Questions for a French presidential candidate

2nd March 2007, Comments 0 comments

What if French TV were to host one of these town-hall meeting shows where we expats got to ask our questions of the front-runners? It's probably unlikely, considering we don't vote. So, here's Expatica Contributing Editor Clair Whitmer's version of 'It's For You to Judge'

I've been trying to watch as many of these "I've got a question for you"-style political shows as I can, where real-live citizens get a chance to ask a question of — or, alternatively, take a potshot at — one of the presidential candidates.

I've read that these shows are a slightly controversial phenomenon; one French journalist, in a quote something about "the death of journalism", seemed to feel Joe/Jane Average was out to steal her job.

*sidebar1*But I have full confidence that the public still looks to journalists to ask questions on their behalf. You're here, right? So here's my chance to put out there for public consumption the Top Three Questions I would ask in the unlikely event I were to be invited to one of these Town Hall meetings.

Not, of  course, that it would be worth the time of a French politician to actually respond to my foreign curiosity.

I've been enthralled to watch my first French presidential election up close. But it's human nature to compare and contrast with what you know and I can't stop myself from listening for the topics they don't talk about.

It's very strange to an American, for example, to sit through an entire election cycle and not have abortion rights come up even though, obviously, this is a non-issue here. Likely as not, all of the following would fall in the same category to Sarko or Ségo.

But the thing is: I live here now and, foreign or not, I personally think the following is pertinent to France's future. So, here we go:


1) When are you going to stop lying to the French people that nuclear power is safe?

This is what we professional, highly trained journalists call a 'leading question'.

And, in fact, Ségolène Royal has addressed it: proposition 60 of her 100-point presidential pact does both promise to increase renewable sources to 20 percent of France's total energy production and to 'reduce' its dependency on nuclear.

She originally had promised to reduce to 50 percent by 2017, but she's since 'returned to the principle of reality', as Jean-Pierre Chevènement phrased it, by promising to reduce but without any specifics.

Nicolas Sarkozy also has promised to increase renewable energy sources, like wind and solar power, but has defended France's nuclear "independence".

A full 78 percent of all of France's energy comes from nuclear power; EDF operates 58 nuclear power plants on French soil, including many in highly populated areas; and France recently won the bid to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), a next-generation reactor that will be the most expensive joint scientific project in the world after the International Space Station. Even executives from French oil-giant Total recently acknowledged that it will almost inevitably branch out into nuclear power one day.

Germany, in contrast, plans to completely phase out nuclear power by 2020. It's true that recent threats to the Russian oil supply and concern over global warming has caused some other European countries, even Germany, to re-think their resistance to nuclear. But only France accepts more nuclear power as the solution.

Les Verts, on the other hand, are certainly against nuclear power. They recently ran a survey showing that 88 percent of the French public doesn't want a nuclear power plant close to their community; but the poll itself guaranteed the results. The answer would probably have been the same if they asked most French home-owners if they wanted a windmill farm within view of their backyard too.

I don't have room to debate the dangers of nuclear power here.  But suffice to say that no other country as blithely, and I would say, blindly accepts constant exposure to both the effects of a possible nuclear accident, not to mention the continuing impossibility of figuring out what to do with nuclear waste.

I say this is because the government has deliberately hid the truth from them about nuclear power, for example, underestimating the risks posed by the Chernobyl cloud  It's not that this information is unavailable here but no one seems all that worried. Except Greenpeace. And me.

2) Okay, so you were totally right about Iraq. But what are you going to do about international terrorism?

Actually, it's surprising to me what a relatively small role foreign policy in general has played in the campaign so far. And I keep waiting for the terrorists to make their appearance in somebody's stump-speech, but so far, they're mostly staying out of it.

Nicolas Sarkozy just this week started laying out his foreign policy plan, focusing on the "crisis in Europe". He said:  "I have two priorities, the independence of France and the future of Europe."

But, other than congratulating President Chirac on his opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, his focus is squarely on what to do about European 'institutions' and little mention of France's role in the Middle East or what in an American campaign would be known as the 'fight against terrorism'.

Ségolène Royal, for her part, has made several trips abroad to prove her ability to handle foreign affairs, with mixed results. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, foreign policy comes in at the bottom of her 100-point Presidential Pact (covered by Propositions 88-100). Here's the closest she comes to talking about international terrorism in Proposition 93:

"Doter notre défense nationale de moyens à la hauteur des risques nouveaux auxquels nous sommes confrontés."

Feel safer, do you?

Now, don’t get me wrong: American paranoia about the Axis of Evil is part of what I was glad to escape by moving to France. I would hate to replicate that fear of a masked, armed terrorist hiding round every street corner that the Bush administration has used to manipulate the American voting public.

But still: this week, four French citizens — including a 17-year-old boy — were murdered in Saudi Arabia and here in France there are soldiers with automatic weaponry patrolling the Métro where there used to be gendarmes with batons.

Maybe I've just been brain-washed into thinking this even needs discussing, but are we not even to going to talk about that? Or North Korea while we're at it?


3) What are you going to do about the fact that poverty has a female face in France?

A report from the Assemblée Nationale this month detailed the striking feminisation of poverty in France.

Women represent 51 percent of the population but: 80 percent of the lowest salaries; 82.1 percent of part-time workers; 61 percent of jobs that don't require any higher education (waitresses/cashiers); and 61.6 percent of those with the minimum retirement package.

They represent 53 percent of those living under the official poverty level, but this figure is covering the fact that so many women are dependent on their mate's earning power. It doesn't reflect the fact that they are the most subject to the famous précarité the French are so worried about as women are the most likely to work on CDDs or without a contract at all. And, although there is a law on the books to rectify this by 2010, the pay gap still stands at 25 percent in France.

On top of that, French marriage and inheritance laws continue to favour the rights of the husband and the children over that of the wife even though women are contributing more and more directly to the 'communauté de biens'. Despite last year's reform of the inheritance laws, a widow can still see half of her house go to the children of her husband's former wife — even if, in fact, it was money earned from her job that covered the down payment.

With so much attention paid to the fact that Ségolène Royal is the first female candidate with a real shot at the job, how come the rights of the Française are so small a part of the campaign? So far all we've heard is that it's bad to murder your wife. Domestic violence is an important issue, of course, but is that as far as the concern extends for the status of women here?

True, Ségolène's Proposition 85 does say:

Faire respecter l’égalité hommes-femmes, notamment au travail :

- Elaboration d’une charte pour l’égalité d’accès et l’égalité de traitement, ouverte à l’adhésion des entreprises et des services publics.

- Engagement de l’Etat pour une promotion égale des femmes et des hommes pour les emplois de responsabilité.

But there is, it seems to me, a widespread sense that France settled all this when it gave women the municipal crèche and 'let' women join the workforce. But just electing a female won't address the figures cited above.

Well, that's enough for now. I realise that asking these questions would get me accused by many French people of: naiveté, paranoia and communitarianisme in that order. And, in a French context, perhaps they'd be right. I realise that my political sensibilities don't necessarily translate here.

But everybody else is getting to ask questions, I wanted my shot even if my fellow expats are the only audience.


March 2, 2007

Copyright Expatica

Subject: Living in France, French presidential campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy, Ségolène Royal, dangers of nuclear power

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