France

Europe’s budget wrangles
Gideon Rachman is joined by Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, and Tony Barber, Europe editor, to discuss the threat that the European Commission will reject the budgets of some of Europe’s biggest nations, in particular France and Italy. Is such a move really possible and what would be the political and economic consequences?

Speaking on television earlier this year, Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, declared that his government’s budget would not be written to “satisfy Brussels”, adding – “We are a great nation . . . France is a sovereign country.”

 

  • Against the odds, Nigeria’s overstretched health service and chaotic public authorities have so far contained the Ebola virus through co-ordination and lots of water
  • A simple chart that looks like a fish is giving Spain’s ruling Popular Party hope that next year’s elections – as well as the turmoil over Catalonia’s future – will go its way
  • A former rebel who recently came out of hiding is threatening to shake up Mozambique’s election on a platform of more equitable development for the gas-rich but desperately poor nation
  • A coterie of celebrated chefs wants to bring back the ortolan, a coveted and sumptuous bird eaten in a mouthful that was banned from France’s restaurant menus in 1999
  • Fear not, Our Dear Leader lives: after making no public appearances for more than a month, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is back, but with a walking stick (and possibly a case of gout)

 

Sarkozy returns to frontline politics
With President François Hollande languishing at record lows in the polls, former president Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that he plans to return to frontline politics, which almost certainly means a view to running for the presidency in 2017. Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief, and Tony Barber to discuss his prospects.

 

Gideon Rachman

For the past twenty years, I’ve spent every summer in the same village in South-West France. It is a beautiful place which would be a candidate to be a World Heritage Site in many other countries – but is just another rural village in France. The village (which I won’t name, to avoid embarrassing anyone) has also always seemed blessedly immune to the world’s troubles. You could sit in the local cafe and read all about the problems in the wider economy, or political turmoil in Paris - but it all seemed rather abstract, and a long way away.

This year, however, the mood had changed. The economic, social and political problems afflicting the country seemed all too real – even in la France profonde. 

As François Hollande’s socialist government has taken a distinct turn to the right under Manuel Valls, his reformist prime minister, many have questioned the role of Arnaud Montebourg, champion of the left, fierce critic of globalisation and scourge of corporate bosses, both French and foreign.

Rumours have circulated in the French media that Mr Montebourg, promoted to economy minister when Mr Valls was appointed at the end of March, might soon quit the government to position himself for a potential presidential tilt in 2017 if Mr Hollande fails to recover from his current rock-bottom ratings. 

Tony Barber

It’s the fashion these days for outsiders to lecture France as if it’s a talented but obstinate schoolboy failing his grades. The idea seems to be that the more you tell the French off, the faster they’ll pull their socks up. This approach is wrong. We should, instead, smother France with love.

Like anyone, the French like to hear from time to time that they are clever, beautiful, funny, kind and successful. But for the past 10 years or so, the outside world has spoken fewer nice words about France than about any developed country.

It’s reached ridiculous proportions. Anyone would think, from all these foreign sermons, that French civilisation was falling apart. This is hardly the way to get the best out of any nation, not just the French. We need to stop finding fault and start smothering France with love. 

After all the UK press has written about him over the past few weeks, it is good to see Jean-Claude Juncker still has a sense of humour.

The former Luxembourg prime minister has largely kept his head down since he emerged as the front-runner for the European Commission presidency – and came under fire from UK prime minister David Cameron and the pro-Conservative battalions of the British media.

On Tuesday Mr Juncker broke cover to deliver a speech at a Berlin security conference – he had, he said, accepted the invitation before becoming embroiled in the latest battle of Brussels.

Explaining that he was between jobs – having handed over the reins in Luxembourg in December and yet to be installed in a new post – he added with a smile: “I am a transgender person, in the political sense.”