Bonjour 'Euro!'

resto les colonnes - issy
Restaurant with one of the 'best pots' of 1997.

We Are All 10 Percent Guilty

Paris:- Saturday, 2. May 1998:- Winding up tonight, it looks like the new baby has arrived and its near-dozen parents have decided to call it 'Euroland.'

I really wish they had asked me first. 'E' comes after 'D' for Disneyland, which sort of puts 'Euroland' a notch lower in the spiffy-name game. We should have gone up-market with something like 'Luxoland,' sort of to let wannabes like the USA, Russia and China know old Europe is on a roll.

According to Libération, Europe's new configuration is bigger than Texas. Europe exports 25 percent more than the US and twice as much as Japan. Europe's population is 30 million more than the USA's; and if the GNP is about the same, it is because Europeans are a little more laid-back.

Pegging the value of the new currency, the 'Euro,' at slightly more than the US dollar is a good psycho move too. All over Paris, the Leclerc chainkurds on bd voltaire of low-decor supermarkets are advertising common staple items in 'Euros,' and it makes things look somewhat inexpensive compared to their prices in francs.

Looking down the parade direction, down the boulevard Voltaire.

The media is France is nagging the public to get worried about all the conversions it is going to have to do, to figure out the price of a baguette, but this is just looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

The French press is even importing horror stories from the UK; from the time they switched from pounds, shilling, half-crowns, two-penny bits, quids, and pence - to 100 pence in the pound.

Just like today when there are 100 centimes in a franc and 100 francs in a 100-franc note, there will be some sort of 100-somethings in a 'Euro.' The really big hangup will come when we need the 'Euro'-sign in our computer character sets.

So it's all set. The big hoohah over the weekend in Brussels was about who was to become boss of the new European Central Bank. Because there are big guys and little guys in on the 'Euro' deal, it's hard to achieve a feeling of equality.

The French insisted on their guy and the little guys insisted on having somebody with a viewpoint closer to theirs, so they flipped a 'Euro' and came up with this:

Holland's Wim Duisenberg gets the top spot, but only for half of the standard eight-year term. He steps down after four years, and the French candidate, the present gouvernor of the Banque de France, Jean-Claude Trichet, takes over - for a full eight-year term.

Then we've got from 1. January 1999 until 31. December 2002 to get used to the 'Euro.' The notes and coins are already being manufactured, but Europe needs so many that the actual pieces have to be brought in slowly. At least that's what they say.

F2-TV: FN at operaIn reality, a lot of Europeans travel and are quite used to the currencies of neighboring countries. If the new 'Euro' is treated just like another one of these, the change-over could probably be made in a year. All except for the French, who still calculate sums in 'old' francs - and believe me, there are a lot who do this.

The FN gathering at Opéra on Friday.

Jean-Marie Le Pen is a case apart. Yesterday he called for his troops to "Faire le grève de l'euro." Closing the FN's party at the Opéra, he blathered on for an hour against "Cette monnaie d'occupation."

At Least Ten Percent Guilty - Like Everyone

For various reasons, going back in time to the monarchy, influence peddling and corruption in France have been common practices. How these are seen depends on which end of the telescope you are peering through.

Laws about what you can and can't do can be made by decree. What may be legal today is illegal tomorrow and vice-versa; and there is no question of morality involved. If the government wants more money, it tells its tax inspectors to tighten the legal screws - and what was 'tolerated' yesterday is a crime today.

For ordinary citizens, this capricious application of laws is usually a minor annoyance - it is an 'usual' practice so it is not some sort of surprise. If you live here and you trust nothing and nobody, you can guard your money by buying gold coins and burying them in the back yard. Just remember to keep some paper which says how you got the money to buy the coins in the first place.

You may need this paper, because in the eyes of the tax inspector, everybody cheats. Even with 100 percent perfect paper, you will still be considered to have fudged ten percent. That's as close to honesty as you are allowed to be. If you live in France and are as clean as Snow White, you are still a ten percent cheater.

As in many other countries, France has an oil business and a 'defense' industry. For these to function, import and export are going to be involved; and these items require dealing with foreigners and financial institutions outside of France's borders. As far as a French tax inspector is concerned, everything financial that happens outside of France is fraudulent because it is beyond the jurisdiction of French tax codes.

So it was that for a long time it was illegal for French residents to have foreign bank accounts. People who did not trust the safety of holes in their back yards, used to hire 'passeurs' to carry their gold coins and bars to countries that have banks which will not talk to French tax inspectors. There used to be special cops who did nothing except try to catch the 'passeurs.'

These cops would even attempt to bribe employees of foreign banks in order to get information about the accounts of French residents. But with the coming of the 'Euro,' all of this is becoming history - because France is required to be as 'open' as its partners, and French residents are now allowed to have foreign accounts - so long as they tell their tax inspectors.

But back to the oil and armaments businesses. Both of these involve vast sums of money, plus foreigners, and the two together provide a combination where there is plenty of scope for hanky-panky.

A couple of governments ago, Roland Dumas was the Foreign Minister of France. At the time, France 'sold' some armaments toanti-FN poster Taiwan; against all sorts of terrific competition, and the opposition of China as well as Dumas. The state-owned oil company, Elf, was also doing its usual foreign trade; against all sorts of terrific competition.

For quite some time now, state prosecutors have been investigating Elf's affairs, and a fair number of 'big hats' have landed in jail on account of a whole variety of alleged financial irregularities.

Anti-FN leaflet says, 'The FN has only one program - suppress the colors.'

The arms deal with Taiwan also seemed to involve financial irregularities, and I believe some citizens in that country may have resigned whatever posts they had.

On Wednesday, state prosecuting judge Eva Joly, who has been working seemingly endlessly for years investigating the affairs of Elf, had a 85 minute conversation with Roland Dumas about Elf and about the Taiwan deal.

Thursday's news reports said that Mr. Dumas' responses did not satisfy Eva Joly, and he was required to put up five million francs worth of bail to maintain his liberty. Another condition is that he is not allowed to travel to Luxembourg or Switzerland or Monaco or Antigua.

Mr. Dumas was a Minister of a Socialist government - the Foreign Minister - at the time of the alleged irregularities and he is currently the President of the Constitutional Council, under the present Socialist government.

In France, all bills passed by the National Assembly and the Senate, are scrutinized by the Constitutional Council, before becoming laws. If they fail to pass the constitutional tests, they are sent back to the legislative bodies for appropriate revisions. Running this constitutional hurdle in advance, sort of makes having a US-version of a Supreme Court redundant.

Quite naturally, some opposition figures are calling for Mr. Dumas' resignation from his important post - but he has decided to keep his job.

In fact, he is counter-attacking the judges - on the grounds that their particular court lacks jurisdiction - and the case should be heard by the 'Cour de Justice de la République,' the only court able to judge government ministers.

There is no 'Grand Jury' system in France. No specially selected jurors have heard Eva Joly's allegations or Roland Dumas' responses to them.

This double case of influence-peddling and corruption is similar to a tax fraud case; what may have been common practice then is illegal now - partly because prosecutors have decided to take action to apply the laws of the country, but also partly because somebody snitched.* The mis-paid Elf funds are thought to amount to either 45 or 66 million francs.

What makes this a case a bit different is its constitutional aspects. In French law there is no provision for a case landing between constitutional justice and criminal justice, and none whatsoever that foresees Roland Dumas resigning his post as President of the Constitutional Council.

Regardless of how it ends up in court, Roland Dumas like everybody else in France, is already as good as ten percent guilty.

For a slightly different view of this affair, but sure to read this week's ''The Toqueville Connection.' See 'France's Top Judge Under Investigation' in Toqueville's 'Politics and Society' section, right after their analysis of the latest Front National activities.

*Two beliefs common in France are that tax inspectors get a percentage of what they recover from dubious 'clients,' and that people who denounce the dubious 'clients' get a cut too. This first is untrue - but I am not certain about the second.

Meet the Tax Inspector

Just 18 months ago, it seemed slightly doubtful that France would be able to meet the fiscal rules for joining the European Monetary Union by the deadline of 31. December 1998. The goal was to bring the budget deficit down to the three percent level.

This goal seems to have now been met, thanks in part to the diligence of the tax inspectors, who have managed to find an extra 72.8 billion francs owed by taxpayers, some of it unintentionally. Another 13.2 billion francs in fines and penalties brought the total to 86 billion francs in 1997.

Companies have been getting extra attention too, and those six months in arrears in paying the value-added taxes they have received, have fallen to six percent from ten. This is important, because this tax brings in far more than income taxes on personal revenue.

The number of income tax declarations rose slightly to 30.8 million, but the number of actual tax bills fell because of increased numbers of incomes below the minimum taxable revenues.

Since GNP has been rising at rates below two percent for years, higher rates of taxes combined with higher rates of tax recovery has helped the government meet its 'Euro' budget goals. This may set the stage for a possible improvement in the overall economy.

Good News - Bad News

The good news of the week came on Thursday when the government announced that the number of unemployed in France had dipped below the three million level for the first time since rising above it in January 1996.

This gives an average rate of unemployment of 12 percent. The unemployed rate for those under 25 is 22.8 percent, and for persons out of work for more than a year is a whopping 38.3 percent.

Jacques Chirac Sells France - To Japan

While I was helping to open the annual Foire de Paris on Wednesday, President Chirac was in Tokyo selling the 'Euro' to the Japanese Prime Minister, on the eve of opening the 'Year of France' in Japan.

It was the end of Mr. Chirac's 44th visit to Japan and he'reds' at republique used it to take a swipe at the 'professional pessimists,' while visiting 'Big Sight' in Tokyo Bay, the location of something between the Salon de l'Agriculture and the Foire de Paris, with its eight cows, 17 sheep, 15 goats and hundred-odd French companies.

Once you've seen one red flag, you haven't seen them all.

Paris' own Statute of Liberty is now on holiday in Tokyo Bay. After its inauguration, Mr. Chirac had his photo taken in front of it, together with the actor Jean Reno and David Douillet, of judo fame.

SportsNews

For the Coupe de France, tonight at the Stade de France: PSG - 2, Lens - 1. The game tonight was followed by a very large party on the Champs-Elysées, which has lasted until long after today was over.

Furious Moms Raid the SportsBar

While real SportsFans lead otherwise normal lives, those at the SportsBar, known as the Football Café explained to their wives about their dreams about the rapidly approaching World Cup championship matches. The wives were not amused, but failed to dislodge the true SportsFans from their 'Football Caf&eacute.' in which they are twirling away their thoughts, while spouting their soccer-psycho-babble and drinking World Cup SportsBeer. Three cheers and a huzza-huzza! for the Football Café and for the determination of the SportsFans!'

Less uplifting are the 'official' Web sites: represented by the FIFA - which stands for Federation International - and the French Organizing Committee, known to all far and wide as the CFO. I don't what the initials stand for, just like RATP does not sound like métro to me.


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