Tag Archives: france

World Review: Strange bedfellows in France, Ukraine, Roe v. Wade and Belarus

French politics have been thrown into confusion with an unprecedented “Stop Macron” alliance of the left for next month’s parliamentary elections. The  concordat has been forged by France’s elder statesman of the Left, Jean-luc Melenchon who just missed being included in last month’s presidential run-offs. He has persuaded the Communists, Greens and Socialists to join his France Insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed), to stop Macron’s pro-business, pro-EU legislative agenda. But Melenchon’s pre-election coalition does not spell a foregone victorious conclusion for the French Left. The latest opinion polls show a three-way split between the left-wing alliance, Macron’s La Republique en Marche and the right of centre conservatives and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.

The Socialists and Melenchon make strange bedfellows with opposing views on the EU and NATO membership. They do, however, agree on the bread and butter issues of lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum age and capping prices on essential products. On the other end of the political spectrum, it is uncertain whether the Republicans will support Macron or Le Pen in the new National Assembly. The political map is further complicated by France’s two-round electoral assembly which appears to give Macron’s party a slight advantage in the run-off vote on 19 June. The only thing that is clear at the moment is that the National Assembly elections are making life complicated for the newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron and the results may make his second term very difficult.

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Observations of an expat: France – Nationalism v Supra-nationalism

The French troop to the polls this Sunday to decide whether they want to turn the clock back to 19th century nationalism with a dash of racism, or opt for European supra-nationalism.

Of course, very few French voters see the choice in those terms. Like most everyone everywhere, they are less concerned with big picture politics and more concerned with their pocket books and the spectre of the unknown.

But like it or not, the outcome of the French elections will have a major impact on the big issues in France and – because of France’s international role – the rest of the world.

The choice is clear: a vote for Marine Le Pen is a vote for 19th century nationalism. Support for incumbent Emmanuel Macron is a vote for the continuing trend towards supra-nationalism and a united Europe.

Since the end of World War Two, the world has been moving towards regionalisation, globalism and free trade. The European Coal and Steel Community, followed by the Common Market, followed by the EU has been the world’s most successful political expression of that trend. The founders’ aims have been achieved: to bind together the political and economic structures of the European nations so that war becomes “unthinkable and materially impossible.”

The price of this peace and prosperity has been curbs on national sovereignty. A majority of the British people couldn’t stomach it. They also felt that their national identity was threatened. The result was Brexit. Marine Le Pen represents a slice of the French electorate who would favour a Frexit for the same reasons.

The leader of National Rally pushed for a British-style referendum in the 2017 presidential race. She lost that badly and so this time around she watered down her Euro-scepticism. Instead she has proposed everything short of Frexit – withdrawal from the Schengen Agreement, the primacy of French law over the EU, and French state subsidies in contravention of EU regulations. All of which would put France on an early collision course with Brussels and create the conditions for Frexit.

Marine le Pen also dislikes NATO which has been dubbed the most successful military alliance in history. She wants to pull her country out of the integrated military structure. France, she says, should “no longer be caught up in conflicts that are not ours.”

Which brings us to Ukraine, Russia and Ms Le Pen’s relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In common with most far-right politicians, the leader of National Rally is an admirer of strong autocratic rulers and you don’t get much stronger or more autocratic than Putin. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she has backed away from her support of the Russian leader, but other Western leaders are worried that she would be a weak link in a so far united front against Moscow.

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Tom Arms’ World Review: “Butchers of Bucha”

Here’s a good one: In the wake of the Bucha massacres, a Russia Today commentator opined this week that the dead Ukrainians littering the street were killed by British intelligence because Bucha sounds like butcher in English. This made it easier, he continued, for British newspapers to write headlines such as the “Butchers of Bucha.”

How SIS and/or British troops managed to sneak undetected into Bucha, blow up homes, tanks and roads and kill the inhabitants is left unexplained. But that is of no consequence.  The problem is that too many Russians believe him. In fact, what passes for a reasonably independent opinion poll in Russia this week showed that 80 percent of the population accept the Kremlin version of events. A big part of this support is because the Russian people are denied access to news reports produced from outside Russia.

But this is only part of the story. Putin knows that domestic support is essential for success in Ukraine and he has been laying down the foundational lies since 2007—perhaps even before. These included: Ukraine is governed by Nazis. NATO is threatening to overrun Russia. Russian culture is under threat from the West. Russia is being denied its rightful place as a great power. With this firm propaganda bedrock in place – and total state control of the media – it becomes easier for the Russian public to swallow the inevitable mountain of lies that follow.

It is unsurprising that Russian soldiers are being accused of violent war crimes. Violence begets violence and Russia, according to their own statistics, is a violent society. Russian police have reported that one in four Russian households have suffered domestic violence at some point. The figures are considered a major embarrassment, so much so that the Duma recently voted to massage the statistics by decriminalising several categories of domestic violence in an attempt to improve the national image.

The roots of the problem are directly linked to chronic national alcoholism.  Twenty-five percent of Russian men die before the age of 55 alcohol-related diseases. On average, each Russian downs 1,500 shots of vodka a year. Various governments over the years have tried to curb Russians’ love affair with the bottle. The latest attempt was in 2010 when President Dmitri Medvedev introduced a minimum charge of $3 a bottle of vodka and banned drinking and driving. The legislation, however, appears to have little effect on drinking habits and recently the Kremlin gave into public pressure and amended the drink driving law to allow “one for the road.”

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World Review by Tom Arms

In this weekend’s World Review, LDV foreign correspondent Tom Arms looks at the forthcoming elections in Hungary and the ongoing elections in India. France is quitting Mali. Trump is not the only American politician being threatened by legal action. The Trump campaign has Hilary Clinton in her sights again.

Hungary’s beleaguered far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban looks to have a secret weapon up his sleeve for the Hungarian general election scheduled for 3 April—Donald Trump. Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party enjoys a two-thirds majority In the Hungarian Parliament and appeared set to win another sweeping victory in April. But then in October the country’s feuding opposition parties decided to unite under the leader of provincial mayor Peter Marki-Zay. To make matters worse, Mayor Marki-Zay is a conservative. That is, he is cut from the same right-wing cloth as Orban—just not as extreme.

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World Review: French elections, Barbados, Russian security pact, MI6 and abortion rights in America

The French Presidential elections are hotting up. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour announced his candidacy this week. He is Euro-sceptic, virulently anti-immigrant and possibly the most anti-Semitic Jew in European politics. The 63-year-old journalist claims that he will save France from decadence and minorities that “oppress the majority.” Zemmour is neck and neck with seasoned extreme right campaigner Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally Party. Which means that the extreme-right vote is split. The left-wing parties are in disarray and have been effectively written off by the French media in the April presidential elections.

On Sunday, primary elections for the Gaullist-oriented Les Republicains ends. There are five candidates: Michel Barnier, Xavier Bertrand, Eric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin and Valerie Pecresse. In the past Les Republicains were described as centre right. But no longer. Emmanuel Macron has stolen those clothes, especially the economic threads. In response, all five Les Republicains candidates have moved to the right with anti-immigration and Eurosceptic policies. All of the above is good news for Macron, who is staunchly pro-European and staying aloof from the immigration debate. Not that he is popular. His approval ratings have slipped from a high of 48 percent in 2017 to under 20 percent. But he stands alone in the winning circle of the centre/centre right. At this moment the betting is on Macron to win as the last man standing.

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World Review: Oil, vigilantism in America, refugees, Swedish politics and Omicron

Prepare for an oil price war in 2022. The combatants are OPEC and a consortium of top energy consuming countries including the US, China, UK, Japan, India and South Korea. All of these countries have built up huge strategic oil reserves in case of emergency such as war or another 1973-style OPEC oil embargo. The US has the largest reserves with 638 million barrels tucked away in storage facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The last two times America’s oil reserves were used was after Hurricane Katrina and during the Gulf War. Biden is depleting them to combat the energy shortage which has pushed up prices to $81 a barrel and is threatening the US and world economic recovery from the pandemic.

The OPEC countries (and Russia), however, like the high prices and they are used to controlling the market to suit their needs by raising and lowering production. They fear that Biden’s move on economic rather than security grounds threatens their historic stranglehold on the market. An OPEC summit is planned for 2 December. The oil ministers were planning to announce a 100 million barrel increase in production from January; not enough to substantially reduce prices, but possibly enough to stabilise them. That is expected to be off next week’s agenda. President Biden also has internal problems in the form of the Republicans who advocate increasing domestic oil production and reinstating projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline to reduce reliance foreign sources. But that, of course, runs afoul of climate change promises.

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World Review: COP26, French fishing, Taiwan territory and Russian gas

COP26 finished its first week with a super abundance of world leaders making a plethora of pledges about climate change. Deforestation is to end (except maybe in Indonesia). More money is to be made available for green technology in developing countries. Eighteen countries (most of them small) have agreed to move away from coal generated energy. Now the leaders have flown home in their gas guzzling carbon emitting private jets and left it to officials to hammer out the devilish details and attempt to wring out concessions from the biggest polluters, mainly China and India who together are responsible for over a third of the planet’s carbon emissions. On the latter point they will have a tough job. India refuses to commit to climate change targets until 2070 which most climatologists reckon is much too little much too late. China, for its part, is continuing to build and export electricity stations powered by its massive coal reserves. Meanwhile, the Global Carbon Project reported that global carbon emissions are climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, with India rising by 12.6% and China by 4% between 2020 and 2021. The climate watchdogs predict that 2022 could see record levels of carbon emissions as air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

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World Review: Brexit, China, Korean famine and the French at large

In most China shops I have visited there has been a prominently displayed sign that reads: “If you broke it you own it.” The same sign needs to hang over the door of 10 Downing Street. Boris Johnson led the Brexit campaign. He was elected on a “Get Brexit done” platform. He and his Brexiteering cabinet have broken the British economy with shortages of food, gas, petrol, turkeys and even children’s toys; and yet they refuse to own responsibility for their actions. They blame it on the pandemic and international circumstances. To be fair, the pandemic and world conditions are major contributing factors, but Britain is suffering more than any other Western country and the reasons—as trade association after professional body keeps telling us—is Brexit. The fact is that Johnson and Co had no plan A, B or C beyond the exit door.

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Observations of an Expat: European Complacency

Political Complacency is dangerous. It stifles innovation and sweeps problems under the carpet because they involve difficult decisions that might rock the boat but end up sinking it if they are ignored too long.

Angela Merkel was in many ways a good German Chancellor. She was a good European leader. She was a consensus builder inside coalition structures. But her constant search for consensus led her to compromises on important issues which needed to be resolved. This was the downside of an otherwise upbeat chancellorship.

Political agreement resulted in economic prosperity for the Germans—and complacency about the unresolved issues, both in Germany and EU-wide. Her likely successor, Social Democrat Party (SPD) leader Olaf Scholz, appears to be heading the same way with a slight leftward bent.

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World Review: US ballots, the Quad, Britain as a “vassal state” and vaccinated Africans

In this weekend’s review, Tom Arms reports auditors have discovered that Donald Trump received 261 fewer votes in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Joe Biden 99 more undermining those that called the election result the “Big Lie”. Could the crisis at Evergrande slow China’s economy and that of the world? The “Quad” is a new Indo-Pacific alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia designed to counter the rise of Chinese. India is the outlier in the group perhaps its including might mean it will look more towards the US. France has recalled its ambassadors to Australia and America over the nuclear submarine row but their man in London stayed put, the French claiming Britain has become a “vassal state” of the United States. In another row, vaccinated Americans can visit the UK but vaccinated Africans cannot.

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Observations of an Expat: Bataclan

The Bataclan Trial which opened this week in Paris has huge domestic and international significance.

Domestically, it will be an act of national catharsis. 1,500 “civilian plaintiffs”—surviving victims and family members of the dead—are scheduled to give five weeks of testimony about the horror of the attack on Friday the 13th 2015 and its life-changing consequences.

The bulk of the nine-month trial, however, will focus on the details of the attack on the Bataclan Theatre, the Stade de France and the street cafes of the 10th and 11th arondissements, and the origins and planning of the operation. The latter will be closely followed by intelligence agencies around the world for information to help identify and defeat future attacks.

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World Review: Voter suppression, wobbling Macron and the Great Barrier Reef

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Tom Arms, this week defends the use of the filibuster in Congress but criticises the Republicans for making it more difficult to vote. Joe Biden, desperate to avoid the addition of America to the sad list of states buried in Afghanistan’s imperial graveyard, is to throw money at the country problem’s rather than soldiers.

The first round of French local elections show President Macron to be in deep trouble and right-winger Marine Le Pen is not far behind him. The Australian government’s reaction to UNESCO’s warnings on the Great Barrier Reef show that the country is a big problem for the climate change community.

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Lib Dem virtual think tank (VTT) debates liberty, Europe and globalization

The VTT is a think tank established by the LibDem Party in France. Its aim is to deliberate on and make recommendations as it sees relevant to LibDem Party policy and options. Its goal is to contribute to bringing definition to the LibDem Party: what it is; what it stands for; what it is doing. Its modus operandi is to conduct and report on sessions each devoted to a single, predetermined theme. It is therefore concerned with issues as they pertain to LibDems regarding the UK and abroad including, for example, liberty and liberalism, international integration, climate change and inequality. Discussions on such topics are conducted on hour-long Zoom sessions. The first three sessions, commencing as of September 29 2020 were given over to attempting to define what were seen as the core elements confronting the LibDems at this moment in time: Liberty, Europe and Globalization.

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Vulnerable people are being oppressed on our doorstep – by the British and French Governments

I’ve come back from the greatest emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever dealt with.

I spent three weeks in Northern France volunteering with an educational charity working in the refugee camps surrounding the channel ports.

It’s incredibly hard to believe but in Western Europe, merely a stone’s throw from the British coast, thousands of people are barely managing to survive, deprived of their basic rights, harassed by a supposedly progressive government and all for the crime of fleeing the most harrowing situations on the planet and trying to build a better life. And worse of all we’re paying for it.

Yes, really. British taxpayers’ money is being ploughed into the French riot police, the CRS, all in the name of ‘border security. They are using that money to make life a living hell for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Whilst I was in France, volunteers were witnessing so called evictions on a daily basis.

This meant destruction of the little possessions that the refugees posses, rounding families up and abandoning them miles away from settlements in the middle of nowhere and often involved the use of tear gas against defenceless peaceful people.

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Macron’s victory speech in English

There was joy in the hearts of liberals across Europe on Sunday night when the French results came through. It was certainly worrying that more than a third of voters chose a far-right extremist, but it shows that populism can be beaten.

Tim Farron was quick to congratulate Emmanuel Macron and said that his values could win the day here too:

I would like to congratulate Emmanuel Macron on his election as France’s new President. This is not just a victory for France, but a victory for Britain and the liberal values we hold dear.

A National Front win would have posed a grave threat to our national interest.

Emmanuel Macron has kept the wolves from our door, but we must never be complacent in the fight against racism, fascism and the far-right.

The liberal values of tolerance, openness and free trade that triumphed in France today can triumph in Britain too.

Together we can change Britain’s future, stand up to Theresa May’s hard Brexit agenda and keep our country open, tolerant and united.

Ambafrance has an English translation of Macron’s victory speech. Here’s an extract.

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What would you do if you were Mayor of Nice?

Nice is still in shock. It’s just about a month and a half since the appalling attack which killed 84 people. That sort of carnage happening on your doorstep takes some getting over. People experience a huge range of emotions from anger to fear. What should the authorities be doing to help people through this time?

They should be reassuring people. They should be helping the whole community stand together in solidarity.

Instead, their headline response has been to pick on innocent women because of their attire on a beach. I have rarely been more annoyed by anything than the sight of a sleeping woman on a beach being surrounded by armed police and being forced to remove clothing. All this in the name of protecting women from oppression. I’m not quite sure how that works as a logical explanation.

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Political disconnect in Calais and Dunkirk

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 10.30.54It is not surprising that media reports focus on the appalling conditions in the Calais and Dunkirk camps. On a recent trip Lord Roberts’ team saw for themselves how men, women and children live in knee-high mud, and brave the winter weather with little more than flimsy tents to keep the wind and rain at bay. In response to accusations that the British government are neglecting their humanitarian responsibilities, the Prime Minister champions the fact that under the Dublin Regulations, the UK has to allow family members of British people to claim asylum in the UK.

Despite the Dublin Regulations, the reality is that virtually no one can access this legal route. Many asylum seekers do not fully understand the unnecessarily complex system, and are unaware of exactly what their rights are; there are even reports of British passport holders unable to enter the UK from the camps. Despite government claims that British officials are present in the camp, these visits are occasional at best and offer no means of beginning an asylum claim. So although many asylum seekers in Calais and Dunkirk (as well as across Europe) have a legitimate legal right to claim asylum in the UK, it is incredibly difficult to access in practice. 

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Charlie Hebdo – in sympathy and solidarity

The news from Paris today is deeply shocking. There are twelve people who are reported dead and four reported injured by the attack at the offices of satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Four cartoonists and the editor-in-chief of the magazine are reported to be among the dead. We express our sincere sympathy to those who have lost loved ones and those affected by the tragedy. We also express our solidarity with the French people and Charlie Hebdo magazine in standing for free speech and against such mindless acts.

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Opinion: Where now on Electoral Reform? (France!)

Electoral reform is off the public agenda for now whether we like it or not, but campaigners should be planning the future.

Some argue that the deceptions of the “No” campaign means that a re-run could be won if only the honest arguments are put and/or full PR was offered. But idea that we should have “another go” at similar arguments for AV+ or STV and expect a different outcome is wrong. All the arguments against AV are even stronger so for AV+ and STV. They will be defeated by an alliance of Tory and Labour tribalists, just as AV and House of Lords reform were.

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Avant le déluge: If you want to follow the French presidential elections…

The UK is approximately 3687 miles from the United States of America, and separated by an ocean. The UK is approximately 22 miles away from France, and separated by a channel.

Yet there has already been more coverage expended on the race for the Republican nomination than there has been on the battle to become President of France. The White House trumps the Élysée Palace every time in the mind of the media even though France is closer and the result is more likely to impact directly on the UK.

However, …

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Opinion: The French battle for London

The forthcoming Mayoral election is certainly the contest that London is currently focusing on; however, scratch beneath the surface and there is a quiet but equally fiercely fought election taking place. June sees the French Parliamentary Elections which for the first time include eleven overseas parliamentary seats; the 3rd constituency is a whopping 1.5 million square miles area, from Greenland to Lithuania, encompassing every Nordic & Baltic countries, Ireland and the UK. London is however where most of the French expats in this constituency reside and therefore the epicentre of this election.

I am standing for the Mouvement Democratique (MoDem) Party, …

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Spain turns to the right – but are the voters rejecting ‘the left’ or incumbents?

As the polls had predicted, Spain has a new government: Rajoy’s right-wing Partido Popular (PP) defeated Zapatero’s left-of-centre Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE). The only surprise was the large margin of victory, 16%, the worst defeat for Spain’s socialists in their electoral history.

So yet another right-wing government takes power in a European nation. On the face of it, it seems almost perverse that at a time when confidence in the deregulated capitalist system associated with the right is at its lowest ebb that those parties which champion it are winning elections. As I noted here on LibDemVoice back in …

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How awful do events have to be in a country before they get attention?

Here’s a simple question: how bad do events have to get in a country before it appears on the mainstream political agenda in this country?

Is having the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimate that up to half a million people have had to flee their homes as a result of violence enough?

Or is having the UN High Commissioner for Refugees double its estimate in the last few days to a million people having fled (out of a population of 22 million)?

Or is having credible reports of sexual violence, summary execution and people being burnt alive?

Or is the UN saying 400 people …

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Opinion: Burqa ban splits the liberal minded

As a long time liberal, I was shocked, but perhaps not surprised, when I listened to the Today programme on my iPlayer earlier this week (I’m spending the summer in the US), and heard that the French parliament had voted to support legislation that would outlaw the wearing of the burqa and niqab in public places, including on the street, in France. Yet, many of my liberally-minded friends (well Liberal Democrat and Labour members) on Facebook were celebrating this action.

I know why people would argue that this is a positive action. As a young graduate, I started my first …

Posted in Op-eds | 56 Comments

Daily View 2×2: 14 March – featuring exciting bollards and Mandelson saying “Vote Lib Dem”

It’s Sunday. It’s 9am. It’s time for photographs of bollards, but first the news.

2 Must-Read Blog Posts

What are other Liberal Democrat bloggers saying? Here are two posts that have caught the eye from the Liberal Democrat Blogs aggregator:

Spotted any other great posts in the last day from blogs that aren’t on the aggregator? Do post up a comment sharing them with us all.

2 Big Stories

Sarkozy faces heavy loss in French regional poll

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Opinion: Another Greek tragedy? Time for Europhiles to admit the dream is over

In case you wouldn’t have noticed, another crisis has come on top of the big one.

For those who understand French, read carefully this article in the March 5 edition of French daily “Le Monde” . A former German finance vice-minister buries the euro as it is now and advises all Southern-Europe economies (including France) to get out of the Eurozone if they don’t clean up their act, behave more like Germany and adopt many unacceptable social measures. Some German backbenchers have suggested these might include selling off some islands (who would buy these? You guess).

That doesn’t yet …

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The Saturday debate: Burkas – to ban or not to ban?

Here’s your starter for ten for our Saturday slot posing a view for debate:

Although it is estimated that no more than 2,000 people in France wear a burka, it has become a hot topic of political debate:

A parliamentary commission proposed a ban on the garment in all public services facilities, including transport.

The commission’s report stops short of recommending a complete public ban on the head-to-toe covering, which conceals the face, wanted by many politicians. Instead, it calls for those wearing the garment to be denied access to hospitals, buses, welfare offices and all other public facilities. (FT)

As the

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Opinion: Once again, the French show a little bit more imagination…

The reduction in VAT from 17.5% to 15% quickly condemned and rightly so, by Vince Cable, as expensive and ineffective is one of this government’s more costly errors. The one year only cut will cost us the incredible sum of £12.5 billion pounds and has done little to stimulate consumer spending, simply because despite the enormous cost it still seems so meaningless at the till.

Indeed, it may will come with a sting in the tail, as when it comes to an end and VAT goes back to 17.5% it will come with a sharp inflationary jolt which may well trim back some of those ‘green shoots’ that Labour will being telling us about this winter.

The French, as usual, have shown a little bit more imagination.

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Scientology goes on trial in France

From France 24:

A high profile trial against the Church of Scientology opens in Paris Monday amid questions about whether the latest legal battle could threaten Scientology’s operations in France.

This time, the organisation faces a fine of up to 5 million euros and even the prospect of dissolution.

The latest case centres on a complaint made by a 43-year-old Parisian woman, who claims the organisation persuaded her to spend at least 20,000 euros for various fraudulent cases including medication for “self-purification”, books and an “electrometer”, a device used to measure galvanic skin response in patients…

The Church of Scientology says money can

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PMQs: France rejoining NATO

The mood at PMQs today was subdued owing to both the killings in Northern Ireland and the recently bereaved Cameron’s return to the fray. No economic points were touched on by Clegg or Cameron, and even the incendiary subject of Binyam Mohammed’s torture allegations was discussed at speaking volume.

The mood was such that Clegg was able to ask quite a nuanced question about France’s re-entry into NATO and what possibilities for co-operation in Afghanistan it might result in. It was all so grown up that poor Tom Harris was really rather bored.

Now,

Posted in Parliament and PMQs | 6 Comments
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