previous French items
later French items
French Items from 2011:
to enlarge a photo, click on it
The French hexagon
Maison de la Reine
What is a secular state? French gender
Welfare in France Le
Printemps de Bourges
Nuclear France Before and after DSK
in France Boulanger
The Philosophy Exam Closing a box
No fracking in France French tales
French movies Artistic Freedom
Bits and Pieces The euro is a French dream
The French hexagon
I have a French school geography text from the 1960s. In it there is
the way French children are taught to draw a map of France. First draw
a cross: the horizontal is approximately the line from Brest, through
Paris and on to Strasbourg; the vertical runs from Dunkirk through
Paris to Perpegnon. Then make the sort of hexagon using the first four
points and two more that are at Nice and Bayonnne. The line from
Bayonne to Perpegnon is the Pyrenees and the line from there to Nice
runs through Marseille at its mid-point. Put in the fiddly bits along
the coasts and the four big rivers and you have a pretty good map of
France. I have seen a little kid do this on TV and very skillful and
quick he was too. Obviously it is practiced.
de la Reine Blanche
Throughout France there are streets,
hotels, restaurants and so on named after a white queen. Bourges has
its Maison de la Reine Blanche which is one of the oldest buildings
in the city. It dates from just before or after the great fire in
Bourges in 1487. Currently it is shops, it once was an inn and may
have been built as a private home and place of business of a deputy
mayor called Ursin Sauzay. The name probably comes from its time as
The house is located in a neighbourhood
that was originally a place of merchants and craftsman who worked
with wool and cloth by the Yevrette river. They were the rich
bourgeois. The Sauzay family was powerful. They were Contremoret
barons who moved to Bourges Saint-Sulpice at around the time of the
fire. King Louis XI had a violent feud with the municipal elected
government and when he won, he replace the elected group with his own
supporters including William of Sauzay. The family remained prominent
in the city for many generations.
The building is oak
and it is carved with many scenes. It did have a third story but it
disappeared in the 1600s. Jules Dumoutet made this drawing of it in
The common inn name 'Reine Blanche'
refers to Queen Blanche of Castile (1188-1252). She was a woman who
was remembered! She was the grandchild of Henry II of England and
Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her sister was promised to Louis VIII of France
but grandmother Eleanor thought that Blanche would make a better
queen of France and arranged for her to arrive instead of the sister.
She had 13 children of which 6 died in childhood and when her husband
died the heir, Louis IX, was just 12. Blanche was the regent. Blanche
had to bear the whole burden of affairs alone, to break up a league
of the barons (1226), and to repel the attack of the King of England
(1230). But her energy and firmness overcame all the problems; she
had both military leadership and diplomacy skills. She was charming
too. Louis owed his crown to her and he always remained under the
spell of his mother's imperious personality. She ruled not only her
son but his wife Margaret and several other important children. When
Louis went on crusade, Blanche was regent again. Although she disliked
the crusades, she kept the peace at home and got supplies and men to
her son in the Holy
Land until she died.
What is a
France has been a 'secular state' since the revolution. The Church was
pro-crown and the revolution was anti-cleric. Both in a big way.
The Republic, through all its changes of constitution, has guaranteed
religious freedom for all, as long as faith is private. But at first
all education was done by the Church. Almost a 100 years later, in the
third republic in the 1880s, a modern education system was created. The
education would be free, obligatory, and secular. The fight over
education raged between the Church and Republic for a few more decades.
They settled their fight in 1905. The State pays all teachers in the
state schools and the religious schools. Other religions could
have schools, not just the Catholic Church. What is to be taught is
by the state.
Any manner of religious manifestation is banned in public including
displaying anything that identifies someone's religious affiliation.
You cannot group together in public to pray either. The Republic
maintains the religious buildings built before 1905, classifying them
as historic monuments. The problem is new religious buildings. The
state cannot build these within the constitution. What happens if the
Russian Orthodox want a church or Muslims want a mosque. They have to
get the planning permission and if they can't or it is delayed – where
are they to hold their services? Apparently Montmarte Muslims have been
gathering in the Rue de Myrha which the police closed to traffic and
for two hours every Friday it is an open air mosque. This is strictly
against the law but arranged and overseen by the local authorities.
The problem is that many French people see buildings with onion domes
or minarets etc. as proof of non-integration. Integration is basic. If
you live in the Republic it will be good to you as long as you
integrate – that is, to speak French and adhere to the values of
France. There are French people that do not see the difference between
wearing a crucifix in public (a no-no) and building a mosque in public.
There is a deep confusion in this.
Welfare in France
This is part of what Polly Toynbee, a
prominent journalist with the Guardian newspaper has to say about the
French welfare state:
Sarkozy has made a striking promise to
create a "new branch of the welfare state" to provide care
for old people and those with disabilities. France has 1.1 million
dependent old people, their numbers expected to grow by the middle of
the century, when the over-85s could number 5 million.
In France, cross-party commitment to
welfare runs deep, as does belief in the necessity and benignity of
"l'état". Politicians on the right and the left
use the word solidarité with sincerity (the National Front
is statist, too, though its definitions exclude "immigrants"
from the national compact). Perhaps solidarity is the modern
expression of the 1789 cry for "fraternity". The Sarkozy
government has a minister for solidarity and maintains the solidarity
tax, only one of several payments by general taxpayers and employers
levied in the name of strengthening social cohesion. On the annual
journée de solidarité employees' pay is earmarked for old
Fraternity begets equality. France is
one of the few western countries where poverty and income inequality
have fallen during the past 20 years. Meanwhile in the UK, income
inequality is higher than it has been for 30 years. An impulse
towards égalité is imprinted deep in the French political
DNA: the Lavialle polling institute recently found that nine out of
10 French people think the income gap is still too large. The French
are more convinced that the state is a force for good: leftist
criticism of Sarkozy's government masks deep underlying agreement on
the need for a big and benign state.
All this finds expression in
willingness to spend on pensions, income support, health and social
services which together amounts to 33% of national income, the
highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development, where the average is 24%. The French benefits system is
"Bismarckian", based on insurance funds. For health the
employer pays 12.8% of earnings, the employee 0.75%; in state pension
contributions 8.3% and 6.65% respectively, up to an earnings ceiling.
But as in Germany, the funds still need large subventions from the
state. Households pay a hypothecated tax, topping up the funds, which
cover health, maternity pay, disability and pensions. Separate
insurance covers family benefits, industrial accidents and
Since the revolution, the place of
Catholicism in French life has been fiercely contested. But church
and state have long agreed to encourage child-bearing and support
mothers. Though the birth rate fell as elsewhere in Europe, it is
higher than in the UK. In both countries the birth rate picked up
from the boom years of 2002 onwards, yet both countries still have
fewer babies than funerals. Ever since a great drive after the first
world war to make up for its missing dead, the French state has been
energetically pro-natalist, traditionally favouring families
nombreuses. But there is not much sign of church influence in
observance of marriage vows. In both France and the UK, figures for
fertility and births outside marriage have broadly risen in step.
Some 42% of UK births are out of wedlock; in France it's over 50%.
Average age for first motherhood is in the late 20s.
A larger proportion of French women of
working age take jobs than in the UK. In pay terms they are better
treated, too. In Germany men on median earnings get 23% more than
women, in the UK 21% more, but in France, the pay gap is 12%. That
one difference contributes significantly to their greater overall
French families get more help. Public
spending on early years is the highest in Europe after Iceland and
Denmark, at about 1.1% of national income.
Whether it's due to lifestyle, social
security or high health spending, the French are long-lived. A
Frenchwoman can expect to live 84.4 years, three years longer than
her British counterpart and the highest in the OECD after Japan. For
Frenchmen, however, life expectancy is 77.3 years, the same as for UK
All in all, France is a generous
society, and it fights hard on the streets against attempts to cut
back on good collective provision for pensions, benefits and health.
Contrary to myth, it is not the power of its unions – France has
fewer union members than the UK – but the power of collective will.
As a result, it is a better country than most in which to be old, or
sick or unemployed, or disabled or a little child.
Le Printemps de Bourges
Bourges has, for 30 years, held a big
concert season called Printemps de Bourges or Spring in Bourges rock
This year the headliners are Zaz (jazz
singer), Ben L'Oncle Soul (soul & reggae), Cali, Aaron (British
pop), Angus and Julia, The Original Wailers, Tiken Jah Fakoly, and
six other reggae groups.
It lasts 5 days, has 250 acts, 80
concerts, about 80,000 visitors to the city and is one of the most
important rock festivals in France. We have not gone previous years
and were going to try this year – but – Ciara and Ryan's visit is
at the same time and much, much more important. Maybe we will hear
some next year.
What is happening in Japan makes me think of nuclear power
stations here in France. This country has just under 60 nuclear
stations and they supply 80% of the country's electricity. They
are dotted around the country. 34 are 500 megawatts that are 27 years
old, 20 are 1300 megawatts that are 21 years old, 4 are 1450 megawatts
that are 11 years old and there is one under construction. EDF has a
lot of experience with nuclear plants and a very good safety record.
They also run some other country's nuclear stations. Still the Japanese
were pretty good at it too until they suffered a tsunami that was
larger than they had planned for. France also has coastal stations and
stations near seismic zones along the edges of mountain ranges. There
isn't an installation near us but then they do have the storage of
weapons just down the road. I suppose in an emergency, fate will depend
on which way the wind blows.
Before and after DSK
The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York is called the 'DSK
affair' here in France. It has shaken things up.
The first reaction was shock that the Americans actually arrested such
a important man and then put him in jail. Was he not a foreign
diplomat? And in New York on international business? Should he be
treated like a common criminal because Americans have a puritan
attitude towards sex?
Then there was a change of mood as a result of some unfortunate
remarks. The most noted of these was Jean-Francois Kahn, philosopher
and journalist, who referred to the event as a 'troussage de
domestique' and had to apologize and resign for that remark. This
phrase apparently has no English translation but it is archaic,
pejorative and was used to refer to aristocrats having the right to
have sex with their servants (consensual or not) in the days before the
revolution. In fact, it was one of the many causes of the revolution -
that the lord had access to any of the women in his estates. This
clearly put in context remarks by others along those lines but not so
explicit. The political elite value an image of macho 'seducers' as a
badge of power in politics, but they also had a very weak dividing line
between 'gallantry' and sexual harassment, and between seduction and
rape. It seems that DSK had been groping and pressuring any woman he
could; he was known for it and admire by his male counterparts for it.
His female counterparts dealt with it as best they could.
The French are proud of how independent and equal women in France are.
They did not take well to seeing the way their political elite viewed
and behaved towards women. Stories came out. Statistics were published.
French women were not getting as much respect as people thought. There
were marches, complaints and talk of new laws. The elite come under
criticism and so did the media. The uncomfortable question was raised
of the two parallel worlds in the French media and politics: what is
printed, and what is behind it, gossip, and what must officially remain
"unsaid". Private lives were simply out of bounds to the French media,
even though female journalists had many stories to tell of being
harrassed themselves. Now the treatment of those that had spoken out
about harassment and rape before came under a new spotlight. Private
lives will still be protected by not when it involves coercion or
The America and France cultures are having another of those moments.
The French are coming to terms with the idea that some 'private' news
should be published. But everyone agrees that they do not want a press
like the America or English scandal-sheets with their muckraking. And
the French are in shocked at the American legal system – because they
interpret it in terms of the French system. In France you are not
assumed innocent until proven guilty. By the time the police put
handcuffs on you, you were assumed guilty and have to prove your
innocence. A great deal of investigation preceeds arrest. The grand
jury was misunderstood as a one-sided trial. Still the reputation of
DSK cannot recover in France, even if his lawyers get him off.
How far DSK has fallen – from head of the IMF with an extremely rich
wife and a shoo-in for President of France in the next election to a
nobody on trial in New York. Meanwhile the unpopular Sarko is sitting
pretty with his new trophy wife pregnant and no obvious rival for
another term as president in sight. He says nothing about the DSK
affair and appears macho enough but in good taste.
France is not the same as it was before the DSK affair and it's a good
Is it possible to be a vegetarian in France? – yes, but it is not easy.
Two vegan parents have been have been sentenced to five years in jail
for neglect and feed deprivation after the death of their 11 month old
daughter. She died of pneumonia but was extremely thin and had vitamin
deficiencies. They were loving if somewhat incompetent parents. The
public feeling against them included use of natural (ineffectual)
remedies, not following doctors advice, washing the baby in clay rather
than water, breast feeding as the only source of food – but their
greatest sin was being strict vegetarians. How could she breast feed
when she didn't eat right? Vegans have to be careful about vitamin
deficiencies but this pair were not aware of the dangers.
An adult can be a vegetarian – its their choice. But children are not
allowed – sort of. Schools have canteens, all the children eat the
canteen meals. There are special menus for various health conditions
and religious rules, but vegan is not recognized. Choice of animal
protein is one thing but none is quite another. There is no such choice
for children. What is more, the canteens put all the dishes on the
plate. A child cannot say it will not eat any dish. What is more, the
child is expected to eat everything on their plate. (Some schools are
more enlightened and let children off with just taking a taste of the
food they hate. Some schools even let vegetarian children eat around
the dreaded meat. But even in the less rigid schools that bend the
rules, the child is sure to know that they are doing something
unhealthy, stupid, in bad taste and unpatriotic.) It is a good thing
that France has a good standard of cooking, and the system does produce
people who are not fussy about what they eat, only fussy about how it
is prepared. French meals are also very high on animal protein – lots
of meat, offal, fish and seafood, cheese and dairy, eggs, exotic things
snails, frogs etc. – so what is left when animal products are removed
can be a little meager.
There are now quite a few vegetarians in France but they are far rarer
than in other European countries and very few vegans.
One of the things I have loved about France since I first visited in
the '60s is French bread. Now I live here and cannot eat a bite because
of gluten intolerance. But I still remember what good bread it was.
The French still buy their bread fresh each morning. On average 3
baguettes. Why? French bread does not keep well. Buy it and eat it –
that is the French way.
Most villages have one or two bakers and so do most neighborhoods in
larger centers – a baker for every 1800 people on average. If a place
is too small
for a bakery (like our village) there is a place that sells fresh bread
from a another nearby village in the morning, called depot de pain. So
there is healthy competition and very good quality. These days there
are big continuous bakeries on the edges of big cities where you can
park, buy just fresh baked brain and go.
So if everyone is going to have fresh bread for breakfast, the bakers
have to work in the early, early morning. And if everyone is going to
pick up some fresh bread for the evening meal on the way home from
work, the bakers have to work in the mid-day too. When do they relax?
Harry buys a half a loaf every morning and one or other of the
neighbouring villages which have two bakeries each.
The Philosophy Exam
All students study philosophy as one of
their subject in the last year of secondary school and it is the
first exam in the Baccalauréat or le bac as it is known (think
Canadian High School Matriculation or British A Levels). The bac is a
European-wide qualification for university entrance but each country
has separate exams. In France there are three types of bac:
Scientific (S), Economic & Social (ES), and Literary (L) - and they
include the philosophy exam. You are not considered educated in
France if you do not know the great philosophers.
In fact there is a good deal of overlap
in subjects but the weighting given to the various subjects varies
between the three series. The questions on this year's four hour exam
were published in Le Monde right after the exam was written. Later
they published what was apparently a marking guide for all the
CAN A SCIENTIFIC HYPTHESIS BE PROVEN ?
IS MAN CONDEMNED TO BELIVE IN HIS OWN
COMMENT ON THE EXTRACT FROM NEITZSCHE
IS LIBERTY THREATENED BY EQUALITY?
IS ART LESS VALID THAN SCIENCE ?
COMMENT ON THE EXTRACT FROM SENECA
DOES CULTURE DISTORT MAN?
CAN WE BE RIGHT AGAINST THE FACTS?
COMMENT ON THE EXTRACT FROM PASCAL
Closing a box
It seems that the French have a thing about boxes. When we buy
something like, say, rolled oats, the first problem is to open the box
and the second problem is to close it. It seems that the
French don't like having boxes around that are not neat after they have
When I change countries I am not surprised that opening things has
to be learned. I had to learn that English milk bottles with foil
tops were the easiest milk bottles in the world to open. After
several days of fighting the foil top, I saw someone open one without
really looking while doing something else with the other hand. All it
takes is a gentle push with the ball of the thumb and presto. But I
expect to only have to learn a few of these tricks.
The companies in France must patent their
opening methods. Every
box seems to have a new and unique opening method, a new way to make
a neat little door. You would think that an easy method would be
taken up by everyone, but no, everyone has to have their own. The
photos are new, opened, re-closed (no enlargement - not that
Some things are just not meant to be understood.
Fracking in France
The French parliament has voted to ban fracking in France. Those
companies that have purchased permits for drilling in oil shale in
French territory have until September to notify the government of the
extraction technique they use and if it is fracking or if they do not
give notification then their permits are revoked. It is the first
country to enact a ban, although some smaller authorities have
The vote was along party lines with the governing conservatives
passing the bill and the opposition socialists voting against because
they wanted a stronger bill that banned all development of the shales.
Fracking injects vast quantities of water and chemicals into the
shale to force the release of natural gas. The concern is the toxic
waste and the pollution of underground aquifers.
We don't get all our fairy tales from
the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson. There are also tales
from the French tradition in the Mother Goose group. Charles Perrault
(1628-1703) was an intellectual and could have not predicted that his
reputation for future generations would rest almost entirely on a
slender book published in 1697 containing eight simple stories with
the unassuming title: Stories or Tales from Times Past, with
Morals, with the added title in the frontispiece, Tales of
Mother Goose (Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des
moralités: Contes de ma mère l'Oye). Charles Perrault, in a
symbolically significant gesture, did not publish the book in
question under his own name but rather under the name of his son
Pierre. Like the Grimms, he did not invent these tales -- even in his
day their plots were well known -- but he gave them literary
legitimacy: The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, Little Red Riding Hood,
Blue Beard, Puss in Boots, The Fairies, Cinderella, Ricky of the
Tuft, Little Thumb. He also published Toads and Diamonds which I have
never encountered before.
TOADS AND DIAMONDS
bad tempered widow had two daughters. The eldest was like her mother,
both in feature and disposition, while the youngest resembled her
father. She was sweet-natured always, and as pretty as she was
widow doted on the daughter who was so like herself, but had no love
for the other, whom she compelled to work hard all day, and to live
upon the leavings of her elder sister. Among her other hard tasks,
she was obliged to carry water every day from a great distance.
day when she had just filled her pitcher at the fountain, an old
woman asked to drink from it. "With all my heart," replied
the pretty girl. Glad to show a kindness to one old and infirm, she
held the pitcher while the woman slaked her thirst.
this was not a trembling old peasant, as she appeared, but a fairy
who rewarded good deeds. "
face is pretty and your heart is gentle," said she. "For
your kindness to a poor old woman, I will make you a gift. Every time
you speak, from your mouth shall come a flower or a jewel."
the girl reached home her mother scolded her for her long absence.
me for being away so long," she sweetly replied. As she spoke
some pearls and diamonds issued from her lips.
is this I see, child?" asked the astonished widow.
forlorn girl was so happy to be called child by her mother that she
eagerly related her experience with the old woman at the fountain,
while, with her words, dropped precious stones and roses. The widow
immediately called her favorite daughter to her.
wouldst thou have the same gift as thy sister?" asked she. "Go
thou to the fountain and fetch water. And if an old woman asks thee
for a drink, mind' thou treat her civilly."
girl refused to perform the menial task, until the widow lost
patience and drove her to it. Finally, she took the silver tankard
and sullenly obeyed. No sooner was she at the fountain than from the
wood came a lady most handsomely attired, who asked the haughty girl
for a drink from her pitcher.
have not come here to serve you," she rudely replied, "but
take the pitcher and help yourself, for all I care I would have you
know that I am as good as you."
lady was the fairy, who had taken the appearance of a princess to see
how far the girl's insolence would go.
will make you a gift," she said, "to equal your discourtesy
and ill breeding. Every time you speak, there shall come from your
mouth a snake or a toad."
girl ran home to her mother, who met her at the door.
daughter," she said, impatient to hear her speak.
she opened her mouth, to the mother's horror, two vipers and two
toads sprang from it.
is the fault of your wretched sister," the unhappy mother cried.
She ran to beat the poor younger sister, who fled to the forest to
escape the cruel blows. When she was past pursuit, she threw herself
upon the green grass and wept bitterly.
King's son, returning from the hunt, found her thus, and asked the
cause of her tears.
mother has driven me from my home," she told him.
was so pretty that he fell in love with her at once, and pressed her
to tell him more. She then related to him the whole story, while
pearls and diamonds kept falling from her lips. Enraptured, he took
her to the King, who gave his consent to their immediate marriage.
the ugly and selfish sister had made herself so disagreeable that
even her own mother turned against her. She, too, was driven forth
into the forest, where she died miserable and alone.
The Cannes film festival
is the second oldest in the world. Venice has that honour and the
Cannes one only started because of disapproval of Fascist
interference in the film industry. The first Cannes festival was in
1939 and it did not finish because the Second World War started on
its third day. It started again after the war and soon became THE
festival – big, classy and fair. The Cannes festival was not the
first festival but it was one of the few second places in French
The Arrival of a Train
at La Ciotat Station, the
50-second film by
the Lumière brothers first screened in 1895 – the first thing that
could be called a 'movie'. Georges Méliès made the first
science-fiction film and pioneered special effects in A
Trip to the Moon in 1902.
Around the same
time Alice Guy-Blaché became the first female film-maker. That is
the last 'first' I can find.
In the early silent files
there are a few giants. France did not have the first, that was the
American Birth of a Nation
it did have had the longest. Abel Gance's made the six-hour Napoleon
in 1927. Birth of a
was only two and a half hours long; The
(1926) was only 75 mins. France was famous for the artistic style of
their films before and after the First World War, in keeping with
French prominence in all the visual arts at that time.
only did the French miss the first big movie, they were a little
after America in making musicals. The first was in 1930, Under the
Roofs of Paris by René Clair. During the 30's and after the WW2, the
French made romance, triller, gangster, comedy, historical, noir,
satire, surreal movies and something all their own, poetic realism.
They have had many internationally famous directors and actors.
French cinema is still going strong and making great movies.
Well, France has its artistic freedom
credentials in good order. A play by Romeo Castellucci, called On the
concept of the face of the son of God, is filled with a fake
substance that looks and smells like shit liberally staining the
stage. That is the sort of thing Castellucci is famous for. But the
mayor of Paris and the Minister of Culture are taking a stand against
organizations that disrupt the play. Le Monde reports (via Goggle
The city of Paris and the Theatre de la
Ville decided to file joint complaint against those who disrupted the
play by Romeo Castellucci , "On
the concept of the face of the son of God,"
presented last Thursday at the Theatre de la Ville in Paris. Members
of the association InstitutCivitas, Christian fundamentalists, who had
already attacked in April the photographs by American artist Andres
Serrano in Avignon, including the famous Immersion Piss Christ, have
interrupted the performance Thursday night. "The
city of Paris and the City Theatre decided to file joint complaint
against those who commit acts of officials of public degradation and
violation of freedom of creation and artistic expression", said
the mayor of Paris in a statement Saturday.
The city "condemns
in the strongest terms this type of action, which aims to impede the
principle of creative freedom "and" reaffirms its support
for Demarcy-Emmanuel Mota, director of the Theatre de la Ville, Romeo
Castellucci and artists and staff of the theater, despite the
disruption, while continuing to put out for the show to be presented
to the public in the best possible conditions."
He said that he and the Théâtre de la Ville 'deposit
systematically complaint' against anyone who
tried to disrupt the upcoming performances of the play.
Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand also denounced "these
disturbances which violate a fundamental principle of freedom of
expression protected by French law."
The ministry stressed that the Justice had dismissed an
association - the Alliance against Racism and for respect for the
French and Christian Identity (Agrif) - which called for the
cancellation of the show.
Even the bishops of France said in a
statement that the Catholic Church condemned "the violence
at recent shows," adding: "The Catholic Church in
France is neither fundamentalist or obscurantist.”
The government has also been speaking against the arson at Charlie
Hebdo by Islamic extremists after the paper's Sharia satire, not just
arson is criminal but because satire is not.
Bits and Pieces
(1) The campaign for the French
President is starting in earnest, Hollande verses Sarkozy. Le Monde
says Sarkozy, who was unpopular in public opinion polls, has had a
lift from his new baby and his stateman-like prominence in the Euro
crisis. Hollande beat Aubry who was the favorite until a few days
before the second round of primaries. He is described as:
“First and foremost, he has the
common touch. He is from deepest France, as far from the Parisian
left bank “chattering classes” that you can get. At one point
during the primaries, he was caught on camera going back to his flat
clutching a salami sausage and a bottle of wine – very common and
very popular. Unlike Mr Sarkozy, Mr Hollande has not “rich”. He’s
the sort of guy who’ll drive to work in an inexpensive small car
and take his holidays on a campsite by the sea. Mr Hollande is the
“man next door” - he has none of Sarkozy’s “bling bling”
trappings.” He is the ex-husband of Royal who was the favorite in the
days before the primaries heated up. The ordinary man is just what
the left-wing voter wants after the Strauss-Kahn's fall from the
elite of the elite.
(2) Le Monde also reports that
Strauss-Kahn avoids leaving his house because of the treatment he
gets on public streets and only 3 or so of his old friends come to
visit. Apparently those that supported him have found out that he
really is far worst then the two police investigations implied and
they feel betrayed, disgusted and angry.
He has recently been named in a case about pimping and that has finally
sealed his fate.
(3) The Euro crisis goes on. The idea
is to not have Greece default or leave the Euro zone, but for their
debt to slowly be written off. The effect is the same as defaulting
except that it can be denied that there was a default, it will happen
slowly enough that most of the public will not realize what is
happening, the loses can be spread about and not bring down any
particular banks, much of the effect with be payed for by the public
in their taxes through bank supports. The European powers (primarily
Germany, France and UK) are managing to withstand the recession in
their own countries while holding up the Euro and engineering
the disappearance of Berlusconi from Italy so that it can be saved
from crisis. Merkel and Sarkozy are taking the bows. Every time they
claim they have solved the problem something happens to show that
they haven't – usually the refusal of the Greek public to
cooperate. Cameron is getting problems with the anti-Europe end of
his party for being helpful.
(4) It looked like France was in good
shape but the French banks hold a lot of Greek debt. It has had small
but very steady growth for many years. The GDP for the second quarter
of 2011 was 0% and it may dip negative next time. From 1978 to 2011
the quarterly growth has been 0.48% with a high of 1.60% in June 1978
and a low of -1.60% during the crisis in 2008. Between 2008 and now,
growth has been at its historic steady rate of about 0.5%. France is
the second largest economy and second trading nation in Europe. As
with many modern industrialized nations, it has a large and diverse
industrial base. Economic growth rates in France have been steady for
decades due to conservative planning of the economy which in
comparison to other western European countries is more centralized by
the government in France. There is a lot going for France: World's
fifth largest economy, top tourist destination, fourth largest
weapons exporter, second largest agricultural exporter and sixth
largest ag. producer. It has strong industries in telecommunications,
aerospace, defense, ship building, pharmacueticals, construction,
chemicals, automobiles, nuclear energy and others. Except for the
Greek debt, which it holds a lot of, it is strong compared to many
competitors. Sarkosy has
just promised spending cuts and higher taxes.
(5) Peter Mayle, who wrote A Year in
Provence, has sold his place in France for 6 million Euros and joined
the move of Brits out of southern France.
(6) S&P down-graded France from its AAA+1 rating by mistake and
corrected it within a couple of hours. I'll bet someone there made a
The euro is a French
You may think the euro is a very young
idea and that it was a German idea but no, the idea is old and French.
In 1865 the Latin Monetary Union was
born as a monetary union of France, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland.
Over the years it was joined by Spain, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria,
Serbia, Austro-Hungary, the Papal States, Albania. It ran into
difficulties in the First World War but lived on the name and some
levels of cooperation until 1927.
A European currency was discussed in
the League of Nations in 1927 but not taken very far. In 1969 the
European Council looked into centralization of the national
macroeconomic polices, "the total and irreversible fixing of
parity rates and the complete liberation of movements of capital",
but not a single currency or central bank. It was called the snake in
the tunnel and it failed when exchange rates got erratic.
In 1971 the US went off the gold
standard and therefore the Bretton Woods system collapsed followed by
exchange rates being very unstable. This started the Europeans talking
again about a monetary system. In 1979 the European Currency Unit
(ECU) which was an accounting currency was created and the European
Monetary System and the European Monetary Cooperation Fund (EMCF) was
In 1986 the Community began to outline
monetary co-operation. France, Italy and the Commission wanted fully
monetary union. UK's Thatcher opposed it. Jacques Delors, a French
politician, was asked to develop a plan and came up with the Spaak
method. At this time Germany was wanting reunification while the UK
and France didn't want a unified Germany. Germany had the very strong
and trusted DMark and was worried about losing it. France made a deal
with Germany – Germany gets reunification and France gets European
The first step was abolishing exchange
controls in 1990, then the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 which agreed the
single currency before 1999. The UK and Denmark would not
participate. Delor's step two was the forerunner of the European
Central Bank in 1994. In 1997 the Stability and Growth Pact was
signed to ensure budgetary discipline for the euro. An exchange rate
mechanism was set up for stability of rates with countries not in the
euro zone. Greece did not met the Pact criteria but the other 11 did
and carried on to the next step.
In the third step the conversion rate
for the 11 currencies to the euro were fixed (one ecu equaled one
euro and the currencies were fixed with their value against the ecu
as of Dec 31 1998). The next day the euro was born and replaced the
ecu as the accounting currency. The change over in bills and coins,
prices and records went on in each country until 2002. All government
bonds and other debts were denominated in euros immediately. On the
first day of trading on the 5th the euro rose against the
dollar. The new currency was shipped to the banks started in 2002 and
started replacing the old.
The French have had the dream of a
Europe-wide currency for close to 200 years, it goes back to
Napoleonic times and they are fully committed to the euro. The euro
is in trouble and the French answer is to further unify Europe. The
rest of Europe agreed with the Franco-German plan to do so, including
all the non-eurozone members except for the UK. Even the countries
waiting for admission to the EU signaled their agreement.
The reaction to the UK stance has been
angry. “French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the 17 nations that
are in the eurozone would now press ahead to approve an
inter-governmental treaty among themselves, setting a March deadline.
Jacky Rowland reported from the summit that the reaction to Britain's
veto was "angry, annoyed, yes, but hardly surprised". The
French president's comments that it was unfair for UK to expect
exemptions from the rules, and that it was precisely the lack of
adequate regulation that had led to the financial crisis. This
viewpoint is one that
many ordinary Europeans are likely to agree with.....Cameron has vowed
to protect the City of London, with France
and Germany leading EU moves to impose a financial transactions tax
which the British prime minister says would hit the UK the hardest.”