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.

Understanding Moon Jae-in

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South Korean president Moon Jae-In, front left, taking a selfie with a supporter after the vote on May 9, 2017 (Photo by Park Young-tae/ Newsis via AP)

-Article by Min Bae

One week has passed since the left-leaning liberal Moon Jae-in decisively won South Korea’s presidential election. “Harmony and incorporation” were the fundamental doctrines of his candidacy as South Korea has become an increasingly divided nation since the removal of Park Geun Hye due to a massive corruption scandal.

During the campaign, Moon pledged to reduce the political influence of chaebols, the large Korean business conglomerates typically owned by single lines of families, in the wake of the corruption scandals that tarnished the legacy of previous presidents. He also vowed to offer different methods to soothe North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs by enhancing dialogue rather than punishing Pyongyang, which was a policy of force employed by the former administration.

According to the Yeonhap News Agency, Moon’s close associates noted that Moon spent much of his life fighting for the socially weak, leading to say that the growing social and economic inequality should be the priority for the next government. In his inauguration speech, Moon swore that “once again, under the Moon Jae In government and the Democratic Party of Korea, everyone will have equal opportunities. The process will be fair, and the result will be righteous… I will be a president who wipes away the citizens’ tears. I promise to be a president who interacts with the citizens.”

Moon was born on South Korea’s Geoje Island in 1953 after his parents fled the North in

December 1950, the year that the Korean War broke out. At that time, the devastated postwar South Korea lacked the economic basis to sustain a families of refugees: In his autobiography, “Moon Jae In -The Destiny,” Moon recalls and ponders over his family’s difficult financial situation: “Poverty was at the center of my childhood, but being poor did teach me some lessons: I was more independent and mature than my peers. I also realized that money is not the most important thing in life.”

Despite his precarious situation, Moon excelled in school and earned a law degree from the prestigious Kyung Hee University. Moon took a prominent role in the student protests during the 1970s opposing the decades-long dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, father of former President Park Geun Hye. Although his activism momentarily penalized him during his university career with an arrest and brief expulsion, his activist background radically disqualified him when Moon applied for governmental jobs.

Moon then relocated to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, where he began his career as a human rights lawyer. He worked with his lifelong comrade Roh Moo Hyun during the 1980s under the governance of authoritarian military leader Chun Doo Hwan.
Even after Roh entered politics, Moon pursued his legal practice in Busan, defending students and workers arrested for leading protests and labor strikes.

After Roh’s election victory in 2002, Moon became one of the president’s aides, working to eliminate corruption in the highest spheres of the government and screening candidates for top government jobs. He was later promoted as Roh’s chief of staff where he gained his first experience in politics. Moon has been closely associated with Roh, until the latter committed suicide in 2009 as allegations of bribery started to threaten his family and close associates.

From day one, Moon displayed his willingness to break away from the pervasive

authoritarianism that have long been associated with the Korean presidency. He first visited the four top opposition parties and National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye Kyun before the inauguration ceremony. Though some might have been staged as a publicity stunt, Moon was also photographed moving along the line at the Blue House cafeteria while chatting with his aides in an informal setting – thus contrasting himself from his ousted predecessor Park.

Also, Moon’s decision to spend much of his time in one of the three small buildings designed for top presidential aides’ offices instead of the presidential compound is another proof of the new leader’s determination to make himself more readily approachable, unlike Park who rarely considerated her aides. Park’s lack of communication stemming from the detachment from the public and her aides is believed to be one of the leading causes that ruined Park’s presidency.

The newly elected South Korean Leader Moon Jae In’s life as a son of poor North Korean refugees, student activist, and renowned human rights lawyer seems to have shaped his core ideologies; as he successfully endured a turbulent life, Moon appears destined to lead South Korea’s complex affairs for the next five years, which is likely to promote hope in the country’s future.