Monday, June 25, 2007


As expected, President Sarkozy's party (UMP) came out on top after the two rounds of legislative elections in June. Yet the margin of victory was smaller than expected, thus indicating that M Sarkozy might have a bit more trouble reforming French society than he had planned.

Overall voter turnout was quite a bit lower for the two rounds of the législatives (about 59%), than for the présidentielles (83% or so). Many French people apparently thought that the election of a pro-Sarkozy majority was a foregone conclusion, and hence there was no reason for them to bother voting. Others were undoubtedly put off by the truly abysmal weather: rarely in recent years has a spring been so windy, wet and, quite frankly, miserable. Springtime in Paris this year feels more like Automne en Paname !

Amerloque – and quite a few others – was happy to see that M Alain Juppé, an ex-Prime Minister, the current Mayor of Bordeaux and newly-named Minister of State (second in command after the Prime Minister) in charge of Ecology and Sustainable Development and Infrastructure, was not elected by the voters in Bordeaux. Many of them have seemingly had enough of convicted criminal Juppé (abus de confiance, recel d'abus de biens sociaux, et prise illégale d'intérêt), and preferred his Socialist opponent, Mme Michèle Delaunay by a narrow but winning margin. Prior to these elections, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Fillon had stated that any Minister who lost his or her election for a seat in the National Assembly would have to resign. This M Juppé did on the Monday immediately after the second round, not without a petulant, ill-mannered comment to reporters: "You'd all be happy if I dropped dead !" (Si je pouvais crever, vous seriez contents !). Amerloque was quite naturally reminded of Richard M. Nixon and that amoral politician's memorably peevish phrase ("You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.") after his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial elections. Perhaps politicians of this ilk are prone to making petulant pronouncements to journalists after an electoral defeat ?

Several days after the legislative elections, the second Fillon government (Fillon 2) was announced. In keeping with his pre-election promises, President Sarkozy made a clear choice of diversity, naming two ladies issues de l'immigration to cabinet-level posts: as sécretaires d'état (who report to Ministers): Mme Rama Yade (aged 30), of Senegalese origin, appointed Secrétaire d'État chargée des affaires étrangères et des droits de l'Homme (foreign affairs and human rights) and Mme Fadela Amara (42 years old), Secrétaire d'Etat chargée de la politique de la ville (urban policies). Having himself immediately and obviously engaged for "Europe" after the Presidential election, meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to redefine his version of a simplified treaty to replace the discredited, rejected Constitutional Treaty, President Sarkozy girded himself for the exhaustive rounds of meetings with European leaders to hammer out the final draft of the replacement document. One wonders how much more French national sovereignty, which took years of blood, sweat and toil to win, will be abandoned. M Sarkozy also pushed forward on his other reforms, notably those involving the universities (more autonomy), working hours (neither income tax nor social charges on overtime), transport (minimum service on strike days) and tax reform (maximum tax rate of 50% on all income, earned and unearned). These promised changes – as well as other reforms working their way through the pipelines in the various Ministries - will be debated and voted on during the special session ( session extraordinaire ) of Parliament, scheduled to begin on July 3rd and to last throughout the month, at least.

Some observers, Amerloque among them, wonder if M Sarkozy is biting off more than he can chew: everything seems to be happening at once, although in a low key manner for the moment. Trade unions, lobbying groups, associations, majority and opposition politicians, as well as mere citizens have stated – sometimes quite volubly - that they are unhappy with certain aspects of his reforms. President Sarkozy, ever the energetic activist, has not hesitated to multiply his contacts, meet with supporters and opponents, and explain his intentions so as to fulfill his promise of concertation.

The other day, Mme.Valerie Pecresse, the current Ministre de l'Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche (higher education and research), pointed out that concertation does not in any way imply consensus. The French concertation is approximately equal to the Anglo-American term "consulting". In France, it simply means that people concerned by a government decision will be heard by those in charge of making a decision. It does not mean that their views will be taken into consideration. It in no way implies consensus, which is analysis, discussion, and debate – and perhaps, compromise - prior to the final decision. This consensus theoretically leads to a group decision that all interested parties can live more or less happily with, while concertation does not.

The Fillon 2 government's reforms will be debated and adopted in the National Assembly during July and, perhaps, part of August. These two months are the traditional vacation periods, when the French are less attuned to politics and more attuned to relaxation and play at the seashore and in the mountains. The media usually puts more emphasis on holidays rather than politics, and it should be interesting to see whether this holds true this year.

One issue the French media hasn't put too much emphasis on is the current one in the USA concerning the safety of Chinese exports, especially foodstuffs. Amerloque finds this strange and somewhat disquieting, for if there is one subject almost every French man and woman is interested in, it's food. Amerloque has been seen nothing aimed at the general public on television or heard anything on the major radio stations. Only in the financial press, buried among other "foreign news" and "European news", can short blurbs be found, most usually concerning the allegedly fantastic job the European Union customs services are doing when they seize counterfeit fashion items. Little is written about criminally polluted food or fake medicine.

Back in the autumn of 2006, in an article about Chinese investment in Europe, the International Herald Tribune spoke about a venerable farmers' cooperative named Le Cabanon in the south of France, an organization which has become Chinese:

Yi Liu has spent five long years trying to persuade Europeans that Chinese tomatoes can match the quality of produce ripened in the Provencal sun - and at a lower price.


The cost of tomato concentrate made in China and imported into Europe is about €550 a ton after processing, shipping and taxes, whereas the concentrate produced in France costs more than €650 a ton. The difference is mainly the cost of labor and regulations in France. Because of their access to less expensive raw materials, Chinese owners abroad can often operate at a lower cost than locals.

One wonders how many other Chinese food raw materials are being imported into France, and, indeed, if they are any safer than the ones currently being referred to in the American media. One wonders, too, if any food scandals will break out here this summer, and if the French media will talk about them (always excepting the usual litany of things vacationers should be careful of !) Finally, one wonders if the Chinese authorities plan to reform the food safety bodies now in place, if any.

For some years now, Amerloque has - as much as possible - been purchasing fresh foodstuffs "made in France", and avoiding imports, even from the European Union. Recent news from the USA has only reinforced his view: nothing could be more natural than to support French growers and breeders, from local market gardeners to national poultry and meat producers.

In a country where intense attention to the food one eats is a national trait, one almost can't go wrong. Eating well is an integral part of life in France.


Text © Copyright 2007 by L'Amerloque
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