Friday, 21 February 2014

The Sad Demise of the Hotel de la Tamise


The only light I could see was on the reception booth facing the front door. I pushed the Belle Epoque glass door with its old green painted metalwork and crossed the tiled parquet to the desk. A wizened little Indian man paled by Parisian winters sat in this box like a goblin, spotlighted yellow in the gloom. I began my request, “Je demande le disponibilite des chambers pour...”
“The hotel is closed, Madame,” he barked at me in English, with the rudeness of a born Parisian.
I had surmised that but I don’t know why he was sitting there like a one headed Cereberus at the gates of Hell, as if the place was still open, because it was otherwise a graveyard. Several years ago I had visited it to reserve a room for the friend of a friend. I had been enchanted by this reservoir of old France. Clotted lace curtains were swagged back from the courtyard windows; a very old lady, perhaps a permanent resident, perhaps the proprietor, sat in the corner by the fireplace crocheting. The dimly lit room had the patina of history. It would have served well for a film set in World War 2. (The old lady would of course have been in the Resistance and awaiting the arrival of a brave young courier from Normandy). Now it was the set for the epitaph of La France.
If an epitaph is needed it is because all that remains of Paris as you think you may know it, is a shell provided by the stupendous architecture of earlier days. Modern Paris is a building site, whose psychologically distressed inhabitants swirl in bewildered spirals, bumping into each other on the devastated streets. Vast cranes darken the skyline. Place Vendome is covered with hoardings concealing apparent demolition works. The Ritz is one of these, closed for two years. Scaffolding punctuates the rue St Honoré, the Faubourg St Honoré, and the Avenue d’Opera and surrounding streets including my own, have been dug up for work on underground networks of pipes and cables. The Tuileries was partitioned by fences for months while its paths were renewed—but then the State always has the money to spend thanks to grotesqe taxation.
Meanwhile, in the private sector, long established shops stand empty. Gourmet lunch traiteurs are being replaced by fast food joints or chain boutiques whose windows are lined by dreary rows of dummies clad in droopy garments. Gone are the artistic window displays of snazzy must haves. Everywhere, the old stylishness is giving way to the new dreariness. Even the Tabac on the corner of Rue St Roche where haughty service for postage stamps and phone cards has been a staple alongside cigarettes is being gutted to make way for, who knows what, alongside the likes of the Kooples or Sandro.
All this demolition is a sign of how Parisian life has changed, alas, for the worse.
The legendary grumpiness still abounds. But the snap and crackle of Parisian chic that made it tolerable has vanished. We might as well be in Birmingham.
Now as Paris Fashion Week fills the Tuileries with temporary pavilions and the fashonistas flocked into the local supermarkets, one might have been forgiven for wondering if the word “Fashion” means anything any more. Despite the biting cold I hardly glimpsed a gorgeous fur coat or a pair of boots to die for. The fashion buyers were barely distinguishable from the going home crowd of office workers in their flat shoes, leggings and puffa jackets. Even the smokers who relinquish their glasses of champagne in the interior of the trendy Collette on rue St Honoré to puff on the trottoir outside its windows, are no better dressed than the rest who trundle home with their grocery bags.
As the flood of fashionistas ebbed and the streets quietened, the empty Tom Ford gift bag on the corner of my street said it all. Goodbye to all that was of Paris fashion in the city whose name is still synonymous with fashion. The legend lives on for the moment but banal reality is not far behind. In the wake of spring fashion week, there remain only the copy-cat chains with their too high prices that will be slashed by 50% when the sales come. 
But, behind closed doors in the private dressmaking establishments and the higher priced designer boutiques, the foreign rich are still shopping for a lifestyle invisible to ordinary mortals. The couture houses have sold their souls for profits from perfumes and cosmetics but true Paris fashion is still there, hidden behind the skilled cutting and cunning originality of a world available only to the discerning who can afford true style and individuality. Or to those rare beings who can twist a scarf into a true accessory or add a silk flower to a perfectly cut chemise.
For those who cant--either afford it or create it -- Paris fashion is no more. Like the Hotel de la Tamise it has had its demise.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

What's a Second Hand First Lady Worth on the Open Market?


The deal to set the mark for all First Lady transfers was that of Jackie Kennedy, the tragic widow, to Jackie O, purchaser of 200 pairs of shoes at a shot. From then on no used First Lady has counted for as much in cash terms.
In France they don’t measure their First Ladies for any future outside that of being an arm ornament for a male President. But in recent years a disturbing trend has taken over: the brides of Presidents are career women bent on their own rise. As a hint of the forthcoming nightmare, the uk experienced Cheryl, ‘Cheri’ to her pals, Blair whose consultations with astrologers enabled Tony to get out at the right moment and dump Gordon into the oncoming mess.
Women have often been manipulators of their male counterpart’s success. Today, such women use their connections to politically powerful males as a career move. One perfect example is Carla Bruni, a manipulator par excellence whose career at the time she met Sarkozy, desperately needed a lift. Having lost her footing on the New York catwalks and failed to find a new sponsor among the rock musicians and property tycoons of Manhattan, she turned to singing sour songs about past failed loves. By now a pariah among the arts aristocracy of Paris and the subject of a devastatingly catty Roman à Clé, she went in for drastic facial reconstruction and wangled a marriage deal with the new President. Her confession that she knows nothing about politics has not stopped her from urging Sarkozy to make a come back--because she desperately wants another career push. It wont happen: the market for second hand French Presidents is also sluggish. Even Sarko’s own party don’t want him back as leader. Enough is enough and especially enough of the pushy wife who lost him the election by her appalling publicity gaffes.
Sarko’s previous wife, Cecilia, was shunted off to New York with the journalist for whom she had left Sarko before his election. She had returned to be at his side for the victory but was chatting to someone else on the platform while he made his victory speech. The ‘rupture’ which had happened years before, was soon celebrated with a number of magazine covers with Cecilia beautifully photographed in designer clothes, before her new husband was found a job in New York to keep the pair out of French gossip mags. Cecilia returned during 2013 to publish her memoir of their life together (which she had agreed to keep quiet until he lost the election). She appeared on numerous TV shows but always said the same thing: Sarko was difficult to live with. Really?
Now we have had the Rottweiler, another career woman, but one who at least knows something about politics: she was not there as ‘First Umbrella Carrier’ to the man I nicknamed President Noah, thanks to the coming Deluge as well as actual rainfall during his election and inauguration, to promote her own career. How could she live at the Elysée with the ‘Premier Homme’ and continue to work for Paris Match? She sacrificed her career and remains devoted to this dodo. Alas she couldn’t keep the lid on the cauldron of her jealousy for Ségolène Royal, Hollande’s previous concubine.
I have always loathed the term First Lady, so patronizing for unelected bedmates of elected leaders and which has no counterpart in the description of male partners of elected female leaders such as Thatcher or Merkel. Why should these helpmeets of the private life have any political or opinion forming ‘role’ to play? Even Jackie Kennedy never opened her mouth or sponsored a charity and I doubt if her husband needed her as anything more than a glam mother of his children while he played the field and made a mess of US Cuba relations.
A recent poll of the French public reveals that 54% don’t want a “First Lady” with a role. Their preferred Presidents’ wife from recent years is Bernadette Chirac who never did anything more likely to gain attention than have afternoon tea at Angelina’s, the rue de Rivoli Salon de Thé, fashionable with Bourgeoise wives.
Only 8 % of respondents to the same poll said they ‘liked’ Valerie Trierweiler as against 92% who did not. Which only goes to show that a lady should first of all have a ring on her finger and secondly never comment on or interfere in matters political or personal that are the province of her elected husband.
Alas, it seems that Valerie, as manifested by her disgraceful treatment in the separation bulletin from the Elysée was no lady and not even the President’s wife. She was treated in the manner of a Mistress who despite being supplanted by a second Mistress (somewhat in the manner of Louis XIV’s replacement of the Marquise de Montespan by Madame de Maintenon) remained a ‘slut’ rather than a legitimately married woman. However, I suspect that while her chances of being picked up as a Trophy by some billionaire are slender, her presence at the side of the dumpy dunce who, for the moment, is still President of France, will be sorely missed by the man himself. The Rottweiler’s feisty character was an inestimable force that helped to drive this piece of fudge into the Presidency.
He needs to pay her off with a few million of his secret fund to guarantee her silence. 


Sunday, 12 January 2014

So What Now, First Concubine?


Valerie Trierweiler has been humiliated by the Closer piece about Francois Hollande’s affair with an actress. Will she stay in her gorgeous Elysée Palace residence with her fabulously furnished private rooms in the East Wing, her staff of six and her expense account? Or will she leave her gilded cage and return to ‘normal’ life, which means earning her living again in the world of journalism, and possibly of ‘tell all’ books.
Her problem is that she is not an official ‘wife’ but rather an official ‘concubine.’
French law recognizes concubines as having similar rights within a relationship to a wife. Hence, Ségolène Royale, Hollande’s former concubine with whom he has four grown up children, made a settlement with him for €900,000 in 2012. But the civil laws on Concubinage do not extend to matters of State. For Trierweiler, nicknamed the Rottweiler (thanks to her ferocious attacks on colleagues at Paris Match before Hollande’s election and her promotion to First Girlfriend, and others since) must now face a dilemma. Does she swallow her ire and stay in her rather uncertain position or push François Hollande for a settlement and get out of the Elysée? 
She may not have the choice. The past several months have seen a legal attempt to prove that Trierweiler has no right whatsoever to her residence in the Elysée paid for by the French taxpayer. She is neither the legal spouse of the President, nor elected to any position, nor an official paid employee and there is therefore no justification for her expenses of €19,000 per month that pays her staff, her clothes and her living costs.
So what now? She has been superceded as First Concubine by a younger model and indeed it is doubtful if after this embarrassment and no doubt furious rows with Hollande, that she will be functioning as a concubine at all.
There will, as she moves about the Elysée be hushed silences and downcast eyes when she meets her staff, thinly veiled disrespect from the uniformed functionaries, and hardly veiled sneers from those whom she has lashed with her barbed tongue.
Outside, in the streets and watering holes of Paris she will, if she dares go out at all be laughed at, for this woman who has been so arrogant and vicious to others, including to Ségolène Royale (both in person and in print) is now cast out of favour.
As for appearing in public on the President’s arm or shadowing him with a raised umbrella (the pose that caused me to nickname her “First Umbrella Carrier”) her official visits have been canceled. Hollande frequently went on his state visits alone. One reason for not marrying his companion was in order to be able to choose to represent his country without a spouse if he chose. (No doubt Sarkozy wishes he had made the same choice rather than be saddled with a woman who was trying to steal the show everywhere they went.).
So now all that remains is for her friends in TV or print journalism to find Valerie a job. Then she can leave François and the taxpayer funded sinecure of the expenses paid Elysée.
Will Hollande then move his new woman into the Elysée’s East Wing and offer her bed, board, clothing allowance and a staff paid for by the State? Or has that little actress already ruined her chances by appearing on TV and bbbling about her relationship with Hollande.
This show has a long way yet to run. Well, at least until Hollande’s Parliamentary colleagues decide that enough is enough. The carnage to follow may include further devastating falls in Hollande’s public support. A snap poll taken after the Closer publication showed 78% of respondents think the affair’s disclosure will harm the President. The local elections in March and the European Elections in June may finally force his party to admit that he must be asked to resign or else be Impeached for his failure to run the country properly.
His secret overnight absences at the actress mistress’s Paris studio left his Presidential responsibilities on those occasions in limbo. The Commander in Chief, who has sent French troops to Africa has put his own security at risk and that of his nation while absent from the shop. One security guard only knew of his whereabouts on these occasions. Never mind the risk of a scooter crash or worse. These careless adolescent escapades that put the nation at risk must surely be added to the list of misdemeanours including the failure to report his true wealth in 2012 and his mismanagement of the French economy that justify a vote by one third of either house of representatives for his Impeachment.
The alternative must be the election of the Front Nationale to power with the consequent shambolic retreat of France from the EU, the Euro and civilization.

For the full story on Hollande’s concealment of his wealth of €17 million in 2012 see my previous article “Don’t Shoot The President—yet!” at nesta-wyninparis.blogspot.com dated January 5th 2014.





Sunday, 5 January 2014

Don't Shoot The President--yet!


François Holland is a frightened man. After the mass hissing and booing he received in Place de La Concorde on November 11th 2013 he privately admitted he fears France is pre-revolutionary. Indeed, the danger of Revolution is a source of fear. A friend I accidentally encountered a few weeks before I transferred myself back to the uk said “There is terror: people are terrified of what may happen.”
Over drinks or dinners in the bars, brasseries and private apartments of central Paris people are likening the situation in France to that existing shortly before the Revolution of 1789. As then, the economy is in poor shape and taxes are rising. In 1789 anger was focused on the king and recipients of royal sinecures. In 2014 there is anger against those who are enriched by Presidential patronage, and by a President who has failed utterly to deliver his promises of May 2012. The quality of French life is declining fast. Unemployment rises. So do taxes: the next to go up is VAT. But still Hollande’s government fails to dent the deficit that alarms even the European Union’s control freak rule makers. The President’s popularity has dropped to 15% in a recent poll—a record low for an incumbent.
Is this why the roads outside the Élysée Palace, Hollande’s office were closed by police one recent night when my Paris based amour was driving home at 1.am. “Are we really so frightening?” my friend asked. Perhaps, yes. This was not the only night on which those roads were closed. A few days later a car driven by the director of a small theatre forced to close by Holland’s cuts in subsidies was rammed against the high iron gates at the back entrance to the Elysee. The man was injured but he made his point. Hollande is destroying French enterprise and also the arts, recipients of State benefits and exemptions. Artists operating on small margins, suffer first. For instance, recent changes to French film labour laws have driven award winning art movie producers such as Francois Ozone and Abdellatif Kechiche (Blue is the warmest Colour) to protest. Other producers claim they cannot afford to produce in France.
At the sharp end of business, Breton lorry drivers are also furious about taxes on heavy transporters that threaten the hitherto successful competitiveness of Breton food producers. Hollande has softened the employment taxes for SME’s but they are still struggling as frightened consumers hold onto their cash in an economy where faith in the future of keeping one’s job has plummeted. Across the board from left to right, Hollande is loathed and despised and seen as the cause of French decline: no wonder Paris seethes with talk of revolution. But it’s not the Underclass, the multi-ethnic denizens of no go suburbs who this time are ready to revolt: it is the middle and professional classes, white collar employers and employees who are most challenged and who worry how to weather three more years of Hollande as President.
Nor is it the Right who hiss and boo wherever he appears. The Bonnets Rouges, historically a Breton anti tax group against Louis 14th later active in the French Revolution, are prominent protesters.  Freelance footage on November 11th 2013 showed the Bonnets Rouge were also instigators of disturbances at Place de La Concorde and on the Champs Elysees. Their recorded street protests were not shown on the national TV channels. Nor was the booing Hollande received as he was sped with unseemly haste up the Champs Elysees to the Etoile to lay the wreath for the Unknown Soldier.
I said from the start that Holland was a goof and a dunce. But, no I was told, he is an Enarque, trained in the elite administrative school the Ecole Nationale d’Administration from which many top French state industry leaders have graduated. Alas, trained in orthodoxy but lacking the imagination to create the innovation needed to transform an economy in crisis. Can this dunce be removed from office?
Yes. His failure to declare his own considerable wealth at the outset of his Presidency offers good reason to start proceedings. As I wrote in my blog of November 9th 2012, Hollande did not declare apartments he owns in London to the tax authorities. In 2012 on his election, he declared capital wealth of €3m. Of this he forsook some €900,000 in his separation settlement with Ségolène Royale, mother of his four children. When elected, he claimed to be living in a rented apartment in the dowdy 15th Arrondissement. Later, photos of two blocks where he owned flats in London were shown on the Internet and discussion of his deception became rife during autumn 2012. He was later shown to be managing his several properties and other wealth via a company: legal avoidance, but evidence of his dishonest claims to being a modest man. It was not widely known to the public that François and his brother inherited millions from their property developer father.
Meanwhile Hollande’s tax hikes drove many rich and some companies to leave France taking €50billion with them in October/November 2012.
Failure to report the true figure for his wealth should have resulted in his dismissal from office. However, during the spring of 2013 the published figure was corrected from €3m to €17m. Was this the result of arm-twisting by officials who would otherwise have forced his resignation? We may never know: much that should appear in the media does not.
So, the dunce Hollande continues to mismanage France and bring about the flight of capital, of talent and of wealth to a wider world. His predecessor, Sarkozy has yet to answer charges against him for misuse of public funds and other law breaking concerning election funding. Copé, leader of the main opposition party has yet to prove himself. But this spring’s elections for local and European seats will offer French voters the opportunity to express their disgust with the incompetent President. But he will remain President, unless...
Under the Fifth Republic constitution brought in by General de Gaulle on October 6th 1958 the French President was the most powerful in the world and could only be removed from office by high treason or death. But on 19th February 2007 a Constitutional amendment enacted by the French Parliament made Impeachment of the French President possible. According to the 2007 rules, in case of a "neglect of his duties manifestly incompatible with the exercise of his mandate," a two-thirds majority of either house of Parliament can authorize impeachment proceedings.
The failure to declare his true wealth is one such neglect of duties. The other is failure to govern in a way compatible with the exercise of his mandate.
It would be destructive for the country to go through the President’s dismissal or forced resignation.
But it could be worse still if someone decides to end his tenure by assassination.
No wonder Hollande is a frightened man. 




Friday, 9 August 2013

French Wine, Men and Monet


One July evening a few years ago my lover and I were sitting on the terrace of our hotel restaurant admiring a view, far below, of the Seine valley and the Western edges of the Vexin, the rich agricultural region so much fought over in the Middle Ages. We were in Monet country and Monet’s famous house at Giverny with the bridge over the water lily pool, was just up the road. My lover had chosen the red wine from Chateau Olivier in the Graves region, with care, some extravagance and to suit his own elegant preference, but mine too. I raised a glass to my lips and sipped. “French wine “ I said, “ is too....” and I watched his eyes as he waited for me to make a criticism...”delicious,” I said smiling naughtily. “One cannot get enough of it.” He relaxed visibly.  French people, among the most critical in the world, cannot take criticism.
In this case it was not an issue. Is French wine the best in the world?  I think so. I once told my lover that the French have everything—the climate, soil and geographical location to make their wines the very best, and to give them everything anyone could want in life. It is true about the wines. Lately, the weather has not favoured this wonderful wine making region of the world. Chilly summers have left the grapes of the famous production regions (especially Burgundy, and Bordeaux) low in sugar and tannins. For this reason I have bought young wines from the warmer South West as opposed to those from terroirs further north more noted for the excellence of their production. But, regardless of the weather, the French wine makers do have the expertise of blending their grape varieties into interesting ‘assemblage”. I hate it when the wine producers in France or elsewhere bottle wines of only one cepage (grape). The great skill of French wine making lies in the technique where the juices of several different grapes are combined to make the base of a wine such as a fine Bordeaux from, say, St Emilion. Many Bordeaux wines are based on a fermentation of the juices of three different grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It is the proportions of these different grape juices that gives the characteristic touch to the wines of the many privileged chateaux of Bordeaux, positioned as they are on different sides of hills whose soil drainage, soil quality and exposure to sunlight determines the quality and market value of their vintage. Given the skills of ‘assemblage’ in the different wine making regions, one can really only disdain wines based on a single grape. But the habit, coming from the producers of New World wines has been catching on in France, where otherwise the techniques of blending the juices of different grape varieties give the vintage of a producer Chateau its characteristic ‘gout’.
When choosing a wine I usually want to find out the ‘cepage’ by reading the label at the back of the bottle. If I cannot find out the grapes that have gone into the wine I very often will not buy the wine unless I already know it. One of the decisive factors for me of a champagne, for instance, is the proportion of Pinot Noir over Chardonnay. The latter gives the crispy dry quality much admired in white Burgundies and champagnes, but for my taste this dryness also extends to its effect on my skin, which is also so much drier after drinking any chardonnay based wine. But I prefer the Pinot Noir, also in the red wines of Burgundy where it gives the characteristic richness and base notes to the great reds. Otherwise, my love of the Loire valley wines and champagnes is related to my preference for the other pinot grape varieties, in this case pinot gris or blanc.
We can’t have everything and sometimes we can’t have anything. Once in a rather crazy filmed interview in what was still then a Rhodesia under sanctions, with Sir Roy Welensky, the former Prime Minister of the defunct Federation of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland, Sir Roy, the cameraman and I agreed (as we sipped Rhodesian champagne to much hilarity) that in Purgatory one would surely drink Rhodesian wine and eat American cheese with English bread.
No such problem in France where bread, wine and cheese are of such excellence.
Would the general mass of French people were equal in appreciation of their heritage.
I lift my glass to Chateau Olivier, to the glorious reflections of the Monet country and to my lover then and now.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Great Paris Knicker Crisis


Recently, I went in search of a supply of lace knickers to take with me to London and was shocked at what I found: a terrible dearth of the right sort of knickers is plaguing the underwear sections of department stores. For some time I have left the selection of my underwear to my lover: he knows what he likes and I like to wear it. But now, the only available underwear turns out to be of a chastity belt type more like a girdle than a saucy pantie. Thanks to most women wearing their leggings daily, knickers are now designed to rise to the waist so as not to leave a wrinkle or a line in the smooth cut of skin tight black lycra or denim. Not only do knickers look like corsets but apparently they are intended to act as corsets, with tough elastic panels over belly and butt. Leggings and tight jeans are a demanding fashion that does not go with fast food habits--also increasing. Bulges abound and the rear view of many a legging wearer on the street is far from titillating. Thus, the underwear racks have been invaded by something that had its genesis in the pantie girdle of the 1950’s.
This has now turned into a big crisis for anyone wanting to cheer up her fella by showing a cute culotte under her skirt. (Culotte is the French word for knickers and really it means something that covers the ass or “cul”. Some of the early revolutionaries were “sans culottes”. Heaven knows what they actually wore to cover their credentials!).
Once upon a time there were “French Knickers” made of silk and lace. More like a dainty pair of shorts they were called ‘French’ because they allowed a naughty hand to slide easily into them. Lycra and the jeans habit put paid to those.
The ass coverings of present day Parisian females being the aforesaid black lycra leggings or sometimes skin tight jeans or jeggins, any kind of naughty knickers seem to have had their day. Even the new long line skirts, also clinging to buttock and thigh must pose a threat to the lace bikini briefs that please our men folk. One solution may be to wear no knickers at all. But men seem to enjoy ripping off their dates’ panties. In fact its almost a ritual with my lover that when we are walking home after dinner he makes sure he pushes me into a doorway and relieves me of my knickers. If one is wearing leggings or tight jeans, this very notion becomes a contortion. But then that may be one of the perverse reasons for the popularity among women for leggings over skirt. The more dangerous suburbs are replete with “types” of the more menacing kind and rape on the way home from a late evening in the city centre is a hazard that leggings and jeans help to prevent.
Parisian business women prefer to wear trouser suits for the same reason: avoidance of desktop seduction. That apart, many French women make a set at their boss in order to keep their job and earn a promotion or turn else him into a husband. The trousers are for keeping the other guys away.
I’m not sure how men are coping. Some bright young feminist should enroll for a PhD on the subject. The French government‘s Minister for female matters would possibly like to get involved. Grants could be offered. The matter requires serious study.
As for the bedroom? The upmarket lingerie specialist Chantal Thomas is still showing seductive lace underwear in her Rue St Honoré boutique. Bras, brief panties and real corsets, boned and provocatively trimmed with swansdown adorn her windows. Even there the panties show a tendency to the more robust designs of the day but they come nowhere near the waist high horrors of those in the budget stores patronized by legging wearing office workers. But, Chantal’s offerings don’t have to be worn under any clothing at all. You just stalk around in them chez toi in five inch heels and lace topped stockings held up by suspenders.
Your lover brings the obligatory bottle of champagne and a gourmet picnic, and for the moment at least you can forget leggings or jeans and the wrong kind of male attention at work. The real Paris knickers have just gone underground until fashions change again: I hope.
Meanwhile I’ve put my lover onto the job of tracking down something worth taking off of an evening after dinner.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Distant Shouting Coming Closer


Walking in the Tuileries on a Sunday evening. Sunshine at last but a blast of cold wind from the north means heavy sweaters and a jacket. Blue iris everywhere, colouring the light, scenting the wind; chestnut trees are cropped into disciplined box shapes. Ducklings are huddled under their mothers’ wings. Tranquility? Alas no.
On the other side of the river, near the Assembly Nationale, raucous voices raised, police whistles blowing. Sirens rend the air where at 7pm church bells should be heard.
This was a march by conservatives, many of them Catholics, against gay marriage. Two bills have been passed and were enacted this week. But that is not all. This week, also, Paris was the focus of European concerns about jobless youth and its consequences for political stability.
Gay marriage protests are just the tip of the iceberg. Daily life is now full of tensions and somber realities. And the man up top who carries the burden is barely up to the task. He stood at a lectern next to David Cameron, in Paris last week, as the latter spoke following the Woolwich attack. The cameras kept returning to shots of Françoise Hollande who could not keep still while his guest spoke. He was flapping papers and twitching, his facial expression that of someone who really needed to go to the lavatory. Perhaps that was his excuse? I think there are other reasons for his nervousness. The pressures on him are domestic, international and personal. And he is only a mediocrity, who fell into the job of Presidential candidate and fell into the job of President, unprepared. He is not capable of dealing with the challenges facing France.
So he has the IMF and Germany telling him what to do. He has an embarrassing legal position regarding his “First Lady”. He has difficult questions to answer concerning his own financial and fiscal declarations. Above all he has insuperable domestic problems, which, according to a book out this week could bring about a revolution in France.
The raucous voices raised over gay marriage would seem dulcet murmurings compared to what might happen if the population snaps out of its torpor and reacts against the failure of Hollande’s government to solve the country’s economic and political problems.
Jaques Attali, distinguished author; founder and first director of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, was Mitterand’s youthful advisor who suggested bringing Hollande into the President’s team and who much later played a role in Sarkhozy’s government. He voices the fears expressed for over a year among thinking French people in his new book “Urgences Francaises” (French Urgencies). He is not alone. Yesterday in Paris, (May 28th) the German Finance minister expressed the growing fears that pervade EU nations. Rising youth unemployment rates, 26 % in France but over 50% in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, are not only among the uneducated but also the qualified children of the executive class. Past failure to stimulate private enterprise, to support the growth of small and medium sized enterprises and the reliance on social benefits instead are the cause of political panic among Eurozone leaders.
Petty little bureaucrat that he is, Hollande’s answer is that the eurozone should work towards a joint economic government with its own budget that could take on specific projects including tackling youth unemployment. The ice age will have arrived before that notion get’s to first base.
Jaques Attali’s book encapsulates the entire frightful scenario with the brilliant logic of a man who has been watching from inside French government for so long that he knows better than anyone what grave problems and un-negotiable obstacles exist in France--a nation always socially and economically divided with few escalators for upward mobility: violent revolution has been the only means of reconstruction historically for a nation unable to gradually reform its rigid administrative and fiscal structures based on its irreconcilable class divide.
Youth unemployment across the eurozone threatens that ‘peace in our time’ that the EU’s idealistic creators imagined would prevent future conflicts on our continent. Even Hollande acknowledges that people are turning away from the European concept. Meanwhile, welfare is the opium of the people. Take it away and the psychological, fiscal and traditionally opposed class conflicts will bring catastrophic revolt. Pass me a parachute.

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