Former French Health Minister, Women Rights Advocate, and Holocaust Survivor Simone Veil dies at 89

 

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Simone Veil giving a speech at the French National Assembly in 1974 (image courtesy of Konbini.com)

– Article by Alice Ferré

On June 30th, France said goodbye to another one of its most influential figures. Simone Veil, politician and member of the Academy – the higher honorary title for the French intelligentsia, – “embodied tradition and modernity,” as a “great lady from the old times” standing like a symbol of women rights progress and European hope.

But Simone Veil also incarnated darker moments of France’s history, like the Shoah. Growing up in a Jewish household for cultural rather than religious reasons, she received a patriotic and secular education in the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1940, her family falls apart: her father, who cherished an unconditional love for his country and the principles of “La République,” that he defended during World War I, was forbidden to exercise his job, deprived of his citizenship, and arrested by the Germans three years later.

The 16-year-old Simone got deported with her mother and sister one year after, on April 13th, 1944 to Auschwitz-Birkenau; Simone escaped the gas chambers upon the advice of one deportee who told her to pretend she was 18. Simone and her sister survived the death march organized by the Nazis from Auschwitz to Loslau in January 1945, although her mother won’t. Her father and brother died without leaving a trace.

While some would be forever altered by such inhumane catastrophe, others found in it incredible strength and energy, as if having a family and a job constituted a victory on Nazism. Simone Veil certainly belonged to that second category of people. She kept her tattooed concentration camp number, 78651, on her arm as a reminder of her past. It acted as a fuel during her battles.

Studies, marriage, children… and a political career. “To be and remain independent, a woman must have a job,” declared Veil, although her husband originally opposed this idea. In the late 1960s, only 40% of women were active. Veil also supported the youth during the 1968 protests that hit France and led to many bloody clashes between the police and students. Contrarily to others from her generation, she stated that the French lived in an immobile, frozen society.

Symbol of women empowerment and emancipation, she became the first woman General Secretary of the Superior Council of the Magistrature. She struck the most impactful move of her career as Ministry of Health in 1974 – a job she thought wasn’t suited for her, being a former Magistrate.
On November 26th, Simone Veil gave a pro-abortion speech as the “Laissez-les vivre” (“Let them live”) protesters waited anxiously outside of the Palais-Bourbon. The debate was virulent: Anti-abortion Jura deputy René Feït played the heartbeats of an eight-week fetus while Maine-et-Loire deputy Jean Foyer compared abortion clinics as “slaughterhouses where corpses of little humans pile up.” Manche deputy Jean-Marie Daillet brought up the image of embryos “threw away in crematoria,” before declaring he was not aware of Simone Veil’s past.

Simone Veil won the anti-abortion debate, and the law was approved and passed in 1975.

Her battle for abortion rights got her revered and hated. For many years, she was the constant target of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right National Front party. In 1979, a brawl broke out when National Front supporters tried to disrupt a meeting she was speaking at in Paris. Veil then shouted: “Vous ne me faites pas peur! J’ai survécu a pire que vous!” — “You do not frighten me! I have survived worse than you!”

Most importantly, Simone Veil served a country that deported her family. She was a woman who was often depicted as the “only powerful, strong man of the government.” “To impose herself, a woman needs to be authoritative. I would have never reached my goals if I had not had such personality,” she explained.

She reached the position of President of the first European Parliament in 1979 with the great encouragement and appreciation of French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, working towards a peaceful future for Europe with all her heart, fighting for a united continent away from the atrocities of war. Veil only left the political sphere in 1990 to join the Constitution Council where she became a watchdog for the respect of French laws from 1998 to 2007.

France did apologize and thank her for her pious services in 1995 when she became the President of the Shoah Memorial Foundation; then-President Jacques Chirac recognized France’s responsibility in the genocide. In 2009, Simone Veil received the highest honorary medal, the Legion of honor.

At Veil’s funeral, President Emmanuel Macron saluted her, announcing she would be buried in the Pantheon, the Parisian mausoleum where 72 of the most appreciated cultural and historical figures rest. Veil, who also received the full military honors during the ceremony, will be the fifth woman buried there.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced new government after ongoing corruption investigation leaves doubt on ministers’ integrity

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French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (image courtesy of Ouest-France)

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

On June 9, a preliminary investigation was launched to enlighten an alleged fund embezzlement by major figures of the centrist party MoDem and extreme-right party National Front.

France’s new government was affected by the investigation as many ministers, also members of the MoDem party, resigned this week. Those concerned are the Minister of the Armies Sylvie Goulard, the Minister of European Affairs Marielle de Sarnez, and the Minister of Justice and MoDem party leader Francois Bayrou, who had viscerally supported President Macron during his campaign. The Minister of Territorial Cohesion Richard Ferrand also resigned after rumors of a real estate affair that would have benefited his wife in 2011.

The information that put oil on fire was disclosed by the famous weekly satirical newspaper “Le Canard Enchaine,” the same publication that unveiled the Fillon scandal and caused the rightist candidate his presidential bid last January.

Although the government was supposed to be redesigned after the legislative election results on Sunday- as the tradition wants it –  to reinforce the executive power by limiting ideological cohabitation between the legislative and the executive branch, the reform took an unexpected turn.

“Le Canard” accused Francois Bayrou, as the same time as the now-former Minister of Justice was working on “a moralization of the political life” law project to fight corruption and facilitate transparency in politics, and other MoDem European deputies of using the European Parliament’s funds to pay their personal aides, thus creating fake jobs. On June 8, a former MoDem employee, who wished to remain anonymous, revealed to the highest Paris court, that he had been remunerated as a parliamentary aide to MoDem-affiliated deputy Jean-Luc Bennhamias in 2011 while his contract postulated he was simply working for the party.

This method of falsely recruiting party members as parliamentary aides increased over the years in the MoDem, according to France Info. Each European deputy or national deputies and senators have at their disposal a 24.000 euro-credits to pay their assistants, would they be either in Brussels, Strasbourg, or other circumscriptions. They are not allowed to employ aides that already have a position in their party, as it not only creates illegal mandate accumulations but also fake jobs. This fund embezzlement means the party leader and members don’t spend much of the party’s money.

Mr. Bayrou told the French newspaper “Le Monde” that his decision was “a personal choice” that will “simplify” the current investigation. Echoing Mr. Bayrou, Mrs. Goulard, who quit the day before, said her move was out of “good faith,” regarding the ongoing investigation planning over her party.

Edouard Philippe’s second government remains in line with President Macron’s promises of parity and involvement of civil personalities and new faces. Mrs. Nicole Belloubet, who now replaces Mr. Bayrou as the Minister of Justice, was a former law teacher; Mrs. Genevieve Darrieussecq, 61, a doctor and the mayor of a small town in West Southern France, was named as Minister of the Armies.

“La République en marche” wins the most parliamentary seats as France faces a historically low voter turnout

-Article by Alice Ferré

On Sunday, the presidential party “La République en marche,” in coalition with the MoDem, won 361 over 577 seats in the French National Assembly during the second round of the legislative election, achieving the most outstanding majority since 1958.

 

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Graph showing the proportion of parliamentary seats held by each party and their allies (courtesy of BFM.TV.fr)

 


Although Marine Le Pen’s National Front made it to the second tour of the presidential election in May, it seems to have lost its short-term glory, winning only eight seats in the Parliament. Major parties, including the Republicans, the Socialist Party, and France Insoumise, created coalitions with ideology-sharing, smaller political groups to maximize their number of seats – the National Front was the only party standing alone. The Republicans won 126 seats, the Socialist Party 46, and the France Insoumise 26.

French voters excelled in their voting abstention for this election: the first round was saluted by a 51,2% abstention rate which rose to 56,6% this Sunday. This result still questions the French’s acceptance towards President Macron even after a month and a half in office.

 

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Map of the abstention rate by districts (courtesy of LeMonde.fr)

 

 

 

“La République en marche” on its way to parliamentary majority

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-Article by Alice Ferré

It was a validation vote for “La République en marche” on Sunday’s first round of the French legislative elections. The newly founded presidential party (created by President Macron himself only two years ago) won most seats in the National Assembly with 32,32% of the vote – or between 390 and 430 seats over 577. The right party The Republicans and allies arrived second with 21,56% while the National Front and the “France Insoumise” arrived third and fourth with respectively 13,74% and 13,2%. The four parties will face voters once again this Sunday in a second round; “La République en marche” is expected to stay ahead with at least more than 400 seats over 577, one of the strongest parliamentary majority since 1958. Mainly, “La République en marche” would rule over 72 to 78,9% of the National Assembly, a positive sign for President Macron.

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Graph determining parliamentary seats after the first round on Sunday (courtesy of LeMonde.fr). 

However, the President’s main opposition may not remain in the party lines but on the street; this election’s abstention rate was 51.2% of the 47 million voters.

After the final results this Sunday, deputies will have to wait until June, 27 to become officially part of the National Assembly, and next week will announce the beginning of the parliamentary group forming. Parties like the National Front or the Socialist Party, owing little seats, opposing the majority party, and lacking important allies will encounter difficulties forming their group, which requires 15 deputies. The Republicans are likely to be divided over joining “La République en marche” as many of them had endorsed centrist President Macron during his campaign over the last months. Each group presents one of their members as their leaders, and the president of one of the political majority groups will be chosen to be the National Assembly Chairman.

The final step towards the officialization of this new assembly will be on July, 4. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will give a speech presenting his cabinet’s general political line and vowing it will be politically held responsible in front of the assembly, thus respecting the deputies’ representative power and voices.
This speech will be followed by the traditional “trust vote” introducing each new government; deputies will express their opinions on the legitimacy of the current administration. If the Prime Minister gets the majority vote, which is likely to happen this time, he is able to oversee the legislative branch under extreme and rare conditions to pass laws. A cabinet can be rejected only if the majority vote disavows it.

A guide to the French Parliamentary elections

 

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(Image courtesy of bassussarry.fr)

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

The French parliamentary election will take place on Sundays June 11 and 18, a few weeks away from the presidential election that flung France’s formerly unknown political prodigy fighting doublespeak, Emmanuel Macron, on the political scene.  Similarly to the United States, the key movement for the French executive power’s party “La République en Marche” (previously “En Marche!”) – or other concurring parties – is to win as many ideological allies in Parliament as possible. For this reason, this legislative election is often referred as “the third round.”

577 deputies will be elected in the 557 implicitly delimited districts (the “circonscriptions”). The dividing up of those districts is based on population, one district having 120,000 inhabitants.

Candidates must be French citizens and at least 18 of age. However, they are not required to live in the district they will represent, for the national, not local, status of their position; although the tradition wants the deputy to have a permanent residence in their district, “parachuting” is accepted. Political experience is also optional.

The electoral mechanism is identical to the presidential elections’: it is an uninominal and traditional 50%-plus-one-vote system. A second round is scheduled if no candidate is elected by a majority during the first one. Eligibility for the second round means to have had at least 12,5% of the votes.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, there would be approximately 14 candidates per district or a total of 7882 candidates. Most of them are already politically active and known actors of the political scene, like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the extreme-left of “La France Insoumise” who unsuccessfully ran for president this year and is now a parliamentary candidate in France’s second biggest city, Marseille.

A political party has to win 289 seats for legislative control, as this number represents the absolute majority at the National Assembly.

So far, the brand new presidential party seems to win by a landslide, regardless of its candidates’ political experience. Amongst the important political personalities of the different shades of the political spectrum running for parliamentary seats are Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Marseille, former President Hollande’s Minister of Housing and Territorial Equality Cécile Duflot and Minister of Education and Research Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (first woman to be appointed to this ministry) in the Parisian districts, Marine Le Pen in one of the Northen districts of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

Jean-Paul Bret, the Socialist mayor of the city of Villeurbanne, told French radio broadcast France Info that “even if En Marche! announced a potato sack as one of their candidates, they would have a high chance to win.” The Socialist Party, amongst other ones, is indeed doomed after Hollande’s unpopular term and catastrophic presidential election results.

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Polls by L’Internaute.com (June 10) 

According to today’s polls by L’Internaute.com’s polling institute, “La République en Marche” would score 30%, the right party “Les Républicains” 23%, and the National Front 18% (meaning they have significantly lost popularity since the presidential elections). It is a vote for legitimacy and approval for the presidential party.
“France Insoumise” and the Socialist party would respectively score 11% and 9% of the votes.

NATO, Trump, Macron, and Counterterrorism

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New NATO headquarters (Image courtesy of interbuild.be)

-Article by Alice Ferré

In their first official meeting at the United States Embassy in Brussels, President Donald J. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron mostly tackled the terrorism and climate change issues, two of the many transatlantic major concerns. The 43rd G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, this week will allow European leaders and President Trump, along with Canada and Japan, to further discuss these topics.

Mr. Macron and Trump’s handshake caught everyone’s attention: in a “white-knuckled handshake,” the two leaders confirmed their collaboration and marked their territories, with Mr.Trump’s aggressive grip and Mr. Macron’s withholding Trump’s palm longer than expected.

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US President Donald J. Trump and France’s President Emmanuel Macron in the United States Embassy in Brussels. (image courtesy of LeFigaro.fr)

Although Mr. Macron wishes that Mr. Trump “does not make any precipitated decision” regarding the Paris agreement, he said the talk was “frank” and “pragmatic” and demonstrated a “will to reinforce our partnership and cooperation regarding our fight against terrorism.” Mr. Macron had previously sent signals of hope to Mr. Trump on the U.S. role; while visiting the soldiers of the “Barkhane” operation in Mali, Mr. Macron claimed that Mr. Trump’s allegations against Islamic terrorism did not make him doubt that he will maintain this kind of cooperation.

In this optic, President Trump convinced the European leaders to join him in an international coalition against the Islamic State, after a year of reluctance. European leaders, although already fighting terrorism nationally and internationally and engaging in this Washington-led coalition, feared that the formalization of this union under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization banner would trigger hostile comments from recent allies in the Middle East. “We will win this battle,” concluded President Trump referring to the Manchester bombing, an event that influenced the European leaders in their decision.

Jens Stoltenberg, the 13th Secretary General of NATO, said this union would “send a strong political message of unity in fighting terrorism. However, this will not mean that NATO will engage in fighting abroad.” 
One fear remaining is that Mr. Trump did not explicitly endorse the article 5 of the Washington Treaty, NATO’s mutual defense pledge assuring that the WWII allies must bring assistance to one of them if they are attacked; such omission might frighten the Baltic states that wish to escape Russia’s exponential hegemony in the region.

One condition for President Trump to abide NATO (the President previously declared the organization was “obsolete”) is that European nations spend more on national defense and the military, which echoes Trump’s claim in Saudi Arabia that the fight against terrorism is a “shared burden.” So far, the decision taken in 2014 that each country should spend 2% of their GDP on defense seems to be slowly but surely achieved; according to NATO, the nations’ cumulated budgets raised by 3,8% in 2016 (or 10 billion dollars). Europeans have until 2024 to achieve their goal. Mr. Trump, however, complained about “chronic underpayments” to the military alliance during his speech yesterday. “If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today.” Mr. Trump later said that the assembling of the 2% was a failure, “with 23 of the 28 member nations still not paying what they should be paying.”

Regarding other defense resources, France, for instance, will not invest in NATO-stamped missions, such as the failed “Unified Protector” operation launched in Libya in 2011 to oust dictator Muhammad Qaddafi.

Mr. Trump was received in the new NATO headquarters, which will officially open this December. The new building, representing eight fighters crisscrossing each other, will have at its entrance a vestige from the Twin Towers, a symbol of the counterterrorism fight.

President Macron’s government disclosed

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L’Elysée (courtesy of Thomas Samson from APF via LesEchos.fr)

– Article by Alice Ferré

This article has been updated. 

As Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated on Sunday as France’s new president, he is now expected to announce his Cabinet’s choices. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, a high official declared Macron’s government will embody “the unexpected mating of Michel Rocard and Dominique Strauss-Khan,” resulting in technocratic and practical leftist politics.

The Elysée Secretary of State is the 44-year-old Alexis Khoner, also part of France’s young political elite. His role is to coordinate the cabinet officials, advise the president, and take decisions that are considered to be within the president’s political line of action. Khoner graduated from Sciences Po and the prestigious ESSEC and ENA, three schools that form the politicians of tomorrow. He also worked as the secretary of the Treasury and for the IMF before 2012. In 2014, he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he became the director of the Italian cruise company MSC Cruises. Described as “loyal” and “always enthusiastic” by one of his relatives, according to Le Monde, Khoner will become Macron’s right arm.

Patrick Strozda was named the Elysee Chief of Staff. The former prefect of Bretagne and head of the defense and security zone in the West of France is remembered for his iron fist during the protests last summer against the El Khomri law. He was also prefect of Corsica, one of the most delicate prefectural functions in France, from 2011 to 2013, and of other regions over the past ten years. He seems to have had no political attachments or preferences in his career, according to Le Monde.

The head of the National Security Council is Philippe Etienne, former French ambassador in Berlin. This choice underlines Macron’s will to keep strong links with Germany in a European-oriented politic. Etienne is also part of the French political elite and is a polyglot, mastering seven languages other than French, including English, Romanian, German, Russian, Spanish, and Serbo-Croatian. Etienne’s diplomatic career amounts to Belgrad and Bonn in the 1980s, and to Brussels where he was a prime counselor at the European Union in the 2000s before becoming the EU’s ambassador from 2009 to 2014. He directed Former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s cabinet from 2007 to 2009. Etienne’s team is also supposed to be composed of specialists in the Middle-East and the United States.

The new president seems to have chosen an experienced cabinet aligning with his intentions and wishes for the president’s five-year term. President Macron’s pick for Prime Minister is the former mayor of the city of Havre, Edouard Philippe.

The 16 ministers appointed by the Prime Minister are:

  • Gérard Collomb as Secretary of the Interior. Collomb was one of the first politicians to endorse Macron and was in charge of collecting sponsorship signatures for his candidate. He was also the socialist mayor of Lyon since 2001.
  • Nicolas Hulot as Minister of the Ecology (equivalent to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.). President Macron respected his promise of implementing a partly civilian government with half of the ministers having no previous political background albeit being specialists in their fields. Hulot is a widely-known ecology activist who co-founded and hosted the ecological awareness campaign and TV show “Ushuahia” for 25 years on France’s first TV channel. Former presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, and François Hollande solicited his expertise in the past, without success.
  • François Bayrou as Minister of Justice. Bayrou is well-known on the political scene: he is the MoDem leader (a centrist party) and unsuccessfully ran for office three times. Bayrou was, however, nominated twice as Minister of Education in the 1990s and also accumulated the titles of Mayor of the city of Pau, Congressman over 35 years of political service.  He was Macron’s devoted supporter even before the first round.
  • Sylvie Goulard as the Secretary of Defense. Goulard is a pro-Europe and centrist Congressman who joined Macron’s party in 2016. Working at the European committee since 2009, she is a member of a “europhile” association over the past four years. She is defending the idea of a federal Europe.
  • Jean-Yves Le Drian as the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs. He was previously Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs under Hollande’s government.
  • Richard Ferrand as the Minister of Territorial Cohesion; he was the first socialist to leave the Socialist Party to join En Marche! in 2016 after 18 years at the SP. Macron’s blacksmith and ally in the implementing of the “Loi Macron,” Ferrand worked at the Ministry of Social Affairs since 1991 and was one of the Finistère’s Congressmen.
  • Agnès Buzyn as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. She is also unknown in the political sphere; she is a doctor and medical studies professor, head of the National Cancer Institute. In 2016, she was the first woman to be appointed as the head of one of France’s highest independent research centers.
  • François Nyssen as the Minister of Culture. Nyssen also has no political experience but is a heavy-weight in the editorial world: she is the head of Actes Sud, received the Legion of Honor in 2013, and the title of best businesswoman in 1991. She has been co-coordinating Luc Besson’s movie label group EuropaCorp since 2011.
  • Bruno Le Maire as the Minister of Economy. Le Maire was candidate during the right party’s primaries and is accustomed to political life as he was L’Eure’s regional counselor, Secretary of State and minister. He was the first rightist politician who offered his services to Macron on May 7.
  • Muriel Penicaud as the Minister of Labor. Penicaud is Danone’s previous director of human resources. She also worked at administrative councils for SNCF and Orange. In the 1990s, she was the counselor of previous Minister of Labor, Martine Aubry.
  • Jean-Michel Blanquer as the Minister of Education. Blanquer, being the director of the prestigious management and business schools l’ESSEC, is well-respected in the educative community and could be seen as an expert, a technocrat of the educative system. He also previously worked at the Minister of Education as the right arm of Luc Chatel from 2009 to 2012.
  • Jacques Mézard as the Minister of Agriculture. Congressman of Cantal since 2008, Mézard is also representative of the extreme-left movement; however, he was a fervent Macron supporter during the presidential campaign.
  • Gérald Darmanin as the Minister of Budget (Secretary of the Treasury). Darmanin, 34, is the youngest minister. His ministry includes the management of the Treasury and Social Security. Darmanin is one of the rising stars of the rightist party Les Républicains and was Mayor and Congressman of Tourcoing.
  • Frédérique Vidal as the Minister of Superior Education, Research, and Innovation. Vidal is also not a politician but is a researcher and director of the famous Nice university and predominant research pole Sophia Antipolis.
  • Annick Girardin as the Minister of Overseas Territories. Girardin worked under the Hollande’s administration and was a regional counselor and Congressman of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
  • Laura Flessel as Minister of Sports. Five years after returning her sword, the former fencer, who received an Olympic medal and was six times world champion, enters the political scene. She is a member of numerous Handicap International associations.