Anyone for Zero Tolerance?

photo: bistro le nimrod

Shoppers, tired after assaulting the Bon Marché, refuel in this bistro.

Minor Shift or Major Change?

Paris:- Monday, 25. November 2002:- In France where not much appears to have changed much since the end of the last World War, it seems as if something finally has.

Changing the millennium seemed to go without a hitch and ditching the franc in favor of the pan-European euro this year has gone pretty smoothly.

But something happened last spring. French voters decided to cast more ballots in favor of ultra-right-wing Jean Marie Le Pen than for the popular and Socialist Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, in the first round of the presidential elections.

With only Jacques Chirac and Le Pen as candidates in the final round, the left was forced to support Mr. Chirac and returned him to office for a second term with a huge majority, while handily kissing off Le Pen.

With the traditional right-wing parties in their traditional disarray - each had its own candidate for Président - it is doubtful that Mr. Chirac would have been re-elected if his Socialist adversary had not had the misfortune to so narrowly miss outscoring the man who couldn't win at all, ever, Mr. Le Pen.

Six months later the conservative parties are still making their attempts at a union. They are all on the right, all near the centre, but they have difficulty in agreeing on details. Being French, each faction therefore requires its own party and leader.

But last weekend, the majority of them got together and pretty much decided to call themselves onephoto: beaujolais nouveau name - the 'Union Pour un Mouvement Populaire,' which has also chosen to be known as 'UMP.'

This appears to have been a minor sideshow, not counting the three or four sizeable dissidents.

Really fresh 'no bananas' wine on sale last week.

It is beginning to look as if Jacques Chirac was very unhappy with France during the period of co-habitation - when he was the right-wing Président of the République, and it was governed on a daily basis by a Socialist-led coalition including Communists and 'Les Verts,' as the greenies are known here.

The country was not terribly mis-managed during this period. All of France's leaders tend to go to the same schools, eat the same food, drink the same wine and go on holidays in the same places.

There was also a hint of returning prosperity, after a long period of stagnation. The Socialists, as they will do, put in their social reforms - such as the 35-hour work week.

This wasn't something to be pulled off overnight, but it was advancing, and many people found it was a good thing personally - having more leisure time.

This certainly cost something, but a side benefit of it turned out to be that people with extra leisure didn't sit home and mope about it - they went out more often and spent more money doing it.

With the economy perking up, the Socialist coalition collected more in taxes, and spent some of it on giving its excess and somewhat over-educated younger people, jobs. These were in social work and in schools, not in the high-profit centres like pay-TV or mobile phone networks.

As modest as the 'social' jobs were, they allowed hundreds of thousands to earn modest wages, buyphoto: rue lappe things and pay taxes - plus have a feeling of self-worth.

All in all, France was looking pretty good. Tens of millions of satisfied visitors, a positive export surplus, lots of good food and drink - and -

Try the Rue Lappe for Mexican wines in cocktail glasses.

This is not to say that France was determinedly on the way to perfection. There is a lot of unfinished business around. France needs a lot of fixing-up that has been put off for far too long.

There are people living here that are not having the good life that so many of their fellow countrymen enjoy. The country is healthy but it has a few ugly pimples.

But there is nothing so grave as to be unsolvable, unfixable, incurable - a mess so completely hopeless that it should be totally abandoned. After all, do the French not have a well-educated, thoughtful, tolerant and enlightened leadership?

Let's say everything above is true about France's governing elite.

Let's also suppose that everybody is perfectly aware that the French - the people who live in France - can be a bit peculiar. This is no great secret.

While ten percent may always vote for intolerance and unenlightenment, the other 90 percent will vote for the opposite.

So it is something to wonder about when it seems as if Jacques Chirac has been brooding about the 'wayward' ways of the French, and has decided that his second Présidential reign be oe devoted to - as his Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy puts it - to zero tolerance.

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