Friday, 21 December 2012

The role of trade unions in Europe

 I wrote a guest blog this week for John Gray who is a Labour party councillor in the East London Borough of Newham, a trade union activist and Chair of the UNISON, regional London Labour link committee.  I wrote about the role of trade unions in Europe and the article can be read here.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Far right in France holds party conference

I have written a piece this week about the far right party in France holding a party conference you can read the piece on left foot forward here.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

No room for complacency

This week I wrote an article for Progress, which is the New Labour pressure group which aims to promote radical and progressive politics for the 21st century.  I was responding to their recent series on fighting the far-right which has been engaging and thought-provoking.  My experience of tackling the far right comes from my own personal fight, that won my council seat from the BNP’s London regional coordinator Robert Bailey, to become the youngest woman on Barking and Dagenham council. You can read the article here.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Le Pen on the rise? French Fascists seek to take advantage of UMP’s troubles

The troubled Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) leadership bid and François Hollande’s popularity slump may have left an open door for Front National and their leader Marine Le Pen to resurge.


Indeed Le Pen recently stated “the Union for a Popular Movement is dead” and has also been making her delight of the UMP crisis clear on social networking sites, as they clearly see an opportunity to become the main rivals to the Socialist party in France.

Le Pen did not win a parliamentary seat - however, her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen did, becoming the youngest member of the French parliament. MM is said to be attracting younger members to the party.
The recent UMP leadership battle largely had the party of former French president Nicholas Sarkozy divided, and although Jean-François Copé was eventually declared the winner, he only won by 98 votes.
The caveat is that Copé is seen as more right wing than his contender François Fillon. In this sense, if Copé can unite the party again, UMP could actually draw in Front National supporters.

With the next presidential elections being so far away, there may be time for UMP to become a formidable force again. However, if the UMP party fragments because of this crisis, it could create a vacuum for the right wing which Le Pen’s French Fascists would be only too happy to fill.

There is no room for complacency from either UMP or the Socialists who must keep their eye on the ball to ensure a Front National surge does not occur.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Anti-immigration Copé succeeds Sarkozy as UMP leader – but don’t rule out a comeback

After the crushing defeat of the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy after just one term in power six months ago, members of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) have finally voted on a new leader this weekend. 

Jean-Francois-CopeThe two candidates were former prime minister François Fillon and UMP Secretary-General Jean-Francois Copé, with support split the party down the middle, resulting in allegations from both sides of electoral fraud, despite judicial staff overseeing the process.
At one stage during the process, both candidates declared themselves the winner.Eventually the underdog, 48-year-old Copé, was declared the winner on Monday by just 98 votes, despite widespread predictions of Fillon’s win.
Copé’s first task will be to unite the party and ensure they are not overtaken by Front National and Marine Le Pen. Copé will also hope Sarkozy’s recent troubles will not have an impact on public support.
Copé is seen to have a strong anti-immigration stance having produced “A Manifesto for an Uninhibited Right” in which he claimed gangs in the city suburbs were fostering “anti-white racism”. The party was founded in 2002 by former president Jacques Chirac.

There does, however, seem to be an open door for Sarkozy to return as the candidate for the 2017 elections as he remains very popular among UMP members, with many among them publicly calling for his return.

A recent survey by Ifop found 53 per cent of right-leaning voters would like to see Sarkozy and not Fillon or Copé be the UMP’s presidential nominee in 2017. Yesterday, however, Sarkozy summoned by a Bordeaux judge to answer questions over party donations.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Downfall of a President: Nicolas “Mr Bling” Sarkozy in bribe scandal

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be questioned by a judge in Bordeaux this week over bribery allegations.  The charge is that Sarkozy - affectionately known as “Mr Bling” – accepted more than half a million pounds from Liliane Bettencourt to help fund his 2007 presidential campaign and promised Bettencourt tax breaks in return.

If the allegations prove to be true, this would be illegal as French law limits donations to parties to 7,500 euros per person per year with only 150 euros to be given in cash.  Sarkozy was known for his lavish presidency, as opposed to the current president Francois Hollande who was dubbed “Mr Normal”.

Bettencourt, who is the heiress of the cosmetics giant L’Oreal and currently the richest woman in France, has had a number of former employees testify against her, stating Sarkozy attended her private residency to pocket the cash deposited in brown envelopes.

Sarkozy, who lost the French presidential election in May, denies the allegations. There are other corruption allegations against Sarkozy who is no longer immune from prosecution following his election defeat, including one that alleges he accepted millions of euros from the deceased Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
His home and offices were searched in July by French police in relation to the investigations. If Sarkozy is found guilty of corruption, he could face a spell in prison.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Will foreign residents get the right to vote in France?

At the Socialist Party conference in Toulouse on Saturday, recently elected Socialist Party leader Harlem Désir caused a stir when he reminded the crowd of President François Hollande's pledge to give foreign residents the opportunity to vote in local elections. This certainly would help foreign residents to participate and become more involved in public life and seems fair seeing as they pay full taxes. Only residents that reside within the EU can vote in local elections. The UK currently allows citizens of the European Union and commonwealth citizens to vote in local elections in the UK.


This longstanding bill has been in the pipeline for a number of years now and was originally promised by former Socialist president François Mitterrand during his 1981 campaign. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy opposed the bill even though he backed it during his presidential campaign in 2007.  Further delay has now occurred with it looking unlikely that the bill will have enough support over the next six months for it to become law in time for the 2014 local elections. In 2000, France’s lower house agreed a bill giving all legal foreign residents the right to vote in local elections—but it was never finalised with the upper house. There is now a petition on the UMP website to oppose the bill with one of their reasons being that this will thwart the "blue" tidal wave at the next local elections.

75 Socialist French MPs presented a petition in Le Monde urging the current government to move faster on plans to give foreign residents the right to vote and run as candidates in local elections. Not all Socialists are in favour of the bill however, with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault describing the bill as “controversial” and “lacking support in parliament” in an interview with radio station France Inter last Wednesday. Adopting this bill would need another get over another major hurdle which would be a change in the French constitution which states that electoral rights are reserved to "French nationals “only. There are also fears that if the bill is adopted the Front National could use it as a platform for negative campaigning against the Socialists.

A poll on the topic by French daily le Parisien in late 2011 found 61% of respondents agreeing that foreigners should have the right to vote in France’s local elections. A more recent poll published last month found the exact opposite result, with 61% of respondents against the bill. Time will soon tell whether Hollande’s election promise can be fulfilled.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Hollande plans first major trip to Africa

François Hollande is in Africa for the first time as president to begin “a new chapter” in French relations with the continent. Before his trip to open the 14th Francophone summit in which it was not sure that he would attend, he gave a major interview to France 24, where he stated that he would not be sending further troops to Mali but would provide logistical help, equipment and training. The north of Mali militants allied to al Qaeda, have declared this region’s independence since April 2012. Hollande said that it should be Africa that should decide what the response should be.

Hollande will acknowledge on his trip the role that France had played in colonisation and the trans-atlantic slave trade. There will also be a focus on growth; many African economies are growing at a faster rate than those within Europe. Hollande will promote French economic interests in the continent, which already accounts for 1/5 of business operating in Africa. Hollande declared in a speech which was well received, that it was time for new, “sincere” relations between his country and the fast-growing economies of Africa. Hollande went on to say:

“I didn’t come to Africa to give an example, or to give moral lessons. I consider Africans to be partners and friends”

The speech was in stark contrast to Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, who said in a speech that was criticised by many and had members of the audience walking out in protest, in Dakar five years ago that the African man “has not fully entered history (...) never really launched himself into the future.”

The future of the French language will also be debated. Today 220 million people speak French across the world, but by 2050 there will be 700 million French speakers, most whom will be in Africa.

The summit will host 75 delegations in Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, where the transparency of the presidential and legislative elections that took place in November 2011 have been questioned.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Strasbourg killing raises fresh questions about integration in France

The killing in Strasbourg on Saturday by French police once again raised the issue of integration and immigration in France, particularly as this is the second terrorist killing by police in the past year.
There are also 11 members of a suspected terrorist cell being questioned by police following dawn raids in Nice, Paris and Cannes.

These raids were sparked by a grenade attack on a Jewish shop on September 19th, where police traced DNA results to the prime suspect, Jeremy Sidney, to inform their raid operation on him in which Sidney opened fire on the police.

Sidney, a recent convert to Islam, was 33 years old and a French national. He was also an ex-prisoner, who was convicted for drug-trafficking.

Earlier this year, in March, Mohamed Merah was killed by police in Toulouse after a sickening attack on members of the Jewish community, in which where four soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi were killed. Merah claimed his actions were directed against France’s military presence in Afghanistan, the killing of Palestinians and the ban on wearing the full face veil.

The weekend’s shootings have once again brought race and immigration to the top of the political agenda.
After the raids, President Francois Hollande said:

“The state is determined to protect the French people against any terrorist threat.”

The threat is still ongoing as the raids found money, ammunition and a list of Jewish groups throughout the Paris region. In response to Merah’s killing in March, France’s cabinet is currently reviewing a new anti-terrorism bill targeting French citizens who travel abroad, notably to Pakistan or Afghanistan, for possible terrorism training.

It is anticipated that if passed, the bill will allow authorities to prosecute French citizens who return to the country after:

“…having committed an act of terrorism abroad, or who travel overseas, particularly to the Afghan or Pakistan region, to train in terrorism camps with the intention of coming back to France.”

The situation at present is that police can only act when offences are suspected or committed in France.  This is just one measure France seeks to undertake to tackle the terrorist threat within its borders and the rise of attacks targeted towards the Jewish community.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hollande’s pursuit for tax capital set to raise €20 billion

François Hollande, rested from his summer holiday, this week outlined his plan to France’s Court of Audit of how the tax system will operate under a socialist government. His intention is to raise €20 billion in new taxes - which include a 75% tax on millionaires – and has assured the French public this will not be reneged on.
This, coupled with his €30bn savings plan, sees Hollande aim to reduce the deficit to 3% over the next two years. The French public will keep a keen eye on his plans to whether austerity measures and public sector cuts will feature alongside.

His taxes have seemingly already sent the rich packing. The world’s fourth richest man, Louis Vuitton, Moët and Hennessy boss Bernard Arnault, is currently pursuing Belgian nationality, but states this is so he can conduct business more easily over there. Arnault has pledged to continue living in France.
Hollande’s response to Arnault was a firm one:

“He must weigh up what it means to seek another nationality because we are proud to be French.”

There would be no exceptions in a 75 per cent tax on incomes above one million euros, the President added.
There is speculation Hollande plans to exempt sports stars and artists from the new 75% tax rate although this has not been confirmed. There were protests in July when the state auditor of France said unemployment benefit payments to artists and other creatives were unsustainable.

Recent opinion polls show the public has lost some confidence in the government four months after Hollande won presidential office.

Nationalist’s parties set lose EU funding

In February 2012 I reported an announcement from the European Parliament recently had political parties like the UK’s BNP and France’s Front National party, rubbing their hands in glee.  Their positions would have potentially been strengthened by gaining monies of 289,266 Euros for 2012 funded by the European Parliament.  They would have gained this money from a 30 million euro fund, because the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements of which the BNP and Front National are members was officially recognised by the European Parliament for the first time.  Other parties such as the European Socialists have been receiving this money for some time and their funding was set to decrease because of this development.  The funding would have served to strengthen the Nationalists position and campaigns within the European Parliament.  This was worrying given their stance on immigration including the free movement within the EU.

At the end of last week however the European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefcovic announced new rules for the funding of pan-European political parties and their associated think-tanks. One of these changes now requires EU funding only be given where these parties and foundations observe the values of the European Union, “namely respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”. The last part, on minority rights, is a new addition.  This will make it harder for parties like the BNP to gain this funding.  It will depend on whether they are able to convince the European Parliament and European Commission that they meet all of the conditions.  British MEP’s along with the campaigning organisation Hope not Hate lobbied for this change.

Having campaigned against the BNP in the 2010 local elections in Barking and Dagenham and against the London Regional Coordinator Robert Bailey for my own council seat, I have experienced first-hand how nasty the BNP and parties like them can be.  And having received racial abuse just last week from a BNP supporter in Dagenham confirms my fears.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Britain should stay in the European Union

I attended a debate at the London School of Economics last month, which had a panel debating whether Britain should stay within the EU.  The panel members consisted of Sir Stephen Wall, George Eustice MP, Roger Helmer MEP, Mark Reckless MP, Dr Helen Szamuely and Evan Davis as chair.  It made for an interesting albeit that the panel was skewed in a negative way towards the EU with only Sir Stephen Wall a former adviser to Tony Blair making valid arguments for Britain to stay within the EU, whereas the other panel members were against this.  It was interesting to note that Roger Helmer MEP was a former Tory turned UKIP, which may give an indication of how similar their views are.

The debate began with Sir Stephen Wall outlining how the EU successfully manages the conflicting interests of 27 neighbouring counties in an effort to unite value systems.  This has resulted in peaceful, prosperous, stability within the EU.  New countries that wish to join the EU need to have high standards of democracy.

As Britain is one of the larger member states, we have one of the most powerful voices.  Many of the legislative changes that the EU has brought, has benefitted the UK.

The other panel members outlined their arguments stating that no one under the age of 55 has voted on this issue as it has been 37 years since the last referendum.  Current opinion polls show a majority of the British public may want to come out.

So should Britain stay within the EU?  I believe so.  Despite the comments from UKIP that Britain should go it alone, being in the EU has many benefits for us including:

Safer and Cheaper Flights

The EU has provided us with not only safer flights but also cheaper flights and increased competition between carriers registered in the Member States. Cheaper flights are the knock-on effect of a huge improvement in air traffic management and increased competition.

Student Exchange Programmes

Within the last 10 years the EU has created different education programmes in order to give students the possibility to experience different national cultures and broaden their personal horizon. Up to now 1.2 million students have benefited from the ERASMUS Programme and many more are expected to experience it in the future.

The Single Market

The Single Market is one of a kind as it guarantees ‘free movement' of people, goods, services and capital. At a practical level, it provides the possibility for EU citizens to live, work, study and do business throughout the EU, as well as enjoy a wide choice of competitively priced goods and services.


Peace in Europe was first created when an alliance was made between Germany and France and the European Coal and Steel Community was founded. Europe has come a long way since with a lasting peace amongst its Member States. International security is now a major issue for the EU: with increasing threats to a peaceful society in different areas of the world, the EU has put in place many policies to combat such problems.

Cheaper and Better Phone calls

The liberalisation of the telecommunication markets in 1998 and the on-going development in the field of technology have resulted in a steady decrease in prices within the EU. This means that it is cheaper to call your friends and family and choose between different operators.

Consumer Protection

Consumer protection and the safety of food in the European Union are two issues that have always gone hand in hand. The Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General's main responsibility is to provide laws and regulations on the safety of food and consumer rights.

A Healthier Europe

The public health issues dealt with by the EU are numerous and cover a number of different areas. They concern both men and women, young and old. The EU has also introduced the European health insurance card that is your guarantee if you should fall ill when going abroad.

Environmental Protection

In the EU, environmental issues including initiatives concerning protection have been underlined as some of the most important points not only for discussion but also for action. For instance, the EU is leading the "Kyoto" drive to reduce the air pollution that causes global warming.

Equal Opportunities 

The promotion of equal opportunities and the fight against Discrimination are considered some of the most important issues within Europe and many directives have been put in place to combat inequalities that occur in the Member States.

Better working conditions

EU legislation has brought workers in the UK a 48 hour working week (with opt out clauses), a minimum of 28 days annual leave per year, maternity and paternity leave and enhanced pension rights.

The benefits of the European Union need to be publicised more as relinquishing these would have far reaching implications for us as a nation.  Perhaps Hollande’s idea of a multi-speed Europe will come more into fruition as something that is more acceptable to the British public.  The question is do we want to be at the table, or outsiders seeking friend and allies to represent our views for us.  As for the arguments about the EU’s democratic deficit, there is just as low voter turnout in UK elections as there are in the European elections.  The EU currently makes up half of UK overseas investment and we have full access and influence within the single market.  For all of its flaws, Britain should stay within the EU.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hollande's first 100 days in office

France’s finance minister Pierre Moscovici confirmed this week that the country is on course to cut 3 per cent of gross domestic product by next year, despite a socialist president being in power for 100 days. President François Hollande, the Socialist president, is planning to stick to the debt reduction targets set in motion by former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Some Socialists may have preferred Hollande to make a clean break from UMP policies, but Moscovici states that continuation of the deficit reduction plan will keep borrowing costs low. This may be slightly at odds with Hollande's rhetoric that harsh austerity measures are not the only path to growth. No doubt Hollande’s tax on the rich will help him to accomplish some of the savings targets, but the path to recovery may be a slow and tortuous one as there has not been growth in the French economy for the previous three quarters. No doubt the 2013 budget setting process that begins in September will be an interesting programme as Hollande seeks to protect jobs, boost growth as well as reducing the budget deficit.

A recent survey of French voters by Ifop for Le Figaro newspaper showed that a third of those that took part said they trusted Mr Hollande’s Socialist government on cutting debt, while four out of 10 thought he could find a solution to the Eurozone crisis with other European leaders. So Hollande has a lot of convincing to do yet. The Le Monde newspaper said at the weekend:

“After 100 days, Mr Hollande still needs to assert his leadership”

The French public may have been hoping that Hollande would have had more of an impact on turning the tide on the Europe wide austerity plan. We will have to wait and see how Mr Normal tackles the huge challenges ahead.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Hollande takes a jibe at Cameron

The French president François Hollande yesterday stated some home truths about the empty seats fiasco at the Olympics and made a cheeky dig at the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.  Cameron probably won’t be invited to the steps of the Elysée Palace soon unlike opposition leader Ed Miliband.  Cameron and Hollande did however sit next to each other yesterday during the women’s handball game.

Cameron made a statement before Hollande's stunning election victory in France, that Britain would roll out the red carpet for French citizens who wanted to avoid Hollande's 50% tax hike for high earners and snubbed him during his visit to the UK during his presidential campaign.  The red carpet statement has come back to haunt him a few times since then and Cameron ended up rolling out the red carpet for Hollande during his first official visit to the UK as French President.

Hollande, celebrating France’s gold medal success as well as them being third in the medal table compared with Britain yet to win a gold medal and being 21st said:

“The British have rolled out a red carpet for French athletes to win medals. I thank them very much for that, but the competition is not over”.

He went on to state some home truths about the empty seats fiasco that is no doubt giving Lord Coe sleepless nights and would have many members of the British public agreeing:

“The problem is that there are simply too many corporate seats. It will be up to French organisers to sort out this problem if a bid for a future games is to be successful”, hinting that an Olympic games in France would not pander to rich corporate sponsor interests and make more seats available to the general public.
Hollande did not criticise the organisation of the London Games though.  It could be that Hollande is hopeful that in France’s likely 2024 Olympic bid, Paris would be successful.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

French artists may suffer from benefit cuts

The state auditor of France today said that unemployment benefit payments to artists and other creatives were unsustainable.  France is in a rather unique position in that it artists and creatives have a special system since 1960 called “intermittents du spectacle” to collect unemployment benefits, that is the envy of many artists across Europe.  The system recognises that a feature within their industry is that they may have gaps in-between jobs and so cushions some of the problems that arise with this.  The system is not up for review until next year but it is currently running at a €1bn deficit.  The state auditor stated that the system "is not sustainable in the current context of public finances".  Employers were also criticised as they potentially hire workers for the minimum hours needed and then expect this benefit to make up the shortfall.

This is not the first time changes to unemployment benefits for French artists have been touted.  In 2003 strikes in Avignon, mobilised by over 135,000 freelance performing arts, film and television professionals, closed down one of France’s most recognisable theatre festival and resulted in the sacking of the then culture minister.

The French president François Hollande is yet to make a public statement on this issue, but it would seem  that cuts to unemployment benefits in this area may not go down well with Socialists who are seen as the party that will protect the public from the brunt of the recession.  The system does not have strong opposition from the general public.  Dissenting voices in France on this issue, which tend to come from the right, argue that the arts are too costly and the “intermittents du spectacle” system is unnecessary.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hollande makes no secret of his support for Ed Miliband

UK Labour leader Ed Miliband met his socialist counterpart French president, Francois Hollande, in Paris on Tuesday.
Despite Ed not having campaigned for Hollande during his bid for the presidency, he was warmly greeted in public on the steps of the Elysée Palace; an unusual occurrence for an opposition leader.
It seems clear that Hollande has a closer bond with Miliband than David Cameron as the Labour leader is now the most senior British politician to hold talks at the president’s official residence since his election victory in May.
As part of their short 35 minute meeting, they managed to discuss a variety of topics including the economy, the emergency situation in regards to youth unemployment, Syria and the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire in the future for its Grand Depart.
The Telegraph reported:
President François Hollande of France supports the campaign to have a stage of the Tour de France bike race pass through Yorkshire in 2016.
He offered his support during a meeting in Paris with Labour leader Ed Miliband, who is MP for Doncaster North.
Mr Miliband raised Bradley Wiggins’ triumph in the Tour de France and the bid by Yorkshire to bring the bike race to the North of England with President Hollande.
Ed also agreed to join a future centre left summit, which is being hosted by Hollande later this year to further talk about the agenda of jobs and growth.

Hollande and Ed both agree that harsh austerity measures are not the way to solve the economic crisis. Socialists will no doubt hope that Ed and Hollande working as a political force together can begin to steer Europe from the path of austerity to the path of growth.
After Ed’s meeting with Hollande, he addressed the Socialist group on the national assembly through a translator and was given rapturous applause when he stated that Britain’s place is “firmly in Europe”.
This may be the clearest sign yet of the Labour party’s policy on whether the UK should stay in or out of Europe.

This article was also published on leftfootforward

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Le Pen v Madonna

French Front National leader Marine Le Pen announced her intentions to sue global pop star Madonna this week, for displaying a video image of her that has a swastika on her face.

Although this image was show during Madonna’s recent Paris concert for her song ‘nobody knows me’, she has used it before in previous concerts.
The issue is compounded by the fact that an image of Adolf Hitler follows Le Pen’s image in the video. The crowd can be heard cheering in support of Madonna at the point where Le Pen’s image is shown.
Time Magazine reports:
On July 15, officials for extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) announced the party has decided to sue Madonna for using an image of Le Pen with a swastika on her forehead during a July 14 Paris concert.
The segment also contained imagery of other world leaders the singer presumably has problems with, such as Pope Benedict, Sarah Palin, Hu Jintao and Hosni Mubarak.
National Front vice-president Florian Philippot remarked:
“Marine Le Pen will defend not only her own honour but her supporters and the millions of National Front voters.”
Le Pen has been the most successful Front National leader to date. Although she failed to become an MP, her party gained 18% share of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential election.
Le Pen has been credited for trying to move the Front National away from extremist links and has been successful in appealing to a younger electorate. Her niece Marechal-Le Pen is currently the youngest member in French parliament.

Time continues:
But if the singer gets mostly applause from international audiences who identify Le Pen as Europe’s best-known face of xenophobic right-wing politics, she may find herself with fewer allies in France as a result of associating Le Pen with Nazism.
The reason? Though Le Pen presides over a reactionary and Islamophobic party, she’s also clearly not a fascist, not a Nazi and not Hitler.
Comparisons of Le Pen and her party to her father’s rule over the FN not only leave many people in France feeling Madonna’s jab misunderstands Le Pen’s relatively moderate positioning but even victimizes her with an unfair association with the Nazi symbol.
Madonna has not indicated whether she will remove the image for her forthcoming show in Nice on August 21st.
Is there a chance the pop singer’s intention to discredit the politician will backfire, creating supportive sympathy for the Front National leader?

This article was also published on leftfootforward.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Hollande says UK’s future lies within Europe

David Cameron last month said Britain would roll out the red carpet for wealthy French nationals, but yesterday rolled out the red carpet for François Hollande’s visit to the UK, in his first official trip here as French President.
David-Cameron-Francois-HollandeHollande outlined to David Cameron their two countries’ future lay in a multi-speedEurope.
At a press conference yesterday, Hollande stated he does not believe the UK intends to block what the eurozone countries are trying to achieve.
He said:
“We need to conceive a multi-speed Europe with each country running at their own pace, taking what they want from the European Union with respect for the other countries.”
Cameron said France was an essential partner to Britain as he has difficult decisions to make about if and when to hold a referendum on the UK position in Europe.
He is trying to hold off until 2015, but faces growing calls from backbench Tories as well as the general public to hold a referendum in this parliament.
The British public are unlikely to get an ‘in or out’ question, though - it seems more likely the UK’s relationship with Europe could be called into question, with the UK wanting to repatriate some powers back from Europe to gain more sovereignty. Hollande’s call for a multi-speed Europe, would then give the UK the breathing space to work to a different beat to the rest of the EU.

Hollande and Cameron also have different ideas on how to get their countries back on the path to growth, with Hollande planning to hit the bankers and the wealthy and Cameron favouring austerity and public sector cuts. It was a short 90-minute lunch meeting, with Syria and defence also on the agenda. Hollande also had an even shorter 30-minute meeting with the Queen.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hollande calls for EU solidarity

François Hollande flexed his political muscles and urged the EU summit in Brussels, to support European countries such as Spain and Italy in their time of financial crisis, which may need swift action to mitigate the impact on their citizens.  Angela Merkel reiterated that there would be no collective pooling of debt but Merkel and Hollande did agree that a financial package of 120bn euros should be advocated to the summit, which the European leaders signed up to.  These funds will be used to support those counties on shaky financial ground.  The Eurozone is on the path to greater integration as a banking union was discussed.  One of Hollande's pledges for France, which was about tackling youth unemployment, now has a 60bn euro fund targeted towards this across Europe.

Hollande and Merkel did put their differences aside to state that they were united on austerity and ‘one Europe’ where everyone helps each other, nut are divided on how this is best achieved. Merkel also stated that she would not “give Europe her credit card without guarantees”

Spain and Italy are likely to look to Hollande, to challenge Merkel strict austerity methods of handling the EU economic crisis.  Hollande true to form, issued policy proposals for the summit which focused on a growth and jobs pact.  The EU summit in Brussels gave an opportunity for the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain to discuss common issues before a full EU summit next week.

This article was also published on the award winning blog left foot forward

Anti-piracy agreement rejected by European parliament

Civil liberty and freedom won the day as ACTA the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was rejected by a majority vote in the European parliament on Wednesday, five years after its inception.  478 MEP’s voted against the act, 39 voted for and 165 abstained and given the strength of feeling against the agreement, questions should be raised about if negotiations about its implementation were enacted in the proper way.  The proposed agreement created fierce debate over whether it was the right measure to tackle the trade of illegal, counterfeit goods and protect Intellectual Property.

The European Commission will now need to think about how they overcome this setback, in a way that will be accepted by the European parliament, as ACTA has been implemented although not ratified in 31 countries.  Supporters of ACTA including the European People's Party (the Conservative Grouping in the European Parliament) say this will put Europe at a disadvantage.  MEP’s from the left including the Greens and alliance of Social Democrats had argued that in the initial stages the full weight of the proposals were not fully out there in the public domain and there was a lack of detail in the proposals.

 David Martin, Socialists and Democrats Euro MP and author of the parliamentary report on the treaty, said after the vote: "ACTA is now dead in the EU thanks to the European Parliament”  The agreement saw mass protests earlier in the year from opponents who argued that the agreement would limit online internet freedom.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Le Pen’s parliamentary hopes are dashed in French elections

It was an eventful evening in France on Sunday, with the socialists celebrating a historic majority taking up to 320 seats in parliament.

Axelle Lemaire won her northern Europe seat, whilst Francois François Hollande’s ex-partner Ségolène Royal and Marine Le Pen’s parliamentary hopes were dashed.

There was debate that in order for Hollande’s socialist programme to be enacted in France, there would need to be a joint coalition of the far left and Greens. The Socialists, however ,won the majority of seats in the national assembly and no pacts at least for the time being will need to be formed.

Axelle Lemaire had a stunning victory becoming France’s first MP for northern Europe. The socialist is one of 11 new overseas MPs and Lemaire will represent 100,000 French voters living in the UK.
It was widely expected Hollande’s former partner Royal would win the seat in La Rochelle, however that honour went to the dissident socialists Olivier Falorni, who had the public backing of Hollande’s current partner Valerie Trierweiler.  Trierweiler tweeted her support for Falorni last week with Royal stating that:

“Traitors always pay for their treachery in the end. I will continue to weigh upon national politics. I am passionately motivated by the love of France and the well-being of the French.”
Royal had set her sights, if elected, on becoming the new speaker of the national assembly after her bids to become French president and head of the Socialist party fell through. Falorni picked up a whopping 63 per cent of the vote despite receiving less votes than Royal in the first round. Falorni was asked to step down after the original result but refused to do so.

Le Pen was widely expected to win the seat in her home town of Henin Beaumont, especially as the fire brand leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon conceded defeat last week. However this seat went to the socialist Philippe Kemel.

The Front National did celebrate some victory gaining two MPs in a 24-year hiatus including Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, elected as an MP in Carpentras. At the age of 22, this makes her one the youngest ever French MPs. The race for Henin Beaumont is not quite over yet with Le Pen widely expected to challenge the narrow result.

France also elected its highest ever number of female MPs at 155, which leapfrogged it from 69th to 34th worldwide for female representation.

This article was also published on left foot forward.

Are European borders set to close?

European parliament has reacted strongly this week about calls for the review of the Schengen agreement.  The Schengen agreement was instituted in 1985 near the town of Schengen in Luxembourg, initially with five member states of the European Economic Community. This has now grown to 26 signatories.  It effectively facilitates the flow of internal travel without the need for a visa, between countries that have signed up to the agreement.

MEPs are angry that the EU home affairs minsters led by the Danish justice minister Morten Bødskov, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU, agreed that visa free travel that the Schengen agreement allows could be stopped temporarily.   MEPs may take the matter to court, as the legal basis on which Schengen is based has been altered.  European governments can currently suspend this agreement in times of urgent need; however the debate is now focusing on whether this length of time should be extended for periods of up to two years.  This would be following previous monitoring of borders showing a threat to national security or public policy. Greece has been criticized for example, for not securing their borders with Turkey enough.  Germany and France have led the call to date for countries to be able to reintroduce border controls.  Sarkozy during his presidential election campaign had said that he would consider pulling out of the Schengen zone.

The UK is not signed up to the Schengen agreement, alongside Cyprus and Ireland.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

France to get a new MP for northern Europe

As well as the legislative elections on the 10th and 17th June, French citizens in the UK will also get the first ever opportunity to have an expat represent them in overseas constituencies.  The northern Europe constituency seat created by Sarkozy will comprise the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.  There are a sizeable number of French citizens living within the UK, with over 120,000 officially registered at the French consulates in London and Edinburgh, with unofficial estimates putting that figure nearer 400,000.  Approximately half of the registered French citizens live in London.

Polls show that 54% of French citizens abroad voted for Sarkozy.  However in the UK this trend was reversed with 52% of French voters here choosing Hollande.  The socialist candidate Axelle Lemaire is based in London otherwise known as France’s sixth city, so this puts her in strong campaigning territory.  The key issues for Lemaire are school places for parents who would like their children educated in French schools and public sector workers, issues that resonate well with French voters in London.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Who will take control of France’s parliament?

The battle lines have been drawn and 6,500 candidates are gearing up for the start of the French parliamentary elections campaign.

On June 10th and 17th the two rounds of the elections will take place for 577 seats where the socialists need to win a majority in parliament in order to support the policies and reform plans of President François Hollande.
They are hoping to continue riding the wave that saw his historic win this month, but will not take anything for granted with their campaign slogan being “Give a majority to change”.

The result of the legislative elections also has a direct impact on the make-up of Hollande’s government, with 26 out of the 34 members are standing in the elections, including newly appointed prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrau.

The socialists are taking a risk by not signing up with the far-left ‘Left Front’ coalition, although this could change as the campaign progresses.
UMP candidates, meanwhile, will be contemplating whether Nicolas Sarkozy’s departure will help or hinder their campaigns. If they gain enough seats it could spell trouble for Hollande. UMP has held the majority in parliament for the past 10 years. Even so, UMP may have to decide whether to court the far right as Sarkozy did in the presidential elections in order to keep their majority.

Marine Le Pen has indicated alliances could be possible in the parliamentary elections, even though this was not the case for the presidential campaign.

UMP’s French defence minister Gérard Longuet and MP have recently indicated talks with Front National are a possibility.

Current polls indicate the socialists are at 46%, UMP 33%, and Front National 17%.

This article was also published on Left Foot Forward

Ireland votes yes

In the recent vote on the fiscal pact Ireland voted a resounding yes with over 950,000 votes as opposed to the no vote polling 650,000. In an unusual move to hold a referendum middle class voters ticked yes, whereas in the main working class voters ticked no.   Fears of Ireland voting no overall though, were not realised and Europe especially Angela Merkel can breathe a small sigh of relief.  The Irish public it seems have decided not to take the risk of voting no and stay in the heart of the Eurozone but some important issues remain.  Ireland in some ways has been seen as a success story for the EU.  Growth has improved whilst the deficit and borrowing costs has reduced in the face of harsh austerity measures.  These measures as a result of the yes vote are only set to continue.  This will allow them to access money from the European Stability Mechanism, which will allow Ireland to continue servicing its debt.  However levels of borrowing will be high as well as unemployment.  The political and economic situations in Spain and Greece could have knock on effects for Ireland, if they develop in an unfavourable way.  Ireland wants to overcome its economic challenges; however the austerity alone is not the sole answer.  Prof Marcus Miller and Lord Skidelsky in the financial times recently stated that:

 “George Osborne is in fact conducting a high-risk, live policy experiment with the British economy.  The lack of growth and the evidence of double-dip recession suggest that the experiment has indeed failed. The chancellor should either change his policy or stand aside”

The Prime Minister stated that the fiscal pact would not solve all of Ireland’s problems.  It’s hard to see jobs and growth materialising in big numbers.   In the months to come, the Irish public will be watching the economy closely to see whether austerity can bring growth.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Vive Hollande! M. Normal wins the day

France is celebrating its first Socialist President for 17 years, voting in François Hollande and bidding adieu to Nicolas Sarkozy.
Although Sarkozy may have clung on in the final live televised debate - watched by 18 million viewers - Hollande dealt with his cries of “liar” quite well, and with Fascist Marine Le Pen stating she would cast a blank vote, centrist François Bayrou pledging support for him and polls consistently putting the Socialist ahead, “M. Normal” won the day with just under 52% of the vote, in a Presidential race that ended much closer than expected.
Francois-Hollande-President-of-FranceJubilant crowds partied all night at the Place de la Bastille in central Paris, the same place François Mitterrand celebrated his election win in 1981.
Hollande’s victory showed a rejection by France of tough austerity measures, the voters calling instead for the creation of a new European agreement for jobs and growth.
In his victory speech at the Place de la Capitale in Tulle, he asked the public to judge him on two key issues – “justice and young people”.
President Hollande said:
“I am proud to be capable of giving hope again. I will be the president of all… There is only one France, one nation, reunited for the same destiny…
“Everyone in France with be treated equally, no child of the Republic will be sidelined, abandoned or discriminated against. The first thing the President of the Republic must do is to assemble and bring people together for the challenges we face.”
“Europe is watching us, when this result was announced I am sure that in some countries it was a relief, a hope… Austerity is not inevitable…
“We are are not any old country, we are France!”
Hollande’s win has implications for Europe as whole, proving austerity is not the be and end all. The left across Europe have galvanised hope in his win; Labour Party activists in the UK have been tweeting their delight at Hollande’s win, perhaps seeing it as a symbol for the British public rejecting harsh austerity measures in the general elections in 2015.
The Greek elections, more worryingly, have shown the public supporting far-left and far-right parties who reject the austerity regime, against the mainstream centre-right New Democracy and Socialist parties.
Europe is eager to see how the Franco-German relationship will evolve under Hollande’s direction, especially when Angela Merkel backed Sarkozy in his presidential bid. Hollande plans to meet with Merkel before the G8 summit in Washington in an attempt to start to renegotiate the fiscal pact.
All eyes now turn to the parliamentary elections in June, where the Socialists, UMP and Front National will want to win majorities. It is particularly important for the Socialist to win seats so that Hollande can carry through his policies. The campaign continues.

This article was published on left foot forward.

What next for Greece?

So the Greece voters have made their choice.  The centre right and socialist parties normally pick up 80% of the vote between them.  This time it was nearer 30%. The harsh austerity measures are biting and the public cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel with the current path.   No one party has been given a mandate to rule and to date no coalition partners have been formed.   Although anti-austerity parties gained support, it is unlikely that the far right and far left can work together.  

Greek newspapers.

So what next for Greece?  If deals cannot be brokered by Thursday another costly general election on the 17th June and exit from the euro looks likely.  But are the Greeks really ready to leave the Euro?  With 2 billion euros in the bank, this would last the country until mid-summer.  The second round of elections will tell the tale.  The mainstream parties are now also promising to renegotiate the austerity measures.  But will Europe let up so the Greeks can breathe a little?  With unemployment rising and the economy shrinking, is this the only way that Greece can survive?  The new French president elect, Hollande may present credible alternatives to Merkel that can accommodate Greece more and keep the Eurozone together.  It would be a headache for the euro zone if Greece left the currency, although Greece would feel the majority of the pain.   If there is a coalition that can renegotiate the austerity measures, whilst keeping Greece in the Euro, this seems to be the most credible option going forward.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

International piracy agreement faces opposition

The proposed anti-piracy legislation named ACTA (anti-counterfeiting trade agreement), faces strong opposition before it goes before the European parliament in June 2012. It has already been signed by 22 members of the European Union including the UK.   It is being vehemently opposed and a strong campaign built to stop it from being approved.  The stop ACTA website claims that the agreement ACTA has not been negotiated transparently over the past three years and is a threat to fundamental rights and access to knowledge, especially as initially the papers were not made public.  There are claims that developing countries have been pushed out of the negotiations.

Protesters hold up laptops spelling out "Stop Acta" 

David Martin, a UK MEP who is the European Parliament's rapporteur on ACTA, said last week that politicians would not be able to "guarantee adequate protection for citizens' rights" if the treaty was ratified.  It is argued that the legislation could have a fundamental impact on individual human rights.  Protests against ACTA have been held across Europe to put pressure on the forthcoming debate in parliament.

So if the ACTA legislation was enacted what would it mean for you?  ACTA is an international treaty with the aim of having uniform copyright protection measures across the world.  It would seek to reduce the trade of counterfeited physical goods, including copyrighted material online as with fines to help prevent people do this.  The European Commission claims that the European economy risks losing its competitiveness without this legislation as money is lost through an estimated 103 million counterfeit goods being sold.  The Commission claims that ACTA would not infringe on civil liberties and that EU citizens have nothing to worry about.

It’s Sarko v Hollande, part deux

Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande will face off for the French Presidency on May 6th after neither passed the 50 per cent winning mark in yesterday’s first round.
Hollande looks the favourite, winning the first round 28.6% to Sarkozy’s 27.1%, giving him the momentum going into the two-week run-off. Fascist Marine Le Pen came third on 18.1% – the Front National’s largest ever presidential vote share – with far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon fourth on 12% and centrist François Bayrou fifth on 9%.
Where the voters of the bottom eight candidates vote now will be crucial. Melenchon has urged all his supporters to unconditionally back Hollande, while Le Pen is remaining silent on who her backers should now support.
Although yesterday’s vote reflected recent polls, in the past they have been inaccurate, particularly in predicting support for the Front National as voters do not like to publicly declare the agree with the far right party. This is what partly led to the surprise of Jean-Marie Le Pen edging out the Socialist candidate to enter the second round in 2002.
It is an unexpected achievement that Hollande is set to become the next Socialist president of France. The unlikely candidate replaced Dominique Strauss-Kahn after his sex scandal. He’d been dubbed the ‘ordinary’ candidate in contrast to the ‘bling’ candidate whose popularity has faded over recent months.

Hollande comes from a small town called Tulle and is seen as a lovely, down to earth guy. His policies if successful include taxing those who earn more than a million euros at 75%. If he makes it to the Élysée Palace he will be the first Socialist president since 1995; if Sarkozy loses, he will be the firstincumbent to lose a second term since 1981.

This article was published on left foot forward

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Your personal details will be shared with the USA

This week the European parliament voted through a renegotiated deal by a majority of 409 to 226, that will mean your personal details will be shared with the USA whilst travelling between Europe and the USA, in order to fight against terrorism.  The USA clams that this data has been used to prevent acts of terrorism in the past.  The new deal provides stricter control on data use from the former deal that was agreed in 2007.  It seems as if parliament did not agree on this, that the USA may have imposed a visa regime in Europeans travelling there.

So what personal details will be released about you?  This will include names, addresses, credit card and phone numbers, but in some circumstances may also include sensitive data on your ethnic origin, meal choices, health, political views or sex life (although I’m not quite sure how airlines get details of our sex life currently!). The data can be used for a maximum of 10 years and after six months should be de-personalised so that those accessing it cannot link it to you.  More sensitive data about you such as race, religion or health status should be deleted 30 days after use.  If you feel your data has been used inappropriately you will be able to take this up further.
There is fear that this deal may prompt other countries such as China or Russia to ask to access similar information as a deal has already been negotiated with Australia and is currently in progress with Canada.

Sarkozy chases youth vote

After Marine Le Pen’s attempt at gaining the youth vote, for the upcoming French Presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy is now turning his attention to the potentially powerful voting force, having been focused on security and policing in recent weeks.
Nicolas-Sarkozy-Carla-BruniThe UK and France have both struggled to handle the ever growing numbers of young unemployed and Sarkozy has outlined some measures to deal with this issue, including the creation of a “youth bank” which would provide loans to young entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.
In France, youth unemployment currently stands at 23%.
Sarkozy exclaimed during his speech in Paris as he was cheered on by students wearing T- shirts labelled “Sarkozy Students”:
“Helping young people to be free, responsible and helping them to realise their dreams, that for me is a policy for young people.”
During the Presidential election campaign, nothing much before now had been said by Sarkozy about youth, compared with Socialist rival François Hollande, who launched his campaign with youth issues at the fore by pledging to create 60,000 new jobs in education for youth as well asslashing charges for companies that take on more young people.
Traditionally young people have voted for Socialist candidates, with 63% voting for the Socialist Party in the last Presidential election.
Other youth initiatives planned include doubling the number of participants in France’s national service programme, as well as making it mandatory for businesses with more than 250 employees to create apprenticeships. Sarkozy, who has steadily gaining ground over the past few weeks, now has a 27% approval rating, while Hollande is on 28%.

Le Pen has maintained her 15% share, although her campaign may gain momentum by her being in the running for the 2012 TIME 100 Poll, where members of the public vote for the leaders, artists, innovators, icons and heroes they think are the most influential people in the world. The results will be revealed on Tuesday, April 17, just before the Presidential elections on April 22nd.
Le Pen was selected as it was claimed her campaign “has changed French politics”, and suggests Sarkozy has copied many of her policies, which just demonstrates how much more acceptable Front National is becoming. The voting on the TIME Poll currently shows 66% feel she should not be on the list; Hollande and Sarkozy are also in the running to be selected with 60% and 64%, respectively, for them not to be entered on the list either.

This article was published on Left Foot Forward

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Merah killings raise tough questions for France about integration

The killings in Toulouse last week Wednesday by Mohamed Merah, 23, described as “polite and shy” by neighbours, but who then went on to become radicalised in Afghanistan, once again raises the issue of integration and immigration in France.


Merah seemed like an ordinary, young guy who liked clubbing, football and cars – yet went on to to become one of France’s notorious killers.
Merah’s irreprehensible actions, the worst terror France has seen in 15 years, were deliberately targeted: four soldiers, three Jewish children and a Rabbi were murdered by Merah.
A man claiming to be Merah called the popular news station France 24 whilst being held at ransom within his apartment at 1am on Wednesday March 21st and said his actions were directed against France’s military presence in Afghanistan, the killing of Palestinians and the ban on wearing the full face veil, although it would seem such extreme actions would have a deeper agenda, with others also responsible, especially as Merah stated he was working with a group allied to al-Qa’eda.
Once again he was described as articulate and polite by the senior news editor, Ebba Kalondo.
The shootings have once again brought race and immigration issues to the fore. Nicolas Sarkozy, along with other major presidential candidates, rightly suspended their campaigns. Now back on the campaign trial, with one month till polling day, Sarkozy looks tougher on policing and security – his strongest areas – and his lead against Socialist rival François Hollande has narrowed since the incident.
Sarkozy pledged to introduce new legislation to make it a crime to look at websites encouraging terrorism and to travel specifically for the purposes of terrorism training. This shooting may remind French citizens of an incident that happened in 1993, where Sarkozy, as Mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, dealt with an assailant, who took children hostage in a nursery and led a number of children out after successfully negotiating their release.
The next few weeks will reveal how the Front National will further seek to exploit the actions of Merah; they will likely say this proves their claim that immigration is dangerous for France.
Marine Le Pen claimed:
“The risk of fundamentalism has been under-estimated in our country.”
With Sarkozy promptly hitting back by saying the attack on French institutions and politics was unfair.

Terrorist acts are rare, but a real threat to the national security of France. Merah, when speaking to France 24, said it was only the beginning. It is unlikely the major presidential candidates will choose to use this tragedy for political gain, however a growing security dilemma faces them and it will take skill and wit to come up with a comprehensive answer of how to face it.

This article was published on the blog Left Foot Forward