2019 06 – News From France


Another industrial loss

General Electrics is in difficulties worldwide.

In 2014/5 General Electrics took over the energy branch of the French company Alstom, a sale recommended by Emmanuel Macron then Elysée Deputy general secretary under Francois Hollande, even though GE was already a struggling giant and Alstom was then one of its principal competitors.  This is not mentioned today; the Monde newspaper mentions Macron’s responsibility briefly, immediately presenting the defence that he was only following the wishes of the then CEO of Alstom.  The plant, in Belfort (Eastern France) makes gas turbines and turbines for nuclear power stations (including Hinkley Point); its future is in jeopardy with 900 possible job losses out of a total of 1,900.

In 2015 at the time of the acquisition, General Electric had undertaken to create 1,000 jobs in the Alstom energy sector between 2016 and 2018.  It will pay a 50 million Euro penalty to the French state for its failure to do so.  The present minister for the economy plans to involve local authorities in the spending of this fine. This is a paltry sum compared to the fine Alstom had to pay at the time of the sale, a 772 million dollar fine to the US because of a corruption charge; at the time of the acquisition, GE had undertaken to pay the fine, which gave it an advantage over another possible firm, Siemens, which didn’t volunteer to do so.  In the event, GE did not pay, saying it was illegal for a third party to pay a fine, which was clear from the beginning.

On 21st May workers at the Belfort plant lined up outside the gates to send off one of their large turbines, in celebration of their work and skill.


A possible non loss, thanks to the Gilets Jaunes

The Macron government wants to sell French assets, in this case Paris Airports.  The public is strongly opposed to this, and may conceivably prevent it happening thanks to a referendum.

This is the ‘Referendum by Shared Initiative’ (Referendum d’Initiative Partagée), 248 MPs, both left and right, got together to propose the referendum (a fifth of MPs must agree); the Constitutional council validated the proposal; the next step is to gather the signatures of 10% of the electoral register, i.e. more than 4.7 million French.  If this number is reached, more hurdles need to be overcome, but this means the decision on Airports of Paris will not be reached until autumn 2020.

The period of collection of signatures will last nine months. The Ministry of the Interior must open a dedicated website by 15 June. If this threshold is reached, Parliament can still suspend the process. The Assembly and the Senate will have six months to consider the text of the referendum proposal. If both houses look at it, then there will be no consultation. If at least one does not do so then the President of the Republic will have to call a referendum.

The government is in a panic about this, and is trying to stop it happening again, by forbidding the calling of a referendum on a subject being debated in parliament.  At the moment the subject of a referendum cannot be a law that has already been passed less than a year previously.

The magazine Marianne thanks the Gilets Jaunes for this referendum, saying:

“Notwithstanding the vagaries of their movement, this is the meaning of the message sent by the “yellow vests”. Their aspiration to be listened to, heard and respected is first and foremost a response to the epidemic that is plaguing our institutions, and therefore democracy. Their request for consultation of the people by referendum (the famous RIC, which has nothing to do with the stunted version retained by Emmanuel Macron) deserves therefore to be heard, because this reform could revive a public life today reduced to a caricature.”

The Gilets Jaunes RIC was Referendum d’Initiative Citoyenne.


Macrons’ green washing

With the destruction of political parties, Macron is a bit stuck come election time.  He is obliged to resurrect Marine Le Pen, who had been invisible during the struggles against the Labour Law and the SNCF strikes and demonstrations, and rebuffed during the Gilets Jaunes marches and sit ins.  Macron had to force the list leader of his party to have a televised debate with Jordan Bardella, the young and relatively inexperienced leader of the RN (exFN) instead of with the leader of the Républicains (ex-Sarkozy) list.

Polls give the RN winning the largest number of MEPs (as in 2014) which is a bit embarrassing.  Conscious of the fact that people vote more green for the European elections, and of the Friday demonstrations of school and university students for the climate, Macron proceeded to make green speeches, although he talked about what Europe should do, rather than what France should do.

The contradictions between what he says and what he does were obvious.

Macron called for an end to the concreting of the land, yet he supports the massive shopping/leisure project near Paris called EuropaCity.

His government wants to make it easier to cut down forests in France; from now on, the National Office of Forests will no longer be consulted before work takes place.

His government wants to make it easier to develop classified sites by making ministerial authorisation no longer a requirement.  Currently, work likely to change the appearance of classified sites (demolitions, work subject to building permits, tree felling, transport infrastructure …) require special authorization from the Minister of Ecological Transition. Here is a case where the principle of subsidiarity does not apply: in these cases the heaviest political weight is what is required, in order to resist pressure.

Macron calls for an end to the pollution and destruction of the Amazonian forest, yet has not ruled out the ‘Gold Mountain’ mining project in French Guiana.  He opposes deforestation in emerging countries yet he supports the Total bio refinery of palm oil in La Mède in the South of France.

The EU must take decisions: ban glyphosate, instate a carbon tax, make the Paris climate agreement of 2015 binding; stop making petrol cars etc.

Macron knows neither the EU nor the members states are prepared to do any of this.  He can make these pronouncements knowing he will not upset any economic and financial giants that govern us.

The green washing of the official campaign is just that, a pretence.


The battles of the past two years

The unsuccessful battles against the new Labour Law (easier dismissal, plant level negotiations rather than branch level etc) and the privatisation of the railways are not forgotten.  What stands out is the determination of the government to make no concessions.  The Gilets Jaunes movement stands out for the violence of the government response, both extreme physical force and vile propaganda.  One example of this was on 1st May.  The minister of the interior was caught in a blatant lie when he said the Gilets Jaunes had invaded the recovery room in a Paris hospital and were putting patients’ lives in danger.  The media all repeated this, one journalist adding ‘I hope for their sake they were drunk, because there is a lot of alcohol involved in these marches, that would be their only excuse’.  It turned out that people had taken refuge from gas and bullets in the halls of various buildings, including that of a hospital.  When the hospital staff explained they could not open the door to the recovery room to let them in, the demonstrators left peacefully, in the event accompanied by police who re-established calm on this occasion.  The media were obliged to tell the truth the next day.  (The excuse was that the director of the hospital had told the minister that they were under attack.)

No political party has been able to support and lead them.


European elections results

With a 51.3% national turnout, the most striking thing is how well Macron’s party did: almost as well as Marine Le Pen’s party (RN): 22.4% against 23.3.  In fact you could say his party has established itself as durable.  So he still has support and will carry on with his liberal agenda, as promised.  The erstwhile government parties (Sarkozy’s Républicains, and the Socialist Party) scored below 10%.

What we need now is an opposition.  The RN is wheeled out at election time, but during working class, public service and popular protests it is nowhere to be seen.  Nevertheless it gathers the protest vote, rather than the left.

Ian Brossat’s CP scored 2.5%, the recovery will take a long time.