1. Inivitation to debate French politics by Trinity College, Dublin
Thank you all for accepting our invitation to the French politics debate on Tuesday the 6th November at 7.30pm in the Graduate Memorial Building, Trinity College Dublin.
The finalised list of participants is: Paul Gillespie (Irish Times Foreign Editor) Tony Connolly (RTE Europe Correspondent) Professor Robert Elgie (Dublin City University) Helene Conway (Parti Socialiste, Dublin) Arnaud Clopin (Union pour une Mouvement Populaire, Dublin)
I attach a prototype of a poster we will be using to publicise the event, I think it’s fantastic! Provisionally we are calling the debate ‘Sarkozy: Savage or saviour of the French social model’. I’m not 100% happy with that so any suggestions for a better title would be greatfully received.
The format of the event will be roughly 5 to 7 minute speeches from each of you, mainly serving as an intoduction to your perspectives on the topic. There is no problem for the three of you from non-partisan backgrounds choosing to not fall on either side of the fence vis-a-vis the title of the debate. After the speeches I will open the debate up to the floor accepting 2/3 questions at a time; we generally find this is the best way to allow the discussion to develop its own dynamic and get the audience involved. I will allow questions for no more than 45 mins. There is no particular dress code.
The debate will be followed by a reception in the same building, naturally, with lots of French wine!
Don’t hesitate to call if you have any queries. Looking forward to the event.
2. Discours d’introduction au débat public sur les six premiers mois de la Présidence Sarkozy, par Hélène Conway, représentant le Parti Socialiste.
In this temple of free speech I would like to start with a quote from Voltaire which I address to Arnaud for what he has just said
“ I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”
A healthy democracy needs a strong opposition to hold the government to account for its policies and actions and to provide safeguards against any abuse of power by those who exercise it.
As NS is showing strong signs of wanting to lead the country single handed, such safeguards appear even more important than ever in France today.
NS does not trust anybody. He does not trust his Prime Minister, who is reduced to the role of mere assistant. He does not trust his Ministers: while his Minister for Employment was negotiating with striking railway workers in his office, NS was making contradictory statements at his own press conference. He does not trust advisers or special envoys who are normally sent around the world to crisis areas. NS chose to fly to Chad himself to free the journalists and the aircrew. It seems that freeing captives runs in the Sarkozy family. Perhaps he wants to be the sole saviour, a latter-day Roland? Had he heard about tonight’s debate and decided to don the saviour’s mantle?
NS does not appear to have settled into the president’s role yet, or perhaps he does not yet understand it. He feels compelled to be heard and seen on every issue and has kept up the same pace as when he was a candidate. Is he already running for 2012? He is definitely thinking about it and behaving accordingly. Otherwise, how can we explain that, having annihilated the Chirac supporters within his own camp, he presided over the political bureau of the UMP party on the 21 October in the absence of a leader?
Up to now, every French president has been above all political parties. NS, by way of contrast, remains the leader of the UMP, thus ensuring that nobody from his own camp will be in a position to run against him in 5 years time. Is this simple megalomania or rampant paranoia?
He has weakened the Socialist Party by poaching some of its leaders, fair play to him. But what I strongly disapprove of is his wooing of the National Front electorate by passing a series of scandalous laws such as: • the testing of the DNA of immigrant children, • the arrest of immigrants in their home by police in the middle of the night, which led to the death of a Chinese woman last month, and • the arrest at school gates of immigrant parents who come to collect their children.
A quota of 15 000 illegal immigrants to be deported before the 31st December 2007 has been set and the “préfets” are desperately trying to meet it, as if humans should be subjected to quotas! I do not believe that Jean-Marie Le Pen has ever gone that far. It seems that the far Right has found a new leader in NS. He is playing with the rights and lives of vulnerable people as part of a political game in order to win the next elections in 2008. This is wrong.
It is also very wrong for NS to put all his eggs in the one basket which he calls economic growth. NS thought that his arrival to power would be sufficient to kick start the French economy. There is, as yet, no evidence of any effect of his famous “rupture”. Let us recall that this “rupture” was from a government in which he held key ministries and which led France to its current state of bankruptcy declared by the Prime Minister 2 weeks ago.. “La rupture sur la forme et non sur le fond”( the break with form and not with substance) is not sufficient. While announcements are made about a forthcoming “plan de rigueur” ( an austerity programme), NS implements a 15 billion euro tax rebate to the benefits of his richest supporters and increases his own salary by 140% (beating Bertie with his mere 19% increase!). It is surely not up to the taxpayers to pay for his increased personal expenditure. He should instead lead by example. Growth will not happen simply because the President says he wants it to. The President has apparently failed to understand that increased petrol and cereal prices are signs of an impending world financial crisis. It would be better for everybody if NS was the imaginative and creative Bonaparte of 1804 and not the destructively obsessed Bonaparte of 1814.
There is no evidence to suggest that NS has any clear understanding of the role that France can play on the international scene. Flirting with the outgoing Bush administration, which has lost all credibility at home and abroad, is no way to gain respect. Talking about going to war with Iran to show that we can make up for a failure to make it to Iraq is not only ludicrous but also foolhardy.
Europe is at a crucial turning point. It needs to move forward. The US are our allies but playing the good soldier the British way in the war in Iraq is not going to bring any worthwhile gains to France, to Europe or to the world.
Let us retain the independence vis à vis the United States which de Gaulle maintained while resuming a leading role in the construction of the European Union.
Good luck Mister President!