The Socialist Party had done very well in previous local and regional elections; the competence of their local elected representatives is recognised. In the March 2014 elections, they have lost many seats. Matters of national importance such as unemployment and loss of spending power, and the opposition to same-sex marriage, especially among Muslim voters, account for the decline.
Last month’s Froggy omitted one aspect of the voting system, which is that there are 2 modes of voting, depending on the size of the town/village: over 1,000 inhabitants, and people vote for a list, usually on political lines. Under 1,000 inhabitants, people vote for individuals, who may or may not be grouped in lists. Only commune of over 1,000 inhabitants have to have 50% women candidates. Nevertheless smaller places have made a point of presenting 50% of women, whose names are listed alternately on the voting paper.
French has a word that means either town or village, considered as an administrative unit: la commune. Paris is la commune de Paris, and a village of 100 inhabitants is also a commune. Each has a Mayor and a municipal council, and an equivalent set of powers. This is a situation unique in Europe.
There are around 36,000 communes in France, of which a little under 10,000 have more than 1,000 inhabitants. No other European country has that number of local administrative units. There have been a number of government efforts to amalgamate these units into larger ones, with little success. The fact that a village of 100 inhabitants made a point of presenting their 14 candidates in alternate men/women names, although presented in a negative light by Froggy last month, shows a commendable amount of self-belief in a small community.
National Front local results.
Results are only presented in political terms in communes of over 1,000 inhabitants. Mayors were elected as follows:
|Centre Right (UMP) and associates:||4,878|
|Socialist Party and associates:||3,023|
|National Front + 2 Extreme Right:||14|
The National Front’s successes are very moderate; they occurred mostly in towns where there were three candidates, i.e., where the Socialist or the UMP candidate did not withdraw to prevent the NF candidate winning the seat. Some of the NF highest ranking party members failed to get elected.
The NF Mayors and municipal councils are being watched, and they will try to avoid their previous failures, when they made symbolic gestures, for example renamed streets and banned cultural events, antagonising people without gaining anything. In Fréjus for example, the new NF Mayor says Halal meat will continue to be served in school dinners, despite party campaigning against Halal meat in schools. On the other hand, he also removed the European flag from the front of the Town Hall building.
Sale of Alstom?
The French may be on the point of losing ownership of one of their most prestigious firms, Alstom.
Alstom is the French company that makes TGV trains among other things; its field of activity is transport and electric power. Sarkozy had saved the group in 2004 by buying a 20% share in it, which he sold two years later to the construction and telecom firm Bouygues. Now Alstom is struggling because of the economic slowdown in Europe and emerging markets and competition from Siemens and General Electric. The American firm General Electric wants to take it over, to improve its own economic performance. Will Holland manage to save Alstom for France?
There is maternity leave and paternity leave, immediately after the birth of the baby. After that, there is parental leave, unpaid, available until the child is three years old. The ‘first parent’ (ministerial speak for ‘mother’) taking parental leave is still part of the firm she was working for in the sense that half or the whole of the period of leave counts for length of service, the benefits offered by the Firm’s Committee, such as organised holidays, are still available, and the parent gets their job back when the leave is over. How that parental leave works in practice depends on the firm and mainly on whether the family can afford to live without the first parent’s income.
The Minister for Women, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the same who was filmed encouraging little girls to play war, wants to reduce parental leave by 6 months. The rationale is that first parents should not be away from the job environment too long.
The last 6 months of parental leave are still available, but they must necessarily be taken by the ‘second parent’. 18,000 fathers availed themselves of parental leave in 2013. The Minister wants that figure to be 100,000 in 2017, hence the new law. In practice, she is taking away from women the possibility of staying at home to look after children for as long as they used to.
Men and women are still not equal, say the statistics, because men on average earn more than women. But income is not the only way to measure inequality. It may be the easiest, since money can be counted. And inequality of income may not be the worst sort of inequality. Being able to do what you want with your life is valued by people, but it can’t be reduced to figures or translated in money terms. If the man is able to do what he wants to do with his life, he is lucky. The same for a woman. If they both get to do what they want to do in life, they are equally lucky. This holds whether one gets paid in the process, and the other does not. Making it even more difficult for a mother to stay with her children when she wants to, is to prevent her from doing what she wants with her life.
Defining equality or inequality in the things that really matter is a difficult and pointless exercise. Staying at home with children, although difficult in a society where families are isolated from one another and mothers often lonely, is valuable not because the mother would then be ‘equal to the father’ in personal satisfaction, but because people should be able to do what makes them happy, where possible. In this particular case, it is also good for children, and arguably for all members of the family.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
The magazine Marianne (Marianne represents the Republic, and the masthead of the magazine cover shows the Republic guiding the people, in a painting by Delacroix) has started a campaign against it, with on its cover a picture of the American Eagle, and the headline: ‘How we are going to be gobbled up by the US’.
France Inter has an item during Friday lunchtime news programmes where they explain at length some important point. On Friday 25 April, they explained the TTIP, briefly and clearly, then gave Le Hyaric, MEP, director of l’Humanité and author of a book on the TTIP entitled ‘Dracula and the Peoples of the World’ the rest of the available time to present a thorough critique of the proposed trade treaty.
The TTIP has support among French corporations such as Veolia Environnement S.A., a transnational company with activities in four main service and utility areas traditionally managed by public authorities – water supply and water management, waste management, energy and transport services. They would like to sell these services to cities in the United States; however, some US States reserve their public works and public services to their own small and medium firms. European giants of waste disposal, water, transport and construction want TTIP in order to break into that protected market. Veolia is already suing a government for its actions on the social front: it is suing the Egyptian government for raising the minimum wage. On the other hand, the French agricultural sector would be destroyed if American imports were allowed in.
The campaign is only just starting. Hollande and Obama—and the European Commission—did everything to keep the negotiations quiet. When Hollande held a joint press conference with Obama in Washington on 11 February 2014, he recommended accelerating the process, before ‘fears and negative feelings’ (les peurs et crispations) held it up, i.e. before people realised what was happening and started to campaign against it. But the TTIP is beginning to be talked about.