A Week in France / January 26, 2014: Old Fears, New Hopes

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski for flickr

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski for flickr

Every Sunday, La Jeune Politique looks back on the topics that made the week, giving you the chance to catch up on the articles that you missed and more.

In The News

Hollande Opens Year with Promises of Tax Cuts, Redeployment from Mali. French President François Hollande has vowed to sharply cut troop levels in Mali while tackling unemployment at home, as part of his package of New Years’ promises to the French people. Hollande promised on January 8 to reduce the number of French troops in Mali to 1600 by mid-February, a significant drawdown from the 2500 currently deployed to keep the peace in the struggling West African country. Hollande further promised that France would cut its troop levels to 1000 by the end of 2014, a number he described as “the necessary level to cope with any threat that could reappear” in Mali.

Hollande Wants to “Put France Into Motion,” Dodges Personal Questions. On Tuesday, January 14 at his first press conference of the year, a closely watched tradition in the French political world, President François Hollande chose to start his speech with a simple though ambitious commitment to “put France into motion.” The first question from the press dealt with Hollande’s alleged affair with an actress, and the hospitalization of the First Lady due to the shock of the revelations. Hollande refused to comment and clearly restated his attachment to the clear separation the French make between the private of life of their political leaders and their public actions.

Unemployment in France Spikes at End of Year. The rate of unemployment in France rose 0.5% in November, reversing a six-month trend in declining unemployment, a positive trend which continues to be referenced by President François Hollande as the fiscal year draws to a close. A monthly data report released by Pôle Emploi (a French government agency focused on unemployment) on December 26 showed the addition of 17,800 people actively seeking unemployment, bringing the total number of unemployed to 3,555,200.

France Urges UN to help in Central African Republic. On Friday, December 27, during talks with Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon, French President François Hollande expressed his wish that the United Nations would play a more important role in the transition period in the Central African Republic. Hollande also thanked the leader for the reinforcement of African forces organized by the UN. The UN Security Council had voted a resolution in December on the possible transformation of the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) into an official peacekeeping mission, after it is approved and when conditions allow it.

Hollande Gives Press Conference in Corrèze. French President Francois Hollande gave his traditional New Year’s Press Conference in Corrèze, a department in south-central France. The conference, which took place the weekend of January 11, focused on rural and local government reform as well as economic policy. Hollande promised that 2014 would be a year of decentralization and emphasized the importance of rural areas of France such as Corrèze. “Rural areas are not nostalgia—they are assets,” he said. He also spoke against too much administrative bureaucracy and promised to lead the fight for justice “against all racism” and the equality of all French territories.

French Surgeons Successfully Install Artificial Heart. In nothing short of a holiday miracle, cardiac surgeons in France have successfully implanted an artificial heart into a 75-year-old patient on December 21. The prosthetic organ, designed and engineered by French company Carmat with the help of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), utilizes cardiac tissue from biological sources — such as cows — in order to reduce the likelihood of the heart’s rejection by the host body. The usual synthetic materials carry a greater risk of clotting blood. The device weighs in at about two pounds, nearly three times heavier than the typical human heart.

French Businesses Fined for Failing to Comply with Gender Equality Laws. As the 2013 business year came to an end, French Women’s Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem gave an ultimatum to the nearly 500 French companies failing to comply with gender equality laws established in 2010. Companies employing more than 50 individuals are at risk of steep penal fines, with five such businesses already paying several million euros of fines per month.

Our Exclusive Content

Back From Broadway: Why Are the French So Reluctant to Belong? When I got back to France after a semester at Columbia University, my friends welcomed me as if those four months “abroad on Broadway” had not really happened. But there was a tiny glitch in the illusion that nothing had changed and it quickly reminded me that I had truly been abroad in a foreign country. As a souvenir of my time spent there, I still wear a Columbia sweatshirt. It was such a common sight on my New York campus, but on the French side of the Atlantic, the college sweatshirts are a strange symbol that the French simply do not understand. To my friends in France, it was the first indication that a slight change had occurred during my semester abroad. They couldn’t resist making a few friendly jokes about it.

Is France as Unprepared for the Future as We Think? From the Roman writers of old to Tony Soprano’s anxious musings in the pilot episode of The Sopranos, navel-gazing is as old as Western civilization itself. Even now, American students who take French long enough will inevitably be asked to write a response to the following prompt: “Les Etats-Unis sont-ils en déclin? Repondez avec des exemples.” If the prospect of American decline does not lend itself to optimism, American writers are all too eager to focus on our French partners-in-decline on the other side of the Atlantic, as both Janine di Giovanni and Justin Smith have done this past week in the pages of Newsweek and The New York Times, respectively.

New Deal for President Hollande. What a first couple of weeks! After a disastrous fall, President Hollande decided to take a huge initiative in a master political maneuver – one that some analysts have already dubbed the launch of the President’s re-election campaign. It is possible to say, without exaggerating, that January was the month when Hollande decided to make a fresh start after a very difficult end to 2013.

What is Horizon 2020? Innovation, exploration and curiosity have been the key to human advancement and development throughout history. It is a thirst for knowledge and a quest to answer scientific questions that have pushed us towards the innovations we take for granted today. But the media today largely tends to focus on celebrities and war, pushing technology and innovation reporting to the side. A good example is the lack of recent coverage devoted to one of the biggest research projects in Europe: the Horizon 2020 Program. What exactly is Horizon 2020? The European Commission describes the project as “Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation program ever, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.”

Hollande’s Love Affair Inspires a Video Game. Everyone has been following the developments in the scandal of President François Hollande’s personal life with bated breath. On January 10, France and the whole world were shocked by the unexpected information about the secret relationship between the president and 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet. Immediately after the magazine Closer published the article about Hollande’s affair, a huge scandal erupted. As a result, the first lady was admitted to a hospital for emotional shock. It was revealed that Hollande personally confessed the infidelity that caused Trierweiler’s serious depression. Michele Rocco Smeets quickly responded to Hollande’s love affair with Julie Gayet. He designed a computer game that can already be found online, with the French President as the game’s protagonist. In the plot of the game, Hollande requires assistance. He rides on a scooter and has to overcome obstacles: he has to avoid crushing the paparazzi, his former partner Ségolène Royal, and First Lady Valérie Trierweiler. According to The Daily Mail, the game has become a real hit: in a few days more than 73,000 people have downloaded the game.

In Other News

How to Turn a Delicious Meal into a Political Polemic. Traditionally, a very tasty meal from Lyon, the quenelle has been turned into a discreet gesture of the arms used by extreme-right and anti-zionist activists, among whom comedian Dieudonné is the most famous. His next comic tour, which was supposed to start last night, is threatened as Manuel Valls has urged prefects and mayors to find all legal ways possible to ban it. So far, several shows have been cancelled, for disruption of public safety, while a debate grows between defendants of free speech and those who want to ban antisemitic public speeches such as those Dieudonné often features in his shows.

Antisemitic Comic Show Banned. The Council of State has banned comedian Dieudonné’s latest tour. A few hours before the first show, the highest administrative jurisdiction in the country made an important decision in stating that the show, due to its controversial nature, could constitute a risk for the public order. It also recalled the principle that antisemitism or racism are not considered as opinions in France, and thus are not protected by guarantees to freedom of expression. The decision was a success for Interior Minister Manuel Valls who had made this interdiction a personal objective

Presidential Affair. People Magazine’s “Closer” revealed that President Hollande might be having an affair with actress Julie Gayet, publishing pictures on its website that are supposed to prove that the President is spending nights at Gayet’s apartment. The article was retracted a few hours after its publication, but the rumor has not been denied by the Elysée. Hollande has published an open letter stating that he was reviewing his options to pursue the matter in court for violation of his private life. Debate has since been opened about the President’s right to a private life, regarding his status and office.

Senator Escapes Trial after Controversial Vote. Scandal emerged after the Senate refused to lift the parliamentary immunity of Serge Dassault, suspected of buying his election victory. The Committee proceeded to a secret vote, meaning the names of the Senators that defended Dassault are unknown. Critics have argued that this decision re-enforces the impression of impunity of politicians, and some already call for banning secret votes in the Senate, as they do not allow accountability.

Aircraft Modernization Plan. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has announced that €1 billion will be made available to modernize the Rafale fighter aircraft. Considered the best aircraft on the market, the Rafale, commercialized by Dassault, is so expensive to build that it has never been sold outside of France. A order of 126 aircrafts by the Indian military is hoped for later in the year.

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