Président 'Superforme'

photo: bistro bar balu

Bistros change management less often than the French change presidents.

Meet 'Steve from Budapest'

Paris:- Monday, 7. May 2001:- With the municipal elections in Paris safely out of the way - for the next 5.5 years, the recently vacated election stage in France is being prepared for next year's presidential and national assembly contests.

According to a report in Le Parisien, the current president - Jacques Chirac - doesn't do anything better than campaign for re-election. This is pure political-media-think.

It is true that Mr. Chirac's one goal in life seemed to be attaining the presidency of France - which was denied him more than once - so his win in May of 1995 was the big one. Polls at the time gave him a positive rating of 59 percent.

Six years later, after some normal ups and downs - polls are not election ballots after all - Président Chirac's popularity was supposed to be rated at 56 percent worth of approval last month.

Politically, the one cloud on the horizon is the continuing fact of the total disarray the right-wing partiesphoto: mur de la paix, champ de mars that would nominally support him. But the way it works in France, for the first round of the two-step election, each right-wing party will hoist its own candidate.

The 'Peace Wall' is still standing on the Champ de Mars.

This is not to say the left won't do this too. But the majority of the left is the Socialist Party, which is a big unit, compared to its eventual partners composed of the French Communist Party and the rising tide of 'Les Verts.'

During the president's term, France has voted to reduce the presidential term from seven years to five. More recently, another vote reversed the order of the presidential and national assembly elections - putting them back to voting for president first and the assembly afterwards.

On the right, these two changes are held against the president. Président Chirac was publicly against both changes, but his so-called supporters failed to carry the day when it came to getting the votes to block them.

I suppose the truth of it is that politicians think that the Président of France is supposed to be involved in the day-to-day political brawling. I suppose this is even permitted, and other presidents have done it.

If so, it can't be escaped that he is only one man - and he is only as powerful as his support. While polls give him good ratings, party leaders nominally allied to him give him a hard time - when they aren't shooting themselves in their feet.

Whatever goes on behind the scenes at the Elysée Palace, it's my impression that Jacques Chirac decided to be the nation's 'president' - and a popular one - rather than be a pure politician.

The Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, has managed to keep a high level popularity too - even though he's got the often thankless task of managing France and the French.

He will be the left's main candidate in the presidential race. I have a feeling the voters like things the way they are - they will ignore all the bumbling of the right wing parties and re-elect Jacques Chirac - partly because they know that six years from now - not one year - they can elect Lionel Jospin to the same post.

While the right-wing fumbles its way along, at the Elysée Palace they are reported to be saying Jacques Chirac is in 'superforme.'

Tips Plus Value-Added Tax?

France's ministry of finance is good for about one black joke a week. If Paris' air wasn't somewhat polluted, there would probably be value-added tax on it.

Actually, it is Le Parisien who is responsible for the headline above. I have never read a newspaper so devoid of humor, nor one that has such lousy headlines.

The one I'm looking at says, "Value-Added Tax On Tips Will Raise the Bill." Then the subhead says this is about a ministry of finance plan to tax the service charge.

The service charge is the 15 percent automatically added to every restaurant and hairdresser's bill. This is distributed to the personal who have direct contact with customers. Since it is included in the bill, the ministry of finance knows all about it and how much it is.

If this greedy ministry decides to whack 19.6 percent on to the service charge, well, it will raise the final additions somewhat. In round figures, adding value-added tax to the service charge will raise it to 17.94 percent.

And don't forget, it isn't as if there wasn't already 19.6 percent value-added tax on the meal - on the 85 percent that isn't the service charge.

While restaurant owners moan that this will reduce their net profits to nothing, we all know that they will simply add it to your bill and my bill, and send the extra 1.5 billion francs to Bercy.

Tips - discretionary small change - that you leave for the waiter for whatever reason, will not be subject to any tax, because you are not obligated to pay any extra and the waiter is not obligated to declare it either. So much for Le Parisien's headline.

The non-taxation of the service charge dates back to 1923, to well before there was any such thing as value-added tax.

However, the European Commission went to court and got a ruling saying the exoneration of the taxphoto: ponies, ecole militaire on service charges was 'unharmonious.' Normally France isn't too keen to follow diktats from Brussels, but if it means money for nothing, Bercy is willing.

Horses, or ponies, are not common in Paris - not since the introduction of the Deux-Chevaux.

While we're on the subject, the question arises - are 'value-added' taxes ethical? Take this 'harmonious' addition of the value-added tax to 'service charges' for example.

'Service charges' really amount to the waiter's or hairdresser's share of the bill - which they get as part of their salary. Instead of being paid a flat salary, the employees share a risk with management that the restaurant or hair salon will be empty.

Normally salaries are hit with income tax. Won't this 'value-added' tax on service charges be a form of double taxation? Or will waiters a hairdressers be allowed to deduct it as a 'tax already paid' - or get a tax-credit for it?

Actually, the best thing to do would be to end all the double-talk, suppress the whole notion of 'value-added' and simply call it 'sales tax.'

Tourists - Get Lost!

The SNCF has been 'fixing up' the Gare du Nord for a very long time. The station has been especially inconvenient for getting from train quays to Paris' public transport - to and from both the métro and the RER.

I do not remember how long ago it was that I last visited the station's Paris Tourist Office, but I remember itphoto: ronde des fromages, window was between the platforms and the 'in construction' areas, towards the way to the métro.

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