Posts tagged ‘France’
As we have explored numerous times in this blog over the years, the Internet is increasingly shaping political discourse, public scrutiny over elected representatives and our democratic life in general. The upcoming French parliamentary elections are proving once again that e-citizenship is gaining ground fast; for some this year, computers will replace the traditional ballot box.
A major pioneer of e-citizenship was Switzerland, where in some constituencies citizens are already entitled to vote online; now France is on the verge to cross this barrier. For the first time, as a pilot scheme, expatriates will be offered the opportunity to elect their Members of Parliament on the Internet. They will be saved from the effort of going a remote Consulate and queuing to fulfil their civic duties. I thought I was attached to the decorum around the elections, going to the elementary-school turned poll-office and hearing the familiar “A voté”, but, I have to admit that for me at least, pragmatism has won over principles.
If the experience proves efficient, it should be extended to more ballots and be available to all French voters. Given the very poor participation of expatriates in 2007 (as a shameful reminder, only 47% of French expats living in Belgium voted in the last presidential election) I can only hope that e-voting will raise the general commitment to democracy. Voting by a show of hands, male suffrage, and the poll tax are all antiques that political institutions gave up under social pressure. There is little doubt, in my view, that in a few decades e-voting will seem as natural as any other aspect of progress, either technological or societal.
In spite of the enthusiasm, there are still significant concerns around securing the integrity of the ballot. However, the Swiss encountered no major problems, and efficient solutions for identification and authentication exist e.g. electronic IDs; not to mention that so far I have never been robbed of my e-ordered pizza…
For information: www.monvotesecurise.votezaletranger.gouv.fr
Fears of a new wave of immigration are stalking western Europe. The row between France and Italy is symptomatic of the tensions. Today’s meeting between President Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi was intended to calm the situation, and an agreement was reached to modify Schengen to allow for “exceptional circumstances”, but France is the clear demandeur that the Schengen agreement must be modified to allow stricter cross-border controls.
France argues that it already faces a major crisis. It took tough measures when the train between Ventimiglia and Menton, carrying Tunisian refugees who had been granted residence permits by the Italian authorities, was held up at the French border for seven hours. French officials refused entry for around 1,500 would-be entrants.
It seems that up to 30,000 people from Tunisia and Libya have already been registered by Italian immigration, most of them having fled via Lampedusa, and there is widespread concern that these numbers could swell in the backwash of revolutions across the Arab world, and especially the conflict in Libya.
All the emphasis is currently on France and Italy. Sarkozy must contend with the surging popularity of the Front National, while Berlusconi requires the support of the fiercely anti-immigrant Northern League to sustain his government. But of course the refugee issue has a political impact right across Europe.
Belgian immigration minister Wathelet has taken a tough line. The True Finns party in Finland, which has won 19 per cent of the seats in the recent elections, is calling on Finland to quit Schengen, while the prospect of Bulgaria and Rumania joining the Schengen agreement has become more problematic.
There are also major implications for the UK, although outside the Schengen agreement. British governments need no reminder of the squatter camps in northern France which refugees used as launching pads for illegal immigration to Britain. Indeed, it was Sarkozy, when he was a minister, who closed the camps – an act for which London is eternally grateful. If Italy is in the front line of the refugee pressure, France is not far behind. It is reported that already 1,000 refugees have gathered near the Gare du Nord for the Eurostar to London.
The European Commission is reluctant to accept that there is a refugee crisis and has turned down Italy’s request for special help – so triggering the decision to grant residence permits to the Tunisian travellers and send them on to France. Commission policy is to press the Tunisian government to speed up the homeward return of its nationals. Indeed, President Barroso has scolded Tunis for not doing enough to control the flow. A further €140m from EU funds is being allocated to Tunisia over three years to assist repatriation in addition to €257m already committed to help the country’s reconstruction.
The nub of Europe’s problem is that nobody knows how each of the Arab revolutions will turn out, nor what the implications will be for neighbouring countries. Civil war, for instance in Libya or Syria, could drive many thousands to leave their home countries, while economic stagnation in say, Egypt or Tunisia could cause other migrants to join those already travelling from sub-Saharan Africa in search of work.
The European Union must get its act together, supporting EU countries which face the biggest immediate challenges, and providing help for Arab neighbours (once it has identified their differing needs) to stabilise their societies and stimulate their economies, which is the only long-term remedy for the refugee issue.
Just 3 years ago, newly elected President Sarkozy named a broad-based government which included an unprecedented number of women, minorities and members of the opposition. This openness was one of the defining features of “Sarkozyism” which drove the President to power in 2007. When this election rhetoric was transformed into ministerial appointments, the new government was hailed by some at the time as the beginning of a new period of openness and cooperation in French politics, and heavily criticized by certain members of the majority UMP party, like Patrick Devedijan, a key member of the UMP inner circle, who mockingly urged Nicolas Sarkozy to “open up the government… all the way to Sarkozyists!”.
Jolting back to political reality, the most recent government reshuffle has signaled the end of an inclusive government and the return to insider rule. Nothing highlights this shift better than the departure of several token ministers including frontbenchers Jean-Marie Bockel, Fadela Amara and in particular Bernard Kouchner, who was one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s star signings. Now the only remaining survivor of bipartisanship experiment is Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, whose presence in the government is as symbolic as his name.
This government reshuffle also means the return to power of the traditional right. The re-appointment of Prime Minister François Fillon is a telling indicator of this swing to the right. Although considered by some as a moderate, at heart he has more conservative tendencies, and will most probably use his next period as PM to continue his deficit reduction leitmotif. We have also seen the return of many of the grand old men (and women) of the Chirac era to government, as for example Alain Juppé, former Prime Minister under Jacques Chirac (and a recurring figure in right wing governments for the past 25 years) or the talismanic Michele Alliot-Marie whose political longevity is rivaled only by her dominance of the big four ministries (Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Justice) over the last nine years.
The reshuffle also sees a restructuring of the power relationship between the Prime Minister and the President. Despite rumours that Francois Fillon might leave the PM spot, it is a sign of his growing power and popularity that President Sarkozy has reappointed him. To see how far Fillon has come, at the beginning of his time as PM in 2007, President Sarkozy described Fillon as a mere colleague whereas now Fillon is described by journalists as a sort of “Super Prime Minister”. Their roles, as well as their relationship, will be changing after the reshuffle. Fillon, who is more popular with the electorate and the majority representatives, will focus on domestic policy, including the final important reforms of the mandate. Even if President Sarkozy will still be actively involved in these issues, he will concentrate on international issues and will be preoccupied with the euro zone crisis, nuclear disarmament and France’s presidency of the G20.
This reshuffle can be seen as a capitulation of sorts by President Sarkozy, who has realized that he will not be able to push his agenda through parliament without the support of highly experienced key players on the right. The jury is currently out on whether this strategy will weaken or strengthen the President’s position and that of the majority UMP party with the 2012 elections coming.
The FH Paris team
In what we hope will be a series of regular reflections from our colleagues at FH Paris on Bld Haussman during the current EU French Presidency, a mail arrives with this guest contribution from Clemence Choutet and Quentin Vivant. Here are their thoughts as the Sarko Show gets well into the first act…
President Nicolas Sarkozy has inherited a Union in disarray but he has grand ambitions at the helm of Europe. He intends to deploy all of his talents and diplomatic skills to pull off the job. In short, he has prepared grand plans for his EU presidency, which began on July 1st, to show that France is back in Europe.
Fastuous ceremonies and foreign guests
The inauguration of a flamboyant presidency was symbolized on June 30, 2008 by the Eiffel Tower lit a dazzling blue with gold stars, representing the EU flag. The festivities include “Europe Bastille Day Balls” and will continue throughout France’s six-month turn in the EU chair. With a budget of €190 million, France aims to dazzle the world’s eyes with stylish ceremonies and the classiest souvenirs, scarves, pens, small bags and other paraphernalia, ever to have been given away at EU summits. Beyond the pomp and style of the opening ceremonies, Mr. Sarkozy is to pursue an ambitious agenda of politico-cultural events centered on immigration, climate change, environment, agriculture, defense and energy. No fewer than ten international summits will take place over the following six months.
Review of the troops
The first and most spectacular event will be the Paris summit on July 13 for about 50 leaders from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East programmed to launch Mr Sarkozy’s pet project for a “Mediterranean Union”. Leaders of all 27 EU members, plus 17 Mediterranean countries, are invited to a jamboree on the eve of Bastille Day to launch a new Union for the Mediterranean. Soldiers from Mediterranean countries that include Libya, Syria and Israel are invited by President Sarkozy to march in a “Euro-Mediterranean Bastille Day” military parade with European troops. The parade is expected to be the biggest yet, and will be followed by a fireworks display and a concert. Sarkozy wishes to turn the Mediterranean summit into an occasion to demonstrate that one of his great ideas has started to materialize.
Sarkozy’s fast-track gambit may pay dividends
Nicolas Sarkozy plans to launch the EU construction projects more or less simultaneously instead of successively, a tactic which he has already employed for the instigation of French social and economic reform. His fast moves dazzle both friends and foe alike. He makes a practice of moving too quickly for his political adversaries. And whatever Sarkozy does, he does it with style. Despite the sarcastic comments made by his detractors, one cannot help wondering whether Sarkozy’s dynamic approach may finally pay off, providing the opportunity to break down the EU’s institutional paralysis and overcome the traditional obstacles which have marred its construction.
To be continued…
Today is significant. Firstly, it’s 30 degree sunshine in Brussels, and secondly it’s the first day of the French Presidency of the EU. Bonjour.
As a shameful Anglophone, I’ll be dusting down the pocket dictionary, practicing my rolled Rs, and getting ready for six months of unmitigated Frenchness. And hurrah for it, as an initial look at the French Presidency’s website reveals our “citizen-orientated” Presidency is taking its digital communications seriously.
So often EU presidency websites have been about as exciting as the Solvency II proposal (apologies to our Financial Services team, who are all very special). However, it looks like Sarko and co have decided to raise the bar. Here’s how:
PFUE TV: the inspirationally-named PFUE TV (there was apparently a huge debate about whether or not to include the “P” and the “E” :)) is the most striking addition to the usual presidency stoge. The channel has, at the moment, limited content and is horrendously slow to load – let’s hope that something more dynamic than speeches by Fillon and Kouchner will be added over the next six months (more Carla Bruni please!).
EVENTS MAP: the French events map is a cool idea and uses Google Earth to identify events taking place in France over the next six months. Nice thinking.
CALENDAR TEST: As a public affairs professional it tends to drive me insane when I cannot easily access Council meeting documents. So I’m going to try it now…and I’ve failed; well I tried to get info on the ECOFIN Council next week, and there’s no agenda there yet. I guess it is still early so the jury’s out on that one.
WEATHER: I’ve noticed other Presidency sites have done this, but who in their right mind goes to an EU Presidency website to check the weather. I’d say that there’s a huge cloud gathering over Lisbon following the recent storm in Ireland…(oh dear)
Other thoughts on the French Presidency from our colleagues in Paris are more than welcome…
Our digital practice in Europe has recently launched the results of a piece of research conducted in France, Germany and the UK with consumers on the impact of the use of the internet on their decisions. The Digital Influence Index that results uses both the time spent on different media and the influence consumers say it has on the decisions they take to come to an index that we shall be using to track the growing power of the internet over time. The study was undertaken by FH with Harris Interactive.
Unsurprisingly, the study comes to the conclusion that the internet trumps both print and broadcast media in terms of the influence it has on consumer decisions. Clearly, there is a lot more to the study than that, so click here for the social media release with lots of further info, pics, speeches, exec. summaries and media coverage.
While the study focuses for the most part on decisions consumers take, rather than political decisions, it does address the latter. Interestingly our bods come to the conclusion that political decisions by citizens are less likely to be influenced by the internet than other consumer related decisions.
Having said this, it is clear, at least for me, that the study underlines the potential impact of digital on public affairs and politics.
1. The influence of the internet scores highly (61%) in terms of citizen behaviour of campaigning on an issue. This compares favourably to campaiging for a political party (45%) and voting in an election and way above voting in an election (18%). Speculating wildly, one might argue that this confirms the issue driven nature of the internet rather than the party political. This underlines the fact that on our issues, Brussels public affairs people might find rich pickings in finding and mobilising people around issues online. It should be our natural hunting ground for third party advocates. (see p. 11 executive summary)
2. Political parties/candidates need to be on the net. While the influence of the net on votes in elections may be lower than on other forms of political activity (see point 1. above), in terms of influence different kinds of sites have content from “sponsored sites” (i.e. party/candidates) scores highest of all 61% and non-sponsored sites score second highest 42%. (see p.12 executive summary). This suggests that the politically interested are going online to get their information and that more candidates/parties should invest online to get their message out to their core support – more work for Jon perhaps?
We hope to have some more comments from the people behind the research on here soon, in the meantime your views on the findings are most welcome.