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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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