previous French items
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French Items from 2014:
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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
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)
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
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
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:
C'est un 'go-fast'
- 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.
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
– 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
-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
– 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
used to thinking of Marseilles as a kind gangland Chicago or wild
A local news article:
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.
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.
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
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.”
Health-care will survive
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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
The 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 City has 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!
Not 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:
“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
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.
The 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.