France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

October 17, 2009

The lights are on but nobody’s home, or, le lumiere est la mais tous les etages ne sont pas illuminé or reason #1,677 why I hate Brussels

What if you woke up one morning and none of your light-bulbs fit? And on top of that, they were all fluorescent. You would either a) be having a nightmare or b)be living in Europe in 2010.

Indeed, when I looked for light-bulbs at the supermarket in the village today to replace a couple that had gone out, both in small snug fixtures, I looked and looked where the manager had told me to and saw nothing. Then he came over and explained that those ugly oblong white things — they look kind of like miniature sky-scrapers — were light-bulbs, and I remembered that a handful of bureaucrats in Brussels had decided that what was good enough for Edison and has been good enough for the rest of us the last hundred plus years was no longer good enough for the 450 million citizens they supposedly represented, and decreed that as of October 1, the luminescent round bulbs would be replaced by ugly, white, rectangular fluorescent bulbs. And when I say replaced, I don’t mean that we would be able to choose them, I mean that all the old bulbs would be removed from the shelves and we would have no choice. The supposed reason is that they are more efficient. In energy, maybe, but in cost, no; first, where the old lighbulbs cost 1.20 Euros for two, this new thing costs 2.02 for one. Second, because they are so big — long — with a new base added on top of the screw base to boot, they won’t fit into the narrow lighting chambers of just about any spot — and spots are big here in Europe — nor under any lighting globe. So hundreds of millions of Europeans will have to spend money to replace their lighting fixtures, and more money on their light-bulbs, in a time when, thanks partly to lack of foresight by Brussels, most of us have less of it, but Brussels doesn’t care because someone had a cool idea. The rest of us, as unusual, pay the consequences. And for those of us that get headaches from fluorescent lighting? No one asked us, we don’t count. And if we complain, they call us ‘anti-European.’ No, I’m not anti-European. I just say that what the EU about is not what was promised — making it easier for its citizens — but strictly about making it easier for the big capitalists. No matter if Brussels’s decisions create complications for the rest of us — the EU bureaucrats couldn’t care less. And if we vote down a constitution they’re trying to shove down or throats that does nothing to rectify this and whose soul goal is to make it even easier for big business, no problem; they’ll re-name it a treaty and say they don’t need to have a vote. Or, if we insist on a vote on the treaty and vote it down — as Ireland did — they’ll just make us vote again after scaring us a little.


June 9, 2009

Of these, hope: The EU Parliamentary elections

News item: The big story of Sunday’s European Parliamentary elections here in France is that Europe Ecology, a.k.a. the Greens, did just about as well as the Socialists, garnering 15 percent of the vote as compared to the Socialists’ 16, and 14 Parliamentary seats to the Socialists 15. (Coming in first was French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, electing 28 deputies.) In Paris, Europe Ecology beat the Socialists, with a whopping 21 percent of the vote.

Two weeks ago here in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, Danny the Red, a.k.a. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a leader of the May 1968 student protests and, 40 years later, leader of the Green group in the European Parliament, sat on the podium of a local theater listening as a fellow parliamentary candidate from his new Europe Ecology party, this one from ‘France Outre-Mer,’ tried to explain to the audience the unique situation of the ‘former’ colonies in Europe. A baby intermittently bawled. But rather than being annoyed by the baby, Cohn-Bendit gazed at it with a big ol’ smile of wonder on his face.

If nearly 60 percent of the overall voting-age populace stayed home during Sunday’s parliamentary elections in France (across Europe, 57 percent abstained), 80 percent — 80 percent — of young people decided not to vote. But as a young commentator explained yesterday on France Culture radio, it isn’t the European Project young people don’t believe in, it’s the European institutions.

Cohn-Bendit, I think, knows the difference, as does his party. But rather than simply complaining about Europe in confounding ‘Europe’ with Brussels, a.k.a. institutional Europe — as other lefties like me do — he persists in believing in the European Project.

And in convincing others.

So whereas the Socialists continue to be divided between those who voted for the European Constitution, with its lack of adequate social protections, and those who voted against it because it seemed primarily designed to favor the multi-nationals, Cohn-Bendit, who voted for, recruited for Europe Ecology José Bové, the farmer leader who voted against it and the famous opponent of genetically modified produce who risked prison by ramming his tractor into a McDonald’s, as the head of Europe Ecology’s list in Southwest France (where I live when I’m not in Paris).

Et voila Bové, a new member of parliament who proves that the ‘Euro-skeptics’ are quite ready to say yes to a Europe that’s not just there to grease the wheels of pan-European capitalism but to make life easier for everybody else:

“Today, 60 percent of those who die of hunger are farmers,” Bové pointed out in the campaign journal Vert. “In other words, farmers can no longer feed themselves with their own agriculture, let alone nourish their neighbors and the surrounding villages. It’s for this reason that we’ve been fighting for years for the recognition of alimentary sovereignty as a fundamental right on the same level as the right to food. I think that Europe can play an important role in getting alimentary sovereignty inscribed in the Declaration of Human Rights.”

At present, he went on, “in lieu of organizing alimentary sovereignty, in lieu of mandating products of quality for consumers and of preserving the environment, the agricultural politics of the European Union (emphasizes and strengthens) agricultural conglomerates. A farm disappears in Europe every three minutes! We need to radically re-assess this agricultural politics, and this will be the object of the Greens in the European Parliament for this next five-year mandate, because the next European agricultural policy must be put in place in 2013.”

More broadly: The main reason so many citizens stayed home Sunday is that they don’t see the EU parliament as having any influence on or relevance to their lives. In fact, this particular parliament is, at present, more of a demi-parliament because it lacks one fundamental power attributed to most parliaments: It cannot introduce laws. That power belongs to the European Commission — a governing body able to impose its will on a populace which can’t vote for its members directly. (The parliament can only modify laws the EU commission proposes.) Rather than trying to make silk out of a pig’s ear, as much of the mainstream French media does in trying to convince people otherwise, Bové and Europe Ecology promise to actually try to change the balance.

“We have to build a European politics that permits citizens to agitate concretely,” he argues. “We have to return power — or more precisely, give power — to the E.U. Parliament so that there’s a genuine democratic articulation between an executive, a legislative, and a judicial branch.”

May 11, 2009

Behind Harlem’s Désir: ‘Une gauche bo-bo qui n’a rien compris’

Traversing the packed marché along the rue Convention on my way to re-live one of my favorite multi-sensual Paris experiences at the parc Georges Brassens Sunday (the park’s old book market for the brain, its greenery and fountain for the eye, and the end of market 5-smelly-cheeses for 10 Euro platter for the palette, not to mention the imagined strains of Brassens for the ear), I ran smack up against Harlem Désir. And by Harlem Désir I don’t mean a sudden yearning for chicken and waffles at Wells in uptown Manhattan, but the member of the French Socialist party directorate who goes by that name. “Behind, Harlem Désir,” said a middle-class looking 40ish lady inclining her head towards the guy behind her, who nodded bonjour as he squeezed past me. Unfortunately, it’s the Socialist party whose list Désir is leading in the European elections which is fast being left behind by events.

The Socialists seem to think that if they keep repeating ‘pour une Europe social’ the electorate will forget about all the problems the E.U. directorate in Brussels has wrought, chiefly in depriving many French people of control over their ability to make a living. It might be a rancher in Burgundy who kills himself because he doesn’t have the 100,000 Euros Brussels wants him to spend to ensure his cows don’t poop in the creek, it might be a fisherman in the North who would like to sell all the cod he’s caught so he can pay for the gas he used for the boat but who has to throw much of the fish back because he’s surpassed the quota set by the suits in Brussels, or it might be the rosé producer in Bergerac or Provence who sees all his efforts to elevate rosé-making into a real art wasted because the E.U. commission now says anyone can mix red and white and sell it as rosé.

To these producers, who might be called the heart of the bread-basket of France, the Socialist Party pledge to work to guarantee the SMIC or minimum monthly income means nothing. To these custodians of a once-treasured and now vanishing rural way of life — in my village of 997 in the Dordogne department of Southwest France, just four farmers remain — the Socialists’ desire to create 10 million new jobs as part of a European strategy for ecologic growth is irrelevant. And what does the fisherman who Europe forces to throw cod he’s caught and could sure use back in the ocean care if Europe develops a plan to re-launch the economy in favor of consummation and investment?

Speaking on France Culture radio tonight, the politico-social activist Nicolas Dupont complained that as regards views on Europe there is nothing between a French Socilaist party which is largely “a Left Bo-bo (bourgeoisie-Bohemian; Montmartre in particular has been over-run by them) which has not understood anything” and, on the Right, the UMP of President Sarkozy which places the Market before everything.

Even more amazing, there’s nothing on the so-called Far Left. In the screed an activist from Olivier Besancenot’s New Party Anti-capitalist handed me at the marché yesterday, there are lots of fightin’ words, but not one addresses the crises faced by the farmers and the fishermen. In Besancenot’s world-view, there are only workers and their Capitalist bosses; no one else counts.

Enter François Bayrou.

Liberal wags like to sneer that Bayrou has his head in the clouds, but once again it is only Bayrou’s Movement Democratic which seems to have its ear to the ground when it comes to being aware of real problems the E.U. is causing for real people in France, in its campaign literature promising to work “in favor of a maritime politics that maintains a durable economic activity, at the same time preserving this resource.”

April 16, 2009

Something fishy in Brussels; wrong lesson from French professors

All the marine fishermen of the principal ports in the north of France want is to be able to fish for cod and sole. Apparently, there’s plenty more cod and sole to be caught. But Brussels rules the high seas, and Brussels has determined that this year’s quota for cod and sole was reached in June. So since Tuesday, the fisherman have been blocking the ports of Dunkerque, Boulogne-sur-Mer and Calais, taking time out only to meet with fish minister Michel Barnier yesterday. The best Barnier could come up with is a promise of 4 million Euros in aid. There’s lots more cod and sole in the Atlantic, there’s no money in the federal coffers, and yet the government can only throw money at the problem because Brussels’s will must be followed.

Speaking of blockages: When I was 13 years old — in the French equivalent of college or what we used to call junior high school — I made the choice to join my teachers on strike. They didn’t ask me to do so; I volunteered. So I’m all for student solidarity with professors. But here in France, in the ongoing blockages of universities, professors and researchers haven’t given those students who don’t want to strike the choice. It’s not enough for them to walk out; they block the entrances of the universities to prevent those who might not agree with them, or maybe who just want to pursue their education, from choosing to keep going to class. (Unlike with the fishermen — who are facing an issue of SURVIVAL — the reasons for discontent of these educators and researchers are unclear. I gather they’re upset that the government wants the universities to be independent; and about some cut-backs.) Consequently, students who expected to graduate this year are looking at incompletes because they’ve missed too much class, sometimes months. And yet, appearing on France Culture’s morning program earlier this week, one of the leaders of this movement had the nerve to say that their militancy is “not of a blind extremism.”

December 12, 2008

Democracy a la Brussels

In most places, Democracy dictates that when a people oppose a proposition, their opinion is respected. In Brussels, at  least as concerns the European Consti — er, Treaty — it means that when a country rejects having its independence fettered by Brussels, you either bypass their no vote with a ‘treaty,’ as was done in France and the Netherlands, or you make them vote again, as has just been decided for Ireland. Supposedly there are some concessions — a European commissar, non-obligation to participate in joint military actions, non-interference in banning abortions, and fiscal independence —  but reportedly it’s the same duck. And the ‘fiscal independence ‘ guarantee is baffling; France has been repeatedly shackled by, among other things, limitations on running a deficit, although that has been temporarily lifted in view of the crise. But in fact,  the European Union is nothing if not an arsenal of Brussels-imposed regulations which shackle national independance and thus maneuverability in all manner of spheres.

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