Current events in France (#1) To better understand a country, it is useful to read its press and watch its TV. You can see what are the main issues for the people, what are the current controversies (the French are very good at that...). In this section, I try to register, month after month, the main topics for the French.
 WARNING ! The comments below do NOT reflect MY own opinion but are a tentative synthesis of what comes out from the French press and TV in a given month ! do express my own opinions on page Editorial !

This page concerns 2005 and 2006 : for 2007 and 2008, click here.

 Webmaster Philippe Rochefort and wife Harriet discussing current world affairs in a French bistrot.
 What was making the headlines (in 2006)...    
  • December :
    • Rock star Johnny Hallyday announces that he will move to Switzerland to pay less taxes : national uproar right up to the President of France !
  • November :
    • For the first time, the Socialist Party nominated a woman, Segolene Royal, as its candidate for the presidential elections next Spring.
    • As every year, the first page of all newspapers comment the literary prizes, the most prestigious going this year to foreign authors who write in French : Goncourt Prize to Jonathan Littell (American) for Les bienveillantes, Femina to Nancy Huston (Canadian), Renaudot to Alain Mabanckou (Congolese). Who says that the French are chauvisnists ?
  • October :
    • As the anniversary of the violent suburban riots approaches, all medias report on what has been done and what should have been done
  • September 2006 :
    • The 2007 presidential campaign is now omni-present with the two probable adversaries, N.Sarlozy for the Right and S.Royal for the Left, but also many other candidates, all of them making a lot of noise ; on a project of privatization of the gas utilitty Gaz de France, the Left submitted 137,347 amendments in the National Assembly (50 tons of paper...) !
  • August 2006 :
    • As usual in Summer, most of the news refer to Summer and vacation, except of course for the war in Lebanon
  • July 2006 :
    • the country is overcome by a heat wave (>38°C = 100°F) and everybody remembers 2003 when such a weather killed 15,000 due to the lack of precaution in retirement homes and with people living alone
    • the government is trying to re-consider the situation of illegal immigrants, and on a case by case basis, give them permits to stay or expell them : to block the potential expulsion of children of illegal immigrants, thousands of parents of French children try to "sponsor" a schoolkid, often through parents associations
    • France is doing much better than expected in the Football World Cup and everybody is in a better mood.... Of course everybody was shocked by the incident with Zidane, one of the most loved French personalities.
  • June 2006 :
    • the government of de Villepin is totally discredited and even its own (large) majority does not support it on issues such as the merging of two utilities : Suez (private) and Gaz de France (state-owned), a very sensible operation opposed by part of the Left
    • now (and until the elections next year) there is something every day about what any of the would-be candidates has said ; it looks like an old movie and one can rarely read anything new except sometimes by Ségolene Royal...
  • May 2006 :
    • Another French Watergate : a political scandal, "l'affaire Clearstream", adds to the discredit of the French political class... ; the name of several French politicians, including Nicola Sarkozy, had been added to a list of customers of a Luxemburger bank ; his ennemy, the current Prime Minister, concealed that it had been established it was a forgery....

 A survey about "the main concerns of the French" (Source : TNS/SOFRES, Oct.2006) gives the following results :

  • Unemployment and jobs : 62% (decreasing)
  • Purchasing power : 42% (stable)
  • Health, quality of medical care : 42% (growing)
  • Financing of pensions : 40%
  • Social inequalities : 39%
  • School and quality of education : 36%
  • Environment and pollution : 33%
  • Crime and safety : 28%
  • Financing of social security : 24%
  • Housing : 22%
  • Role of family : 18%
  • Globalization : 17%
  • Road safety : 16%

According to TNS Media Intelligence, in the first semester 2006, the respective importance of events in French medias measured in UBM (see he definition below in the comments for 2005) was :

 Subject  UBM  %/2005  Subject  UBM  %/2005
 Unemployment  37011  +130%  Strikes, etc..  20000  +29%
 Public health  32465  +90%  Environment  10000  -31%
 Education  23822  +72%  Justice  6000  +65%
 Crime  23000  +67%  Europe  3000  -80%

(but the Football World Cup scores 32900 UBM on 33 days only!)

  • April 2006 :
    • The political campaign has started for the 2007 Presidential elections : Chirac is politically dead and there are more than 20 would-be candidates, including Ségolène Royal, who wants to be seen as a new kind of politician
    • Finally, the government is defeated and withdraws the controversial law after more than two months of demonstrations. The Prime Minister is ridiculed (and the jobless rate remains unaffected...).
  • Mars 2006 :
    • Huge student demonstrations all over the country to protest against a law creating a new labour contract (CPE = Contrat Première Embauche) aimed at reducing unemployment for people under 26 and less protective than the traditional CDI (Contrat à Durée Indéterminée) : read about it. and see a tentative explanation of this typically French social crisis. Most French universities are on strike. Read a column about how hard it is to be French and young !
  • February 2006 :
    • The country is horrified by a villainous crime with ugly racist overtones: a multi-ethnic gang from a Parisian suburb kidnapped and killed a young Jewish shopkeeper after three weeks of torture ; the head of the gang, who called himself (in English) "the brain of the barbarians" managed to escape to his country, the Ivory Coast.
    • after three weeks of torture The publication of satirical drawings by a Danish newspaper infuriates Muslims worldwide ; French Muslims associations protest but adopt a very moderate stance, although a French newspaper (France Soir) published them and another one (Charlie Hebdo) published a drawing of Mahomet with the following caption "Outflanked by fundamentalists, Mahomet says : It's hard to be loved by (expletive deleted)"...
  • January 2006 :
    • the parliamentary hearings about the Outreau judiciary scandal (see December 2005) is broadcasted live every evening and illustrates shameful mistakes from all institutions involved.
    • Following a large national debate about racism and colonialism, President Chirac proposes a national day of commemoration (May 10) for the historical crime of slave trade and its influence on racism (read more).
 What was making the headlines in 2005...    
  • December 2005 :
    • Following the Nov. riots, a huge (and probably useful...) controversy on the colonial past of France. Read my editorial about it.
    • The end of a horrible miscarriage of justice : in Outreau (Northern France), the four children of a pedophilic couple denounced all the adults they knew for atrocious rapes and torture on them with no other proof than what they said. Due to the incompetence and laziness of everyone (police, judges, experts,..) fourteen neighbours were sent to jail and spent up to three years there before the case came to court. In the final judgement, all all them were declared totally innocent. The whole country is horrified, the president apologizes, the press is hysterical, etc...
  • November 2005 :
    • Violent urban riots in the North-East suburbs of Paris spreading all over the country ; the country is appalled by the realization of this social and urban failure and the controversy raises about the zero-tolerance policy of Interior minister Sarkozy. As usual, the country is divided (note that in France, unlike in America, the poorest disticts are in suburbs and the richest in city centers). See more comments about the riots and see "la Haine", a premonitory film.
  • October 2005
    • France is worried about bird flu : by far the first producer of chickens in Europe, France is on the way from and back home of millions of migratory birds (see the controversy with European regulation about hunting...). Turkey, Romania, Greece : who is next ?
    • A state-owned ferry company, SNCM (Corsica), is being privatized : unhappy workers hijack a ferry boat and the government pulls back ; read more about it. After a three-week strike which ruined the harbor of Marseille and the economy of Corsica, back to square one : the privatization goes on.
  • September 2005
    • End August/early Sept. : all French political parties hold their "universités d'été" (Summer universities) : this year one of the main issues is the survival of the Socialist party which supported the "Yes" vote to the European Constitution when most of its members voted "No" : France is the only country in Europe where the Socialist party did not become clearly social-democrat but remains officially "marxist"
    • President Chirac suffers a minor stroke : will he run again in 2007 (he will be 75...) ? Will he challenge Sarkozy ?
    • Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana : it re-inforced all the commonly shared prejudices about racism in the USA (which is very ironical when you see what happened in France two months later...)
    • Zineddine Zidane returns to the national foot-ball team : there is hope for the coming World Championship !
  • July-August 2005
    • "Cecilia abandons Nicolas" : Nicolas Sarkozy did what French politicians never do : putting ahead family values and campaigning with his wife and son ; she runs away with a lover; the whole country cracks up !

 An independent organization, TNS Media Intelligence, ranks the respective importance of events in the French media by measuring them in "Unités de Bruit Médiatique UBM" which take into account the volume of coverage, the number of readers/viewers. Following are the results for 2005 (Source : Le Figaro, Jan.11, 2006)

 Most covered corporations

 TFI (French TV channel / private)  7167
 SNCF (French Train Company / state owned)  7070
 EDF (French electricity utility / state owned, being privatized)  5383
 Renault (French car-maker / privatized)  5267
 Air France (French airlines / privatized)  2948

 Most covered politicians

 Jacques Chirac (President)  35070
 Dominique de Villepin (Prime Minister)  24217
 Nicolas Sarkozy (leader of the Majority party UMP)  13969
 Jean Pierre Raffarin (former Prime Minister)  9511
 François Hollande (leader of the Socialist Party PS)  7595

 Most covered topics

 Europe  61056
 Environment  55698
 Crime  44620
 Health  42759
 Unemployment  34979

 Most covered one-day events

 Death of Pope Jean Paul II (4/4)  3935
 Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the Youth World Meeting (19/8)  3290
 Paris is not chosen for the 2012 Olympic Games (6/7)  2278
 The Tsunami in South East Asia (3/1)  2154
 Terrorist bombings in London (8/7)  1871
 Commemoration of the Holocaust in Auschwitz (27/1)  1756
 A French plane crashes in Venezuela : 152 victims (17/8)  1722
The "No" vote wins 55% in the referendum on the European Constitution (30/5)  1720
 First flight of the new Airbus A380 (27/4)  1537
 Liberation of Florence Aubenas, a French journalist hostage in Iraq (17/6)  1513

 To related pages : next years : 2013 (#4), 2009 to 2012 (#3), 2007&2008 (#2), 2009 (#3), French society, major French issues, strengths and weaknesses of France, etc...

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books:

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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