April 19, 2019

Letter From Paris: And So It Goes On … Brexit, That Is

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Order, Order!” barked John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons before announcing the results of the third-time-around vote on Theresa May’s Brexit “deal” .  “The ayes to the right 286, the noes to the left 344,  the left have it.”

It was that fateful day, March 29 – chosen by the Prime Minister as the deadline to decide on the “divorce” of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU).  The masterful and funny Speaker was able to control his troops and even to provoke laughter, telling one Member of Parliament (MP), “Get a grip, man, do yoga, it will be beneficial to you.”

In retrospect, not much progress had been made to resolve the Brexit issue on the British side since the June 23, 2016 referendum. It seemed that the government was taking its time and fantasizing about the legal elbow room it actually had to make decisions. (See my previous articles published on 3/5/2016; 4/6/2017 and 12/29/18)

Action in the House of Commons started really in earnest on Nov. 15, 2018 when Theresa May’s original deal was voted down. A second vote on the same motion, and a third with almost identical text were also rejected by the MPs. By drawing red lines, the tenacious but inflexible Prime Minister made it hard for herself to negotiate.

During the winter months, the parliament at Westminster offered the world a spectacle of one “decisive week” after another with votes ending in an inability to reach a majority. By March 14, Theresa May had lost her voice and the headlines in the press read “Game over.”

On the eve of the March 29 deadline, the situation turned surrealistic with two superimposed pictures (to use the words of Le Monde special envoy to London) of a vote on May’s deal and eight others on alternative proposals the MPs had organized on their own.  In a dramatic gesture, Theresa May used her last joker – stepping down from office – in case her deal was supported.   

The Prime Minister described the situation as “the end of a process” with the MPs having said no to everything : to the deal, to the absence of a deal, to Brexit, to Article 50 itself, to the eight separate proposals. In the face of this total collapse of a possible way out of this impasse, Donald Tusk, European Council President announced an extraordinary summit in Brussels on April 10.

A surprising amount of information and live coverage is now appearing on the French media,  shedding a new light on Brexit.

One report showed to what extent the public opinion was in fact manipulated.  More than 80 percent of the British press was hostile to Europe and contained “fake news” items.  The “Brexiteers” promised that the Commonwealth would save the UK. The famous red bus of Boris Johnson traveled throughout the country, displaying the number of 350 million pounds sterling ($455 million) in giant letters . That is the amount “BoJo” (Boris Johnson’s nickname) claimed that the UK is sending the EU every week instead of using it to fund the National Health Service (NHS). 

A Canada-based web site called AggregateiQ, created by Dominic Cummings, utilized private data collected from social networks and used it to “microtarget” individuals with “dark ads.” The “Vote Leave” site used a strategy comparable to that used by Cambridge Analytica, a company heavily implicated in the 2016 US election manipulation.

Other reports helped better understand why re-establishing a border between the two Irelands was a visceral impossibility. The Good Friday agreement in 1998 brought peace back but the catholic and protestant communities in Belfast, are still separated.

In this fragile context, the Irish people fear that a 300-mile external border with the EU would jeopardize the hard-won peace agreement. Trying to solve the problem of a border is an attempt at squaring a circle. The only solution might be a border at the bottom of the Irish Sea.  The backstop which allows the border to remain open until a final treaty is signed, is only a temporary solution.

It was not until the 11th hour – or less than one week before the March 29 deadline – that a significant turn occurred in London.  Prime Minister May entered into talks with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, in spite of their sharp disagreements.  It was such a breakthrough that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond declared on April 5, “the threat of the UK crashing out of the Union is heavily diminished.”  The Conservative party began to lean toward a “soft Brexit” and the possibility of the UK remaining in the Custom Union.

During all these months, the Europeans showed a consensual unity.  Their only caveat being that another delay would have to be justified by a clear plan such as general elections or a second referendum.  Their patience though began to wear out by early April as some divergences of opinion emerged. 

The priority for Angela Merkel is to avoid a no deal Brexit and she will bend over backwards to make that happen.   Although sharing many views with the UK in economy or trade, Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, confirmed his alignment with the collective position. 

The “flextension” of one year suggested by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, might not appeal to everybody. President Macron and EU Commissioner Juncker sound tougher on more delays. However, Macron reaffirmed on April 1, that he will stand by the decision made by Brussels and will not use his veto.   

The repeated postponements requested by Prime Minister May (April 12, May 23, June 30) forced the MPs to cancel their Easter recess. Much more serious, is the imbroglio caused by the colliding of the Brexit discussions with the European elections scheduled to take place May 26.

This long saga turned rather nasty when Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, ultra Brexiteer, tweeted on April 5, “Let us stay [in Europe] and this way we will be able to damage the Union from the inside and oppose our veto on any Brussels decision”.

And so, the suspense goes on.  During these final hours, the two Houses of Parliament are scrambling to find a solution and seem to agree that a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable.  The Europeans do not want to push the UK out of the Union.

Chances are that the outcome will be Britain remaining in the Custom union, an à la carte solution, which was almost obvious from the beginning.  The British should take heart.  It only took 22 years for Norway to establish relations with the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA), and 29 years for Canada to negotiate with Europe through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)!

Since all the thorny issues – the City, fishing , citizens’ rights, Gibraltar, etc – are included in the 27 pages of the non legally-binding Political Declarations, a  second part of Article 50 (in other words, swept under the rug ) will have to be negotiated later . Brexit will continue to haunt both the divided British opinion and also Europe .

Some may think it is the UK’s vocation is to be independent from Europe and turned toward the rest of the world.  It certainly seems British people consider EU membership a straight-jacket. Interestingly, these are the same reasons General Charles de Gaulle gave persistently more than 50 years ago as to why he was against the original entry of Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC).

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: And So It Goes On … Brexit, That Is

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Order, Order!” barked John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons before announcing the results of the third-time-around vote on Theresa May’s Brexit “deal” .  “The ayes to the right 286, the noes to the left 344,  the left have it.”

It was that fateful day, March 29 – chosen by the Prime Minister as the deadline to decide on the “divorce” of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU).  The masterful and funny Speaker was able to control his troops and even to provoke laughter, telling one Member of Parliament (MP), “Get a grip, man, do yoga, it will be beneficial to you.”

In retrospect, not much progress had been made to resolve the Brexit issue on the British side since the June 23, 2016 referendum. It seemed that the government was taking its time and fantasizing about the legal elbow room it actually had to make decisions. (See my previous articles published on 3/5/2016; 4/6/2017 and 12/29/18)

Action in the House of Commons started really in earnest on Nov. 15, 2018 when Theresa May’s original deal was voted down. A second vote on the same motion, and a third with almost identical text were also rejected by the MPs. By drawing red lines, the tenacious but inflexible Prime Minister made it hard for herself to negotiate.

During the winter months, the parliament at Westminster offered the world a spectacle of one “decisive week” after another with votes ending in an inability to reach a majority. By March 14, Theresa May had lost her voice and the headlines in the press read “Game over.”

On the eve of the March 29 deadline, the situation turned surrealistic with two superimposed pictures (to use the words of Le Monde special envoy to London) of a vote on May’s deal and eight others on alternative proposals the MPs had organized on their own.  In a dramatic gesture, Theresa May used her last joker – stepping down from office – in case her deal was supported.   

The Prime Minister described the situation as “the end of a process” with the MPs having said no to everything : to the deal, to the absence of a deal, to Brexit, to Article 50 itself, to the eight separate proposals. In the face of this total collapse of a possible way out of this impasse, Donald Tusk, European Council President announced an extraordinary summit in Brussels on April 10.

A surprising amount of information and live coverage is now appearing on the French media,  shedding a new light on Brexit.

One report showed to what extent the public opinion was in fact manipulated.  More than 80 percent of the British press was hostile to Europe and contained “fake news” items.  The “Brexiteers” promised that the Commonwealth would save the UK. The famous red bus of Boris Johnson traveled throughout the country, displaying the number of 350 million pounds sterling ($455 million) in giant letters . That is the amount “BoJo” (Boris Johnson’s nickname) claimed that the UK is sending the EU every week instead of using it to fund the National Health Service (NHS). 

A Canada-based web site called AggregateiQ, created by Dominic Cummings, utilized private data collected from social networks and used it to “microtarget” individuals with “dark ads.” The “Vote Leave” site used a strategy comparable to that used by Cambridge Analytica, a company heavily implicated in the 2016 US election manipulation.

Other reports helped better understand why re-establishing a border between the two Irelands was a visceral impossibility. The Good Friday agreement in 1998 brought peace back but the catholic and protestant communities in Belfast, are still separated.

In this fragile context, the Irish people fear that a 300-mile external border with the EU would jeopardize the hard-won peace agreement. Trying to solve the problem of a border is an attempt at squaring a circle. The only solution might be a border at the bottom of the Irish Sea.  The backstop which allows the border to remain open until a final treaty is signed, is only a temporary solution.

It was not until the 11th hour – or less than one week before the March 29 deadline – that a significant turn occurred in London.  Prime Minister May entered into talks with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, in spite of their sharp disagreements.  It was such a breakthrough that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond declared on April 5, “the threat of the UK crashing out of the Union is heavily diminished.”  The Conservative party began to lean toward a “soft Brexit” and the possibility of the UK remaining in the Custom Union.

During all these months, the Europeans showed a consensual unity.  Their only caveat being that another delay would have to be justified by a clear plan such as general elections or a second referendum.  Their patience though began to wear out by early April as some divergences of opinion emerged. 

The priority for Angela Merkel is to avoid a no deal Brexit and she will bend over backwards to make that happen.   Although sharing many views with the UK in economy or trade, Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, confirmed his alignment with the collective position. 

The “flextension” of one year suggested by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, might not appeal to everybody. President Macron and EU Commissioner Juncker sound tougher on more delays. However, Macron reaffirmed on April 1, that he will stand by the decision made by Brussels and will not use his veto.   

The repeated postponements requested by Prime Minister May (April 12, May 23, June 30) forced the MPs to cancel their Easter recess. Much more serious, is the imbroglio caused by the colliding of the Brexit discussions with the European elections scheduled to take place May 26.

This long saga turned rather nasty when Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, ultra Brexiteer, tweeted on April 5, “Let us stay [in Europe] and this way we will be able to damage the Union from the inside and oppose our veto on any Brussels decision”.

And so, the suspense goes on.  During these final hours, the two Houses of Parliament are scrambling to find a solution and seem to agree that a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable.  The Europeans do not want to push the UK out of the Union.

Chances are that the outcome will be Britain remaining in the Custom union, an à la carte solution, which was almost obvious from the beginning.  The British should take heart.  It only took 22 years for Norway to establish relations with the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA), and 29 years for Canada to negotiate with Europe through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)!

Since all the thorny issues – the City, fishing , citizens’ rights, Gibraltar, etc – are included in the 27 pages of the non legally-binding Political Declarations, a  second part of Article 50 (in other words, swept under the rug ) will have to be negotiated later . Brexit will continue to haunt both the divided British opinion and also Europe .

Some may think it is the UK’s vocation is to be independent from Europe and turned toward the rest of the world.  It certainly seems British people consider EU membership a straight-jacket. Interestingly, these are the same reasons General Charles de Gaulle gave persistently more than 50 years ago as to why he was against the original entry of Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC).

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Present Pace of European Politics is Dizzying

Nicole Prévost Logan

The unity of Europe is being put to the test now more than ever: the deadline of the Brexit pushed back from March 29 to April 12 is heightening the uncertainty to an almost unbearable level, the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to Italy, Monaco and France is preoccupying several members of the European Union (EU), and the populist votes in recent European elections are gaining strength.   

On March 22, British Prime Minister Theresa May was in Brussels, waiting for a decision by the European Council gathered at an extraordinary Summit. She obtained a short “technical” extension of the Brexit deadline until May 24 in the event the House of Commons reaches an agreement.  In spite of their weariness, the 27 EU members wanted to show some benevolence by granting a few more days.  Another reason was that they did not want to be the ones to lower the hatchet on the UK.

Xi Jinping and his wife, a former opera singer and general, Peng Liyuan, landed in Rome on March 21.  The president of China has found in Italy a major beachhead for its Silk Roads initiative in Europe.  Italy, which fell into recession at the end of 2018, needs money to invest into its infrastructure. Presidents Giuseppe Conte and Xi Jinping signed contracts for billions of  Euros, including some earmarked for the development of  Trieste and Genoa commercial harbors. It is extremely worrisome that one of the G7 countries would grant access to Schengen Space to a foreign power.

French President Emmanuel Macron planned the official visit of the Chinese couple in grand style with a program loaded with symbols … an overnight in the famous Negresco Hotel in Nice; watching the sunset over the sea from the museum-villa Kerylos (a replica of an Athenian residence) in Beaulieu  and thus alluding to Ancient Greece as the cradle of European culture; dinner at the Elysée palace for 200 guests, including – at the request of Xi Jinping –  a French actress from the most popular TV series in China.  The top pastry chef, cheese expert and wine sommelier of France were collectively watching over the dinner, the menu of which remained a secret.  Last time Paris went all out for a Chinese president was in 2004, when the Eiffel Tower was turned red to mark the visit of Hu Jintao. 

But the crucial message of the visit came out loud and clear when Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU  Commission, together greeted the president of China.  The message was to present a joint European front.  In his address, Macron formulated the general guidelines of future relations between China and Europe avoiding no confrontation, a partnership based on reciprocity while not appearing to be naïve.

In recent years, the Chinese have invested more than 140 billion Euros in Europe.  Since 2014, they have organized “16+1” summits attended every year by 11 Eastern European and five Balkan countries to expand economic cooperation.  In announcing his vision for “renovated multilateralism,” Macron hopes to hamper China’s strategy, which has been until now to pressure individual countries with its power and capitalize on their vulnerability.  Finally, Macron stressed that European countries must preserve their sovereignty and stop the take-over of strategic installations by foreign countries. 

Although Europe appeared united as a bloc in the face of Brexit, recent developments in The Netherlands , Hungary and Poland are emblematic of changes taking place in the political landscape.

In The Netherlands, elections took place on March 20, the day after the terrorist attack on the tramway in Utrecht.  A new party, “Forum for democracy (FvD), headed by jurist and historian Thierry Baudet, age 36. caught up in the polls with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the “Popular and Democratic” party (VVD).  Baudet is a right-wing Eurosceptic, anti-migrants, and a supporter of Donald Trump.  He is for a “tolerant and inclusive nationalism.”  He denounces political “élites”and a multicultural society.

On March 16, Zuzana Caputova, a lawyer, divorced and pro-choice, won the presidential elections in Slovakia, a very catholic country of close to six  million people.  She won in the second round of the ballot against Maros Sfcovic of the leftist populist party.  Having worked before for an ONG defending human rights, she holds liberal views on the economy.  The elections were influenced by the murder, one year ago, of a journalist and his fiancée — the journalist was investigating the links between the Italian Mafia and the Slovakian Central Executive.  The protest demonstrations in Bratislava that followed the murder were the largest since the independence of Slovakia in 1993.

On March 4, Gdansk again showed its importance as a center of the opposition in Poland.  After the murder of  Pawel Adamovicz, the city’s mayor, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the mayor’s deputy, won the mayoral election with a landslide.  She may become a strong adversary to the government.

In another development, Robert Biedron, head of the party Wiosna (spring), 42, and Poland’s first openly gay politician, wants to end the monopoly of two parties in power since 2005, namely, PO –  a civic platform, conservative but liberal economically — and PiS or “law and order,” the ultra-conservative ruling party.  Although far behind the two major parties, this new candidate, who is anti-church, pro-women’s rights, and an ecologist, is a sign of change in Polish politics.

Hungary is the country making the most waves.  On March 20, ultra-right prime minister Viktor Orban’s party Fidesz was reprimanded for putting up anti-Brussels posters, and for his repressive policy.  The European parliament decided to take action and suspended  Fidesz from the Parti Populaire Europeen (PPE) with an overwhelming majority of 190 to. 4. 

Many are sickened by Orban’s provocations.  He appears obsessed with George Soros, the American  billionaire of Hungarian origin.  The European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to maintain Soros’ Central Europe University. “We put Orban in the freezer and Van Rompoy* holds the door”(*Herman Van Rompoy, a Belgian, is former president of the European Council) commented a Belgian Euro-deputy.

The suspension will at least prevent Orban from joining hands with Matteo Salvini of the Far Right League in Italy and the Law and Justice party in Poland.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Will Europe Fight Back in Face of World, Local Challenges?

Nicole Prévost Logan

The European Union (EU) is under attack from all sides.

Will the EU strike back?

The most serious threat against Europe is the dislocation of the world system of security and defense, which Europe relies on as a protection.  During the past two years, an avalanche of steps taken by the US is unraveling the Atlantic-dominated frameworkwith a possible US pull-back from NATO;  a hasty and sloppy departure of US troops from Syria in December 2018 putting the European allies in front of the fait accompli; breaking away from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in February 2019 (immediately followed by Russia doing the same thing the next day.)

The noxious transatlantic relations came to light during the Munich Security Conference (MSC), February 15-17, an annual event, since 1963, attended by the decision-makers of the world.  Angela Merkel was the voice of many worried Europeans. The contrast between her speech and US vice president Mike Pence’s was striking. 

Without a script, the German chancellor made a passionate plea for multilateralism, clearly pointing at the US, Russia and China to save the world order which she sees in danger of decline and destruction. 

She received a standing ovation.

After her spirited performance, the US Vice President’s words sounded leaden.  “He admonished Europeans the way Brejhnev did the Iron Curtain countries back in the USSR days,” commented a French analyst.  Pence’s speech was met with an icy reception.  There was an incredible moment when he brought Donald Trump’s greetings. 

An interminable and deafening silence followed.  He clearly was expecting applause from the audience. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed to prolong the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty after 2021. This treaty – limiting the number of long-range nuclear missiles- is one of the last remaining from the cold war era.   

Sylvie Kauffman, editorial writer for Le Monde, commented, “The Europeans feel left out in the cold, tetanized by the major powers working out a system above their heads.”  Sigmar Gabriel, former German minister of foreign affairs, wrote, “In a world of carnivorous geopolitics, the Europeans are the last vegetarians.  After the departure of the UK, we will become vegans, then prey.”

One way to attack and therefore weaken Europe is to capitalize on the fact that it is divided.  Some foreign powers have become quite adept at using the “Trojan horse” strategy.

On Feb. 13-14, the US and Israel chose Poland as the location of a conference on the Middle East. In Warsaw they were able to meet with the other members of the Visegrad group (V4) —  Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. These four countries are run by populist and authoritarian governments and clear in their intention to unravel the EU as it exists today.  There was little media coverage here about the conference, which was by-passing Brussels.  Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, was not even present.

Steve Bannon, former advisor of Donald Trump is busy traveling all over Europe, giving his support to populist countries like Italy and Hungary.  He proclaims that Brexit is a great thing and advocates the creation of a possible axis through Rome/Budapest/Warsaw to counter the Franco-German “couple”.  He has purchased a monastery near Rome and turned it into a training center for “sovereignists.”

Europe represents a juicy market of over 700 millions inhabitants.  It is particularly vulnerable because it continues to respect some rules, which are disregarded elsewhere.  The most striking illustration of unfair competition is the recent failure of the fusion of the two European railroad  magnates Alstom and Siemens.  The EU Commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, stopped the process lest it violates the antitrust rule, a rather outdated notion when one considers the size of the giant telecommunications companies in the US.  The danger for Europe is that this decision in Brussels leaves the way wide open for China.

China is by far the main predator trying to wedge its way into Europe, hiding under a charming euphemism of “silk road” (the Chinese call it also the “Belt and Road Initiative.”)  The investments of Xi Jinping’s government have increased in leaps and bonds to reach a peak in 2016, particularly in the infrastructure of smaller and poorer Eastern European countries, where they are financing bridges, tunnels, or taking over commercial harbors, airports.  Even in Western Europe, they are rescuing failing companies or acquiring new ones — China has already taken over the electricity grids of Greece, Italy and Portugal.

How can the EU strike back?

Nathalie Loiseau, French Minister of European Affairs, 55, an extremely intelligent woman and a candidate to watch for in the May 26 European elections, wants to be positive and stresses what has been accomplished, “We have gained more in 18 months than in decade on the subject of defense … Germany has joined us on the idea of a common budget for the Euro zone … Poland agrees with France on the PAC  (Common Agricultural Policy) … There is no cohesion among the nationalist governments … Austria and Hungary disagree on many topics.”

Business leaders of the MEDEF (Movement of French enterprises) met in February to reassert their economic sovereignty against malicious cyber attacks and industrial espionage, “Being liberal, they say, does not mean being naive.”

On March 4, the French president Emmanuel Macron published a “Letter to the Citizens of the 28 EU countries.”  His vision for the “renaissance of the construction of Europe” is consistent with the seminal speech on foreign policy that he gave at the Sorbonne on Sept. 26, 2017, and also with the Aix-la-Chapelle Treaty of Jan. 22, 2019, between France and Germany.  Macron advocates a protective Europe with external  borders guaranteeing free “Schengen Space,” a strong defense and security treaty, the harmonization of salaries, and protection against cyber attacks during elections.  

The reactions of the 28 EU members were favorable, although several of them said that trust is more important than the creation of new institutions. 

The attitude of all the member countries of the EU to Brexit has proved that those 27 countries do not, in fact, want to leave Europe.  Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has so far accomplished the almost impossible in keeping his troops together. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Current Crisis Continues Long History of Franco-Italian Love-Hate Relationship

Nicole Prévost Logan

A diplomatic crisis is going on between France and Italy.   Salvoes of insults proffered by deputy prime ministers Matteo Salvini (extreme right) and Luigi Di Maio (anti-establishment) are flying  across the Alps.  A red line was crossed when Di Maio went to France and met with the most radical gilets jaunes who openly demand the resignation of the French president and the overturn of all political institutions.

This constituted a provocation and a never-seen before interference by one member of the European Union (EU)  into another’s internal affairs.  While on an official visit to Cairo, French President Emmanuel Macron disregarded these heinous remarks with total indifference. Paris recalled its ambassador to Italy – the first time since June 10, 1940 when André François Poncet left Rome following the declaration of war by Mussolini to defeat France. (The French ambassador is already back in Rome)

Tension is high. It is part of the long history of a difficult relationship between the two countries. During the unification of Risorgimento (1848 -1861), France often came to the rescue. At the famous battle of Solferino (1859), a Franco-Sardinian army led by Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II  defeated the Austrians under Emperor Franz Joseph I.  In contrast, the annexation of the county of Nice and the Savoie region to France, decided by the Treaty of Turin, was deeply resented by Italy, as was the loss of 550 sq. kms. including the mountain passes of Tende and La Brigue in February 1947.

The second cause of friction between the two countries stems from remnants of a colonial past. Italy often challenged France’s intrusion into what it considered its zone of influence. It never really accepted the Bardo Treaty of 1881, which created  France’s protectorate over Tunisia. In 1911, Italy had colonized Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, which were to become Libya.  So, when the French and British conducted air strikes over Libya with UN support  in 2011, Italy complained of having been kept out of the loop.

Economic and commercial dissensions between the two countries are not unusual. Some might recall that Italy refused to participate in the World Fair of 1889 in Paris.  Today the STX shipyard of St Nazaire may pass under the control of the Italian company Fincantieri in spite of France’e efforts to retain a majority vote. At stake in this confrontation is construction of the largest cruise ships in the world, such as “Harmony of the Seas,” which has become the latest vessel to join the Royal Caribbean fleet.

While Italy and France often behave like quarrelsome siblings, they are more than close culturally: they are complementary. Take art for instance.  At the turn of the 20th century, France may have been the center of the art world with Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin and others, but at the same time, a new school of painting called “Futurism” was growing in Italy with artists like Marinetti, Boccioni, Cora, Bala, and Severini.  The lattet were champions of the fast pace of the city, depicting cars, planes and all forms of modernity as well as being pioneers in the expression of movement and speed.

On a lighter side, a Franco-Italian film currently showing on French screens, is the perfect illustration of the closeness of those two “cousins.” The plot of the Estivants (the vacationers), directed by Valeria Bruni Tedeschi – sister of Carla Bruni, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s wife – is  set in a beautiful residence on the Cöte d’Azur.  A well-off and rather dysfunctional Franco-Italian family spends long hours on the terrace overlooking  the Mediterranean framed by cypress trees. Mixing the two languages, the guests discuss every subject under the sun, including societal conflicts evoked by the servants. Well-known actor Pierre Arditi is perfectly odious in the way he makes disparaging remarks about the lower classes while he older mother is at the grand piano playing the background score created by a talented Italian composer.

The present crisis between France and Italy is linked to the flow of migrants since 2015. Due to the “Dublin rule” making the European country of entry responsible for the refugee status and because only 200 kilometers separate Italy from the African shores, Italy has been on the front line in facing the surge.  Salvini accused other EU members, particularly France, of not sharing the burden of welcoming refugee seekers.  

The Italian government worked with the Libyan authorities to block the departure of migrants from Africa and prevented humanitarian ships from entering Italian ports. The “Aquarius” had to remain on the high seas for two weeks with dozen of migrants on board. it is worth noting that both France and Italy have about the same percentage  (10 percent) of immigrants.  Also, more than two-thirds of the sub-Saharan migrants come from former Italian colonies.

Di Maio is erroneously accusing France of investing the “Franc CFA ” (African Financial Community currency) in its own economy. The fact is that eight African countries asked Paris to put the money in the Banque de France‘s  vaults for safe-keeping.

For Salvini and Di Maio, Macron is the prime target.  For them, the French president crystallizes the policies rejected by their populist government:  a progressive, multilateralist program with an integrated Europe.  Their plan is to create an axis through Italy, Poland and Hungary of authoritarian and non-liberal states capable of countering the actions of the Franco-Germanic “couple” – an ominous trend for Europe.

The Italian economy is sitting on a time bomb.  Its public debt is 133 percent of the GDP, only second to Greece’s. It ranks at the bottom in Europe for GDP growth. The populist program of increasing minimum wages, lowering retirement age and other social measures, is bound to increase the deficit.  Scolded by Brussels. the Italian government had to revise its budget. Of course, the fact that Pierre Moscovici, the Commissioner for Financial Economic Affairs in Brussels, is French, contributes  to the sour relations.

What does this crisis hold for the future?  Seen from here, the histrionics of the Italians are not always taken seriously. Paolo Levi, Paris correspondent of La Stompa recently commented that Salvini was able to intercept a malaise and his political movement might not last.

How sad that both France and Italy were founding members of the EU that was created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 …

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Life in the ‘City of Light’ is a War Zone … with Wheels!

Nicole Prévost Logan

Paris is waging a war on wheels.

In order to survive crossing the street, pedestrians have to defy car drivers while on the sidewalks, the war is between the people who walk and those on wheels in a multitude of forms.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a socialist, has made it her mission to reduce pollution in the French capital by shrinking the space open to vehicles.  It is a laudable cause and many Parisians appreciate its immediate results. 

Thanks to the closing of the roadways along the Seine, people have regained the previously lost pleasure of walking leisurely near the water, away from the noise of the traffic, while their children can play freely.

It is possible now to walk miles and discover Paris from east to west.  More boats line up at the quays and have become floating cafés.  In warm weather, tons of sand and palm trees appear overnight to give the berges (banks) de la Seine a summery look. 

But the process of narrowing avenues with larger sidewalks and creating bicycle and bus lanes can be overwhelming for residents.  For months, the ambitious project to reduce the Bastille circle to merely an intersection of avenues has turned the area into a gigantic worksite. 

People have to struggle through ever-changing makeshift paths amid the noise and dust of heavy equipment that is variously moving mountains of dirt or asphalt, installing fire hydrants and electrical cables, and relocating bus stops.  Everyday the urban landscape changes causing irritation among Parisians and resultant excessive horn-blowing. 

For pedestrians, crossing a street feels like an obstacle course.  When the lights change, motorcycles seem to think they are at the Le Mans 24 hour race (the most famous car race in France), backfire their engine to make as much noise as possible and surge forward riding only on their back wheel.  Pedestrians had better get out of the way! 

Arriving at a traffic light, drivers will not stop until it turns to amber.  The crossing space, called les clous in France (it used to be-marked by what looked like oversize thumbtacks), is encumbered with trucks, cars and busses through which one has to meander to find a passage. 

Even when the light turns green, a war of nerves starts between drivers and pedestrians. Tourists and out-of-towners hesitate and are too polite.  This is a big mistake, which is interpreted as an opportunity to move forward rapidly by drivers.  But old-time Parisians are more daring and will bluff their adversaries at the wheel.  At busy intersections, the vehicles coming from side streets do not even slow down, turning the scene into ridiculous grid locks .

Sidewalks are supposedly designed for pedestrians. Wrong!

A ‘trottinette’

A ‘gyrorue’

Today the latter share the space with an ever-increasing number of humans on wheels: big-engined motorbikes taking a short-cut then parking right in front of their destination, bicycles, skateboards, electric scooters or trottinettes — the current rage — and monowheel scooters or gyroroue.  The list is open-ended since technology invents new devices all the time. 

Traffic on sidewalks is not regulated and follows the rule of the jungle, which means no rules at all.  

Last month, I attended a big event along with hundreds of residents of my arrondissement to hear our mayor present his New Year wishes.  Among the elected members of the conseil municipal (town council), I spotted the person in charge of transportation and commented on the war-like atmosphere in our streets. 

He was very evasive, saying, yes, we are aware there is a problem, but I wondered what this transportation official was actually doing besides “being aware of the problem.” 

I almost forgot … I should add another category to my story about the wheels onslaught and that is the hordes of tourists pushing their suitcases … on wheels!

Living in Paris is an enjoyable challenge.  Having no wheels definitely keeps you on your toes.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: It’s Been a Rocky Ride, But Will Macron Still Make It?

Nicole Prévost Logan

France always seems to stand out by doing the best or the worst through social and political upheavals.  The movement of the gilets jaunes has been like an earthquake shaking the system to its foundations.    It has created the most serious political crisis the Fifth Republic has known since its creation by General de Gaulle in 1958. 

It is a pivotal moment for France and many other Western democracies when the mechanism of political institutions does not seem to work any more. 

The gilets jaunes are the voice of a rural population never heard before and which feels abandoned.  It is a lower middle class of workers and retirees, who can’t make it to the end of the month and feel squeezed between the very poor — benefiting from social relief — and the more affluent middle class. 

At first overwhelmingly supported by the public opinion, their number –occupying roundabouts and tolls — has reduced from over 280,000 on Nov. 17, to about 84.000 today. Public opinion is becoming weary of the continuous violence.

“Act XI” is taking place as this article is being written. 

French President Emmanuel Macron.

A spectacular fist fight on the footbridge linking the Quai d’Orsay and the Tuileries garden marked the month of January.  Over time a hard core of  gilets jaunes has become more radical, asking for the dissolution of Parliament, the suppression of the Senate, and basically total destruction of the system in place.  It refuses dialogue while chanting “Macron. Demission” (Macron. Resign.)  

The Rassemblement National (RN) extreme right party of Marine Le Pen and the communist party or France Insoumise (LFI) are riding the wave. They help circulate false news to discredit Macron and his government.  The terrorist attack in Strasbourg in early December or the recent deadly explosion due to a gas leak in the center of Paris were just diversion tactics by the Executive, they say. 

On Jan. 23,  France and Germany signed the treaty of Aix La Chapelle to reinforce cooperation between the two countries and facilitate trans-border relations.  The treaty was followed by the announcement of outrageously distorted news on social networks that Alsace-Lorraine was being returned to Germany. 

Eighteen months into his mandate, Macron started  to suffer a catastrophic collapse in the polls. It was not a first for a French president:  Sarkozy and Hollande before him suffered the same disaffection soon after their election. For Macron though, the intensity of the fall was all the more spectacular as his victory had created a surge of hope.

Today he is trying to turn the tide around and pull the country out of its crisis.  And his method? A “Great Debate” throughout the country lasting until March 15.

On Jan. 13, the president posted a “Lettre aux Français” suggesting four themes open to discussion: taxes, public services, energetic transition, and political institutions, including immigration.  France is being turned into a laboratory to experiment with new forms of government – representative, participative or direct (with frequent referendums).

The hard core of gilets jaunes declined to participate.

Macron’s initial step was to face some of the 35.000 mayors of France.  First 700 of them in Normandy, then two days later 700 in the Lot department (Occitanie region.)  It was an impressive show of participative government in action.  Selected mayors presented their grievances related to very concrete and local problems: closing schools, disappearance of public services, medical “desertification,” lack of accessible transports, inadequate internet and phone access, hurtful impact of giant shopping malls on small business, and the demise of downtown areas of small town and villages.

Each speaker was polite, direct and, at times, quite tough. Macron’s performance was phenomenal.  As each speaker took the microphone, the president was taking notes furiously.  For close to seven hours, he absorbed the remarks then answered each one, recalling the interlocutor’s name.  His language was familiar, bringing smiles to the faces in the audience and devoid of any demagoguery. 

For instance, he expressed his opinion on how dangerous popular referenda can be, especially when based on false information — citing the UK’s Brexit vote as an example. Overall it was refreshing to witness courteous and constructive exchanges, far from the heinous invectives to which the president has been submitted lately. 

The “Great Debate” is a courageous, but risky exercise.  Talking to the mayors was the easy part. It will be harder for him to convince broader public opinion — including the moderate gilets jaunes — how to make a synthesis from all the wide array of  grievances and turn them into immediate and concrete measures?

Macron must meet some, if not all, of the demands being made by the gilets jaunes without appearing to be weak and submissive. In spite of the popular pressure for lower taxes and more benefits, he cannot afford to lose his objective, which is to reform France and make it economically competitive. Finally, time is short since there will only be two months left after the debate before the European elections are held. 

Violence hit cities throughout France causing widespread damage.

The violence brought on by the weekly street warfare in Paris, Bordeaux and many other cities has tarnished the image of France abroad.  The damage caused  to the urban landscape, small businesses and whole sectors of the economy can be numbered in millions of Euros. The loss of one point of France’s GDP has even become worrisome for the IMF. 

On Jan. 22, Macron invited 125 of the most important world CEOs, who were on their way to the Davos Economic Forum, to  a lavish lunch at the Chateau de Versailles, in order to reassure them of his country’s viability and stability prior to a possible Brexit.

The polls have risen slightly in favor of Macron but the president still faces an uphill battle. France is fortunate to have a young president full of energy … but the jury is still out on his future.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Picasso’s Early Years on View in Blue … and Pink

Nicole Prévost Logan

In October 1900, Picasso – at age 19 – arrived at the Gare d’Orsay in Paris from Barcelona. So, it is appropriate that the Orsay Museum would host an exhibition about the young Spanish artist.

The blockbuster, which opened in the autumn of 2018, was called “Picasso. Bleu, Rose” and refers to the 1900-1906 years. It is a long overdue theme, never before treated in France.

For several reasons, this period is unique among Picasso’s long career. It reveals the precocious virtuosity of such a young person as a draughtsman;
never again will he express such intense emotions; Harlequin — a main character from the Commedia del’arte — is introduced for the first time and will remain his double throughout his life’s work. The image at right shows “Arlequin with an acrobat” (1905) portrayed as a young and emaciated boy.

Between 1900 and 1904, Picasso made several trips between Spain and Paris, until he settled permanently in the French capital where he rented a studio, along with other artists, in a dilapidated building baptized the Bateau-Lavoir (washhouse.)

He liked to hang around at the tavern of Els Quatre Gats (Four Cats) in Barcelona where he met Catalan friends – such as Santiago Rusinol or Ramon Casos. The exhibit shows hundreds of the small portraits and sketches, sometimes humorous, that he created at full speed.

With a voracious curiosity, he would watch the colorful, loud crowds at cabarets, bordellos, night clubs or caf’concs (cafés with a music hall performance) of Montmartre.

Toulouse Lautrec was his idol.

Like him, Picasso depicted the dejected night-life customers stunned under the effect of absinthe. “Arlequin and his companion” (1901, Pushkin museum, Moscow) shown at left represents a couple totally alienated from each other, sitting at a bistro table, with vacuous expressions on their faces.

The man is Harlequin, dressed in his usual costume with lozenges.

The “Portrait of Gustave Coquiot” (1901, Musee d’art moderne, Paris) at right is emblematic of this garish night life. The collector and art critic is depicted as a well-fed individual, with half naked girls dancing in the background, his mouth snarled in a lecherous grimace, under an insolent mustache.

But those years were lean years for Picasso. Both in Barcelona and in Paris Picasso lived in utter poverty.

This was the height of his “Blue Period” — the color of the bottom of the abyss. Beggars, orphans, the poor — Picasso showed his empathy for all of them.

He would take for models the former prostitutes incarcerated at the Saint Lazare prison in Barcelona, where many were dying of venereal diseases .

One usually links the Blue Period with the death of his close friend Casagemas in 1901 The painting at left of the young Catalan artist on his death bed, (1901, Musee Picasso, Paris) is realistic and shows the bullet wound on his temple after he committed suicide. The feverish multicolor strokes around the candle are reminiscent of van Gogh’s technique.

Abject poverty did not prevent Picasso from leading a lively, bohemian life among artists, poets, writers in the Montmartre district of the French capital, which was the center of the artistic world at that time.

The German art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler immediately discovered the genius of Picasso. Things started looking up when art merchant Ambroise Vollard bought several of his paintings. His melancholy disappeared when he fell passionately in love with Fernande Olivier, one of his many companions whose body and face he kept deconstructing.

The distinction between Blue and Pink Periods is rather artificial. Sadness lingered on through both periods.

Pink became predominant when the artist became interested in the circus world. Several times a week he would go to the cirque Medrano. But unlike other artists like Seurat, Rouault or Matisse, he was not interested in the spectacles per se but rather in what happened backstage and in the miserable existence of the acrobats.

In “Acrobate a la boule” (at right), a frail adolescent is trying to keep his (her) balance on a round ball watched by a heavy set acrobat sitting on a massive cube. Art historians give a deep meaning to the scene, to the contrast between the spiritual world, taking risks, being continually in motion with the stability of life grounded in the earth.

In the summer of 1906, Picasso’s life took a new turn. Being with Fernande on the hillside village of Gozolf, he seemed totally happy, enjoying the sun and inspired by the pink and ochre color of the clay. He discovered the Iberian sculptures of the fifth and sixth centuries BC influenced by Phoenician and Greek cultures as well as 12th century medieval sculptures.

His art seems to be changing course. In “Deux Nus” (1906, MOMA), shown at left, the bodies of the naked women, are deformed, with disproportionate legs and heavy torso. Picasso was ready for another discovery … African art.

Matisse showed him an African statuette in the apartment of Gertrude and Leo Stein. Picasso was stunned.

As a result, after numerous sketches, (the Steins bought most of them when Picasso was still unknown), Picasso produced the ‘Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907, MOMA), which remains probably the most important painting of the 20th century.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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With Approach of Brexit Deadline, a New Conundrum Emerges: UK Grows More Divided, EU More United

Nicole Prévost Logan

It was a close call for Theresa May and probably the most difficult time of the 900-odd days of the Brexit negotiations. 

On Monday, Dec. 10, her proposed “deal” faced opposition from all sides. Several of her ministers had already resigned: Boris Johnson,  Dominic Raab and David Davis, successive Secretaries of State for Brexit. Even her own Tory party was divided. 

Europhile Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, refused the terms of her “deal.” On the left, the Labor Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, wanted to remain in Europe, but within a large customs union, to maintain trade relations and be in control of immigration. Both Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP), on whom May’s Conservatives rely for a majority in parliament, preferred  a “Norway plus” formula. 

A coup de theatre occurred in the House of Commons on Dec. 12: the leader of the conservative Brexiters, Jacob Rees-Mogg, led a motion of no confidence against the prime minister. She won by 200 votes to 117. This vote meant  a reprieve for May until Jan. 21, 2019 to make a final decision on the “deal.”  She cannot drag out the timetable indefinitely, however, since the process has to be completed before the European elections on May 26.  

During that fateful week, in a desperate effort to save her plan, the British Prime Minister raced from the House of Commons to make hasty visits to the European countries most sympathetic to her ideas such as The Netherlands or Germany.  She returned to London and made a statement in front of 10 Downing Street on a cold winter night, cheered a little by a Christmas tree standing nearby. On Dec. 13, she was back on the continent to attend a meeting of the European Council hoping to wrench out a few more concessions from the weary Europeans.

She returned to the UK empty-handed.

May warns that “no deal” would be catastrophic for the UK.  She says that only by achieving a deal can the UK hope to preserve its independence and remain in control of its economy and borders. The Brexiters’ argument is that during the transition period, which starts on March 29, 2019, the UK will remain within the EU Custom Union, unable to sign bilateral cooperation agreements with other countries and forced to make financial contributions, while having no say in the decision-making process.

The 27 EU members ratified the hefty 600-page withdrawal document of the UK after smoothing out a few thorny issues. One is the administration of the Gibraltar enclave.  Spain had to be satisfied lest it used its veto. The other one dealt with the demands by fishermen from France,  Denmark and a few other countries to retain access to the waters — rich in fish — around the British Isles.  Until today, they have been allowed to do so as per the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

But by far the most crucial point is the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  Both the UK and the EU want a “backstop” — a device designed to maintain the UK with the EU Customs Union until a trade agreement is signed — but for different reasons. For Brussels, it is a non- negotiable red line, a temporary measure, like an insurance to be applied during the transition period scheduled to end on Dec. 31, 2020. Ireland does not want to see the re-emergence of the bloody conflict, which finally ended on Good Friday 1998.  

Theresa May wants a legally-binding text agreement that proposes a backstop to prevent the return of a physical border. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his team are ready to make adjustments to create a “backstop” more palatable to the British, saying, “Let us be imaginative and creative.”  He now offers other solutions such as setting up control points about 10 miles from the border in industrial buildings .  

On the whole, the 27 European Union (EU) members are displaying an exceptional show of unity, which may come as a surprise for outside observers.  One would  expect the EU to be tough with the UK to prevent a possible ‘domino effect’ inspiring others to leave a continent already torn between populism and nationalism. 

In fact, the exact opposite is happening. and none of the 27 seem willing to leave Europe. In France, Marine Le Pen changed her mind quickly about keeping the Euro.  In Greece, Prime Minister Tsipras and his Syriza party are not in conflict with Brussels any longer.  The Italian government has agreed to reduce its deficit in accordance with the EU rules.  Eastern Europeans appreciate greatly the assistance they receive from Brussels and also the protection the latter gives them against their Russian neighbor They do not show any intention of leaving the EU.. 

The scenario of a new referendum is gaining ground.  Since the European Court of Justice has just declared that a EU member state can unilaterally withdraw its intention to leave the Union, the task of the “Remainers” would be simplified. If they win the referendum, it will be back to square one — an outcome generally favored by the Europeans. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter from Paris: Riots Fuel ‘Yellow Vest’ Rebellion Against Macron’s Reforms, Stir Memories of May ’68

Editor’s Note: We are watching events in Paris today with deep dismay. Nicole Logan’s topical column gives her opinion on the background to the tense situation unfolding there.

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is in a tailspin.  

The crisis started with the fury against the seven-cent tax hike on diesel fuel. The movement of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) spread like wildfire through the social networks as they blocked the roads all over France. For three weeks in November, the demonstrators congregated in Paris each Saturday. Their confrontation with the police culminated in scenes of violence, which shocked the world: Place de l’Etoile obliterated by the smoke of tear gas, graffiti desecrating the Arc de Triomphe, and a policeman being attacked near the monument.  

Riots have been occurring in cities all over France but are centered on Paris. File photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Since the Champs Elysées and the Place de la Concorde were cordoned off by the police, the casseurs (hooligans) spilled over Avenue Kleber and Avenue de la Grande Armee, where they looted shops and set fire to six buildings. Hundreds were wounded and 412 demonstrators arrested. By the day’s end, a picture of desolation remained with the smoldering remains of 35 cars and streets littered with whatever was used as a projectile by the radicalized mob.

The tension is mounting. The government seems unable to contain it. The gilets jaunes are widening their demands to lower all taxes, raise salaries and retirements as well as the dissolution of the National Assembly. At this point they will not stop short of the resignation of Macron. 

It is an unprecedented, unstructured popular anger directly aimed at the president.  The opposition parties – with much glee – are surfing on this tsunami.

The government is making concessions to meet people’s demands. Unfortunately these concessions always arrive too late. The more the government concedes, the more the gilets jaunes demand, apparently comforted by their success.  On Dec. 4th, Prime Minister Edward Philippe announced a six-month freeze on fuel and utility taxes followed by their cancellation the same evening. And the price tag of this measure? Four billion euros. This was the first admission of defeat by the Macron team – a measure very hard to swallow since it went against its own environmental principles. 

What are the causes of this crisis? Mistakes made by a president attempting to reform the country from the bottom up? Ungovernable French people? Perhaps a combination of both.

During the first 16 months of his mandate, Macron undertook structural reforms  to turn France into a modern and competitive country. These reforms dealt with political institutions, the labor code,  the impressive — but somewhat antiquated — railroad system or  SNCF (Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer), crowded universities  by abolishing a chaotic and ridiculous entrance selection by lottery. 

But French people do not like changes and are attached to their privileges, tax niches and social benefits acquired over decades. An attempt at reforming the system was bound to face an uphill battle .

All these reforms were part of a general plan — a vision — which the president had placed at the core of his electoral campaign and on the basis of which he had been elected. in 2017. He gave himself five years to achieve his goals. 

Unfortunately for him the people wanted immediate results. He wanted to raise the French economy and society from the bottom up and encourage the active population. This was different from a “trickle down” process, but was not perceived as such by the French.  Soon the label,”President of the Rich,” was firmly attached to him.

Macron’s strategy was to consult with trade unions, elected local officials or business people at the Elysée Palace before making any decisions.

Apparently tetanized by the fast pace of the president’s method, the population seemed at first to accept the reforms. But gradually, overwhelmed by the sheer number of new regulations, taxes, or reforms facing them them every morning, its discontent started as an underground rumble until it finally exploded. The last drop was the additional tax on diesel. 

Overall, the French population is justified in its revolt against an unbearable tax burden. France is the world number one champion of taxes with 48 percent of its Gross Domestic Product coming from tax revenues versus 40 percent in the other European countries and less than 30 percent in the US.  One of the buzz expressions among the gilets jaunes is “ras le bol” (meaning “we are totally fed up.”) There are hundreds of hidden taxes in France. For example, did you know that here, one has to pay a tax on “oiseaux de companie” (pet birds)?

The French have a special craving for social justice as shown in their attitude toward the Impot de Solidarite sur la Fortune (ISF) or wealth tax. Macron had split that tax between property wealth — which he retained — and financial holdings such as stocks. In order to encourage investments — particularly on green energy — he created a “flat tax” of only 30 percent.  What he did was misunderstood by the public opinion and may be scrapped soon.    

Today Macron’s room to maneuver is very small.  Since the opposition has no leader to replace him, where is the country going?  Cohn Bendit, the hero of May 1968, the largest French uprising in the past 50 years, gave a frightening prognosis, “I see the present movement in France as a possibly the first step toward totalitarianism, headed by an illiberal despot.” 

The situation is evolving by the hour.  More demonstrations of force are already planned …

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on an Historic Day of Respectful Remembrance … and Distressing Disrespect

Nicole Prévost Logan

Editor’s Note:  We are delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan after her traditional break from writing while she summers in Essex, Conn.  She has now returned to Paris just in time for the centennial celebrations of the end of World War I, on which she provides an insightful commentary in this column.

Paris was the center of the world on November 11 – the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice of World War I.  Struggling against a strong wind and in pouring rain, 70 world leaders walked toward the Arc de Triomphe on a deserted Avenue des Champs Elysées – a striking image on an historical day.

The ceremony, taking place by the tomb of the unknown soldier, was magnificently choreographed by the French president Emmanuel Macron.  It was solemn and sober.  Not intended to be a show of triumphalism, it did not include a military parade.

The president only reviewed only some of the elite military academies: students from Ecole polytechnique, wearing bicornes (two-pointed hats), and from St Cyr (equivalent to West Point) with their emblematic “casoars” of red and white feathers, as well as students from the air force and naval academies.  The ceremony was to be essentially both an homage to the millions who died and a reminder of the importance of reconciliation and peace.

The timing of the proceedings was synchronized to the minute: at 11 o’clock  all the bells of France tolled, the five Mirages of the patrouille de France flew twice over the Place de l’Etoile in impeccable formation leaving tricolor strands of smoke in the sky.  The sounds of Sonnerie aux Morts (The Last Post) and other bugle and drums pieces added their somber touch. 

Whereas most of the foreign leaders had ridden busses from the Palais de l’ Elysée to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the American and Russian presidents as well as the Israeli prime minister were driven all the way in their cars for security reasons.  The honorable guests gathered under the transparent awning and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Finally the armored car of Donald Trump, in a convoy of 53 vehicles carrying 700 security agents and US government officials, appeared at the bottom of the Champs Elysées.  The American president had a chance for a photo op alone in front of the other heads of State.  

The seating on the first row must have ben a nightmare for the protocol people.  Trudeau was far enough from Trump and protected from him by the King of Morocco and his son.  Trump was next to Angela Merkel.  A few minutes later Vladimir Putin arrived (according to a Russian radio commentator, he had been kept in his car for 20 minutes until the Trumps were settled.)  He took his place next to Brigitte Macron.  Trump broke into a broad smile for the first and only time of the weekend as he greeted Putin.

The visit of the American president to France had started on a sour note.  He distorted what Macron had said  during his November 10 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.  In a furious tweet, he said that he found the French president’s comment about building an independent European military force “insulting.”  In fact, Macron had never used the words “against the US.”

A cultural and emotional program started with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing a Sarabande of the Suite No.5 in C minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and ended with the 17-minute long Ravel Bolero, performed by the European Union Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.  A group of young people of all nationalities read excerpts form diaries written by a few French poilus (soldiers) among the 1.4 million killed during the Great War.  The message was the transmission of memory through the future generations.

Macron was born in Amiens, a provincial town in the heart of the devastated regions of France during World War I.  His four great-grandfathers fought there.  In his speech, the French president spoke with emotion of the battlefields he visited during the seven days prior to the centennial, saying, “I walked on the grey earth where so many soldiers were buried, which is today covered by innocent nature.” 

One of the highly symbolic moments of that week was in the clearing of Rethondes when Merkel (the first time ever for a German chancellor) and Macron sat side by side in the train car where the armistice was signed  November 11, 1918.

In the second part of his speech Macron, portrayed himself as a patriot.  Nationalism, he said, has nothing to do with patriotism and is, in fact, its betrayal.  Withdrawal within one’s borders is harmful for the rest of the world, he added.  The anger of Trump was becoming increasingly tangible as he heard those words, his face frozen in a  pouting expression.  One might describe the speech as outright provocation, but it was well-deserved .

The chasm between Trump and Macron grew deeper in the afternoon.  A Peace Forum had been scheduled at La Villette for business people, NGOs, associations and also political leaders, with the objective of  promoting multilateralism.  The American president chose not to attend.

TV viewers were treated to a surreal split screen: on one side Trump speaking at the American cemetery of Suresnes, near Paris, to honor some of the 116,000 Americans who fell during the Great War and on the other, Merkel giving the inaugural speech at the Forum, in which she supported Macron’s vision of an European army to be created in the distant future.

The American president intensified his flurry of angry tweets after his return to the US and threatened France with increased taxes on its wine exports.  In a November 15 interview held on the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the French president commented: ‘I do not answer tweets. I believe in mutual respect between allies.’

How unfortunate that such a solemn commemoration was hijacked by low-level diatribe.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Exhibition Explores Work of American Female Artist in Male World of French Impressionism

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was the most French of all American artists,” said art historian Jerome Coignard.  She was the only woman – along with Berthe Morisot – to be recognized by the Impressionist movement and therefore permitted to show her works in their annual Salons. 

For 40 years she developed a personal and artistic friendship with Edgar Degas, which was somewhat surprising considering Degas was well known for his misogyny.  Her long association with the famous art merchant Paul Durand Ruel, especially after he opened a gallery on Madison Avenue, increased the exposure of impressionism in the US.

The Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris is currently holding a retrospective exhibition of monographs by Mary Cassatt titled, ‘An American Impressionist in Paris.’  It is a long overdue recognition of an artist whose works are found mostly in the US, but who is better known in France.  Jacquemart-André is one of the most elegant art galleries in Paris.  It was built in the 1860s as one of the townhouses of the imperial aristocracy in the “plaine Monceau” (an area of Paris in the 17th arrondissement.)

The property is slightly set back from Boulevard Haussmann, and on the upper level, opens up onto a vast courtyard under the watchful eyes of two stone lions.  The magnificent residence, with its eclectic furniture, boiseries (wood wall paneling), fireplaces and Gobelins tapestries, used to attract thousands of guests from the high society.

In the West Wing of the Metroplitan Museum in New York, paintings by Cassatt are hung in a gallery exclusively reserved for the works of other women.  Cassatt might have been upset by this apparent patronization by critics and art historians toward domestic scenes created by women.  She might have deemed it unfair because painters like Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) or Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) are famous for their paintings inspired by the intimacy of the home. 

Art historian Guillaume Morel comments that the many mother and child scenes painted by Cassatt were, in fact, more feminist than it appears at first.  He writes that she may have found herself endowed with a mission to represent scenes to which men did not have access.  Her “maternity scenes” effectively propelled her into modernism.

At the turn of the 20th century, women were tied to their homes, seemingly leading an indolent existence limited to feminine activities, primarily the care of small children.  They almost never ventured onto the public place – like a café, race track or a prostitute’s haunt.  The subject in “La Loge (The theater box)” (1878) is a departure from this tradition: a self-assured woman is by herself looking through her opera-glasses, and apparently unconcerned by the male spectator staring at her from another balcony.

Even in France, the obstacles inflicted on women artists were enormous: they were neither allowed in the Ecole des Beaux Arts nor were naked models permitted in their art classes.  Women could not copy the grands maitres (Old Masters) in museums like the Louvre.

The special talent of Cassatt was to have overcome these obstacles by taking advantage of her place in the privileged class, traveling extensively and establishing contacts with members of the artistic elite such as Isabella Stewart Gardner (Boston), Alfred Atmore Pope (Connecticut) or Henry Walters (Baltimore.)

From a very young age, she rebelled against the formal teaching offered in the few fine art institutions open to women.  She hated the idea of learning her craft through the use of castings and copies.  She showed an intrepid personality when she told her father she wanted to pursue her artistic education in Europe.  Her father admonished her, saying, “I would rather see you dead.”

And her response to her father’s threat?  She went anyway.

Cassatt was born in Pittsburgh into a well-to-do family.  Her father was an investment banker and her mother was educated in a school created by a former chambermaid of Marie Antoinette.  At the age of seven, she sailed for the first time to Europe with her family.  David McCullough, in his superb book titled The Greater Journey, published in 2011, describes the luxury steamers carrying less than 300 privileged passengers, who could afford the crossing in comfortable accommodations in an “interior richly embellished with satin wood, gilded ceilings … and indoor plumbing.”

The co-curator of the present exhibit held in Paris,  Nancy Mowell Mathews, rejects the expression “woman Impressionist.”  She comments, “Mary Cassatt did not paint differently from other Impressionists.  What she had in common with them was her taste for rough sketches, the unfinished feel of strokes and her daring cadrages (framing of the subject) mostly used in photography or  cinematography.”

Cassatt’s models – mostly members of her family – do not pose in a stilted attitude, but appear relaxed and natural.  In “The little girl in a blue armchair” (1878), the little girl is literally sprawling on a big, shapeless, overstuffed blue armchair.  And so is the small boy looking at us in the painting called, “Woman sitting with a child in her arms. 

“The Cup of Tea “(1880) is an unsurpassed exercise in Impressionist virtuosity.  Fast brush strokes  and the rejection of details are sufficient to render volumes.   The dramatic contrast between the fluffy, pink dress and the black of the solid armchair creates a strong composition.  In 1879, Cassatt was officially accepted in the Impressionist Salon.  The two following decades marked the summit of her career. 

Although Cassatt painted mostly in oils and pastels, Degas had also detected her exceptional talent as both draughtsman and engraver.  Her eaux-fortes (etchings) constitute a large part of her works, while “La Toilette” and “The letter ” (both dated 1891) show signs of japonism.  The engraving process with a pointe-sèche (dry point) is a painstaking and dangerous process since acid is used.

She was the friend of the most influential American feminists and joined their movement for equality, which had started in the US in 1840.  Toward the end of her life, she increasingly devoted her time to counseling American art collectors.  Among them was her close friend Lousine Hvenmeyer, wife of wealthy sugar baron, who owned more than 2,000 Impressionist works. 

After spending 60 years in France, she died in her estate, the Chateau de Beaufresnes in Le Mesnil Théribus, north west of Paris, although interestingly, she never took French nationality.

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Letter From Paris: The (Rail) Battle That Macron Must Win 

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is going through the labor pains of implementing a variety of overdue structural reforms if France is to be brought into the 21st century.  President Emmanuel Macron has tackled this objective at a dizzying speed since his election on May 7, 2017.  The pace of change was so fast that the opposition appeared unable to react until Macron turned to the reform of the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français.) 

Now that process is developing into a major crisis.  Other groups  – university students,  Air France personnel, hospital staff,  garbage collectors, violent clashes at the Notre Dame des Landes “zad” (zone à defenre), etc. – joined the movement.  To overcome the spread of the social discontent  will be the first and decisive test for the French president. 

When the government announced a restructuring of the SNCF , which involved the status of the railroad workers or cheminots, dealing with the unsustainable debt, introducing competition, and the overall modernization of the rail network – the reaction of the unions was immediate and massive.

On March 18, four trade unions – CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), UNSA (Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes), RAIL-SUD and CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail) – announced  an innovative and deadly form of strikes: work stops for two days, then trains run for three days.  This schedule will be repeated for a total of 36 days during a period of three months until the end of June … longer if necessary. 

The platform at the Gare de Lyon in Paris on April 3, showing the rail strike’s devastating effect.

The French are bracing themselves for this monster strike, which will be hard for millions of working people, mainly commuters.  The specter of the 1995 strike, which paralyzed France for one month, looms over the country.  The collateral cost of a widespread strike is astronomical with the loss of work days; hotels and restaurants losing more than 30 percent of their profits; and factories momentarily having to close down and lay off employees, and the like.

Facing the angry unions was Minister of Transports Elizabeth Borne, who is a petite, remarkably qualified 57-year-old woman.  A product of the top elite school Polytechnique, part of the socialist government of Lionel Jospin, former head of the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) and of the SNCF strategy from 2002 to 2005. Technocrat rather than politician, Borne knows everything, but communication is not her forte

The 150,000 cheminots occupy a special place in France and are at the heart of the nation’s DNA. This is why the government’s efforts to bring reforms have met resistance violence the like of which it may not have anticipated.  The aura surrounding  the cheminots has been significantly fed in popular culture by a couple of films. 

In Jean Renoir’s “La Bête Humaine”, 1938, Jean Gabin portrays a cheminot. He looks quite dashing as he leans out of the steam engine wearing goggles, his face smeared with black dust.  Sustained by a bottle of wine he shares with his jolly co-worker, his exhausting job is to feed the “beast” with coal in the deafening noise of an inferno while breathing  poisonous fumes. The indelible image of this hero inspired the population’s respect for the hard work of the cheminots. 

Jean Gabin as a cheminot in ‘La Bête Humaine,’ 1938.

The other film, which contributed to the collective adulation of the French for their cheminots, is La Bataille du Rail, 1946, played by non-professional actors.  It shows their courage against the Nazi occupants in provoking the derailment of many German trains.

The cheminots are fiercely attached to their special status including retiring at as early an age 52 with a very generous package of  guaranteed employment for life and free transport tickets for the extended family. The government is trying to be reassuring, saying that the changes will only concern the railroad workers hired in the future.  The cheminots will also benefit from a “social backpack” whereby they can take their special status with them in case of transfer to another job.

The SNCF is badly in the red: its debt of over 50 billion Euros increases by three billion every year and the infrastructure is in dire need of investment.  Although showing some signs of disfunction – trains are often late,  major break downs such as the ones which occurred last fall when the Gare Saint Lazare and Gare Montparnasse left passengers stranded for hours – the rail system is still one of the best in Europe.  The French people do not realize what an expensive luxury it is to have such a public transport system.  But this luxury comes at a price: its operation cost is 30 percent higher than the one of other European railroads.    

The cheminots have a visceral fear of the word” privatization.”  The government has repeatedly said that there will be no privatization.  The state will remain the sole share holder and the only change will be that, in the future, the SNCF will be run as a private company, according to directives approved by the European Council in 2001.

The opponents to reforms spread unfounded horror stories about the introduction of competition and problems it caused in other countries.  Besides, the SNCF’s structure, as a public company created in 1937, had already entered that process over the years.  Freight was privatized in 2003.  International lines – like Eurostar (to England) and Thalys (to Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany) – are run independently from the SNCF.   The Italian company Thello runs night trains between Paris and Venice.  All Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV — high-speed train) tracks are scheduled to be shared with foreign companies by 2020, according to the guidelines approved by the European Union (EU) members.

Criticisms have been expressed about the overbuilding of TGV lines at a high cost and at the expense of other lines.  The announcement of  suppression of small lines provoked an outcry from public opinion well-orchestrated by the unions.  The dense network of TER (Transport Express Regional) and inter-city trains dates back to the days after WWII.  It was a time when half the French population lived and worked in the country versus less than only 4 percent today.  Each village wanted its gare (railroad station.)  Obviously, the time has come to adapt the network to the population’s current needs.  Since 2002, the small lines are the responsibility of the 12 “regions.”

Emmanuel Macron is dealing with the most challenging issue of his presidency to date.

With the one-year mark of his mandate approaching, Macron felt it was timely to take stock of  what has been accomplished to date by his government.  His first talk took place on Thursday, April 12, during the midday news.  The president was sitting on a tiny chair in an elementary classroom in Normandy.  In a relaxed atmosphere, the president answered the questions French people – including retirees – were asking regarding the erosion of their purchasing power.

Many people expected fireworks during the second event on the evening of Sunday, April 15.  The fireworks duly happened. 

Two journalists – Edwy Plenel from Mediapart and Jean-Jacques Bourdin, from RMC (Radio Monte-Carlo ) wanted only one thing: to tear Macron to pieces.  Interrupting him from the start, their questions were bundled with disinformation.  Insults and accusations flew.  Plenel went as far as saying, “Mr. President, you only won the election by default and your program was supported by just a handful of people.”  Bourdin treated the president as a criminal — as  he frequently does in respect of the person he is interviewing, bullying them into  a “Yes or No” answer.  When the exchange touched on the veil worn by Moslem women, both journalists blasted Macron for totally opposite reasons.

Macron’s performance was superb.  He kept his cool and managed not only to answer the questions at length, but also to explain the rationale for his policy.  Among all the information he disclosed, one was crucial — starting in 2010, the state will gradually take over the huge debt of the SNCF.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Macron & Merkel: Can This Power “Couple” Lead Europe?

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Sept. 26, 2017, Emmanuel Macron chose the Sorbonne University to develop his grand vision for Europe.  In that seminal speech he was urging his perceived partner German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join him in tackling the lofty goals of European reforms, speeding up the integration of the Eurozone through the creation of a parliament, a ministry of finances, and its own budget.   

Macron proposed to strengthen the common market and reduce the economic inequalities through the  harmonization of taxes, creation of a minimum wage, and reform of the “detached workers” system, which leads to employment of migrant workers at cheaper rates than would likely be available locally — a practice known as “social dumping.”  His approach is based on several principles: a Europe protected by well-managed  external borders and a strong defense; the opening of Europe to free trade, but with due regard for reciprocity, and solidarity among the European Union (EU) members regarding the treatment of refugees.

After an interminable six months, the “Great Coalition” between German Conservatives and Social Democrats has made it possible for Angela Merkel to start her fourth mandate. Barely a few hours after her confirmation as Chancellor on Friday, March 16, she met with French President Macron accompanied by several ministers.  The speed with which she came to Paris shows how important it was for those two heads of state to get to work. 

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Unfortunately, the geopolitical environment allowing them to be the driving force of a dynamic Europe has shifted and even deteriorated during that long waiting period and their task has become more difficult. Merkel is politically weaker.  The continent is now fragmented and the resistance from newly-created groups within the EU has become more aggressive.  Macron will have to downgrade his proposals and make adjustments.

The political context in which Merkel starts her fourth mandate is quite different from the one existing in 2013.  Only 52 percent of the population supported the new chancellor in 2017 versus 73 percent in the earlier elections.  Compared to the consensus Merkel was able to maintain previously, it is harder now for her to keep the lid over dissenting opinions.

Even though they are part of the “Great Coalition,” several ministers stand in disagreement with the chancellor, including Olaf Scholz (social democrat or SPD), vice-chancellor and minister of finances, who believes in tightening the budget; Horst Seehofer  (head of the conservative Christian Social Union or CSU in Bavaria), who was given the  “super ministry” of the interior, who intends to be harsher toward the immigration policy in the name of the reactivated concept of “heimat” (homeland); Jens Spahn, 37, minister of health (Christian democratic union, CDU or Merkel’s own party), who is also a critic of Merkel’s policy on migrants, and Andrea Nahles, leader of SPD in the Bundestag, wants to rush through social reforms in favor of the workers. 

Even more difficult for Merkel will be the meteoric growth of the far right party (Alternative for Germany or AfD).  In  2013 it did not have enough votes to have representatives  in the Bundestag.  To-day AfD holds 92 seats out of 709.   At a recent news cast on the ARTE channel, the violent tone of a AfD member at the Bundestag was incredible.

The “Countries of the North” (as they are now called) — Ireland, Iceland, along with the Scandinavian and Baltic states, as well as the Netherlands — believe in a strict budget and are inflexible about financial and monetary discipline. Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of TheNetherlands, speaking for the North countries , declared, “We have to adhere to the Maestrich criteria,” namely to keep the public deficit under 3 percent of the Domestic Gross Product.  On March 27, for the first time in 10 years, France saw her deficit fall down to 2.6 percent.  This was a significant accomplishment:  France is now a credible member of the “club.” 

The North countries ask that Italian and Greek banks clean up their toxic debts.  A “mutualization” of the debt (particularly of Greece’s sovereign debt) and financial transfers are a red line conservative parties from Germany or Holland are not willing to cross.  Like Macron and Merkel, however, Rutte sets as a priority a European Stability Mechanism (EMS) and a European Monetary Fund .

The recent Italian elections on March 8 were a blow for moderate centrists like Matteo Renzi, and the victory of two extremist, anti-system and xenophobe parties: the Five Stars (M5S) at the far left, and The League at the far right.  Italy joins now the eurosceptic countries like Austria and the Visegrad group (the former Iron Curtain countries of Eastern Europe.)  All these countries oppose the Macron/Merkel policies on trade, finances, democratic values and attitude toward the migrants.

Given this overview of the political landscape of Europe, it seems that the strategy of Macron and Merkel will be to start from the areas of agreement – passage toward Brexit, defense against terrorism, and protection against excessive Chinese investments in the name of the “Silk Road.”

The reactions of other EU members toward Macron’s “jupiterian” style and desire to reform are ambivalent.  In a March 20 interview published by Le Monde, Xavier Bettel  prime minister of Luxembourg said that a “directorate Paris-Berlin is out of the question, but added”  France and Europe are lucky to have him. Even if we do not agree with all his proposals, they are most welcome.” 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Visit to Franco-American Museum in Blerancourt Sparks Review of Relationship Between the Two

Nicole Prévost Logan

La Fayette nous voilà (La Fayette, here we are) are the famous words General John J. Pershing , commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, is supposed to have pronounced  on July 4, 1917 during the commemoration near the tomb of the Marquis de La Fayette at the Picpus cemetery in Paris. The entry of the Americans in World War I was a way to return the favor to the French for being an ally throughout their history. The Franco-American museum in Blerancourt, in a concrete way, furthered this enduring amity.

From the outbreak of the war even before America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, a segment of US public opinion, wanted the country to enter the conflict. Among the Americans living in Paris (there were 100,000 of them at the time), private associations such as the American Field Service,  intellectuals, writers, and artists offered to join the allied cause. Many young people volunteered as ambulance drivers.

Many volunteers served in ambulances like this one on display in the Museum of Blerancourt during the Great War.

One of them was Anne Morgan (1873-1952)  third daughter of  John Pierpont Morgan, Sr., banker and art collector.

Anne Morgan

She started raising funds to equip the French army as early as 1915, and in 1917 chose the village of Blerancourt, which was in the midst of total devastation, to carry out her humanitarian aid to the wounded soldiers and civilian population. 

The Aisne department (a department in France is the US equivalent of a county) was one of the worst hit battle fields. It is sadly remembered for being the scene of three bloody campaigns all called Chemin des Dames in 1914, 1916 and 1917 . In April 1917 alone, 100,000 French soldiers died on that front. 

Morgan worked from the barracks she erected on the terraces of the Chateau de Blerancourt – a grand 17th century private residence built by the architect who designed the Luxembourg Palace, for Marie de Medicis.  In 1919, Morgan bought the ruins of the chateau and started its restoration. In 1923, she created the association of the Friends of Blerancourt and the following year founded what was to become the Franco-American Museum.

The restored 17th century elegant rooms of the chateau are quite fitting for the historical part of the museum.  French explorers -Jacques Cartier, Father Jacques Marquette-Cavelier de la Salle, Champlain and others  – left their trace in the geography books of the New World. Their names are still vivid but the lands they discovered – from Canada to Louisiana – have long severed ties with France.  Only the St Pierre et Miquelon archipelago remained part of the mother country.

La Fayette was the first Frenchman to enlist in the War of Independence in 1777. With a great deal of panache, in October 1781, the 6,000 men of Count of Rochambeau, joined the Continental Army of George Washington, later the fleet of Admiral de Grasse encircled the English forces.  The combined effort ended in the victorious battle of Yorktown and the rendition of the British.  

Was its support in the conflict beneficial to France?  Some historians do not think so.  Claude Moisy, former president of Agence France Press  (AFP), journalist and specialist in the political history of the US, is one of them and goes as far as to believe that France was caught in a fool’s game.  

During a talk Moisy gave to the France-England Association in 2007, he described the sequence of events, as he sees it: the US Congress had promised not to sign a separate peace with the English, but it did on November 30 ,1782, after secret negotiations.

The real objective for the American government was to resume, as soon as possible, trade and economic relations with Great Britain.  Washington had dispatched Benjamin Franklin to Paris. He soon became the coqueluche (the rage) of the Paris society and suspiciously close to it. The author describes Paris at that time as a “panier de crabes” (can of worms), crawling with spies and foreign agents.

The final peace treaty was only signed 10 months later in September 1783, with the participation of Holland and Spain.

2018, – the year of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Great War- started appropriately with the “Cesars” selecting Au Revoir Là Haut, as best film and best director.  It is based on the 2013 Prix Goncourt novel by Pierre Lemaitre. Two soldiers- nicknamed “poilus” during the Great war-  experience the horror of trench war, including being buried alive .  (the writer may have been inspired by what happened to the poet and art theoretician  Guillaume Apollinaire, who was buried alive three times, underwent trepanation and died in 1918.).  The story continues after the war, when the two heroes, traumatized and disfigured by injuries, witness the sordid traffic of war memorials.

The Chateau de Blerancourt makes a charming picture.

The Blerancourt museum  is a lovely, luminous building,, located at about two hours drive north-east of Paris. The World war I activities of Anne Morgan -including her ambulance, uniform, wartime memorabilia and mobile library- are brought back to life. 

The Art department has just been renovated and contains more than 400 works. The collection  includes paintings by impressionist Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent and many others.  The arrival of American troops in St Nazaire was caught in Art Deco style by French artist Jean Emile Laboureur in 1918.  Singer and dancer Josephine Baker, appears on the cover of the “Revue Nègre“.  She was born in St Louis, joined the Resistance and is an idol in France.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Annual ‘Salon de l’Agriculture’ Prompts a Peek into Farming in France

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Salon de l’Agriculture (agricultural fair) is the most popular event of the year in Paris.  For two weeks, the Porte de Versailles is turned into an oversize farm   Four thousand animals – bovines, pigs, sheep and fowl – move in for the delight of both children and adults.  It is the largest agricultural show in Europe.

The French are emotional about their relationship with the countryside and never forget that they share a common rural ancestry and that, just a few decades ago, 25 percent of the population lived and worked on the land. The fair is an opportunity for rural and urban communities to get together and have a good time.

Food is a big attraction at the fair.  Thirty seven restaurants offer culinary specialties from each region: trip à la mode de Caen (tripe cooked in cider and calvados), boeuf bourguignon,  tartiflette (Savoyard gratin with Reblochon cheese, cream and pork), Toulouse cassoulet , bouillabaisse and hundreds more dishes, accompanied by the best wines.

French President Emmanuel Macron meets the much-admired cow named Haute at the Salon de l’Agriculture.

Entertainment reaches its height with the competition for the best animal. This year the star of the show is Haute, a 700 kilo blonde cow of the Aubrac breed raised in Aveyron (a volcanic plateau in the south west), whose big black eyes are made-up with mascara.  Haute has a pedigree in the same way as a racehorse and her offspring are already in line to compete in the 2024 fair – the same year that the Olympics will be held in Paris. 

From the air, the French landscape looks like a beautiful tapestry with colored patches of fields, woods and clusters of roofs huddled around a church steeple. Behind this idyllic picture, it is hard to believe that there is a tough world of fierce competition, hard work, and for some, a struggle to survive . 

Among the 450,606 working farms in France to-day, many of them are small with less than 10 hectares (one hectare is equivalent to 2.47 acres.) Their owners find it hard to make a living. The average income of a farmer is 1,525 euros for month and can be as low as 500 euros, which is well below the poverty threshold.  There are many reasons for this. 

Food today represents only 20 percent of a family budget as compared to 34.7 percent in 1960.   The agri-business and chains of supermarket distributors, in order to increase their profit margin, force the farmers to sell their milk or meat at rock-bottom prices.

Farmers are deep in debt because of the necessity to invest but they have ways to show their anger and frustration, such as pouring manure or truck loads of raw eggs on public squares.  Another effective way is for them to launch an operation escargot (snail offensive.) They bring their five-mile an hour tractors on the highways with the expected result.   

European farmers could not survive without financial subsidies from Brussels.  In 1962, the Politique d’Agriculture Commune (PAC — Common Agricultural Policy) was set up by the European Union (EU) to assist and guide the agriculture of  its members.  The PAC is the second largest item in the EU budget and one of its pillars.  Methods and objectives have changed over the years.  

For a while, it requested farmers to lay fallow their cultivated land.  Quotas for milk were stopped in 2015 and sugar in 2017.  Today the PAC is putting more emphasis on the development of organic food and protection of farmers against the climatic vagaries.  France is the leading agricultural country in Europe with production valued at 71 billion ahead of Germany (56.7 billion), Italy (54.2 billion) and Spain (49 billion.) France remains the top beneficiary of financial assistance from the PAC. 

Most Europeans are hostile to the use of pesticides.  Brussels wanted to set a 10-year-moratorium on the use of the herbicide Glyphosate.  Macron fought and demanded three years.  Finally Brussels decided on a period of five years. 

In France, Monsanto has become the prime bad guy.  Europeans are also against genetically-modified food and the addition of hormones and antibiotics in meat.  The French are getting very finicky about the traceability of products   A couple of years ago, horse meat was found in prepared food produced in Eastern Europe.  The French public went up in arms.   Since then, on every package or can, the geographic origin of the product has to be indicated.

Macron, during his visit to the Agricultural Fair asked the crowd, “Did you know that that 70 percent of the meat you eat in French restaurants is imported?  It makes no sense when French meat is probably the best in the world.”  The president is not a protectionist but, in his eyes, free trade agreements have to be equally  beneficial for both sides.  At present, the signing  of  the Mercosur Treaty between Europe and four South American countries is stalled, leaving Europeans worried.

It is a “must” for each French president to visit the fair.  Macron outdid all his predecessors by mingling with the crowd for more than 12 straight hours.  Always eager to explain his policies, he did not hesitate to plunge into the fray and engage in heated discussions with angry farmers. 

The day before the opening of the Salon, Macron had invited 700 young farmers to the Elysees palace.  As always, his method was not to promise financial assistance, but help his guests find creative solutions to make their farms more competitive.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: ‘The Donald’ and Europe Grow Further Apart

Nicole Prévost Logan

In February 2017, the European Union (EU) members, gathered at the Malta summit, were flabbergasted by President Donald Trump’s hostile attitude toward the United States’s traditional allies.  One year later the world has adjusted in the opinion of the seasoned diplomat Hubert Vedrine, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2002).  The French diplomat commented, “One has to get over our initial disbelief as to the unpredictable and apparently erratic policy of the 45th president of the US.”

The European opinion of Trump is not monolithic.  One has to differentiate between the North and South:  heavily indebted Greece and Germany with a flourishing economy will have opposite opinions.  The same divide exists between East and West: for example, nationalist and authoritarian countries like Poland will view Trump differently from the liberal Netherlands.

The Europeans resent Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement leaving a wide open boulevard for China to become the champion defender of the environment.  Last January, the announcement made by the controversial Ryan Zinke, US Secretary of the Environment, that he would allow oil and gas drilling near almost all US coasts from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico was considered a mistake.  The French oppose the position of Trump’s administration on the use of coal and other fossil fuel as sources of energy.  France has closed all its coal mines and does not even allow fracking for oil or gas exploration in fear of endangering the environment.

President Donald Trump

The recent financial and tax reforms introduced by the US president were characterized as a fiscal war with the rest of the world by economist and professor Philippe Dessertine.   On Jan. 26,  2018 at the Davos World Economic Forum, Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), criticized those measures by saying that, subsequent to creating benefits in the short term, they would ultimately impact world  financial vulnerability.  She believes that the increase in both liquidity and the budget deficit, will eventually cause a sudden drop in the stock market.  It is interesting to note that a few days after her speech, the Dow tanked and began a new cycle of high volatility.

French economists commented that lowering corporate taxes to 21 percent in the US – not that far from the 12.5 percent of Irish tax heaven – is placing the competitiveness of countries like France at a disadvantage.  It will take five years of arduous effort by French President Macron to lower French corporate taxes to 25 percent.  The French Minister of Economy and Finances, Bruno Lemaire, criticized these reforms for technical reasons.  He commented that they will penalize European subsidiaries located in the US and also be an incentive for American companies located in France to relocate to the US.

According to French economist Thomas Piketty, 68.1 percent of the US income tax reduction will benefit just 1 percent of the population, thereby increasing the already exisiting inequalities even further.  For Gerard Courteois, editorial writer of the French national newspaper Le Monde, there is an incoherence in the statement,”Make America great again,” particularly in the use of the word “again.”  Does it apply to the boom years after World War II when it actually was a time of high taxes and international trade?

Trump’s foreign policy is scrutinized by French diplomats and geopoliticians.  Vedrine describes the American president’s policy in the Middle East as a disaster.  Trump has created a confrontational axis with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey against Iran and managed to freeze the Israel-Palestine peace process.  Regarding the European Union (EU), Trump’s objective seems to be its deconstruction.  Trump applauded Brexit and asked “Who is next?”  To European satisfaction, Congress has blocked the confirmation of a Europhobe nominee as US Ambassador to the EU.  The post has not been filled to date.

Trump’s diplomacy is not sophisticated.  It is a bully approach, forever brandishing the threat of more and greater sanctions, whether in the Ukraine, Iran or Korea.  Punitive measures are even taken by Trump toward the Palestinians.  He intends to suspend financial aid because they refuse to sit at the negotiating table.

French diplomats prefer pragmatism and negotiations.  Dominique de Villepin, former foreign minister (2002-2004) and prime minister (2005-2007), believes, for instance, that one has to accept the fact that North Korea is a nuclear power and entice that country to join the international community by helping  its economic development .

However, Vedrine says one should not blame Trump for everything.  Being realistic, France and Europe are not at the center of the world today.  If the US is stepping back, it is a chance for Europe to regain its autonomy.  Villepin suggests that Europe needs to break away from US guardianship .

At the annual Munich conference on security, participants showed for the first time their intention to step up the defense of the EU.  Last year Trump had scolded NATO members for not paying their share leading to the irritation of Washington today.  To put a stop to transatlantic polemics, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, wanted to be conciliatory and declared, “The increase in the European defense budget will reinforce the NATO European pillar.”

Judging from this non-exhaustive list of disagreements, relations between Trump and Europe are not particularly warm right now — in fact, one might be tempted to conclude they are well on the way to just plain bad.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Book That Wins France’s Top Literary Prize Raises Chilling Questions About WWII History

Nicole Prévost Logan

Coincidence or not ?

The prestigious French literary Prix Goncourt came out came just a few weeks before the election of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurtz as chancellor of Austria.  Many would say that election marked another step by the European Union along the road toward nationalism.

The topic of the novel is the Anschluss.  With devastating sarcasm the author, Eric Vuillard, puts the magnates of German industry on trial for profiting from the Nazi regime and the Austrian people for welcoming the invading German army on March 12  1938. The title itself is ironic since L’Ordre du Jour – which translates as ‘the order of the day’ or ‘the agenda’ – refers to a democratic assembly, which in the book will soon be abolished by Hitler.

It is a very short book (only 150 pages) printed in an unusual miniature format.  But it is a striking story, beautifully written, leading the reader through shocking scenes in which cruel humor is mixed with great despair.  Vuillard, is also a film maker, which explains the way he stages the story as seen through a camera, with colorful images, a sound track, leading actors and supporting crowds.

The action starts on February 20th, 1933, in Potsdam.  Twenty-four managers of the German industry – Gustav Krupp, Wilhem von Opel, Günther Quandt, Kurt Schmitt and others – are waiting in the ante-chamber of the Reichstag at the pleasure of its president, Hermann Goering.  The 24 grey-haired gentlemen, dressed in formal black or brown coats, with stiff shirt collars and striped pants, resemble the bare trees lining the Spree river in the winter.

Goering is late but the visitors wait patiently.

When he finally shows up, the guests raise like lizards on their hind legs.  Hitler – appointed chancellor just one month before – makes his entry and greets his guests.  At the end of the meeting, as expected from them, the managers obsequiously make their meager contribution of several millions Deutschmarks to help the Nazi war effort.

Vuillard turns the Anschluss into a farce. Using threats, lies, and brutal intimidation, Hitler manipulates the Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, making him totally helpless, bulldozed by the Nazi timetable.

February 12, 1938, is the second decisive date in Vuillard’s story.  Hitler has invited Schuschnigg for a secret lunch at Berchtesgaden, his mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps.  It is an ominous sequence.  When the doors close behind the guest, the reader feels a sense of foreboding.

Overwhelmed by the hypnotic personality of Hitler, Schuschnigg caves in and has to agree to all his  demands: appointment of the Nazi Seyss-Inquart to the post of minister of the Interior;  amnesty of those condemned for the assassination of the Austrian chancellor Dollfuss in 1934; rehabilitation of all national socialist officials.  Having said that, Hitler reaffirms the independence of Austria.  Wasn’t that the ultimate?  asks Vuillard.

On the eve of the planned invasion, Mr and Mrs Ribbentrop (he is the German foreign minister) are invited to dinner at Downing Street.  The author describes in detail the menu of French cuisine and the wine list.  The conversation is light and animated.  All seem interested in tennis and the performance of Bill Tilden, who won the Davis cup seven times.

Toward the end of the dinner, a staff member brings a note to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who becomes preoccupied.  Vuillard writes: “Winston Churchill opens his big cocker spaniel eyes.”  The Chamberlains are getting impatient but, out of sheer British politeness, do not show it.  Guests start leaving but the Ribbentrops linger on, saying endless goodbyes.

The camera jumps to the car where the German couple is now on its way home.  They burst out laughing.  They knew all along what was in the note … German troops have just crossed the Austrian border.

The story reaches its climax when the German forces are ready to pounce on Vienna on March 12, 1938.  The sky is a bright blue but it is freezing cold.  The Panzers are massed by the border but a problem arises — they run out of gas and a monumental traffic jam occurs.  It is hard to pull out a tool kit by the side of the road in sub-zero temperatures.

Hitler, who at first was elated by the prospect of entering Vienna with cheering crowds waving small flags and  blond-braided, young girls throwing flowers at the German soldiers, is now stuck on the road along with hundreds of armored cars.  When an army experiences a breakdown en route, ridicule is guaranteed.

Hitler cannot contain his anger and keeps shouting. By dusk, his Mercedes reaches Linz, the town where he spent his youth.  On March 15, the poor Austrian population, abused, but finally submissive, stands in front of Sisi’s palace to hear Hitler’s hoarse voice vociferate insults.  In a referendum, Austrians voted 99.7 percent in favor of the annexation by the Reich.

What happened to the 24 captains of industry we met in 1933?

During the war years, they made an incredible amount of money by employing cheap labor from Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald or Dachau.  They may have died of old age, but their empires live on, stronger than ever … BMW, BASf, Bayer, IG Farbem, Siemens, Tellefunken, Opel, and Thyssen-Krupp.

Exaggerated or not, the fact is that such a novel gives the reader a major jolt.  It is a literary feat, which revives dark moments of history that one should never forget.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Book That Wins France’s Top Literary Prize Raises Chilling Questions About WWII History

Nicole Prévost Logan

Coincidence or not ?

The prestigious French literary Prix Goncourt came out came just a few weeks before the election of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurtz as chancellor of Austria.  Many would say that election marked another step by the European Union along the road toward nationalism.

The topic of the novel is the Anschluss.  With devastating sarcasm the author, Eric Vuillard, puts the magnates of German industry on trial for profiting from the Nazi regime and the Austrian people for welcoming the invading German army on March 12  1938. The title itself is ironic since L’Ordre du Jour – which translates as ‘the order of the day’ or ‘the agenda’ – refers to a democratic assembly, which in the book will soon be abolished by Hitler.

It is a very short book (only 150 pages) printed in an unusual miniature format.  But it is a striking story, beautifully written, leading the reader through shocking scenes in which cruel humor is mixed with great despair.  Vuillard, is also a film maker, which explains the way he stages the story as seen through a camera, with colorful images, a sound track, leading actors and supporting crowds.

The action starts on February 20th, 1933, in Potsdam.  Twenty-four managers of the German industry – Gustav Krupp, Wilhem von Opel, Günther Quandt, Kurt Schmitt and others – are waiting in the ante-chamber of the Reichstag at the pleasure of its president, Hermann Goering.  The 24 grey-haired gentlemen, dressed in formal black or brown coats, with stiff shirt collars and striped pants, resemble the bare trees lining the Spree river in the winter.

Goering is late but the visitors wait patiently.

When he finally shows up, the guests raise like lizards on their hind legs.  Hitler – appointed chancellor just one month before – makes his entry and greets his guests.  At the end of the meeting, as expected from them, the managers obsequiously make their meager contribution of several millions Deutschmarks to help the Nazi war effort.

Vuillard turns the Anschluss into a farce. Using threats, lies, and brutal intimidation, Hitler manipulates the Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, making him totally helpless, bulldozed by the Nazi timetable.

February 12, 1938, is the second decisive date in Vuillard’s story.  Hitler has invited Schuschnigg for a secret lunch at Berchtesgaden, his mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps.  It is an ominous sequence.  When the doors close behind the guest, the reader feels a sense of foreboding.

Overwhelmed by the hypnotic personality of Hitler, Schuschnigg caves in and has to agree to all his  demands: appointment of the Nazi Seyss-Inquart to the post of minister of the Interior;  amnesty of those condemned for the assassination of the Austrian chancellor Dollfuss in 1934; rehabilitation of all national socialist officials.  Having said that, Hitler reaffirms the independence of Austria.  Wasn’t that the ultimate?  asks Vuillard.

On the eve of the planned invasion, Mr and Mrs Ribbentrop (he is the German foreign minister) are invited to dinner at Downing Street.  The author describes in detail the menu of French cuisine and the wine list.  The conversation is light and animated.  All seem interested in tennis and the performance of Bill Tilden, who won the Davis cup seven times.

Toward the end of the dinner, a staff member brings a note to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who becomes preoccupied.  Vuillard writes: “Winston Churchill opens his big cocker spaniel eyes.”  The Chamberlains are getting impatient but, out of sheer British politeness, do not show it.  Guests start leaving but the Ribbentrops linger on, saying endless goodbyes.

The camera jumps to the car where the German couple is now on its way home.  They burst out laughing.  They knew all along what was in the note … German troops have just crossed the Austrian border.

The story reaches its climax when the German forces are ready to pounce on Vienna on March 12, 1938.  The sky is a bright blue but it is freezing cold.  The Panzers are massed by the border but a problem arises — they run out of gas and a monumental traffic jam occurs.  It is hard to pull out a tool kit by the side of the road in sub-zero temperatures.

Hitler, who at first was elated by the prospect of entering Vienna with cheering crowds waving small flags and  blond-braided, young girls throwing flowers at the German soldiers, is now stuck on the road along with hundreds of armored cars.  When an army experiences a breakdown en route, ridicule is guaranteed.

Hitler cannot contain his anger and keeps shouting. By dusk, his Mercedes reaches Linz, the town where he spent his youth.  On March 15, the poor Austrian population, abused, but finally submissive, stands in front of Sisi’s palace to hear Hitler’s hoarse voice vociferate insults.  In a referendum, Austrians voted 99.7 percent in favor of the annexation by the Reich.

What happened to the 24 captains of industry we met in 1933?

During the war years, they made an incredible amount of money by employing cheap labor from Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald or Dachau.  They may have died of old age, but their empires live on, stronger than ever … BMW, BASf, Bayer, IG Farbem, Siemens, Tellefunken, Opel, and Thyssen-Krupp.

Exaggerated or not, the fact is that such a novel gives the reader a major jolt.  It is a literary feat, which revives dark moments of history that one should never forget.

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Letter From Paris: The Seine is Flooding … Again

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Paris floods crested Friday, Jan. 26, at almost six meters, therefore slightly lower than in June 2016 . They did not even make the ‘Top 10’ among the most destructive floods of the past 100 years. The monster flood of 1910 saw the river’s level rise eight meters and 60 centimeters.  However, the inhabitants in the communities upstream from the city, who have been underwater for days and have now been flooded twice in 18 months, were certainly entitled to call it a natural disaster brought on by the global warming.

The submerged tree and lamp post in the foreground show the depth of the flooding on the Seine.  The Hotel de Ville stands at right in the background while the Ile de la Cité is at left. Photo by Sylvia Logan.

Monumental work has been done in the past century to protect the capital and the resultant price is paid by the surrounding areas.   Paris is such a strategic place that it has to be protected by a system of locks and reservoirs, both up and down stream. Besides, France is endowed with numerous waterways and this is particularly true in the Paris basin.  The Seine’s tributaries — Marne, Yonne, Aube and Loing — flow toward Paris.  In the case of extreme precipitation, these small rivers easily overflow and submerge their unprotected banks.  The small towns of Champagne, Moret or Thomery, only 30 minutes by train south of Paris, had disappeared underwater by midweek.

The banks of the Seine are submerged while the Cathedral of Notre Dame still stands proudly in the background. Photo by Sylvia Logan.

In prehistoric times, the Seine was a shallow stream, indolent and undisciplined, moving its bed all over the place.  The most northern of its secondary beds followed what is today the ring of Grands Boulevards and flowed from the Bastille, along the hills of Buttes Chaumont and Montmartre, and back down to the main channel below the hill of Chaillot.   On the Left Bank, the Seine also had a secondary bed, which used to flow under the modern Boulevard Saint Germain. 

The restaurant ”Calife,” which is moored in the middle of the river near the Pont des Arts, is flooded.  Photo by Sylvia Logan.

Between 1991 and 1993, excavations prior to the building of the new Bercy district, brought to light spectacular remains of human settlements on the banks of the wandering Seine river.  Neolithic pirogues dating back to more than 3,000 years BC are exposed today in the Orangerie of the Carnavalet museum. They are the oldest found in Europe.

The construction of massive stone quays in Paris started in  the 14th century.  In 1991, they became part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

By midweek , as the peak of the floods approached, there was no panic among the city officials, engineers and technicians, but a feverish activity to prevent disaster.  By way of precaution, the RERC running along the river, was closed until the end of the month.  Already the treasures exposed on the lower levels of the Louvre and Orsay museums had been moved to safe locations.  The great danger was that the dense network of cables, pipes and wiring, providing gas, electricity and internet, and lying eight floor deep underground would be reached  by the water.

Crowds gather above the famous Zouave statue on the Pont de l’Alma. Photo by Karen Logan

Curious onlookers have been following the progress of water on the statue of the Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma.  The statue was placed below the bridge in 1836 to mark one of the battles at Alma, near Sebastopol, during the Crimean war (1853-56.) 

The Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma has been a point of reference for the severity of Seine floods for centuries.. Photo by Karen Logan

The  coalition of France, England and the Ottoman Empire wanted to put a stop to the expansionist policy of the Russian Tsar Alexander II (1856-1881.) The Zouaves were part of the Algerian light brigade in the days of French Algeria — their bright red baggy pants were famous. 

Down he goes!  As the waters rise, the Zouave at the Pont de l’Alma disappears deeper into the River Seine. Photo by Karen Logan

Although not very reliable – since the statue was raised by 40-80 centimeters  in 1970 – the Zouave remains the most popular indicator of the severity of the floods in Paris.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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