...Continued from page 1

Characterized as the 'portfolio without pity' on France-2 TV-news, Mr. Breton comes to the hot seat at Bercy from the top spot at France Télécom, following stints at Bull and Thompson Multimedia. He is also said to be a friend of the Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and of the Président, Jacques Chirac.

Viewers were reminded of some of the recent history at the Economy and Finance ministry. Within thephoto, lafont shop past 10 years Hervé Gaymard now holds the absolute record for briefest service in the slot. Of the last ten ministers, five others governed for very short periods.

At just over two years, Socialist Dominique Strauss–Kahn functioned as minister the longest. He left office to defend himself from charges, which were eventually dismissed.

And here, just for the colors.

Thierry Breton has been seeing France Télécom through the difficult period of transition from state telephone monopoly to private company. The company has had to open itself to competition. This is usually done by selling its line services at a discount to other operators, who in turn offer the services to customers.

Many France Télécom subscribers object to paying non–discounted rates by signing up with the competitors, while those who stubbornly stick with the 'historic supplier' subsidize the 'privatization.'

On Friday it is uncertain whether the same tactics will be carried over to the Economy and Finance ministry. For example, France could sell discount state services to Spaniards and Germans, while French taxpayers pay the full shot, plus have to pay for a place in line at the tax collector's office.

This big–sous story must have hit the French where they live. The minister has quit and left town, but talk–radio, guests at parties, and taxi drivers are still mumbling on about it. It's over. We don't have Hervé to kick around anymore.

Meanwhile, a Strike of the Week

The general transport strike scheduled for Thursday, 10. March is still highly likely. Unions, and all of them are upset, have been asked to pick another day. The International Olympic Committee is slated to visit Paris on 10. March to access the city's ability to host the games.

The usual people are saying the usual things, about how the unions should be forced to provide 'minimum service.' These are the same people who never use public transport so they can't be expected to know that strikes are never total – in a serious strike there's always one train or bus out of three or four running. Somewhat like 'minimum service.'

Besides, the Olympic games are always held in the summer when there are no strikes in France because of holidays. In principle there should be nothing to worry about. What other city would have the chutzpah to stage a transport strike when the Olympic snoops are around? It'll show them that Paris keeps on truckin' no matter what.

Back To Regular Program

A couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister, who isn't everybody's darling, stated on TV–news that unemployment would fall 'significantly' within months. Somebody, we are supposed to believe, possibly in the ministry of the Economy and Finance, thinks that France is poised for a burst of prosperity.

The Prime Minister's score in the popularity polls isn't outstanding and there's always talk about how his days are numbered, but six months later he's still here, with even lower poll results.

It must have been sobering on Friday night to learn that unemployment has nudged itself above the 10 percent level again, the first time it's been this high since 2000. Never mind that it has been above nine percent since 1995, or 1991, or whenever that crash back then was.

But the TV–news didn't dwell on this. The Pope is back in the hospital again and in this old Europe this is major news. The news ran on–the–spot reports from Italy, from Rome, from Poland and from France, with just about everybody saying they hoped the Pope would get better real soon, while expressing doubt that he will be able to talk.

As yet there are no reports about the jockeying for position that goes on when a Pope is on the way out. Popes are like other people, they get old and die too. They just never retire.

Who are the new stars of the mother church? Will it be Italy's turn next? Or will the church turn to new worlds? People get excited when the United States has an election, but believe me, the Pope has a lot more fans – although few of them can vote.

France In Winter

The temperature is hovering at zero or below and there's a nasty wind from the northeast. Accordingphoto, cafe madeleine to Le Parisien everybody is depressed. Stagnating salaries, high unemployment, a positive vote for the European constitution in doubt, political defections – everybody has decided to be uncertain.

While here, just for the café.

One politician thinks we need a psycho–shock, some event that will boost us back to our usual elan. The problem is that he is a right–wing dude and proposes the same four solutions that are not working already.

With the coming referendum for the European constitution the worry is that French voters will use it to 'send a message' to the government – not about Europe, but about how they think France is being mismanaged.

But mismanagement is normal in France. It may be in this season that it's a bit worse than 'normal,' or that it's perceived to be worse. There are a lot of problems that are getting their usual bandaids when folks say ouch, but some of the 'reforms' so dear to the right could just as well be left alone. We got this far without them.

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