As France gets closer to its 2012 presidential election, candidates are turning up left and right. Two weeks after 2007 second-round opponent Ségolène Royal shocked her Socialist pact with leader Martine Aubry and hesitant favorite, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, François Bayrou, who will be reelected as president of the Democratic Movement (MoDem) Party on Sunday, December 19, appeared on the Canal+ talk show, “Le Grand Journal,” on Monday, December 13, where he outlined his aspirations for his candidacy and for the future of his centrist party, as shown by Le Figaro. Marine Le Pen, daughter of the far-right National Front Party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, reached her highest ever positive position in the poll with a 30-percent positive response, though the poll was conducted before she stirred controversy by comparing Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation on Friday, December 10, as explored by Rue 89 and France 24. While receiving 900 children at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday, December 15, for a Christmas celebration, First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy said her husband was thinking seriously about whether he would run for reelection in 2012, though many expect he will. Bloomberg reported that Sarkozy’s approval ratings rose 3 points this month to 35 after reaching record lows amid the tumult surrounding his successful efforts to pass the controversial retirement-reform bill.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry made a statement on Monday, December 13, that it was “disappointed” in comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his trip to India the week before criticizing Pakistan as a “safe-haven” for terrorists, AFP reported. The Foreign Office summoned the French and German ambassador to express displeasure with Sakozy’s comments and similar ones made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel while meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Berlin, according to the Times of India. The statement released made references to Pakistan’s sacrifices in the effort to fight terror and called the nation’s relations with both France and Germany excellent.
The European Parliament held its ceremony awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Cuban political dissident Guillermo Fariñas on Wednesday, December 15, AFP reported. As with the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the ceremony in Strasbourg honored an empty chair, as Fariñas was not permitted to leave Cuba to accept the award. In a video message recorded for the ceremony, the Cuban who nearly died earlier this year during a 135-day hunger strike protesting the imprisonment of political dissidents said Havana’s travel ban was evidence of the nation’s lack of progress and encouraged the European Union to uphold its 1996 “common position” on Cuba and to refuse the claims of Cuba’s ruling elite, according to BBC.
The British Medical Journal published the results of a nine-month study on Wednesday, December 15, in which a team of scientists and historians verified they had indeed found the missing head of King Henry IV, according to NPR. The embalmed head of Henry IV, one of France’s most popular kings, went missing during the French Revolution, when the bodies of past monarchs were dug up and beheaded. In the nearly 220 years since, the presumably snagged head had been passed between a number of private collections, ending up at the home of a French retiree, where it was discovered in 2008, according to le JDD. In 2011, France will hold a national mass and bury the head in the traditional burial site of French kings and queens, the Basilica of Saint Denis, where Henry IV had been buried following his assassination in 1610.
Shortly before the final vote on a series of finance laws to be implemented in 2011, Budget Minister Francois Baroin announced on Wednesday, December 15, that the French government was postponing the implementation of a 1-percent tax on all online advertising sales, Bloomberg reported. The tax on advertisers, known as the “Google tax” was supposed to take effect on January 1 but will instead start July 1, according to Rue 89. Initially, the tax, which would raise between €10 and 20 million per year, was thought to be excluded from the 2011 finance reforms, causing La Tribune to join critics accusing the government of succumbing to the efforts of Web-company lobbyists.
Statistics from 2009 showed that for every three marriages in France were two civil unions, showing a growing shift away from the traditional form of matrimony, the New York Times reported.
The French civil union, the PACS (Pacte Civile de Solidarité), was created in 1999 as a compromise to groups demanding gay rights. In 1999, however, 75 percent of PACS were between heterosexual couples. That percentage has since grown to 95 percent as heterosexual couples, for whom the right to marriage remains reserved in France, seem increasingly reluctant to take part in the traditional institution.
After the decision by Standard & Poor’s to lower the credit rating of Belgium on Tuesday, December 14, financial analysts are speculating whether France could also be shifted to a negative outlook in the following months, Bloomberg reported. Though Belgium usually finds itself on par with its neighbor, France’s economic outlook depends heavily on its ability to promote a significant reduction to its fiscal deficit in the coming months.
The Observatoire Nationale de Zones Urbaines Sensibles released a study on Wednesday, December 15, showing that more than a third of young people in France’s poorest neighborhoods were unemployed in 2009, AFP reported. The overall unemployment rate in France’s “sensitive” quarters rose from 16.9 to 18.6 percent from 2008 to 2009. Among the youngest members of the active population, the rate rose from 41.7 to 43 percent among young men and from 29.6 to 37 percent among young women. The phenomenon, explained in part by the exodus of those establishing themselves in the French workforce, also showed a diminishment in the disparity between those with and without degrees, indicating that the completion of secondary and higher degrees no longer indicated an escape from the widespread unemployment associated with certain French neighborhoods.