Okay No Secret In France

photo: le champ de mars

If you are in the 7th, this is one of many bistros with multilingual menus.

The 'Sockless' President

Paris:- Sunday, 30. April 2000:- France is not doing too badly, according to the International Herald Tribune. Its weekend edition had a piece in the business section with the headline, 'France Reforms on Sly (But Shh! It's a Secret)' which must set some sort of record for convoluted headlines.

Apparently the 'Secret' referred to is not a secret to the IHT's readers now that this piece has let the cat out of the bag, but a 'secret' to the French themselves.

It is true that a big jump in employment was announced last week, with a corresponding dip in the jobless rate - to a 'record' low of 'only' ten percent.

In case '10 percent' seems abstract, it translates as one out of every ten workers is out of work. This was celebrated in France as a sensation, which lasted for one entire evening's TV-news.

The French, the IHT says, do not realize that the economy has been 'modernized;' becausephoto: le petit bosquet French politicians are pretending it isn't so while doing it behind everybody's backs.

I don't know who the IHT thinks pays taxes in France; and these taxpayers are totally unaware that they are being squeezed like dry sponges - and are equally unaware of 'jackpot' budget surpluses that have resulted from this squeeze.

It might be true that Prime Minister Jospin will not use the word 'flexibility' for fear offending the voting socialists. But that the French will think - as the IHT proposes - that using the substitute 'supple' is perfectly acceptable, is nonsense.

Under the guise of getting France budget-clean enough to enter the 'euro' zone on time, taxes were pumped up. This paid off, but I think it is a mistake to assume people who live in France are blissfully unaware of who paid the tab.

It does look as if the recent 'remanning' of Prime Minister Jospin's cabinet has allowed some big hat politicians to start pulling very big rabbits out of them.

'Lower taxes,' they say, 'are just around the corner.' First to get hit was the value-added tax, which was clipped a whole one percent; from 20.6 to 19.6 percent.

Residents here, not unalert, said 'ho-hum.' At around two francs out of ten, a one percent drop doesn't amount to much when buying groceries. You have to buy a fair amount of them in order to 'save' one franc - which are generally used for minor tips.

The IHT mentions deregulation and cites France Telecom. Apparently its monopoly was ended in 1998photo: che flag, may day which allowed 90 other telephone companies to operate in France, with the result that long-distance rates have fallen an 'average of 45 percent.'

The IHT doesn't mention that France Telecom has just raised the basic monthly charge for having a line, and local call rates are as high as ever.

However, half the article's text concerns the successful French shipyard that may get the contract to build the Queen Mary II, which was mentioned here some time ago.

Not today, but Monday, is red-flag day.

The shipyard management gave its workers an ultimatum in 1997, but more importantly got the outfit some good management, which has increased productivity tremendously.

While a good part of the public sector is in a turmoil at the moment over the 35-hour week issue, many large private firms have studied the law's fine-print carefully and discovered that it permits them a great deal of 'suppleness.'

While the 35-hour week is a general law; its detail permits employers to negotiate for an annual number of working-hours, and then convince workers that they should agree to work more at some times of the year and less at others - while being paid on the basis of 35 hours per week.

This means that companies that do half a year's business in the two months before Christmas can have all the work-hours they need, and at slack times the workers get larger solid blocks of paid free time.

There have been enough stories in French papers and on TV-news about this, so it is unlikely that all ordinary French workers are totally unaware of it - as the IHT contends in its headline.

Since many workers know about it, and I assume politicians read the same papers occasionally to see what is being said about them, they can hardly think they are hoodwinking anybody.

President Jacques Chirac Is a Grandfather

I don't know if this is news or not. What apparently is 'news,' is that the President was featured on a recent cover of 'Paris Match;' shown having a semi-serious discussion with his grand-son.

The photo was taken while the President was on an Easter holiday at Brégançon in the Var - on a public each. In the photo, Mr. Chirac is not wearing his customary Elysée suit - but clothing suitable for being on a beach.

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