In northern town, French feel abandoned by politicians

27th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

BULLY-LES-MINES, France, March 27, 2007 (AFP) - In the heart of northern France's former mining belt, the town of Bully-les-Mines polled a record number of "no" votes in the referendum on a proposed EU constitution two years ago.

BULLY-LES-MINES, France, March 27, 2007 (AFP) - In the heart of northern France's former mining belt, the town of Bully-les-Mines polled a record number of "no" votes in the referendum on a proposed EU constitution two years ago.

Today -- at the approach of a French presidential election next month -- the "Bullygeois" express a mood of utter disillusion.

"The candidates are all the same -- powerless. They can't do anything for us, what with all the globalisation and the factories moving abroad," says Thomas Gala, a 48-year-old sweets seller.

"Ten years ago I did seven markets a week to make ends meet. Now I have to do 11. People have less money now than they did before the euro came. So they are buying less," he says.

Bully-les-Mines was the record-holder in the May 2005 referendum, polling 75 percent against the proposed treaty, compared with 55 percent of the country as a whole. At the last national elections, some 25 percent chose the far-right National Front (FN).

Like many in this town of 12,000 -- with 21 percent unemployment -- some 45 kilometres (30 miles) from the Belgian border, Gala says he has no idea who he will vote for on April 22.

"The problems here are silent ones. It is unemployment and the cost of living. Bread went up with the euro but our salaries did not. When it comes to basic things like that, the EU is a disaster," says Sonia, an unemployed 45- year-old.

"They are moving our factories out to Romania, and the politicians don't even care," says Jean-Michel Proville, 44, a doctor who says mental health problems form a large part of his daily work.

Rene Janczak, a 49-year-old technician, voted against the Maastricht treaty in 1992 and against the constitution referendum in 2005. Today he says he is tempted by the centrist candidate for president, Francois Bayrou, the right and the left having in his eyes failed in power.

Others back the FN's Jean-Marie Le Pen, who speaks out for a "sovereign" France. Miner's daughter Henriette Humez, 56, for example, who says she hates the euro, deplores the "death" of Bully's town centre and rails against her welfare-dependent neighbours.

"They don't work, they fight and they urinate on the fence," she says.

Socialist Mayor Francois Lemaire says the "atmosphere in the town has got worse.... There is a real social drama going on, but I have no magic wand."

The right-wing opposition accuses the left of presiding over the town's degradation.

"Something needs to be done to sort out the immigration issue," says Robert Mullie, 55, who runs a transport business -- employing several Poles. He says "the most effective" candidate is the right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.

As for the town's young people, the only issue to count is jobs.

"I am 20 and me and about 20 of my friends are all out of work," says Jerome Capet, who waits tables when he can.

"To be honest I don't give a stuff for politics. If it comes to it, I'll maybe vote for the candidate who does most for the young. But for now I don't know who it will be," he says.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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