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 one devoted to - as his Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy puts it - to zero tolerance.

Zero tolerance requires ordering the police to exercise it, it requires more police to enforce it, and it is definitely going to require building a lot more jails to hold all the people who fail grasp the concept.

France has always prided itself on being supple enough to function despite all of its laws and exceptions to them - and of being aware that if ever they were enforced to the letter - the country would be unfunctionable.

Tolerance is a 'was' word. Suppleness looks like it is headed for the trashcan. Enforcement looks like it may be more efficient than enlightenment.

And justice? This is the one number craving of the French. No matter who does what to whom, the cry is always for 'justice.'

Often justice is interchangeable with fairness. The French want fairness too. Fairness leads to tolerance, or should if it were not for envy.

Well, it is impossible to make envy illegal - but under French justice pride can certainly be prosecuted and condemned. However, the Président of France has immunity.

Who's Who On Strike this Week?

Just as José Bové was facing the fact that he is likely to go to jail after losing his appeal, France'sphoto: hair salon, rue lappe mainstream farmers launched a strike, aimed at the major distributors of food products.

On Thursday, 13,000 farmers were blockading 68 distribution centres. But by Saturday, after reaching a fuzzy agreement the farmers packed up and went back to their farms.

This was done after the government said it would support the farmers in their fight for fair produce prices, with the condition that they leave the distribution centres alone and go home.

This, surprisingly, they did.

The Truckers

Last night the long-haul truckers set about preparing barricades of trucks. At the same time the Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the government was prepared to talk, but was not willing to see any repeat of the massive blockades that were common in 1992, 1996 and 1997.

A delegation from the CFDT, one of the lead unions, was invited for a talk on Saturday evening with the Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy. Without beating about the bush, he told the union leaders that truckers found at barricades would have their drivers' licenses lifted.

He also informed them that regional Préfets would have cranes at their disposal to lift trucks out of the way. Finally, he said that the CRS riot police would be available in force, backed up by gendarmes.

On Sunday, several minority unions accepted the offer proposed by the trucking operators' association. This left the majority CFDT and the CGT unions alone to half-heartedly put up some 36 barricades around France today.

During the day some striking truck drivers were arrested and held for hours before being set free. By this evening, the confrontation seemed to be fizzling out.

Everybody Else

One of the SNCF's unions has called for a train strike on Tuesday.

The big CGT union has given the RATP a 24-hour strike warning for tomorrow, which will probably affect the métro and buses in Paris. The same warning applies to Lyon, Marseille, Reims, Toulouse, Bordeaux and other centres all around France.

Hospitals have received a strike warning notice from a minority union. Educational workers may also go on strike. Work stoppages are also expected at post offices, France Télécom, EDF-GDF, and Air France.

Several other kinds of government workers have also announced strike plans. Air controllers are expected to strike during the week. Workers at France-3 TV are still on strike.

Driving test inspectors continue their strike and gendarmes have been mobilized to give candidates the written part of their exams. They will have to wait until the inspectors return before attempting the practical part.

Meanwhile, cable operator Noos has taken out full-page ads illustrated with handcuffs, as a warning to users of counterfeit access cards.

Online Weather Warnings

We are in the grip of winter now and it seems to be going about it with more will than seen for manyphoto: merry go round, pl italie years. France-Météo's online alert service is very short-term. Its level '3' and '4' warnings are now being taken seriously as well as being broadcast regularly on TV.

Mainly these warnings will about areas beyond the area of the Ile-de-France. Even though Paris itself is seldom a thrilling weather area, there are occasional gusty winds which can be hard on umbrellas.

If you are curious or need to know more about France's early fall weather, give the Météo-France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts. Check out the warning-prone 'Vigilance-Météo' area on the opening page.

Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini