horz line

Sarko Says

photo: restaurant, rue ray losserand

When open, good food.

Consummez!

Paris:– Monday, 10. May 2004:– Speaking to 350 journalists in the auditorium of the Ministry of Finance last Tuesday, the new minister Nicolas Sarkozy urged the French to go shopping. The French, the lucky ones who have work, save too much money. They were exposed to some new incentives to unlock their piggy banks.

To this end a carrot of 150€ deductible from taxes, limited to two years, was offered to consumers who put themselves into debt to buy, a new car, for example. Another carrot was the possibility for grandparents to give their children and grandchildren gifts of 20,000€, without the gift being taxed.

The first is a minuscule amount affecting only a tax–paying minority, and the second runs the risk that the children will simply place the gift in a savings account rather than spend it.

In a blizzard of proposals, another one was to allow shops to be open for business on Sundays. Perhaps the most interesting proposal was the idea to permit mortgaging property at its real value in order to get new loans – something the French might not care to risk.

As for lowering income taxes, further reductions are impossible. Rather, more money will be raised by eliminating special deductions and a host of loop–holes, which are supposed to number about 400. Some taxes, like the TV–tax, will be planned bring in more because it will be grouped with the property tax collection. The idea is, too many are watching TV for free.

The minister has also been talking about selling France's stock of gold. Compared to the national debt, the amount that mayphoto: resto, les tontons be realized from the sale of 500 to 600 tons over five years, is not great. Meanwhile the debt itself will not be allowed to increase – more or less like it hasn't been allowed to increase in the past, and has increased all the same.

More good food in this bistro.

So the state will sell some of the other goodies it has – like its controlling shares in the jet engine manufacturer SNECMA and two autoroute companies. Along with these, the state will also put 100,000 square metres of city–centre building floor–space it owns on the market.

An issue most people consider to be a given – the 35–hour work week – was also under the minister's magnifying glass. He said the measure would cost the state 10 billion euros in 2005 – and added that it needed 'discussing, one of these days.' By which he meant 'renegotiation.'

There were so many proposals that you'd think there wasn't time enough for pure politics, but there was. Jacques Chirac is Président of France and Jean–Pierre Raffarin is his appointed Prime Minister. Nicolas Sarkozy is not just the appointed Minister of Finance, but in France he is known as the 'number–two minister.'

He was this at the Ministry of the Interior too. It is like France has two governments – one is the regular one of the Prime Minister and his ministers, and the other is Nicolas Sarkozy – who would be the future head of the majority UMP party. He who would be this party's future presidential candidate – however, for both posts, self–appointed at this time.

While 'Sarko' was staging his show at the Ministry of Finance, the Minister of Health beat him to the TV–screens by appearing on TF1–news on Monday night – to talk about the 'reform' of the public health system. Another important minister, Jean–Louis Borloo was on France–2 on Tuesday morning, and ex–foreign minister now minister of the interior, Dominique de Villepin, was riding RTL's airwaves.

Even if it seemed at first like a concentrated effort by the government, it was an attempt by several government ministers to reduce the over–all media effect of the 'Sarko–show.'

France has had very few political figures in the past that exhibit the naked lust for power that Nicolas Sarkozy seems to radiate. But the major right–of–centre political party has been through the turmoil of 'reform' before, and was broken down by it – which resulted in a long period of Socialist government, in a co–habitation with Jacques Chirac.

Now they are trying to pull it off again, but with an extra dimension that is embodied by the present 'super' Minister of Finance. If they were working together in harmony they might be formidable. For all we know the 'Sarko–show' is really a show to keep the French distracted.

But if it is what it seems to be – three different ways towards Thatcherization – then I don't think the next elected Président of France is going to be the UMP's candidate.

Air France Swallows KLM

A large majority of KLM stockholders agreed to swap their shares for shares in Air France, which has effectively resulted in Air France's takeover of KLM to create to world largest air carrier for turnover – 19.2 billion€ in 2002.

When Air France dilutes its stock by issuing 46 million new shares, the French state's stake in the airline will become a minority one – at 44.7 percent, which is slated to drop to 20 percent of the airline's capital.

The new jumbo airline will be the leader in European traffic, and will be 4th worldwide, behind American Airlines, Delta and United. It is unknown whether Air France's partnership with Delta will continue.

The new Air France–KLM operated 2400 flights a day, to 250 destinations. The combined company has 540 aircraft and had 106,000 employees. Prime Minister Jean–Pierre Raffarin, in saluting the deal, said that the fusion would 'profit the users.'

Air France's president Jean–Cyril Spinetta has said that the objective of the merger was not to reducephoto: boulangerie flights, but to make the airlines' two networks compatible, and to harmonize their fares in the hopes of winning new parts of the market.

Good bread to go with the good food.

It is expected that Air France will announce a 'ten percent' rise in available seats for summer, with KLM increasing its capacity by nine percent. No announcements have been made yet about the duplication of commercial and operational jobs in Paris or Amsterdam. But the new company is 'consolidating its alliance,' so 'rationalizing' some of its employees out of their jobs should come as no surprise.

This Is Your Captain Speaking

With an initial "I am the pilot of the government Airbus," Prime Minister Jean–Pierre Raffarin took off on a flight around France's political horizons following the TV–news on France–2 Thursday evening.

More a 30–minute press conference than a question and answer session, the Prime Minister drove home his point that there aren't two sets of politics in France. He said there isn't 'one of Nicolas Sarkozy' and another of the Prime Minister. "It's the same," he said.

As for the government party's recent defeat in the regional elections and possible difficulties in the coming European elections, he noted that his government's national mandate lasts until 2007. For this, we are supposed to be as optimistic as the Prime Minister.

He touched on many thorny issues – health coverage, pensions, unemployment – 'it will ease in the second half of this year' – and the unemployment benefit conflict of the entertainment workers. One bit of solid news for those with minimum jobs was the announcement of a five percent boost for the minimum wage on 1. July – which is something the government can do with a decree rather than cash.

Then a surprise. The Prime Minister announced that speeding offenses would no longer be treated with zero tolerance. For the future, for a little excess speed, just a little fine – for a lot of excess speed, a big fine. The government backs down from minor issues nobody was moaning about.

But I guess I have not been paying attention. I thought the government was proud of its radar robots and happy with the numbers of speeders they are catching and fining without mercy, and thus paying for the robots quickly. Polls must have indicated that some fast drivers are voting for other parties on account of this.

Cannes – On or Off? p class="noindent">Angry unemployed entertainment workers have been meeting with the directors of the Cannes Film Festival to work out the concessions the festival will have to make to avoid being struck. So far it seems like the direction is willing to accept demands which will allow the festival to proceed – 'almost normally.'


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