st Century Socialism

This week, the French newspapers were so full of 'isms' such as 'socialism', 'capitalism' and 'liberalism' that one could have believed to be living the 60s all over again. But in the end, the word that got the most traction is 'socialism', for two main reasons.

First, this week featured the opening of the congress of the Socialist Party (France's main opposition party, left-wing). But we'll get back to that.

Second, President Sarkozy has been criticized heavily by some in his own party and abroad (including the U.S. president) for his promotion of a 'renewed capitalism' in the face of the financial crisis. These critics have pointed out that the Bretton Woods capitalist system has been remarkably successful since the end of World War II and that wealth redistribution and protectionist policies do not offer future safeguards against financial crisis such as the one we are facing right now.

The reason why the reform of capitalism was on the agenda this week has a lot to do with the financial crisis itself, but also with the G20 meeting that occurred to find solutions regarding this very crisis. Regarding the meeting, nothing substantial came out of it. The only point of interest from a French perspective was that it gave an updated view of France's diplomatic power. To that effect, Le Figaro reported on the most difficult and the friendliest relations with foreign countries:

- Difficult relations with: Hu Jintao from China, Angela Merkel from Germany, Dimitri Medvedev from Russia and King Mohamed VI from Morocco.

- Easy relations with: Gordon Brown from the U.K., José Luis Zapatera from Spain, Luiz Ignacio 'Lula' Da Silva from Brazil and Silvio Berlusconi from Italy.

As Mr. Sarkozy was making headlines in international news, his political foes from the opposition Socialist Party were making their own in the domestic front as they gathered in Reims to give their party a new program and renew its leadership. Sign of changing times, the race for the job of Party First Secretary after François Hollande called it quits features two women as the front runners. The first is of course Ségolène Royal, who represented her party in the 2007 race for president. She still has charm, wit and charisma, but she carries her unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2007 as a weight that is turning off many socialist militants. Also, she has been accused within socialist ranks of 'moving towards the center,' or worse: populism!

Her opponent, Martine Aubry, is not as well known by the general public as Royal. However, she is gaining traction among some socialists by running as a 'true socialist' and criticizing Royal's 'move towards the center.' ... So between a center-left candidate who could not gather enough centrist votes to win two years ago (Ms. Royal) and a pure leftist candidate in a country where there are already at least four other parties who rally extreme leftists, my guess is that the Socialist Party is, despite encouraging results in the last municipal elections, going to continue to marginalize itself in the left corner of French politics.

So as much as he wants to reform capitalism abroad, President Sarkozy does NOT want French socialists to reform themselves, because their moving further to the left only strengthens his grip on the presidency. Of course the presidential election is still three years from now, Mr. Sarkozy thus has plenty of time to make gaffes. But if the Socialist Party of 2012 looks anything like that of 2008, he will prevail, once more.

November 9, 2008

France: Obama, Refugees and Internet Jihad

Three big subjects in the French media this week : Barack Obama's historic election, the expulsion of Afghan refugees and Internet Jihad.

I'll pass quickly on the first subject; most everything has been said and done about Obama's victory last Tuesday. Of course, from left to right, the French media are ecstatic. Questions have started to fuse: Would France be ready for a black president? Would France be ready for a female president? In a country where Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National (far-right) was able to gather 17% of the vote in 2003, it is a legitimate question.

The other big story on the international front was the expulsion of Afghan refugees. The hard-heartedness of France's immigration ministry lived up to its reputation this week: 57 illegal Afghan refugees will be sent back to Kabul, among them a parentless child no older than 10 years old. The left is trying to mobilize its supporters around this issue, but for now, apathy is what seems to be prevailing in the Hexagon.

Le Figaro published Friday a new report titled "Jihadist Propaganda on the Internet: Diagnosis and Perspectives". Among other things, the report states that France is the country with the fifth-most clicks on jihadist web sites, ahead of even Egypt and Saudi Arabia! It also reports that in the last five years, jihadist servers have grown from 75 to almost 200 worldwide.

Also, the report suggests that jihadists have been keen on using the web 2.0, as Ayman Al-Zawahiri did when he chatted and blogged with supporters in 2007 and 2008. But these web sites aren't only used for propaganda; they are now used as much for recruiting and training purposes.

Scary, isn't it?

November 2, 2008

France: Palin, Joe and Bradley

Time for a last review of the French press' cover of the US elections ...

In the last two days the big story both for the left (Libération) and the right (Le Figaro) was the succesful trick pulled on Sarah Palin and the Secret Service by a Quebec comic duo known here in Montreal as Les Justiciers Masqués. Indeed, Marc-Antoine Audette from CKOI radio station was able to trick the Secret Service and Governor Palin and make them believe that he was in fact the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The conversation lasted six minutes in which the Alaskan Governor did not notice that she was on the laughable end of the joke.

Among other things, the fake Sarkozy told Governor Palin that he sees her becoming President one day. "Maybe in eight years", she replied. They then went on discussing how much they both loved to "Kill those animals," the imposter gleefully adding that it would be wise not to bring along Dick Cheney.

On a more serious note, most leading French newspapers seemed to be obsessed with Joe the Plumber. Interestingly enough, this fact does underline the clear differences between American and French political cultures. In France, the main opposition party is socialist. In the US, socialist means anti-American. In the US, most presidential candidates run as populists. In France, populism is one of the most effective argument that can be made against any candidacy. Hence, Joe the Plumber and his mesmerizing effect on the French press: "Only in the US," they say!

On matters of foreign policy, Le Monde argues in an op-ed piece that Barack Obama will restore broken links with Europe. Indeed, for Felix Marquardt, an Obama presidency would restore America's soft power and trans-Atlantic links. The argument goes as follows: "There is no doubt that the rejection of unilateralism that is present in the speeches of the Democratic candidate will allow the trans-Atlantic links to gain strength. Europeans but above all Americans, who did not imagine that their hyperpower status would be questioned so soon, badly need it to be so."

Finally, and this is where American and French politics meet - the French media made a lot of noise around race, the Bradley effect, racism and so on. I was happily surprised to notice that the "holier-than-thou" attitude which was often present in the French reports concerning race in America has mostly disappeared. Perhaps the recent racial riots that took place in the poorest Paris and Marseilles suburbs made a lot of Frenchmen realize that race and identity were not exclusively American hot topics; they are explosive subjects in France, too. Nevertheless, the overwhelmingly pro-Obama media outlets in France are concerned and fearful of the Bradley effect. I guess we now just have to wait and see.

October 26, 2008

France: All Obama, All the Time

French national newspapers, much like the American ones, are sharply divided along ideological lines. The right is represented by Le Figaro and the left by Libération and Le Monde. But not unlike the major political parties and the overwhelming majority of French citizens, all three newspapers support Barack Obama for president.

On Monday, the focus was pretty much the same in France as it was in the U.S.: Colin Powell’s endorsement of the Democratic nominee. Le Monde reported that Powell’s endorsement had been seen in the U.S. as a hard blow to John McCain’s fledgling campaign, a view that was echoed on the same day in Libération. Le Figaro went along these lines too, but its article added that this endorsement did not come as a surprise and that for this reason it is not that much of a crucial hit on McCain.

Under American standards, these three leading newspapers would be considered liberal. (Cultural differences matter. In America, ‘liberal’ means left-wing. In France, it usually means right-wing.) It should then come as no surprise then that all three of them have pounded somewhat relentlessly on McCain’s VP pick Sarah Palin for her lack of experience, her populism and her views that, according to some, reach very far to the right.

Accordingly, Thursday’s story in the French columns and blogs that relate to the U.S. election is the Alaska governor’s $150k wardrobe provided to her for/by the Republican party since she was picked as the VP candidate by McCain. Interestingly enough, the most conservative of these three newspapers (Le Figaro) seems to be the one who enjoys hitting on Palin the most; it was reporting that Condoleeza Rice could not bring herself to support the Palin when asked to comment on her candidacy.

As much as they love to hate Sarah Palin, the leading French newspapers love Barack Obama more. In fact, most pundits in France have already called the election for him; the disproportionate number of articles speaking of Obama compared to those speaking of McCain gives proof of that. This opinion trend did not move anywhere at the end of the week. On Friday, Le Figaro focused its attention on the possible Democratic takeover of Virginia, stressing the importance, the wealth and the organization of the Obama machine. Libération, as its self-described ‘socialist’ stance would predict, pounded on McCain for resorting to national security arguments. Its punch line: "When things go bad for the GOP, they wave the red flag of national security."

At the end of the week, the only conclusion I can come up with after reviewing the French press’ covering of the American campaign: Boring. Dead boring. And dead predictable, too. And it’s not just the French press’ love affair with Obama: It’s the general attitude of "Dems good, GOP bad" that has prevailed in France and most of Europe.

Interestingly enough, a McCain presidency and/or a Republican Congress could be good news for the French government as it is trying to export its civil nuclear technology to Asia and North America. If president Nicolas Sarkozy wants to sell nuclear power plants in America, shouldn’t he root for the guy whose support for this kind of energy is the strongest, i.e. John McCain? My guess is, Sarkozy chose to support Obama because acting otherwise would have been tantamount to political suicide.