Welcome to PROVENCE TODAY, a blog about life and politics in France.
In our search for the ideal place to retire, my husband and I settled in Aix-en-Provence in 1998 and have never stopped learning about this fascinating country that has become our permanent home. While this blog deals with the socio-political aspects of France, my book "Taking Root in Provence" focuses on the pleasures and paradoxes of daily life in sunny Provence.
Monday, December 16, 2013
HOLLANDE-SARKOZY, BURALISTES, PISA SURVEY, SCHOOL REFORM
Both former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who met Nelson
Mandela in 2008, and current president François Hollande were invited to attend
the funeral service for Mandela in Johannesburg where nearly one hundred other
heads of state were expected. When Hollande then invited Sarkozy to accompany
him on the presidential plane, this was seen as a courtesy of one president to another,
possibly inspired by Mandela's example of forgiveness and reconciliation. If
reconciliation was indeed the motive, it did not last a day.
Quickly, the old mutual dislike resurfaced and the two men
ended up traveling to South Africa in two separate planes. The ostensible reason
was an economic and practical one (the use of two Falcon jets being less costly
than the presidential Airbus), but the Sarkozy camp hinted at the complications
of flying two presidents on the presidential plane that has only one bedroom
and shower. For the 13-hour flight, the bedroom suite would go to Hollande and
his partner Valérie Trierweiler, and Sarkozy would have to do with a mere
business class seat. Pas possible.
Hollande and Sarkozy arrive in Johannesburg
There is no love lost between Sarkozy and Hollande who have
barely spoken to each other since the turnover of the presidency in 2012 when,
after the official parting handshake on the steps of the Elysée Palace, a
boorish Hollande failed to accompany Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni
to their car, as is the custom, and let them find their own way. The
humiliating treatment left its mark and was generally disapproved of. Almost
two years later, Mandela's spirit of forgiveness was notably absent in Paris.
At the same time, President and Mrs. Obama also traveled to
Johannesburg for the Mandela funeral, with on board the presidential Air Force
One former president George W. Bush and his wife, as well as former Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton, a potential future presidential candidate. Air Force
One also has only one bedroom, but accommodations were made to everyone's
satisfaction. Where there's a will...
A commercial court in Toulouse has just rendered an
unexpected verdict when it ruled against the owner of a shop that sells
electronic cigarettes that are meant to help smokers overcome their addiction
to tobacco. A buraliste (tobacconist)
in Toulouse who runs a Tabac (the
government-sanctioned shops where cigarettes and lottery tickets are sold in
France) had filed suit against the owner of a nearby e-cigarette shop for
"unfair competition". The court agreed with the plaintiff that one
smokes an e-cigarette and that as such this substitute cigarette is governed by
the State's tobacco monopoly and the health laws that prohibit the advertising
of any such product and limits their sale to the licensed buralistes and their 27,000 Tabac
The defendant, who had received official approval to launch
his e-cigarette business just months ago, called the ruling absurd and will appeal.
His lawyer reminded the court that e-cigarettes have no particular statute in
France and should therefore not be governed by the State's tobacco monopoly,
all the more so because there is no tobacco in e-cigarettes.
Statistics reveal that 34% of the French still smoke, more
than half of them young adults, and that 60,000 people die every year from
tobacco-related disease at a cost to the government of 3% of its PIB. E-cigarettes
would therefore seem a welcome additional tool in fighting tobacco dependency, especially
for a government whose national health system pays smokers €150 per year for
substitute products (patches) and reimburses the cost of anti-tabagisme treatments in hospitals. In a further effort to
dissuade smokers, it regularly increases the price of cigarettes and will do so
again in January 2014, when the cost per pack will reach €7.00. The most
visible result so far, however, has been that smokers increasingly stock up
across the border, in Belgium or Spain, where cigarettes are cheaper.
The Toulouse ruling may not directly affect the
existing anti-smoking programs, but it does not help in the health
department's fight to break tobacco dependency.
In early December, the Organization of Economic Cooperation
and Development (OECD) in Paris published its latest PISA study (Program for
International Student Assessment) that compares math, reading and science
skills in 15-year-old students in 65 countries. Shanghai students came in
first, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, while France
dropped to 25th place in math (a 16-point drop since 2003). In addition, France
showed a growing gap between students from different socio-economic backgrounds,
said Eric Chardonnier of the OECD. He did, however, praise some of the reforms
that French education minister Vincent Peillon is trying to implement,
including the controversial elementary school hours.
That battle is not yet won, however, and to date 55 French mayors
still refuse to implement the new 4-1/2 day class schedule in their municipalities,
unless and until they receive financial help from the government. The main sticking
point seems to be the cost of auxiliary personnel needed to keep the children
occupied on Wednesday afternoons after class and before they go home. Minister
Peillon reminded the mayors of their civic duty, saying that they represented
only a small minority of the 4000 municipalities in France and that he would
not allow them to stand in the way of the vast majority. "We will not go
back to the old system".
Last week, a strike by prep school teachers ended in a
temporary truce and a call for new discussions in January 2014. Dissatisfied middle-
and high school teachers are awaiting the outcome of these discussions before deciding
what action they will take. There is no smooth sailing in sight for Mr.
Peillon's educational reforms.
Fortunately, Christmas is just around the corner and
thoughts are turning to school vacations, holiday travel, and food, the great unifier in France.
Everybody celebrates Christmas with a grand meal, rich and poor alike.
Specialty food shops, patisseries, chocolatiers, and liquor stores do their
biggest business of the year, and on this occasion "se faire plaisir"
displaces all thoughts of school reform, strikes, or economic crisis. That will
have to wait until January.
(*) For more about local Christmas traditions, see my book Taking Root in Provenceby clicking here: