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French Items from 2014:                                         to enlarge a photo, click on it

Our weather    Chubby    The millionaire's  tax is back     Sexism in politics   A new government in France    C'est un 'go-fast'   A Lynching     French health-care will survive    Changing French regions    Most visited county in 2013    A bad address   Guedelon   The mess in Calais   Diem Bien Phu  new
Our weather
Around Bengy we have seasons, but coming from Saskatchewan, they seem very mild seasons. It is rarely long without rain and rarely long without sun. Since we have been here there has been one drought and one period with snow on the ground for almost 2 weeks. All time record low was in a January and was -21 C (-5.8 F); high in August of 39.8 C (103.6F). The average high and low for the months, along with hours of sun in yellow, and m.m. of rain in blue.
These are the stats for our little group of about 8 villages (Laverdines, Tendron, Saligny-le-Vif, Cornusse, Flavigny, Nerondes, Raymond, Avord) from Meteo France station at Farge-en-Septaine. I check the forecast every morning online. All and all, it is a nice climate for old folks.

When we lived in Kenya, the East Indian women in downtown Nairobi wore very expensive saris of amazing material. Older women were quite modest but the younger and middle aged women dressed and walked in a very sexy way. They wore the wrap around 'shirts' fairly low and the tops fairly short so that a lot of midriff showed. One thing they appeared to take trouble to show off was the pad of fat on either side of the spine (I think they are called 'love handles' by some). These women were very conscious of their figures and proud of them it seemed. And yet it was rare to see one of these fashionable women who was skinny (also rare to see them fat). They were various amounts of pleasantly chubby; a little chubby to moderately so. They reminded me of the paintings of beautiful women from Victorian times and earlier. They were slightly to moderately chubby too.
In France there are not a lot of chubby women. While the rest of the developed world is fighting both obesity and anorexic problems. The rich ladies of Paris are chic and slim – not ever chubby. The French say this is the result of the French diet – high in protein. But underneath the surface there are problems.
“The slimming business in France is huge. Pharmacies are filled with miracle-claiming diet products and women's magazines run endless columns of slimming advice. Most of the pressure French women feel to be thin comes from other French women and a society that has zero-tolerance for fat. "Fat" is a dirty word, an offensive insult. It is difficult to come right out and say it. Thankfully, there is an array of flattering euphemisms to choose from. One is not fat, one is ronde, robuste, forte, solide, dodu, rondelette - round, robust, strong, solid, plump, chubby, or even enrobee - enrobed - an adjective otherwise used to describe a mouth-watering coating, usually of thick chocolate, on sweets and cakes but in this case it refers a woman richly-coated in her own body mass. There are plenty of Parisian middle-class families who will sit down to a frugal meal of steamed vegetables and a cup of herbal tea in the evening to avoid weight gain. Of course French women grow fat. But the fact is they daren't, and some will even starve themselves because in this society to be a fat female is to be a failure. Fat women are seen as stupid. Their lives must be out-of-control, they are judged ugly, weird losers. Women have come so far in France - we have a political voice, good childcare, access to work - but instead of being more confident we are increasingly obsessed with our weight and shape.” That does not sound different from some other developed countries, western societies and affluent life styles, except that the French government is panicking over the slight gain in weight, and it is slight, in France. Get used to it - women are not meant to be skinny. (not meant to be fat either)
But in France, apparently the women from the North African Maghreb, still have full, rounded, curvaceous figures and they walk tall, looking more feminine than the slim, chic Parisians. Like the sari wearing Kenyans they are just a little chubby.

The millionaire's tax is back
Cameron and Hollande had a meeting in the new year. They agreed strongly on military and foreign affairs matters and disagreed just as strongly on economic and EU affairs. Cameron has invited millionaires to move from France to the UK to avoid French taxes.
All French laws have to be OKed by the Constitution Council, the French high court made up of senior judges and the former presidents of France. When the French parliament passed a tax of 75% on the portion of any earnings over 1 million euros, the Constitutional Council annulled it on the bases that 66% was the highest legal rate for individuals.
The government went back to the drawing board and drafted a new law which passed in parliament and also the Constitution Council, so it is now law. Instead of taxing individuals, the new law taxes employers. The portion of any wages over 1 million is now a tax burden on the company paying the wage at a rate of 50%. As there is a social contribution levy on top, the effective rate is 75%. The tax is not likely to bankrupt anyone because it is limited to not more than 5% of a companies turnover (not their profit but their turnover). It is an exceptional tax for 2013 and 14. But people expect it will stay in place until ultra-high wages are curbed.
The effect is hoped to be the same as the original law, keeping down extremely high wages. It is hoped that it will also keep taxes from rising for the bulk of tax payers. Business leaders are furious. Football clubs are in apoplexy.

Sexism in politics
In the autumn there was a spate of sexist events in politics and as a result calls for action to stop the trend. It reached a head when a women member of the National Assembly was heckled with chicken sounds. In France this clucking as a misogynist way of called a women an air-head. The offensive male member of the legislature was drunk and his (also drunk) friends were cheering him on. The woman making the speech stopped and the man was asked to stop making the noises by the chair. But as soon as she started to speak again, the noises started up again. Finally the speaker of the assembly stopped the debate for an adjournment.
Thus started a tit for tat on the following days – complaints and wolf whistles and walk outs. After a few days there were apologies and a fine for the clucking member. All seemed to settle down. But there was more to come.
A journalist on a radio news magazine program that was discussing the incident, said it was feminist nonsense. And then said, “"How did women get into the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat? … By laws of parity that forced people to put them on [voting] lists … and they put friends, women, mistresses, etc." In other words he accused women of getting into parliament be sleeping with the powerful. And a regional politician said, “"Parity, it's bullshit. We're going to force women to go into politics when they don't necessarily want to. In my profession [blacksmith], I deal with more and more women. There are some who are very competent, but they ruin our lives. They'd be better off with pans making jam." Parity has been the law for 13 years but parties pay the fines rather than list more women. 155 deputies out of 577 are women, slightly less a proportion then the British house. Women complain that their private life is scrutinized whereas a man's is not. 
Machismo appeared to be on the rise. There is a news website to name and shame those guilty of sexism in public life. People are noticing that this has been a recurrent thing in French politics, a structural fault. Ministers are having to attend male-female equality courses. There is a long way to go. On paper France appears to not be sexist but in real life it is more so than Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries. In real life it resembles its southern neighbours.

A new government for France
France has recently had an election, not for the legislature or the presidency, but for local officials, mayors and councilors. This sort of election is usually not that important nationality. But this time the socialist party really took a beating. The president, Hollande, was forced to reform his government. The UMP also did not look too good and that re-heated their leadership struggles and it upset Sarkozy's try at a come-back. The far-right did very well and that made everyone else nervous. So lately there have been a lot of policy adjustments by everyone.
We have a new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls and new cabinet. He is the prominent man on the right of the SP. The Greens dropped out of the coalition in disapproval (but will probably still vote with the government). Valls gave a new policy speech to parliament and got a vote of confidence. It featured tax cuts for low income families and labour reforms , particularly cuts to employment costs for companies. There was also some austerity, with 19 billion from state, 10 billion from health, 10 billion from local government, and 11 billion from where it can be found. There was promises about carbon reduction and also cuts in dependence on nuclear energy. The sound bite was “too much suffering, not enough hope”.
The new cabinet is smaller than previous ones. It has a couple of interesting features. Arnaud Montebourg is the Minister of Finance and he is on the opposite wing of the party from Valls. It seems a sort of counter-balance. Christiane Taubira, who has been under attach recently, stays as Justice Minister. One of the appointments that cause some humour was the return of Segolene Royal to the cabinet. She did not appear in of cabinet of Ayrault, Hollande's first Prime Minister. She was a very long term partner of Hollande's and they have two children. It is believed that Trierweiler, Hollande's partner went he became president, was very touchy on the subject of Royal. Now that Trierweiler is no longer Hollande's partner or the 'first lady', Royal is back smiling in the pictures of the cabinet. She has Ecology and Energy. Hollande is believed to be seeing Gayet, not a well known woman in her own right like the other two.
I wondered how Valls could have a budget so quickly after being appointed. I did not understand about French budgets. I am used to the Canadian/UK budget which is secret until it is actually read in the house. And it has some consultation but not that much. The French process seems very public and heavy on the consultation. The French process is also very long with many stages – so the plan for this years budget actually started in 2012 in a document that covered 2012 to 2017. That also differs from the short-term nature of the budgets I'm used to. Finally all the stages and interim votes etc. are set out in laws and regulations that are (wait for it) non-binding, and yet are very real controls because they are thought of as (wait) part of the constitution. Looks like the French are sticking to the unwritten parts of their constitution more closely than Canada is. Stages of a budget:
  1. Legislation of the multiannual program: "As such, the tool has a relatively low legal effect, but provides some form of solemnity, thanks to the vote of the national representation, financial commitments agreed by France with the European authorities, including through the multi-year programs of stability". It is published generally and online. This last covers 2012-2017 with goals to reduce debt and prepare for the future.
  2. January-February: administration maneuver: This stage takes place within the administration. The previous budget year is verified, and differences between planned spending and actual expenditures are recorded. The assumptions for the coming year are prepared, forecasts of employment, trade balance, deficits etc. The figures are given to the individual departments who then prepare requests for funds and personnel. There negotiations between the departments begin.
  3. March – the framing letters: The broad outlines of the budget are prepared by Prime Minister's staff and in March he sends a letter to each department giving the broad outline and urging ministers to support it.
  4. April -May – discussions and arbitration: Now the general shape of the budget is known and the discuss drops to the level of individual programs and the finer details. There are usually still some disagreements between departments and these must be arbitrated and settled.
  5. June – the ceiling letters: The Prime Minister sends letters to each minister stating the ceiling on appropriations and jobs for that department. The letters state the maximum amount of credits and jobs per mission and the key reforms that the department will undertake. This letters are also sent to the National Assembly and Senate.
  6. July: budget debate: The government presents to parliament “a report on the development of the national economy and the guidelines for public finances”. There is a debate in both the Assembly and the Senate. Then the budget documents are prepared.
  7. September: the PLF presented by the Cabinet: The budget documents are submitted to the State Council and the High Council of Public Finance. (This is part of the European Treaty on stability, coordination and governance in the European Union.) The High Council will make comments about the realism of the macroeconomic forecasts of the government and the coherence to the original multi-year targets. Then the documents are presented to the Cabinet for approval.
  8. October-November: the PLF in Parliament: No later than the first Tues in Oct. the budget and the documents that are annexed to it are filed with the National Assembly. The Assembly votes on all measures and can add amendments. The Parliament has 70 days to consider and vote on the budget. (If the budget is not passed by this time limit it can be implemented by ordinance without an approving vote.
  9. December: promulgation: The Finance Act is signed into law by the President and published in the Official Journal before Dec 31. In the period between the Parliamentary vote and the promulgation by the President, the Constitutional Council may judge the law and the “wise men” can censor all or part of the budget Act. If the law is censored and cannot be promulgated as is, the government tables in the National Assembly immediately a special bill authorizing the continued collect of tax etc. until the re-vote can take place.
C'est un 'go-fast'
We get used to thinking of Marseilles as a kind gangland Chicago or wild west.
A local news article: (machine translation)
A man was shot dead Sunday, April 27, in a chase with customs at the toll Lancon-de-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône), on the A7 motorway.
The driver was charged with a "go-fast" conveying a drug at high speed. According to preliminary investigation, the victim had tried to evade customs control at around 1:00 p.m., in the sense Avignon-Marseille.
The investigation was entrusted to the research section of the gendarmerie in Marseille for the ballistic component and the police for the drug component.
The "go-fast" aims to deliver high-speed large quantities of drugs in a convoy of cars in powerful 4x4 type consists of an "opener" and a "follower" to detect any roadblocks or shadowing, framing a "carrier", containing the drug.
Soon to be a movie:
The little-explored subject of "go-fasters " – drug-traffickers who zoom in almost ostentatious convoys of three or four cars from Spain to large French cities – will be examined in a thriller movie and an autobiographical book to be published soon.
The drivers, often young men from the troubled multiracial suburbs of French cities, can earn as much as €50,000 (£40,000) for one dash at speeds of up to 200kph (120mph) from southern Spain to Paris, Marseilles, Lyons or Lille. The French police and gendarmerie have developed increasingly sophisticated methods of disrupting the smugglers, including the use of satellite tracking and the creation of fake traffic jams to try to bring the speeding cars to a halt.

A lynching
Freedom of movement in the EU has become a problem for France, and some other countries. But it is one of the pillars of the whole enterprise. If you have freedom of trade and of capital without any borders – then unless you have freedom of movement, all the jobs could end up in one country and the unemployed could not go to that country for work. The poor countries would leave the EU and put up duties against EU goods in order to have local industry.
France is getting into trouble on this score because of the movement of Roma. Since Romania and other East European countries with high Roma populations have joined the EU, their Roma citizens are moving into other parts of Europe. Most countries had a stable 'traveling' population under various arrangements and names but the influx of Roma from Eastern Europe has changed the situation. This would be bad enough but right-wing parties are taking advantage of the problems to spread xenophobic propaganda. This became especially dangerous in France because Sarkozy was faced an election that he was likely to lose (he did). He took the course of moving to the right and trying to steal from the National Front following. This did not seem to work in the election but for several months before the election the UMP and the FN were in a battle to be the most anti-Roma party. The results are still with us.
Last year the EU warned France it could face sanctions over the treatment of its Roma community after Valls, who was then interior minister, suggested that most should be deported and France was "not here to welcome these populations". EGAM (European Grassroots Anti-racist Movement) president said, “There are racist insults and attacks against the Roma that are being used with increasing frequency. We are waiting for a radical change in the way this is being addressed and an extremely clear condemnation of the violence.” The European Commission spokesman said, “Roma, like all EU citizens have the freedom to circulate freely in all member states of the EU and live in a country other than their country of origin.”
After a number of terrible incidents over the last couple of years, there has now been an attempted murder which has been labeled a 'lynching'. A 16 year old Romani boy was kidnapped, locked in a basement and beat, left for dead in a shopping cart in a parking lot. He is in a coma and it is not known if he will survive. He was accused for stealing.
President Hollande called it a unspeakable and unjustifiable attack and ordered everything to be done to find the perpetrators. But his own government like the previous has attempted to expel Roma groups from the country and repeatedly moves them from their camps. Valls, now Prime Minister, said it was an “unacceptable act” - but he is currently evicting Roma from their camps. A Roma rights group welcomed Hollande's statement but added its concerned about racist public discourse on the subject of Roma in France. This encourages attacks. They call for French authorities to investigate this lynching but also to combat rigorously the hate speech and discrimination targeted at the Roma. There should be zero-tolerance for hate speech by government officials in order integrate Roma into French society.
Amnesty International’s Europe Deputy Director was quite direct about the government's part in this. “Whether faced with a public health scare or alleged hate crimes, instead of resolving the issue at hand, the French authorities seem to resort to forced evictions as a backup plan. This is a dangerous and unlawful response that will only exacerbate the underlying problems and make hundreds of people homeless in the process. The French authorities are incubating a climate of fear that will generate more such vicious attacks. The ongoing forced evictions of minority and migrant communities around France are inflammatory, and further violate the human rights of the affected communities. Roma and other minorities have a right to protection from discrimination, not additional targeting by the authorities. France has an obligation under international law not only to pursue the suspected perpetrators of an alleged hate crime, but also to ensure that the investigation and prosecution uncover and account for the discriminatory nature of the crime.”

French Health-care will survive
An article in a US magazine, “France's Health-Care System Is Going Broke” written by A Torsoli has an odd take of what is wrong with the finances of France healthcare.
First mentioned is spa treatments. It sounds frivolous and the sort of time that only the rich can afford. But for a week visit to a spa with massages and mud baths the government pays $680 and the patient or his mutual pay $340. The government is paying less than $100 a day for room, board and treatment. If the patient was put in hospital for similar treatments in would cost a good deal more. If they went to individual treatments with a masseur twice a day for a week, again it would cost more. Either you give people with advanced arthritis this sort of relief or you don't; and if you do, the spa is the cheapest way to do it. This is under preventive care and allows someone to have a livable life. If it enhances independent life or less medication it is probably a saving the healthcare system money. Yet the article treats it as a ridiculous frill that has no place in a government healthcare budget.
Another frill that the author points out is the taxi rides to hospitals. Admittedly many people could get there under their own steam. But many would have to come by ambulance if they could not use the taxi service. In many other cases people could not be dealt with as day patients – they might be able to get to the hospital by themselves but would not be fit to make it home the same day. A taxi ride is cheaper than an overnight in hospital. Further, in order to get a contract with the government for this service, many drivers also are qualified as 'first responders' and the like. Again this is just good finance and not a frill. Spas and taxis sound like wasting money but they are not.
The article does recognize the results. “Average life expectancy is 81.3 years, longer than in the U.S. Adults are less likely to live with diabetes or die from heart disease, and the rate of infant deaths in 2010, the latest year on record, was almost half that of the U.S., according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.”
The article says that the looming recession and increase in chronic diseases is threatening the France system. There is no recognition that it is threatening all healthcare – almost every country is having budget problems and dealing with an aging population and rises in obesity, environmental poisons etc. People often say that healthcare systems cannot last, are doomed, and cannot be paid for. But what is the alternative? People get sick and so there will either be a part of the population that does not receive care or there will be a healthcare system that is low cost, well managed and fair. It is not just France that has to do a bit of reform and belt tightening, it is every healthcare system. The public is not going to stand for them being dismantled though. “French President François Hollande is struggling to preserve his country’s enviably generous benefits, which most citizens consider a right. Aware that any attempt to dramatically curtail perks would likely lead to massive protests, Hollande has taken a more modest approach to cost-cutting.”
According to the article, one reform the France system is undertaking is to use more generic drugs. France has some extra money here. They are saving around $700 million by using generics. Patients can still get the branded products if they pay the difference. The governments are making other cuts where they can and bring down the healthcare costs. The idea that the system will be abandoned or even messed up is just not going to happen even if this article implies it is inevitable. It is still a great and efficient system - it will not disappear even if some economists think it will or should.

Changing the French regions
The French have been talking about it for decades – cut down on the layers of government. The EU wants it, the budget needs it, both big parties (Hollande and Sarkozy) like it, the polls are in favour so finally on July 18 it passed by 52 to 23 in the senate. There will be 13 rather than 22 regions (plus to 4 overseas ones). Some local areas are against it and so there was some last minute haggling. Our region is Centre, Department Cher and Commune Bengy (there are groups of communes for various services as well). Here is the old the new maps.


Most visited country in 2013

Last year, more people visited France than any other country. The top three were: France 84.7 million visitors, US 69.7 million, and Spain 60.7 million. This was an increase in foreign tourists of 2% over 2012. France does not make as much money from tourism as the US. There are more visitors to France but long duration stays in the US.
Where did the visitors come from: 13 million from Germany – up1.2%, and next was Britain – up 6.5%. Many were from Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Spain but those numbers fell over 2012 visits. The largest non-European group was from North America – up 5.8%. 4.5 million tourists were from Asia – up 13%. Chinese tourists were up 23% at 1.7 million but Japanese were down 6.7%.
The length of stay also increased from 6.9 nights to 7.1. Stays in paid accommodation did not rise as much as total stays.
What are the attractions? High on the list are the many world famous museums and art galleries. Then there is the cuisine, cheeses and wines, special in each region. There is variety: mountains and winter sports, the Riviera and sailing, beaches on the Med and Atlantic, forests and all sorts of agriculture. Many towns and villages are known for their beauty so are a number of gardens and parks – some in every region. Roman and other ruins, the Chateaux along the Loire, the grand cathedrals and all manner of old historic sights are plentiful. There are places of religious pilgrimage and of course Lourdes. Sports, nature reserves, history, culture, art, scenery, food, spas, shopping or relaxing in the sun – France has it. But at the same time there is nothing old-fashioned about France, a 21st century country. Visitors do not have to deal with bad transport, disease and all the negatives of 3rd world tourist spots.  
Tourism is about 10% of the GDP, creates about 3 million jobs, and makes a significant addition to the balance of payments.

A bad address
addressThe 16th arrondissement of Paris, called Passy, is the most exclusive place to live or conduct business. It was in this area (93 rue Lauriston) that the Carlingue or 'French Gestapo' had its headquarters. The group worked with the German secret police; they were tried after the war for war crimes. At this address an unknown number of the Resistance were tortured and murdered during the occupation. There was a plaque on the building saying this. The owners of the building had it renovated into exclusive office space and during the renovation work had the plaque removed. There were complaints. The owners put up a new plaque that just said, “homage to the heroes of the Resistance” (in French of course). There were complaints. The Cityold sign new signhas ordered the original to be returned. "It is a blatant breach of planning rules. The building owners have a duty to put back the original plaque or make a new one with an identical inscription. They have a month and after that we shall take them to court. This is about the respect and recognition due to men who suffered the most appalling abuse and who died on this spot. Given that it was our French fellow-citizens who inflicted the abuse, for the sake of history it is imperative that the plaque be put back as soon as possible." The previous owners asked to have the address of the property changed but that was not granted and they sold it. The new offices have not been rented. It is hard to say what will happen to the building. I don't think I would be comfortable if I was to work there!

castleNot all that far from us in Guedelon Burgundy, researchers and volunteers are using medieval methods to build a 13th century castle. We have not been to visit yet but next time visitors come that are interested we will make the trip.
They have made a story so that the site will be consistent and credible. The pretense is that the year is 1245 and a pretend man called Guilbert Courtenay (Guilbert de Guedelon) is building a modest chateau because he has found favour with the crown. He is a minor aristocrat and not too wealthy. The project has been going on for 16 years (since 1229 in the story line). Louis IX was the 15 year old king at the time. The kings mother, Blanche of Castile, is ruling for the boy king. She rewards Guilbert's military valor and loyalty with a 'license' to build a castle. He can only afford a simple castle, no moot, prison, or fancy stone work.
"We have succeeded on every level: human, scientific, archaeological, tourism. It's an adventure with a capital A."
Here is the Guardian's description of the time:
castle“It is 1245 in Guédelon, in Burgundy in central France. King Louis IX is on the throne in France and King Henry III in England. Louis is married to Margaret of Provence and Henry to her sister Eleanor. The women are helping to mend relations between the two countries, riven by war since 1180 and not helped by Henry's disastrous invasion of France in 1230. In 1259 the two monarchs will sign the treaty of Paris intended to end the territorial conflict between the two countries. It will not prevent the hundred years war kicking off in 1337. The rebuilding of what is now Westminster Abbey is being started on royal orders and the Seventh Crusade (1258 to 1254), to be led by Louis to avenge the fall of Jerusalem to the Khwarezmian Persian Sunni Muslim dynasty the previous year, has been proclaimed. It will lead to Louis's defeat, capture and ransom by the Egyptian army.”
Open from 17th March - 5th November 2014 Doors open 10am. Site closes at 5:30pm, 6pm or 7pm depending on the time of year – no entry after 1 hour before closing. Admission charges 2014 - unguided visit: Adult: €12 Child (5- 17): €10 Free entry for under fives. Guided tour fee: €2.50 per person in addition to entrance fee (from 8 yrs) Length of tour: approx. 1 hour 15 minutes.

The mess in Calais
The mayor, Natalie Bouchart, is talking about closing the port of Calais to shipping and passengers in order to force the French, British and EU authorities to solve the problems at the port.
There once was a Red Cross camp in Calais that housed the people wanting to seek asylum in the UK. In 2002 the Blair government persuaded Sarkozy to close the refugee camp as a way to convince the asylum seekers that they would not be allowed to cross the channel. Now, after 12 years, there are more than 2500 migrants permanently living rough in Calais. The conditions are inhumane. The city's population is becoming hostile and the refugees are more and more desperate but undeterred. It seems that the refugees are there at the port; they are not applying for asylum in France or else where in Europe but are determined to get to the UK; the UK is not accepting any refuges arriving by ferry from Calais. Deadlock.
The French would like British police and officials to be stationed in Calais to help deal with the troubles and convince the refugees that they are simple never going to get into Britain by this route. But who knows where the refugees are supposed to go and how they are to get there. The French also want the UK to cut the welfare that refugees get in Britain so that it is less attractive. The UK promised 12 million pounds to improve security at the port. Britain say that refuges should not be allowed past their point of entry into the EU until they have obtain refugee status in one of the EU countries. The French say the UK border should be on UK soil (in other words the refugees should be living rough in Dover not Calais). Dealing with the problem at the point of entry to the EU would be very hard on Italy and Spain in particular. They are already complaining to the EU that they are carrying the bulk of the load. The UK and France talk and talk but nothing happens. Meanwhile the new refugees reaching Europe rises at an increasing rate, from all the war torn places in Africa and the Middle East, fleeing penniless to where ever they can. And more refugees are drowning in the Med when overload flimsy boat sink. In has been pointed out that they are fleeing conditions that the West including Europe have created.
calaisThe conditions are so bad that the mayor of Calais, is talking about making a new camp similar to the old Red Cross camp, even though she is more right-wing than most of those involved. There have been 70 people injured this summer in attempts to board ships. The refugees are targets for criminals. One ferry was forced to turn fire hoses when a crowd of 250 tried to force their way on to the ferry as a mass. Lorry drivers are fined (not the companies they work for) 2000 pounds if a refugee is found on or in their vehicle. The drivers describe trying to get on the boats as going though a war zone and that it has not been so bad for 20 years. People have tried to hang on to the bottom of lorries; jump on them at speed, hide in refrigerated vehicles and sealed vehicles. The British say that all this is dangerous and “if people have a genuine need of protection they should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach.”

Diem Bien Phu
Diem Bien Phu was an extremely important and decisive battle. It marked the end of French rule in Indochina.
From the mid 1800s France had a growing presence in Indochina and profited from rice and rubber plantations. This colonization ended during the war when the Japanese decided to move in. They were trying to secure their southern border in occupied China and have a path to attack Thailand and Burma. They did not really have enough troops to hold Vietnam against the French, but enough to take the country by robbing troops from elsewhere. So the invasion was very slow motion. In 1940 Japan asked the French to allow them to station troops in the colony but the French refused. Shortly after that Germany invaded France, the French government surrendered, and the French colonial government in Vietnam was left stranded. The French in Indochina agreed to allow the Japanese to control the border with China. Later in 1940 the French conceded more access but in Sept 1940 the Japanese invaded and stationed 10,000 troops in the ports, airfields, industries of Vietnam. But this was not enough to really control the country and so the Japanese left the French colonial government in place and controlled the country through it. Between 1941 and 1945 the French administration in Vietnam, led by Decoux, engaged in ‘co-existence’ with the Japanese. The Japanese tried to court the population but by and large the people believed that the Japanese were just colonial masters like the French, and resented both. A nationalist organization was gained popularity, the Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh.
The war ended with the Japanese surrender in 1945. The Viet Minh immediately declared an independent republic of Vietnam. The French government, free of German occupation sent troop to Vietnam in order to reestablish the colonial government. This was the start of the First Indochina War which lasted 9 years – a bitter conflict between the French and the Viet Minh.
The end of this first war was the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, in 1954. The French set a trap. They would draw the enemy out and destroy them with superior firepower. The place Dien Bien Phu was chosen deep in the hills in northwest Vietnam on the road to Laos. General Giap, however, saw the trap (it was a textbook set-piece) and instead of being drawn into the open, he carefully surrounded the French. The French were unprepared for the amount of artillery and anti-aircraft guns that the Viet Minh could bring through the mountains without being noticed. They tunneled in the high vantage points above the French and placed big guns all around overlooking the French camp. The French drew the Viet Minh as they planned, but not into the open, but into places that were well hidden, difficult to reach, difficult to destroy with counter fire. The French were now trapped but still unaware of their situation.
When the Viet Minh opened fire it was a massive bombardment. The French commander, Piroth, was so shamed by his unpreparedness and his inability to manage any counter fire that he committed suicide. A form of WW1 type trench fighting developed with the French being supplied from the air and fighting off assaults on their edges while being under fire from the surrounding hills. The anti-aircraft guns of the Viet Minh made the resupply more and more difficult as the area controlled by the French shrank. After two months of fighting the camp was taken.
The French government fell. The new Prime Minister, Mendes France, sued for peace and started the withdrawal from Indochina. At this point the Americans took over the fight from the French and managed to deny the Viet Minh their prize until after the Second Indochina War, the Vietnam War.