Decree Days are Back

photo: fast food at denfert demo

Funky food for hungry demonstrators.

Hustling Artists Banned

Paris:- Monday, 15. February 2003:- The times continue to be strange in France. Last spring, due to a campaign bungle, the left was forced to vote massively for the re-election of France's right-wing president, Jacques Chirac, for a second term.

Since then the mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé, has spearheaded a drive to unite the right-wing parties under the single banner of the UMP - the 'Union pour une Majorité Présidential.' The last 'p' may stand for 'Populaire,' but if so, it is wishful thinking.

Another moderate right-wing party, the UDF, led by François Bayrou, does not want his party to be part of the UMP. In a recent by-election, the candidate put up by the UDF was elected, beating the UMP's candidate.

For this - to reduce 'infinite' choice - the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, introduced a 'reform' law to change the electoral code concerning regional and European elections. This new rule would eliminate candidates who do not gather more votes than 10 percent of the registered voters - which could prevent the smaller parties from having a chance of electing anybody.

François Bayrou then called a meeting of minor party chiefs of all 'wings' - who had asked their supporters to vote for Chirac instead of Jean-Marie Le Pan in last spring's presidential election.

These included the leaders of the Greens, an opposition Socialist-oriented candidate, two Communists, andphoto: crowd, protesters several right-wing leaders including the hunters and fishermen - but excluded anybody connected with the Front National even if they opposed Jean-Marie Le Pen. No UMP, Socialist or Communist Party bigwigs attended the meeting.

The meeting resulted in 12,000 parliamentary amendments to the proposed 'reform' law. The prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, characterized this as obstruction, and used the article 49-3 to pass the 'reform' by decree.

This article, which was never used by Lionel Jospin's government, permits the majority in the Assembly National to pass laws without discussion or a vote. This law was last used in June of 1996, by Alain Juppé, when he was Prime Minister - to change the status of France Télécom.

The change in the law is just as likely to benefit the Socialist Party as the majority UMP, to the detriment of all other minor expressions of difference. Most decried, was the tendency toward a two-party system.

The parliamentary leader of the UDF has said his party intends to put up 22 candidates in 22 regions for the next round of elections.

There were two reasons evoked by the prime minister for not devoting 170 hours of parliamentary time to discussing the 12,000 amendments to the election law.

First, he said he could not 'spare' the valuable time of the minister of the interior who is engaged in the fight against terrorism - and second, the cloud of an impending war against Iraq is getting darker.

Is It True What the French Think?

France's parliament has not been engaged in any official discussions about a possible war involving Iraq because this problem is being managed by Président Chirac and by his foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin.

Newspaper reports are saying most elected deputies of all parties fully support the French chief of state's approach to the situation.

According to a poll by the CSA Institute for Le Parisien conducted after the US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the US evidence of Iraq's misdeeds to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, 5. February - the 'evidence' was received with skepticism by 74 percent of the French

At the same time 77 percent of the French polled said they opposed a US military intervention in Iraq. After this last weekend, polls now put the 'opposed' percentage at over 80.

In a similar poll conducted in January of 1991, 71 percent of the French polled approved of an international intervention to settle the crises caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

On Saturday in Paris between 150,000 and a quarter-million turned out for a peace march from Denfert-Rochereau to Bastille under frigid but true blue skies. The leaders of the parade reached the Place de la Bastille before the all the followers of it left the starting point.

However, the Paris demo was handily outnumbered by similar protest marches in London, Madrid and Rome, the capital cities of countries whose leaders are the closest supporters of the US position.

Even adding the numbers who marched in 72 other French towns and cities to the total, does not bring the mass up to the turnout in Rome. Worldwide, including in the United States, perhaps 10 million marched on Saturday.

Conspicuously absent from Saturday's demo were France's right-wing leaders, who seem to be adept at managing to lack visible support for France's chief of state, or for the state of French opinion.

The Socialist-inspired motion of censure against the use of the article 49-3 to bulldoze electoral 'reform' into law was easily defeated during the Assembly's Saturday session because the right-wing enjoys a comfortable majority.

Going Bust Gains Popularity

For some unknown reason company closings and the resulting lay-offs of workers are called 'plans sociaiaux' here. I think there actually used to be plans in place to recycle workers into new jobs.

It is possible that these no longer functionphoto: denfert crowd, protesters because bankruptcies are becoming too frequent to absorb the hapless employees. Hardly a day passes without the announcement of another factory closing - and these are often in provincial areas where the factory in question is the only major employer.

Acrilor, Metaleurop, Daewoo, Pechiney, France Télécom, La Banque de France and Air Lib, among others, have all recently announced their 'plans sociaiaux.'

The military equipment contractor Giat Industries, a state enterprise, is on the verge of its next 'plan,' which will be its sixth in the past 12 years. Down from 18,000 employees and actually with 6300, it is expected that the government will have to decide to tell another 3200 to look for work elsewhere.

Employees says Giat's order books are full, but the enterprise is heavily in debt, and the management thinks out-sourcing is a way to continue its vital work for the state. Union official think the company intends to concentrate on managing contracts and on its all-important engineering tasks.

Late today, a commercial court dropped the final axe on Air Lib, after an emotional period of uncertainty lasting several weeks for its thousands of employees.

France Wins Again, Sort Of

Because of choosing a clever location in Europe, central to one of the world's biggest pools of tourists - if not the biggest! - France again managed to entice more visitors than any other country in 2002.

On top of this, the number of visitors rose by two percent, to 76.7 million. Even though foreign touristsphoto: banner, students spent slightly more than before, France rests in only third place for total revenues, behind the United States and Spain.

France does well for absolute numbers because it is a crossroads - many final destinations require a transit through France. Spain probably takes in more money because visitors stay there longer on average.

Visitors from the United States were fewer in 2002, with their numbers being off by 18.4 percent from 2001. Apparently this was felt most in the luxury sector, where occupancy of four-star hotels dropped by eight percent.

Particularly hard hit were the palace hotels on the Riviera, which have seen their occupancy rates tumble again by 10 percent in January. Taking into account the desolation of the stock market, the rise of the euro and the international situation, such a drop is not surprising.

Palace operators are countering with promotions, while they polish their Champagne buckets for the upcoming Carnival in Nice, and other seasonal high points.

Many vacationers, both French and foreign, are economizing by taking shorter holidays and staying in rural settings and B & Bs. These saw an occupancy rise of 18 percent last year.

The Starving Artists

The city of Paris has decided to reclassify Montmartre's often scruffy portrait artists as 'hustlers' and has effectively banned them from carrying out their artistic trade in or near the Place du Tertre.

This was put into effect at the beginning of last November with the aid of a prefectoral decree, backed up by 'La Loi Sarkozy' which forbids commercial 'hustling.'

The actual term is 'racolage,' and was once a word used for 'forceful recruiting' by the military, but is also what aggressive streetwalkers might be accused of - if they weren't also subject to other new laws dreamed up by the energetic minister of the interior.

Facing fines of 230 to 760 euros, the artists are also angry with being classified as prostitutes and 'treated like monkeys.' Their art materials have also been confiscated.

Actually, the portraitists who could number up to 300 in summer, are not allowed to be closer to the Place du Tertre than the entry of the Rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre and the Place Jean-Baptiste-Clément.

Le Parisien also says they are forbidden to 'work' between 10:00 and 20:00 in winter and between 10:00 and 22:00 in summer.

The only artists permitted to set up shop in the Place du Tertre must be licensed, sitting down and immobile. Places are limited to 280 screened and hand-picked artists.

The 'chosen' must make an application to the municipal office that manages Paris' markets, with a dossierphoto: scarf peddler containing proof that the artist pays retirement dues to the 'Maison des Artistes,' pays income taxes, has no criminal record, and has a fixed address.

If this dossier is accepted then the candidate must pass an inspection by municipal commission, presided over by the mayor of the 18th arrondissement, including elected representatives, functionaries of the city and the prefecture of police, and the presidents of various Montmartre associations. If accepted, the lucky winner then only has to pay for a 90 euro license fee, annually.

One of the stand-up portraitists, on the job on the streets for 30 years, fumed that it was 'becoming Disneyland, without bohemian spirit, no liberty.'

But the merchants on the Butte, who pay high rents and taxes, are glad to see order in the place, and their doorways freely accessible. Bohemian spirit is not something they care to peddle.

Online Weather Warnings

We are in the strong grip of winter now and it seems to be going about it more seriously than seen for many years. France-Météo's online alert service is very short-term. Its former level '3' and '4' warnings have been changed to colors, with orange being the one to watch out for on TV.

Mainly these warnings will about areas beyond the area of the Ile-de-France. But winter is winter and Paris is not completely immune to it.

If you are curious or need to know more about France's late winter weather, give the Météo-France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts.

All photos: Place Denfert-Rochereau, Saturday, 15. February
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