The most hated man in France? (France Diary)

October 31st, 2010 - 2:28 pm ICT by IANS  

By Ranvir Nayar
Paris, Oct 31 (IANS) A television caricature programme recently showed French President Nicolas Sarkozy asking his aides, “Why, oh why, am I the most hated man in all of France?”

The caricature was not a figment of the scriptwriter’s imagination…this is what Sarkozy is reported to have told one of his closest aides.

“I am so hated now that I am beginning to fear for my life, that someone may just cross the line and attack me. But I don’t know why the French have come to hate me so much.”

This is a rather sad commentary for a man who was elected three years ago with promises of a reinvigorated France that would be ready to reclaim its position amongst leading nations.

This is what Sarkozy had promised French voters, apart from a clean administration that would stamp out all the nepotism and corruption rampant in the Jacques Chirac years.

But three years later, Sarkozy seems no different. While he may have managed to bring France more towards the global centrestage, at home things seem to have only become worse.

His attempts to reform the economy and bring back growth seem to be drowned out in opposition that has the support of nearly three out of four French citizens. Also, by nominating his 24-year-old son to head the largest government-owned real estate managing company, Sarkozy showed how deep nepotism runs in Elysees.

Three years ago, with the stinging defeat he inflicted on a leaderless Socialist Party, it seemed he would have a cakewalk in his second term elections due in 2012. But as things stand, Sarkozy may well take political ’sanyas’ after his first term.

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Sarkozy strikes back

Sarkozy is nevertheless breathing easier now. He has just withstood an onslaught of public protests that began in April and have continued through October over the pension reforms bill.

The bill has been pushed through by the ruling coalition, the UMP, despite heated protests by the opposition. It was passed through both the houses and is being forwarded to Sarkozy for his signature.

There were doubts whether Sarkozy and his team would be able to withstand the public pressure and the international attention that the ongoing industrial action had attracted.

While urban transport, mainly the suburban trains that cart millions every day to Paris and back have been on intermittent strikes since March, school and college students, workers looking after school mid-day meals and those working in ports also joined in.

Opposition leader Martine Aubry, mayor of the northern city of Lille and leader of the Socialist Party, has accused Sarkozy of muscling through the pension reform bill without a real debate on the issue that has angered nearly 70 percent of the French, who are opposed to any tinkering of the retirement age, currently at 60 years.

The government wants to raise it to 62, a move that will hardly be enough looking at the state of the French economy and society.

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Whither social security?

France has often been held as the champion of social security, at least in the western European arena. But now French social security is at its breaking point.

The country’s social security deficit, which stood at barely 11 billion euros two years ago, clocked 21 billon last year, causing much panic. The state has slowly been eroding benefits that come with social security and this erosion has gathered pace since the economic crisis gripped Europe.

Now the French have to pay more for their healthcare and each euro they contribute to social security gets them lesser benefits as the government takes an increasing number of medicines and medical procedures off the reimbursed list or slashes the reimbursement.

Little wonder, the French are also now scouting overseas markets for cheaper medical attention.

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India wins, here too

Some cheerful news now. India has won the third edition of the France India Business Cup, a sporting event that brings together golfers and polo players from the two countries to tee off in the scenic seaside town of St.Tropez on the French Riviera.

Jointly organised by the city of St.Tropez, PSO Productions and Media India, the tournament is part of the ProAM Championship of St Tropez. This year’s edition was inaugurated by Indian Tourism Minister Kumari Selja.

While India won the golf tournament, played in the match play format, 4-3, polo was a tighter contest with both teams tied at four goals each. So India gets to retain the trophy they had won last year as well.

(Ranvir Nayar can be contacted at ranvirnayar@rediffmail.com)

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