All 6 entries tagged France

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June 13, 2007

Teetotal. Yes–sirree.

May 14, 2007

A new era for British–Franco relations?

Two men, from similar political backgrounds, with similar political views. Yet one is mocked by the British as the archetypal miserable Frenchman, while the other represents a great new hope for relations between his country and ours.

The Times’ Washington correspondent, Gerard Baker, wrote that:

Having endured years of Gallic disdain, contempt and hostility, America is getting used to the happy possibility that France might actually be a friend and even an ally again.

Sarkozy and Blair, 11th May 2007Given Britain’s ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ relationship with the United States in recent years, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the Élysée Palace also permits a thawing in relations between Britain and its neighbour.

The bonhomie exhibited by Mr Blair and M. Chirac this week was tinged with the disdain that the two statesmen have held for each other ever since Blair burst onto the European stage with his brand of slick, demanding diplomacy in 1997. But when he met M. Chirac’s successor (right), things were very different.

Perhaps M. Sarkozy’s warmth was helped by the knowledge that his British counterpart will not long be in a position to demand things of Europe. The infamous rebate will surely come up again in time, and Mr Brown is known to be a more passionate defender of Britain’s subsidy from Europe than Mr Blair has been.

Yet there is little to suggest things will be frostier when the Scot moves to Number 10. While he may not be the Europhile that Tony Blair is, he and Sarkozy may find their mutual Atlanticism to be a useful asset.

An infamous Sun front-pageSarkozy’s nicknames include ‘Sarko the American’ and ‘Speedy’ (a sign of his apparent hyperactivity, apparently). Both seem to be traits that Gordon Brown is moving towards. The steady hand on the economic rudder will likely be replaced by a fervent Prime Minister, keen to exert control quickly over ‘his’ government while making constitutional changes to win over the people. His ability to sit on the fence was demonstrated well in his recent book, Courage. It features a delicately balanced portrayal of two Americans, two Brits and two Europeans.

Denis McShane – former Minister for Europe – painted a picture of a European tricycle, with Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel perched on each wheel. It’s a convincing image. With Iran and Syria seeming to pose the only foreign threats to this balancing act, on foreign affairs the leaders of Europe’s major industrial nations are generally united.

But will this new-found Euro-love permeate into wider society? Britons’ ridicule of all things Gallic has become something of a cliché. The optimist would suggest that better relations between our political leaders might help to rectify this over time. Certainly the tabloid front-pages accusing the French of being “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” might be a thing of the past if co-operation at a political level succeeds.

Of course, Sarkozy will only be a success if he solves the numerous domestic conundrums that he promised in the election. But rebuilding relations with Britain and America could be an even greater prize for his country in the long-term.

July 10, 2006


It seems FIFA decided on the Golden Boot award before last night's final…

April 16, 2006

The way politics should be conducted…?

From AP:

A French MP ended a six-week hunger strike yesterday after a Japanese company promised not to close a factory in his district. Jean Lassalle, who has lost 46lbs (21kg) in the protest, was taken to hospital as the government went into talks with the Japanese company Toyal. Mr Lassalle, 50, started his hunger strike on March 7 to press Toyal to keep its factory, which makes a product used in car paint, in the town of Accous. The company reached an agreement yesterday during talks with the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, saying it would develop the site in Accous, the ministry said.

Firstly, what a brilliant story. I can't tell how big a news story this has been in France, but I suspect if something similar happened over here (I'm thinking George Galloway's a likely candidate) the media coverage would be huge.

Secondly, it's a shame that France's economic nationalism is taking hold even further. The country's politicians seem to be lining up more long-term pain for themselves, seemingly with the backing of much of the country's media and its people. How many successful (practically, not academically) economists has France produced?

Thirdly, if this was America the whole problem would be solved simply by the MP ensuring some tax-breaks for the company, and if it was the UK the MP would get the company to sponsor a school and return the favour with knighthoods and lordships.

Fourthly, a paint-product company? Wow, how many jobs are at stake because of a product used in car paint? I'd love to know.

And finally, should we be encouraging this kind of proactive politicking here in the UK? Should we demand to see the Clare Shorts and Boris Johnsons of this world going on hunger strike for the causes of Iraq and polygamy? I think it would make politics far more interesting. Imagine the hustings meetings before the general election:

Constituent: "Mr Sutton-Sloane, what have you done for the constituency of Badgerington in the last five years"

MP: "Well I've shaved my testicles for poor people, drunk rat urine for a cancer charity and abstained from sex for five years!"

Constituent: "What cause was the abstinence for?"

MP: "Ah that was simply because my loyal wife is over the hill!"

I know I'd vote!

March 28, 2006

Two countries, two styles of protest

Watching the rioting in Paris, it's interesting to compare the level of dissent in the Place de la Republique with that in Britain today, on what some of the Unions are calling the biggest strike in 80 years.

Demographics seem to be playing a big part – in Paris there's very few people over the age of thirty in the crowd, whereas in Britain the majority of public service workers on strike are well over that age.

In Paris, it's difficult to tell who the real protesters are. Are they the students protesting that they face unemployment upon graduating? Or are they unemployed people from the suburbs, suferring from longer-term problems?

I suspect the students began the protest, but it has been hijacked by those angry at the economic poverty which affects many of the less-well educated.

Here in the UK, those concerned about long-term economic problems are the peaceful ones. There is no real concern about short-term crises, except amongst city bankers and stockbrokers. This is testament to the economic stability we have achieved, whilst maintaining good levels of growth and employment.

Sadly for the French, the 'thoughtful' protesters seem to be trying to battle against the Atlanticist model which has worked so well for the past 10–12 years in the UK. So while the short-termists may be the ones that the French government will have to listen to, they are also more naive than the long-termists who have been driven to violence.

P.S. Doidge's political prediction: de Villepin will be out by the end of the week…

December 16, 2005

Why the EU will never work – a relatively optimistic assessment

Tony Blair is frantically trying to apply a sticking-plaster to the European Union in the form of a budget. I call it a sticking plaster, because the EU's budget is a bucket full of holes, with money leaking to a number of useless and morally reprehensible projects which have no justification at all. Step forward the Common Agricultural Policy for one.

But whatever the size of the budget, it won't solve the problem at the heart of the EU - an organisation which in principle I am in favour of.

The key problem with the EU is its inability to decide between 'One Europe' and the 'National interest'. What we're seeing at the budget negotiations is national interests coming out ahead.

France won't consider even a 'review' of the CAP because it fears losing €bns in subsidies to its farmers. There is no justification for the CAP (at least in such an over-sized form) that goes along the lines of building a stronger Europe. Its only justification is that it preserves jobs in an outdated and inefficient industry.

Britain is characterised as the Beast to France's Beauty, accused of taking a selfish approach to Europe, with reference to its rebate. But Britain seems to me to be a proponent of 'Justice', and fears that if it surrenders its rebate, it will never again have a bargaining chip with which to force reform of the CAP. Remember that by surrendering any rebate, Tony Blair is making himself the majority of the press' most-hated figure.

If Britain could engineer a system whereby the money allocated to the CAP was instead spent on structural funds to more worthy recipients than France, then I'm certain it would happily surrender its rebate. Maybe it's subconscious nationalism on my part, but I don't see any way in which Britain is being particularly selfish at the budget talks.

Incompetent, maybe. But selfish? Only in the sense that it is threatening to veto any budget proposals made during the next two Presidencies, which I see as a bargaining tactic. After all, European leaders love leaving a decision until the last minute, when the negotiators are becoming desperate for a deal.

But the CAP will never be reformed, let alone the rest of the budget, even if it is the only future for the EU. France created the Union for two reasons:
1) to keep Germany at arm's reach
2) to strengthen its coal, steel and agriculture industries.

The first aim is fairly irrelevant now, and coal and steel too have lost their potency. But France will never give up its agricultural subsidies, because it is almost the only reason they are still actively involved in the EU. They weren't heavily in favour of enlargement – their primary purpose of the Union is simply to ensure a large market in which to flog its goods, even if they could be produced more cheaply in African nations.

The only solution for the European Union is to abandon a country's right to veto matters which it considers have an adverse impact on its national interest. Yes, it will lead us down a more federal path, but it will also create a more equitable Europe, where decisions are made not because of which member-state is the best negotiator or who is most likely to wave around its magic veto, but instead decisions are made because they are right for Europe.

Note today, for instance, how Britain, Germany and France will thrash out a deal, and then present it to the other 22 members of the EU, telling them to take it or leave it. How is that equitable?

And if Europe was more equitable, had a more clearly defined and united purpose, would critics of the EU such as the Conservatives have such reason to be Eurosceptic? Is their quarrel with the EU per se, or the bureaucratic nonsense that is created when you have nation states constantly having to find a 'compromise' solution that suits no-one?

The only future the EU has is to abandon its 25 divergent national interests and adopt a common one. If it fails to do this – and rest assured, it will fail – then it will break apart.

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