A Week in France / February 24, 2014: Irresolute European Cooperation

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski for flickr

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski for flickr

Every week, La Jeune Politique looks back on the events that made the news in the past week, giving you the chance to catch up on the articles you missed and more.

France and United Kingdom talk of military cooperation. After a series of official visits in the Netherlands, Turkey and the Vatican, French President Francois Hollande travelled to the United Kingdom last Friday to attend the opening of a Franco-British summit in the military base of Brize-Norton, near Oxford. Accompanied by four ministers, including Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Hollande discussed a range of topics with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The summit was the opportunity to showcase military materiel and to reinforce the relationship on matters of defense and security.

Internet wars: Google and EU work to reach agreement three years in the making. On Wednesday, Feb. 5, the European Commission announced it had accepted terms proposed by Google to remedy problems concerning the marketing of online search results. Google was accused of overstepping boundaries, yet the talks between the EU and Google are said to have opened the way for an amicable solution. The 14 plaintiffs can be sure of their position before the Commission even makes a final decision, expected to be reached within the month, to decide if it will make legally binding commitments to Google.

Trial of alleged Rwandan genocide participant opens in Paris. On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, an alleged participant in the Rwandan Genocide, opened at the Paris Criminal Court. The trial is a judicial first in France; many Rwandans have not looked upon France favorably, claiming that many exiles fled to the European country after murdering fellow countrymen in 1994. Simbikangwa was arrested in Mayotte, a French island, for carrying false records. He will therefore be tried in Paris, even though he has previously been tried in Rwanda for carrying out acts of genocide.

Controversy over assisted conception stalls changes to family reform bill. The French government quickly went on the defensive earlier this week after about 100,000 conservative protesters took to the streets in Paris and Lyon on Sunday Feb. 2, angered by proposed LGBT-friendly additions to a major family reform bill. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office announced on Monday Feb. 3 that the entire bill would be postponed at least until 2015, saying it needed more work before being put to a vote — but it’s likely that the protesters played just as big of a role in his decision, and Parti socialiste lawmakers aren’t happy about it.

Valls boasts progress in immigration. Plagued with immigration issues since becoming Minister of the Interior in 2012, Manuel Valls provided a comprehensive review of immigration statistics and reform to the public on Jan. 31, at a press conference at the Place Beauvau, in Paris. Figures released by the French government show a slight decrease in the number of illegal aliens in France from 2012 to 2013, from 21,800 to 20,800. Responding to criticism from the political right, Valls maintained that the amounts were “spontaneous,” arguing that only numbers enforced by the European Union (EU) had qualitative value.

Massive strike at Libération. A crisis began last week in the headquarters of Libération, one of France’s main newspapers, and has been ongoing since. Libération is suffering from a growing schism between its staff and shareholders due to the announced plans of major restructuring. A staff strike began after the announcement of a restructuring plan by major shareholders to transform it into an online platform and an informational social network.

Taubira to replace important judge? Independent newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné revealed on Wednesday that Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira tried to replace Paris General Prosecutor François Falletti with a more politically friendly figure. Falletti was allegedly offered the chance to quit in exchange for a “promotion” to the Cour de Cassation, which Taubira denied. In France, prosecutors are part of the high civil service, and while they are nominated by the political powers that be, they are usually protected from political changes. Taubira’s decision seemed even more polemical after she campaigned for independent justice.

Yahoo! Europe to Ireland. Controversy has developed in France after Yahoo! has announced that its reorganization will concentrate all of its activities in Ireland, where corporate taxes are significantly lower than in the rest of the EU. All of the other Internet giants are also located there. This decision means that the treatment of French data will be processed under Irish law. The National Commission for Internet and Liberties will examine the case in the next few weeks to determine whether restrictions should be applied.

Will the Government freeze civil servants wages? A few days after Education Minister Vincent Peillon brought up the idea, Parti socialiste member Bruno Le Roux has confirmed that the Government is considering freezing civil servants’ wages to realize a part of the €50bn in budget savings that Hollande aims to reach over the next three years. Civil servants’ wages are calculated with an index that has been frozen since 2010, but the Government would also freeze the automatic raises for seniority. Of course, the final decision will not be made until next fall, when the 2015 budget is discussed in Parliament.

François Pérol put under investigation for conflict of interest. The director of the group Banque Populaire-Caisse d’Epargne, François Pérol, has been put under investigation for conflict of interest regarding his nomination to this office. When the group was created, Pérol was President Sarkozy’s Chief of Staff. He is suspected to have profited from this situation in receiving the nomination. He will nevertheless remain in his position while the inquiry is conducted.

Cab drivers on strike create massive traffic problems in Paris outskirts. In order to protest the competition from chauffeured car rental services (VTC), taxi drivers in Paris went on strike on Monday, creating more than 200 kilometers of traffic jams around the capital. While the Government has established specific conditions to separate both markets, the Council of State ruled to cancel those. Offering equivalent services to taxis in cities, VTCs nevertheless do not have to pay the expensive taxi license.

New plan to fight against dependency. The Government has announced its plan to fight against the dependency of the elderly. The plan contains a 140M€ program to help finance intelligent home technologies, a re-organization of the APA (an allocation which helps pensioners to pay for home helpers). This fulfills a campaign promise of Hollande as well as a necessity for a country whose share of the 60+ age demographic is growing each year.

A list of 68 dangerous medications. Prescrire magazine revealed a list of 68 legal prescription drugs that do more harm than good. This magazine is aimed at doctors and pharmacists and is financed only through subscriptions, meaning it is seen as an objective reference. The same publication claims that 2013 has seen no important pharmaceutical novelty.

UMP representative asks for dissolution of Femen movement. UMP Georges Fennec has announced he is asking the Miviludes (Interdepartmental mission against cults) to rule the Femen organization as a cult, following several actions that, he argues, have disrupted public order. Fennec, a former member and President of the Miviludes, hopes this change in recognition will lead to the dissolution of their association status.

Council of State forbids Sunday labor. The Council of State has annulled the executive order that allowed Sunday labor in DIY stores. Several legal problems have made this executive order unconstitutional– it was a temporary measure unable to meet the permanent needs of the public, as well as a violation of the unions’ rights. The Government has announced it is working on a new version of the text.

Cat thrower” sentenced to jail. A man filmed throwing a cat against a wall on several occasions has been sentenced by a Marseille court to one year in jail for cruelty against an animal. This sentence sets a precedent of sorts, as French penal law is yet incomplete on actions against animals.

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