France: More surprises in primary elections process lead to uncertainty on presidential race this May

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Benoît Hamon (left) Manuel Valls (right) – France Soir

 

France’s upcoming presidential election in May is sure to be full of surprises. The Right Party presidential primaries held in December ousted former President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chirac’s former Minister Alain Juppé from the race and nominated former Prime Minister under Sarkozy, François Fillon, a less charismatic but quieter figure.

The second round of the Socialist Party presidential primaries will be held this Sunday, with two completely different profiles competing: former Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Yvelines’ deputy Benoît Hamon. Under Hollande’s presidency, Mr. Valls had drifted from the socialist ideology to a more conservative one, especially with the El-Khomri law. On the contrary, Mr. Hamon advocates for more left-oriented policies and radical change. The French press mentions a “left with two faces.”

No second chances?

Recent polls are not in Mr. Valls’ favor, owing to his unpopularity as Prime Minister. He also has to face contradictions during debates: to defend what he stood for over the past four years whilst also promising change. Unfortunately, many fear a continuity of policies if Mr. Valls gets elected. The candidate claims the El-Khomri law was an ultimatum for him and promises to abrogate the 49-3 article that validates it, since they do not represent “our society of participation,” he told France 2‘s news channel.  Addressing the nation’s current preoccupations with Islamophobia, Mr. Valls contends all religions are compatible with republican values; and “although the Republic protects and helps all victims of intolerance, it belongs to them to defend themselves against obscurantism,” he told L’émission politique in January. He also intends to open up a dialogue on Islam and “free French Islam from outside influences.”

Hamon: from third man to rising star of the polls

After the disappointing mandate of François Hollande, the surge of terrorist attacks, and the alarming rise of unemployment, France needs to dream a better future. There is no desire to recycle politicians, and Mr. Hamon appears to provide enough dream material for the French to win the primaries this Sunday. Polls estimate Hamon to lead the race by 4%.

The main line of his program is the cancellation of the El-Khomri law, which facilitates the ability of firms to fire employees when faced with competition. Mr. Hamon also hopes to see a France move toward utilizing renewable energies by 2050, and away from nuclear use and schist gas. He advocates for the legalized use of cannabis – a concern rarely addressed in national debates – which could reduce underground trafficking and other related troubles within concerned communities.

Results from this primary will likely determine the candidate that will measure himself against the two other main running parties, Le Pen’s far-right and Fillon’s right. This panel of candidates was unexpected to make it so far, leading to many questions and uncertainties for the May election.

The second most popular competing parties are Emmanuel Macron’s independent party (neither left nor right), Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s far-left, and Yannick Jadot’s green party.

Edit, 01/29/2017: Benoît Hamon wins with 58,88% of the votes against 41,12% for Manuel Valls

Article by Alice Ferré, CAS’19

‘Children of La Creuse’

 

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Former Prefect of la Réunion Michel Debré (left), “Children of la Creuse” (right) – Le journal de la Réunion

 

From 1963 to 1981, 2150 children ages four to six, were dragged out from the French island of La Réunion and shifted to the mainland in order to repopulate the Central and South West rural regions. This month, the victims of forced deportation, now in their thirties and forties, will be heard by a special commission created for this case in 2014.

The processing was implemented by Michel Debré, Prefect of La Réunion at the time. Erased from French national memory until 2002, the case unveiled a carefully planned transfer of children to a foster care in the city of Guéret in la Creuse, where they waited for their new family to adopt them. However, not all of them had this opportunity; many ended up as illegal workers in farms or servants, alike to modern slavery.

Victims now seek reparation for their stolen life. Anne David, 48, was adopted by a family from Finistère when she was two. Interviewed by French newspaper Le Point, she discussed her discoveries: she comes from a family with seven children in La Réunion and seeks to learn more about her estranged family. She called for the special commission to deliver all details of the case in complete transparency, with available access to state files for the victims. Valérie Andanson, Head of the Department of Deported Children from Overseas and abducted from her family at three years old, demands reparation with state-financed traveling and housing in La Réunion. Like David, she learned later on, at the age of 16, that she has five siblings – all deported to separated families.

But the victims do not only fight for themselves; they extend their help to other lost children, those unaware that they too may face a similar situation and bring global awareness to these crimes against children.

In February 2014, the French National Assembly alleged moral responsibility of the state in the case. The resolution lays out three major points: the extensive and comprehensive diffusion of facts, the acknowledgment that the state failed to care for those children, and the obligation for the state to financially help victims to reconnect with their heritage.

Article by Alice Ferré, CAS’19

Spotted: France’s far-right leader visits Trump Tower

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Marine Le Pen at the Trump Bar – by Sam Levine

On Thursday, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (NF) leader, was spotted at the Trump Tower, causing rumors to swirl of a possible meeting with Mr. Trump, which a plausible supposition owing to ideological similarities between the two parties.

However, Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied the existence of any scheduled meetings with the French politician. He added that the Trump bar, where Le Pen was seen having coffee, is a public space and thus accessible to everyone.

Marine Le Pen, nevertheless, met with Trump’s longtime friend and neighbor, George Lombardi – a man with many connections with the European far-right elite, who introduces himself as a political analyst. He formerly represented the Italian Northern League, is now close to the Tea Party and leads the U.S. branch of the French National Front. Mr. Lombardi also lives three stories below Trump.

Not only Trump’s neighbor, Lombardi is also his auto-proclaimed, non-official advisor and fervent supporter; an interesting middle-man and asset for Le Pen, who seems to admire and envy the success of the populist vote in the U.S.

Trump’s victory seems to be a sign of hope for European anti-establishment,  as Le Pen tweeted in celebration for Trump in November, indicating the NF’s confidence of the elections’ outcome.

Lombardi announced he will organize a private party for Mrs. Le Pen with “entrepreneurs, businessmen, and a couple of people from the United Nations.” All are French and supporters of Le Pen’s convictions.

Lombardi described Le Pen’s populist message as similar to Trump’s by its “resonance with the working class, left or right, fed up with the elitist, globalist politicians that are not doing anything for their own people.” He then added: “they are looking for someone, a new voice.”

After some networking in New York, Mrs. Le Pen will fly back to Lyon, France, where she will officially launch her presidential campaign, on February 4th. According to the latest opinion polls, she remains the favorite candidate.

Article by Alice Ferré, CAS’19

“Charlie is still alive”

        On January 7, 2015, Islamist extremists Saïd and Chérif Kouachi attacked French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo‘s offices in Paris, sweeping away nine members of its team. Motives of their grudge were numerous publications of satirical drawings of Prophet Mohammed. In the aftermath, on January 11, two million people, including more than 40 world leaders, met in Paris for a rally of national unity. 3.7 million people joined demonstrations across France.
The “Je Suis Charlie” phrase became an anthem for freedom of expression worldwide, and the newspaper received spectacular support from the international press. Wolinski, Charb, Tignous, Cabu, Elsa and Honoré became martyrs in the war against religious extremism.

This attack also debuted a series of others, spreading feelings of fear and helplessness across the country: the Hyper Casher, the Thalys train, the November, and the Bastille Day attacks, the Magnanville stabbing, and the Saint-Etienne du Rouvray church attack – amongst many other less mediated ones, in only two years.
Before this ongoing wave of terrorism, how could we make a fresh start without forgetting?

Some would argue Charlie Hebdo itself is an example of this demeanor. Indeed, the periodical did not lose its spirits and stands strong, not going backward in going forward. The newspaper answered the attacks with a cover of teary-eyed Mohammed holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign. The text above read “All is forgiven.” Charlie chose to fight back with its best weapons: cynicism and dark, crude humor.

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It kept on this trend: the newspaper had published, in 2015, another controversial cartoon about the young child refugee Aylan Kurdi who drowned while fleeing Syria. A McDonald’s advert is next to him, with the caption “So close…” A second cartoon had for note: “Christians walk on water, Muslim children sink.”

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In September 2016, Charlie had honored its reputation with a cartoon describing victims of Italy earthquake as Italian dishes – which sparked anger on social media. “Good taste has boundaries.” “All I would like to say is if Charlie Hebdo was bombed again I shall not be participating in the status ‘Je Suis Charlie’.

Charlie has always been controversial, even when the victim of events was Charlie itself.  On May 5, 2015, the periodical received the ‘Courage and Freedom of Expression Prize’ from the Pen Club International; but international recognition after the attacks was mixed. While six American authors boycotted the ceremony and launched a petition signed by 240 authors against the awarding, author Salman Rushdie strongly reacted to this petition.

Interpretations of this backlash against Charlie once again showed discord: a “moral and intellectual self-immolation of the American intelligentsia,” for Russian-American writer Vladislav Davidzon, or an understandable act as “this prize magnifies an offensive content that only exacerbates anti-Islamist feelings,” claimed French newspaper Marianne

On the other hand, some would argue that the newspaper is the mere shadow of what it was before the attacks. Parting journalist Zineb El Rhazoui considers it “has gone soft” on Islamist extremists. “Charlie Hebdo died on January 7,” El Rhazoui said to the AFP. She claimed that stopping Prophet Mohammed’s caricature equalled to surrendering and bowing in front of the enemy.

Contrarily, reporter Laurent Léger, who survived the attack but has been on long-term sick leave, told Agence France Press “Charlie should have stopped after we did the survivors’ issue after the attack.” He added that “the price has been too heavy to pay for the journalists and for normal human beings.”

Nevertheless, frowns and sermons were – and will remain – the newspaper’s trademarked reactions. The cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo claims “2017, finally the end of the tunnel,” the tunnel representing the barrel of a gun, held by a bearded man.
For the two-year anniversary of the attacks, Libération paid tribute to the newspaper with a Charlie-style satirical cover depicting President Vladimir Putin, a neo-nazi, a cardinal, a jihadist, and a vulture, all saying “Zut.”; they are not all so happy that the newspaper is still thriving.

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Charlie Hebdo is a punch in the face….
Against those who try to stop us thinking.
Against those who fear imagination.
Against those who don’t like us to laugh.

Article by Alice Ferré, CAS’19

The war against plastic

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Image courtesy of the New York Times – Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

 

 

          Since July 2016, France has banned the sale, distribution, and use of single-use plastic bags in all stores. According to the French administration of Health and Services, certain wrapping materials are still available under certain conditions: if the wrapped goods are meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables, and if the wrapping material is not plastic but made of natural components or strictly vegetable-based. All bags should have a mention indicating its reusable character, and warning customers against the toxicity of such waste thrown out in the wilderness – like the number of years, or decades, until complete deterioration.

Stiffness from the French government reflects an increase of ecological concerns, and a worry to turn green at a faster rate. However, there are more improvements; since January 1, the measure will not only concern checkout counters but also store sections. Moreover, materials that cannot be processed into compost, although degradable, will be progressively put aside. According to the Public Health Services website, bags will be composed of 30% of organic components in 2017, with the goal of reaching 50% in 2020, and 60% in 2025.

It is not France’s first offensive in the war against plastic pollution: ten years ago, the European Union had invited numerous European countries to lower their consumption by making consumers pay up to 10 cents per bag. In France, this implementation had diminished distribution from 12 billion to 700 million bags over a ten-year period.

Still, in 2015, according to Le Figaro. fr, nearly 17 billion plastic bags were distributed: 5 billion at checkout counters of local shops and small convenience stores, and 12 billion in store sections of all businesses. Before this slow decrease in production and distribution, France thought to put a drastic end to the circulation of plastic bags – and extend the measure to other plastic products, like plates and cutlery, in 2020.

France is, however, still far behind its fellow Europeans, like Norway and Sweden, where consumption is eight times less. The law may have been implemented earlier; pending in the government’s drawers since 2004, it was initially sought to be implemented in 2010. Alas, at the end of 2009, the decree for the publication of this law was still not drafted, because of violation of European directives on packaging. Another reason is that the production of environmental-friendly components, such as craft, takes longer, and is thus more expensive (2 to 4 times) for factories, businesses and consumers alike.

The measure also inscribes itself in a wave of environmental concerns that have spread over Europe during the past ten years. Soaring use of renewable energies, emphasis on waste sorting, and awareness on raising better, eco-friendly ways to produce and consume have been topical. Mid-January this year, Paris vehicles will get color-coded “pollution stickers,” with green for the cleanest cars to gray for the most pollutant. Inhabitants with the “dirtiest” cars will have to leave them at home when pollution peaks will occur, at a risk of getting fined.

In the United States, an average of 100 billion plastic bags is distributed to consumers every year – almost one bag per person each day.
However, since 2014, cities on the West Coast and the state of California have been reducing their distribution and came to ban plastic bags in big retailers and anti-bag legislation has spread to 132 cities across the country. San Francisco, for instance, aims to implement a “zero waste” policy by 2020. The state of Colorado has implemented fees on plastic and paper bags, ranging from 10 to 20 cents.
Still, in many states, consumers can have as many plastic bags as they want during checkout; which creates significant problems for certain metropoles, like New-York City. Indeed, the particular beauty of its urban landscape deteriorates while plastic bags do not. They fly away, getting stuck in city trees and sweeping across sidewalks – a pollution for the eye.

But against all odds, the Big Apple is also turning green. After years of struggles, debates, and prohibitions from the State Capitol’s bill against taxes, fees or local charges on merchandise bags, the 5 cents fee on plastic bags will be implemented in February. The decision was taken after a final vote of 28 to 20 by the City Council, last June.

Article by Alice Ferré, CAS’19