Macron in Eastern Europe: the posted workers directive is “a treason to European values”

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Image courtesy of the Express UK

 

In 1996, the European Union adopted a new directive loosening the free movements of workers within its borders. It made an exception to a 1980 law stating that workers are protected by the law of the state in which they work, thus facilitating social and financial dumpling: employers can use cheaper labor than it is usually available at their site of production when workers come from countries with lower payroll expenses or firms with headquarters in Eastern European countries can send workers to the more prosperous side of Europe while still paying the same amount of payroll taxes. As a result, the number of Eastern European workers migrating towards the Western part of the Union amounted to 166,000 last year.

While this directive might be seen as useful for workers coming from the poorest countries in Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron, currently on a diplomatic tour in Eastern Europe, declared in Vienna that the 1996 measure is  “a treason to the European values.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern stood by his side in his attempts to convince Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania to drop the directive in view of the upcoming European Union texts reforms in October.

Macron’s propositions against the posted workers directive are to reduce the allowed period of time given to workers abroad from 24 to 12 months, equalize wages between posted and local workers, and accentuate the regulations and controls to eradicate the many “mailbox” companies, which are firms falsely based in Eastern European countries for lower tax expenses.


As the biggest providers of posted workers, Poland and Hungary are major opponents of the reform. On Friday, during a speech in the Bulgarian city of Varna, Macron bluntly denounced Poland’s refusal to tighten the directive’s regulations, which he illustrated as a “new mistake by Warsaw which already put itself on the fringes of the European Union regarding numerous matters.” The President also declared that “Poland is not even close to what Europe is aiming at, by deciding to go against Europe’s interests.”
Macron alluded to the recent jurisdiction passed in Poland that has been staunchly criticized by other European countries for being allegedly discriminatory, as it would allow the Polish Minister of Justice to implement different retirement ages for male and female judges as well as extending the judges’ mandates beyond retirement age.

Warsaw’s answer to the French President was scathing and possibly created Macron’s first diplomatic incident within the European Union.

“Perhaps those arrogant declarations are due to a lack of political experience, which I comprehend, but I am waiting for him to rapidly catch up with shortcomings and be more reserved in the future,” declared the Poland’s Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo. “I advise Mr. President to focus on his country’s current affairs; he would then maybe rise to Poland’s economic results and security levels.”

As a reply, the Elysee declared that “the President’s critique was not aiming at the European Eastern countries but was already formulated by the Commission as non-respect of the European principles.”

“Charlie is still alive”

-Article by Alice Ferré

        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.

The war against plastic

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

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

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.

New France Law to Enforce Same Looking Cigarette Packs

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Image courtesy of France Info

-Article by Alice Ferré

After four years of debates and arm wrestling with the tobacco industry and newsagents unions, the French Senate voted for selling “neutral,” same looking packs of cigarettes at the end of November. This hitherto unseen measure in France, offered by Secretary of Health and Human Services Marisol Touraine, aims to dissuade the youth from developing smoking habits and hope to hinder sales.

France is the second country to implement the “neutral” packs, after Australia in December 2012. Adieu camels, eagles, Viking helmets, and legendary fonts. The packs are now of a dark, mud-like green color, and are 65% covered with preventive texts and graphic pictures of diseases warning smokers of consequences of their deadly guilty pleasure (previous packs presented 30% to 40% of pictorial prevention only.) The unattractive aspect of the packs is supposed to influence and modify the behavior and perception of smokers; theoretically, the more repugnant the packaging is, the less prone smokers will be to consume. This supposition is yet to be proven by a potential decrease in sales within the following months. Critics contend this change will instead prompt consumers to buying cigarettes abroad or on the Internet.

Prices have already multiplied by three in the past decade; however, this reform promises another increase which worries many local tobacconists, as one pack of cigarettes may round up around 10 euros in the following years. This will likely spur smokers to buy tobacco from neighboring countries like Italy or Spain, where prices are between 4 or 6 euros. The government itself would also suffer if sales continued to decline: in 2014, it had benefited from 14 billion euros from the tobacco industry.

By January 1, regular packs will no longer be sold.