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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 elections at this time are a popularity contest, the UMP party is afraid of losing.

But the Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, isn't doing too bad on the campaign trail. Last week at a meeting in Tours he drew 2500 UMP faithful to the Palais des Sports, while the CRS anti–mutiny police kept 500 'ultra– leftists' at bay outside. Or maybe, they were civil–rights activists.

Fallout from Juppé

The France–2 TV–news' affair of real fake news concerning the premature 'news' of Alain Juppé's 'retirement' on Tuesday, 2. February, resulted in the resignation of the network's news director Olivier Mazerolle.

Tonight, with star news–reader David Pujadas either on holiday or banished to Radio Paname, Arlette Chabot was introduced as the new director of news for the state's national France–2 network. Madame Chabot has hosted the talk-show ' Mots Croisés' for some time since being second in command of France–2 TV–news in 1992.

Anti–Pub Underground

Threatened with a collective fine of nearly a million euros, 62 anti– advertising militants are not abandoning their campaign against advertising in the Métro and elsewhere. They are even calling for a new day of 'action' next Saturday.

The militants deface, or add their own texts to publically displayed advertising. For Valentine's Day one slogan was, 'Faites l'amour, pas des achats.' The movement began that last October is more or less continuous, with the billboards in some Métro stations being totally 'liberated' from one day to the next.

Unlike taggers who use spray–paint, the anti–pub militants mostly use felt pens to express themselves. In other cases some ads are ripped completely off the walls of Métro stations, and in others some parts of ads are merely altered with random patches of blank paper.

Some bars and cafés in Paris are planning support evenings and one collected 3000€ recently. Others are planning to ask for donations in the future. A concert by the Têtes Raids at the Zenith on Monday, 1. March, will give some free stage–time to a spokesman for the anti–pub movement.

The Euro–Pot

Not content to offer two drawings of the Loto on Wednesday and Saturday evenings each week, we were offered another chance to lose some pocket money on Fridays, with the introduction of the Euro–Millions lottery.

When this was first advertised, it only involved France and Britain, but before the premier drawing on Friday the 13th, Spain joined the game. Then, with France's Loto routinely coming up with no big winner, the first winners of the Euro–Millions turned out to be a couple in Bourges – who will collect 15 million euros, tax–free.

Up until now, the biggest French–only jackpot has been 22 million euros, and it dates back to 1997. The winners of the Euro–pot played the same numbers twice a week for years without winning a sou, but in a wild flight of fantasy they opted for a set of completely random numbers for the dreaded Friday–the–13th launch.

Tax On Meals to Drop

Jacques Chirac promised that, if re–elected, he would do his upmost to reduce the value–added tax of 19.6 percent on restaurant meals, and replace it with the lower 5.5 percent tax rate. However, it turned out he couldn't do this without the permission of the European Union, based in Brussels.

There are many things now impossible in France on account of 'Brussels.' It turned out that Germany had no reasonphoto: cafe weekend to see France drop this high–tax rate, even though its value–added rate is only 16 percent on restaurant meals. But Jacques and Gerhard are good buddies, and after a couple of rounds of arm–wrestling, Jacques somehow convinced Gerhard to let him win.

A café left over from last Champs– Elysées weekend.

But this was not before an earlier scheme of reduced employers' charges was dreamed up in France – that represented a special deal for restaurateurs. It is unknown if Brussels objected to this one, but it seems moot now.

Among other benefits, the reduced tax rate is supposed to allow restaurants to hire 40,000 new employees. Forget for a moment that restaurants operators cannot find enough new employees now, and the Minister of the Interior is plugging all the immigration holes he can find.

With a new value–added tax rate of 5.5 percent on sit–down meals, the state will lose three billion euros per year – which amounts to a cost of 75,000€ for each job created. This is three times the cost of the earlier scheme of reduced employers' charges. If the 40,000 new jobs aren't created, then the cost 'per head' will be even higher – something around 100,000€ per new employee.

Then there is the progressive effort to lower the working week of restaurant workers from 43 hours to 35 hours in 2007. Today the official number of weekly hours is about 39. But in December 2002, the government, for budgetary reasons, refused to finance the decrease to a 35 hour week.

As it is now, the value–added tax on sit–down meals in restaurants is 19.6 percent, and the tax on prepared take–away food is 5.5 percent. Between Brussels, Germany, the 35–hour week and the government's budget, the last people who are expected to benefit from any lowered taxes or lowered charges, are hungry customers.

Later Dernier Métro

Until now the last Métro train stops running at 01:15 and doesn't start again until 05:30. If you miss the 'dernier Métro' there are 18 night–bus routes, taxis and of course, your feet. Walking in Paris is supposed to be good for your health, so long as you do it for 30 minutes.

Under pressure from politicians, with Paris' mayor Bertrand Delanoë in the lead, the RATP has decided to think about running its Métro trains until 02:15, on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Users groups welcome the idea. Actual users, asked by Le Parisien, were less enthusiastic.

However, the Métro workers' unions have voiced no opinion yet about the project, and the RATP hasn't planned for it in its operating budget. When asked why the Métro lines shouldn't run all night all week long like they do in New York or Berlin, the city's green assistant mayor for transport, Dennis Baupin, said that studies had shown lesser interest in public transport between 02:00 and 05:00.

I can only assume that no early risers – workers or travellers needing to get to the airports or to work – were consulted in the 'studies.'

Bingo at the Bourse

The Palais Brongniart has a nickname and it is the 'bourse,' because it used to be the temple of stock and bond tradingphoto: fouquet, champs elysees up until 14 years ago. At the moment the building is available for receptions, exhibitions and congresses – but only to companies who have seats on the Paris 'bourse' – the real one.

Early evening strollers on the Champs–Elysées.

The Idea of the Week' is to turn the bourse into a gambling casino. But at the moment, gambling casinos are not permitted in Paris. Some people think a casino would be used to launder money. Others think one would draw tourists to the 2nd arrondissement.

A more serious 'Idea of the Week' is to completely rebuild the whole Forum Les Halles complex, to improve its circulation and access to public transport, plus increase its commercial space, and 'fix–up' its garden. The city will only get serious about this project if it can get a lot of back–up from the Ile–de–France region.

On average, there is at least one major new 'Idea of the Week.' For a while, this was a project almost exclusively produced by the government, but the 'idea' of it seems to caught on and now anybody can play it. The casino– in–Paris idea regularly pops up about four times a year.

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