Froggy reported in December the difficulties faced by the Peugeot car firm. It had to close one of its plants in France in 2013, which was a shock. Now it is opening its capital to the French State and to a Chinese firm, which will result in Peugeot having three main shareholders (the Peugeot family, the Chinese firm and the French State). Peugeot plans to raise €3bn in cash by selling shares to Chinese carmaker Dongfeng, the French government as well as to the wider market. Dongfeng Motor is a state owned carmaker, and already makes Peugeot cars in China.
The Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, encouraged Peugeot to accept the Chinese as shareholders; the family was divided on the subject. This is a new situation for Peugeot, which still is a family firm used to run its own affairs. It may be that the Peugeot family will lose control of the firm, founded in the 19th century.
When the news was announced on 20 January, RTL radio interviewed workers at the Sochaux plant. Sochaux, a small town near the Swiss border, is the historical site of Peugeot and still the site of its main plant in France. The lion, symbol of Peugeot cars, comes the town’s coat of arms; Sochaux football club is associated with the firm.
Three workers were interviewed about what they thought of new capital for their firm. One said “I don’t care, cars, cannons, as long as we make something”; the second said “We need to produce as much as we can, as cheaply as we can”. The third, an FO trade union representative, said that the family being put in a minority situation worried them because it was the family that protected the Sochaux site. He hoped the State would arbitrate and that Peugeot would remain French.
The “Pact of Responsibility”
This is the jargon term used by François Hollande in his New Year wishes to the nation speech in which he presents a measure to reduce the cost of labour.
The difficulties of Peugeot show that there is a need to improve competitiveness. Peugeot has quality and reputation; it needs a market for its products. Hollande is offering to remove from firms’ account one particular cost: that of employers’ contributions to child benefit.
Child benefit will continue to be paid to families, but it will be financed by the State, who will find the extra money by reducing public expenditure. This will happen gradually between now and 2017. Hollande has not made clear if this measure will replace or be as well as the previous measure of tax credits for firms when they create new jobs.
There were mixed reactions to the announcement of this ‘pact’. L’Humanité titled “Hollande lackey of the bosses”; others demanded guarantees from employers that they would improve employment prospects in response to this largesse; since it was a ‘pact’, then employers had to be tied down to guarantees that they would do their part. The Employers’ federation said that the measure was not enough and they were still burdened by too much tax; and they could not be tied down to any precise targets.
The deputy leader of the UMP said it was a measure of marginal importance, since it would not take effect before 2017 and it was not clear whether it was instead of a previous tax reducing measure, which would make it even less significant.
The French are not united in the fight to preserve industry.
The Anelka scandal
The gesture made by the footballer Nicolas Anelka on camera is a gesture invented by a French political comedian, Dieudonné.
Many of his pieces are on YouTube, but all in French and largely untranslatable. One, in early 2012, was about French courts making it illegal to deny the Armenian holocaust. Dieudonné asked: what about holocausts conducted by the French in Africa? They are not worth a mention. I have origins in Cameroon, but I’m not asking for reparations! I’m not spending my time describing this sort of events, I have too much decency; but there are proofs of these African massacres, as there are proofs of the other holocausts (wink wink).
He attacked Bernard Henri-Levy, who encouraged Sarkozy to attack Libya, saying ‘he did that as a Jew and for Israel’.
Nicolas Sarkozy was encouraged into his foreign adventures by Henri-Levy. The French are subjected to a regular regime of being made to feel guilty over the treatment of the Jews in the war; Sarkozy in 2007 wanted every primary school child to be paired with a dead war time Jewish child. (Even the Jewish organisation CRIF thought that was clumsy). The holocaust is part of the compulsory history curriculum for both primary and secondary schools. None of this goes down well with the immigrant North African and African population, who feel that their history of oppression and murder is neglected in comparison with that of the Jews.
They would probably say that the television programme of 22 January was typical: one evening, Arte, (a worthy channel) had 3 new films, made in France, on aspects of the holocaust, of nearly an hour each, followed late by one small film on children of French soldiers in Indochina.
Henri-Levy himself said on France Inter radio that the Dieudonné affair was about a ‘competition of victimhood’.
Last month Froggy half praised the Conseil d’Etat, the hitherto very respectable body that advises the government on legislation and acts as court on administrative matters, for nearly allowing mothers to wear a scarf when accompanying school trips. Unfortunately the Conseil d’Etat has now lost any reputation for cool headed impartiality.
Dieudonné became more and more provocative in his shows; like many comedians in England and America he favours ‘gross’ and ‘transgressive’; his audience of young men is the right audience for this sort of thing. His invention of that famous gesture allowed him to gain an international audience for the first time, thanks to Anelka who showed the world what it was. It was time for the State to act.
Intellectuals like Badiou and Hazan had spoken about the excesses of the accusation of anti-Semitism, brandished out of season to condemn anyone criticising Israel, and also to maintain the idea of Jews as victims. But their 2011 book on the subject had a very moderate influence. Dieudonné was becoming known, he was starting a tour round France and had to be stopped. Fines for anti-Semitic language had not stopped him. His shows had to be banned. Le Monde newspaper, fiercely opposed to the comedian but seeing what was coming, pleaded on 1 January against a ban.
Mayors and Prefects regularly try to ban shows they don’t like, usually right-wing mayors and prefects incensed by trendy avant-guarde theatre. The Conseil d’Etat steps in to stop these reactionaries, with the argument that public order is not endangered and the shows must go ahead.
This time the Prefect of Nantes region banned the Dieudonné show. The administrative court of the region overturned the ban, at 2pm on the day of the show. By 6pm the Conseil d’Etat had overruled the regional court, and the show was banned. The 5800 tickets sold (43 Euros each) had to be refunded.
This haste was unprecedented, but what is more serious is the reason put forward by the Conseil d’Etat for its ruling: that the show was an attack on the dignity of the human person. If there was any logic, this ruling should allow any Mayor or Prefect to ban almost any modern show (and for television to shut down altogether).
Le Monde was not happy about this Conseil d’Etat ruling; it published an article by Jack Lang saying that the Conseil d’Etat had made a mistake by banning the show. Le Monde approved the ruling nevertheless in its editorial, given how outrageous Dieudonné is, but said that ‘it must not happen again’ that such a ruling is made.
A new approach to the teaching of history
L’Humanité does not like Dieudonné; it however had a long piece on 8 January by someone from the France-Palestine Solidarity Association reacting to the furore. The author pointed out that in February 2010 the then minister for justice had produced a circular to the effect that any appeal to boycott produce from any country amounted to an incitement to hatred of that country and was illegal; this circular is still in force. The author points out that the appeal for the boycott of produce from the Israeli occupied territories is made with a view to force Israel to withdraw from these territories, following international law, and not against Israel as such; it is therefore not racist and anti-Semitic, and the accusation of anti-Semitism is not valid. According to the article, accusations of anti-semitism of this sort encourage people like Dieudonné, who need to be discouraged.
France Inter radio had a programme on 27 January with a panel of three speakers, titled: ‘the truth about Jews in France’; ‘everything you wanted to know about Jews but didn’t dare ask’. It was not enough to oppose Dieudonné with contempt and silence, things should be discussed, the presenter said. The topics raised were: is the holocaust the new sacred? Should French politicians attend the annual dinner of the CRIF (organisation grouping around 60 Jewish organisations)? Should the anniversary of the foundation of CRIF be celebrated at the Elysée Palace? Are there too many Jews in the media? How should one criticise Israel’s policies in its colonies? Should the teaching of history be changed, in view of Dieudonné?
The overall answer was that everything was more or less all right and didn’t need changing, except for the teaching of history. The historian on the panel immediately said ‘yes, that must change. Less emotion, more politics.’ (She gave as an example of excessively emotional treatment the teaching of the first world war, ‘where soldiers are presented as victims’.)
Dieudonné is not the one who created the situation where Israel cannot be criticised, or where Jews are presented as perpetual victims. Intellectuals had warned against the consequences of this attitude, but unfortunately it is not the voice of reason that was heard, but the voice of derision.
Unfortunately, because comedy flies in all directions, hitting useful and not so useful targets. There is now a very unpleasant and unhealthy atmosphere as discussions center on Dieudonné rather than on ideas.