horz line

Le Pen Taps Out

photo: resto le relais de l'entrecote

A meat restaurant in the Quartier Latin.

Fly the Friendly Skies of the TGV

Paris:– Monday, 23. February 2004:– For the regional elections coming in March, the Front National leader Jean–Marie Le Pen chose to campaign for the post of president of the PACA region. One of the requirements for being a candidate is having a residence in the area.

This can be proved by paying local taxes – such as property tax, either as an owner or as a tenant. If the rules are strictly observed, the candidate should also have the region as a principal residence.

But Jean-Marie Le Pen is known to have a principal residence in Saint– Cloud, a near suburb of Paris, and a long way from Provence–Alps–Côte d'Azur. Allphoto: right bank quay the same the location he claimed as his residence for the purposes of the election was the Front National's party headquarters in Nice.

Over the weekend the administrative court in Marseille decided that the FN's Nice office was an office and not a domicile, and therefore was not legal as a residence. The judgement will prevent Le Pen from running for the regional office, and will strip him of the possibility of re–running as a deputy of the National Assembly representing PACA.

Friday was the day that proved exceptional.

Jean–Marie Le Pen is an experienced pol and the residence requirements were no secret to him. Over the past weeks he has donned the cloak of victimization, and with the new ruling he intends to run around France shouting 'injustice.'

But after monopolizing media attention for nearly three weeks, as a non– candidate, his effect may be limited. The press has already amply explained how he arrived at the situation he's in. This will have no effect on voters who will vote for the extreme–right FN no matter what, but it may signal Le Pen's gradual but accelerating retirement.

Fly the Friendly Skies of the TGV

Last week France lost another airline company and some 600 of Air Littoral's staff lost their jobs, even if the Minister of Transport – could–be quote – "Fewer airlines are better, none might be best!" – promised that everybody would be 'reclassified.'

Many former employees of the much larger Air Lib airline, which went bust just a year ago, are still wondering what 'immediate reclassification' means. Another airline, Aeris, was tossed out of business last year too.

Passengers who bought tickets in advance – in Air Littoral's case, they were 16,000 – now find them worthless and are two million euros out– of–pocket. So are the crews, the ground staff and the maintenance joes.

These airlines operated on cross–France routes such as Bordeaux to Strasbourg or served airports in Corsica, Italy and North Africa. The airline not mentioned is Air France. Will it take over these routes?

Or, for that matter, do the SNCF's TGV trains pick up the slack? One reason for airline difficulty in France is said to be the competition from the rails, but these little airlines haven't exclusively based scheduled flights to be in direct competition with the TGV.

I have heard it mentioned that cheapo non–French airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet are doing pretty goodphoto: cafe flore with their no–frills flights. If Air Littoral's fleet hadn't been so ancient, they would probably be buying the airplanes and settling into the same routes – and perhaps even be taking on some of the airline workers left in the dust.

The Café Flore in the Quartier Latin.

Last week Orly's air controllers were on strike and this labor action may continue this week. Half of Orly's flights were cancelled and ten percent of Roissy's flights were affected. Some intercontinental flights may have been delayed, but most were unaffected.

Orly's air controllers are resisting being moved to Charles–de–Gaulle airport. They are also saying that if a serious study of the air traffic situation in the Paris area shows that they would be more effective by operating at Roissy, then they'll go there.

But they claim that the civil aviation directorate has shown little interest in discussing the technical aspects of the regional situation. So, a labor action that was supposed to end last Friday, gets another go–round this week.

Meanwhile at Air France, one of the unions representing cabin crews has announced a strike for Friday and Saturday, 27 and 28. February. Other unions may join the affair because Air France has announced that it intends to reduce cabin crews, in order to be more competitive in the face of the budget airlines.

Ride the Friendly Rails of the TGV

It is holiday time again in France, but this time the famous evacuation of Paris hasn't happened by road. Instead, over the weekend, Paris' TGV train stations were expected to handle 1.3 million passengers going to or coming from the skiing areas, for the occasion of the annual February orgy of sliding around in the snow.

Normally everybody tries to drive to the same mountains at the same time. After a certain point on the map, the highways narrow to two–lanes, and the higher they go the more they need winter equipment – such as chains, spikes, four–wheel drive and maybe half–tracks.

Plus, the traffic police are operating on a strict regime of 'no tolerance' for speeders, and other moving infractions. A third factor is that the price of a train ride is only a bit higher than the cost of road–side snacks, fuel, tolls and parking at the ski stations.

Finally, the trains get passengers where they are going on time and in comfort – once they've braved the mobs of other passengers at the Gare de Lyon. In order to handle the weekend volume the SNCF put on all the trains it could. This has amounted to 700 TGV trains in all, or one every four minutes in 'rush hour.'

This has added up to considerable juggling by the SNCF's controllers. The system was run at its limits – which meant TGVs travelling at 300 kph, with only 18 kilometres between trains going the same direction on the same tracks.

On the quays of the Gare de Lyon, no trains were waiting for any late passengers.

Bumpy Start for the UMPs

Despite campaign coffers overflowing with euros, despite 360 deputies in the Assembly National, and despite campaign offices in villages, towns and cites all around France, the UMP party of Jacques Chirac is very slow getting up its campaign steam since the party's foreman Alain Juppé recently became a political zero.

Campaign meetings have played to less than full–houses despite the big rah–rah launch meeting held in Paris two weeks ago. In fact, that exercise turned into a sort of 'goodbye' party for Juppé rather than general mobilization of the UMP's troops.

The Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is supposed to be out hustling up enthusiasm in the 22 regions, but is hesitating a bit getting started. His two or three sorties on the hustings have been discrete.

With only a month left before the balloting, the UMP hasn't been able to cause any excitement other than tophoto: jungle 2cv annoy its own so–called 'immigrant' supporters, who had been wooed non–stop since the re–election of Jacques Chirac. Of the 17 that expected to become UMP candidates, only five or six have been put on the UMP's lists.

This is the jungle version of Dimitri's 2CV.

And in talks with the fellow– travelling UDF party – about putting up a common candidate – the UDF has generally gotten its way. Its leader, François Bayrou, armed with few troops, does 'lead.'

The Socialist party secretary, François Hollande, thinks that the government is angling for 'civic indifference' – to have a 'non–campaign, a non–election, in order to arrive at a non–judgement' – by the voters. In other words, if the regional lections at this time are a popularity contest, the UMP party is afraid of losing.

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