March 8, 2021

Letter From Paris: After 47 Years, UK Leaves EU with ‘Thin’ Post-Brexit Deal

Nicole Prévost Logan

After 47 years of co-habitation, the UK has left the European Union (EU) with a “thin” post-Brexit deal.

An end-of-year need for holiday food delicacies, such as caviar, lobster or foie gras, panic about running short of fresh produce — such as lettuce, combined with the Covid-19 procedure slowing down the traffic, caused spectacular chaos with thousands of trucks lining up on highways or parked in Kent’s makeshift areas.

It was a sort of a preview of what a no-deal Brexit would bring.

The atmosphere in the country was unreal.

On Christmas Eve at four in the afternoon, the news broke: The UK and the European Union (EU) have reached an agreement on a narrow trade deal.  There will not be a “hard Brexit” as everybody had feared, with a brutal departure of the British Isles from the continent.  The two sides will remain friends and look forward to building up a commercial partnership and intensifying cooperation in transport, security, police, nuclear power, research and many other areas.

An 11th hour agreement

Reaching an agreement was quite an accomplishment. As late as Dec. 20, the mood was grim on both sides of the English Channel. On that date I wrote an article, entitled: “Betting on a “thin” Brexit deal”.

As follows, is part of my article:

Time is running out.  The transition period, which followed the departure of the UK from the EU on Jan. 31, 2020, is ending on Dec. 31.  If the two sides – UK and EU – do not reach an agreement by then, the “hard Brexit” will feel like falling off a cliff. The alternative is a “soft” Brexit.

On Dec. 13, 2019 , UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson led a successful campaign, the problem is that he based that campaign on three fateful words: “Get Brexit done”  He locked himself in an impasse,  making it hard for him to negotiate further.  He is under pressure from all sides to satisfy the hard-Brexiter Tories, the business circles rejecting Brexit for fear of a tariff war and  public opinion increasingly against a departure from the EU.   

The impossibility to bridge the positions from both sides of the Channel is clear:  the differences are more than deep. They are existential.  

For the British, sovereignty is paramount and the constraints of the Single Market unacceptable. The EU lies on the principles of the “Schengen Space”, consisting of free movement of people, capital, goods and services. Those principles constitute the main asset of the Single Market and are sacred, declared Christine Okrent, a French seasoned journalist and an authority on foreign affairs.

One should not forget that the UK has never been part of the Schengen “Space” nor of the Eurozone.

“Zanny” Minton  Beddoes, editor-in-chief of the Economist describes the negotiators as “playing on their voters’ audiences”.  It may be true in England, but definitely not in the EU. The EU is not budging from its core proposals, and its 27 members remain totally united. It would be miscalculation on Johnson’s part to count on the EU backing down.  

A hard Brexit would be a lose-lose proposition, but the UK would be more affected. Half its trading activities are with Europe, its economy is intertwined with Europe’s, as Beddoes pointed out. In contrast, Brexit has ceased to be a priority for the EU, commented Christine Okrent

In an interview, Michel Barnier, chief negotiator of the EU, declared that a nine month transition was too short. Most trading agreements take at least five years. He said: “Two prerequisites are needed: a free and fair competition (no “Singapore on the Thames”) and a reciprocal access to markets and waters.” 

I predict – and am going out on a limb now – that enough concessions will take place on both sides to reach a “thin” deal (to use Beddoes’ words ) allowing  the negotiations to continue after Dec. 31.  More time is needed to create a tailor-made arrangement to satisfy the UK and help it access the Customs Union or the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway.  

Those were my predictions on Dec. 20.

The British Union Jack flag flies alongside the EU flag … but not for much longer. Photo by Rocco Dipoppa on Unsplash.

Back to Dec. 24, when the post-Brexit “deal'” was reached. What was fascinating on that historical day, was to hear, in real time, the comments coming from all sides of the political spectrum as well as reactions from the general public.

Johnson was exultant, raising his arms in a victory gesture. The trilingual Ursula von der Leyen , president of the European Commission was the one to announce (in excellent French) that, “a good, fair, and well balanced” deal has been reached.  Towering over her Michel  Barnier added his voice to the official announcement.  It was thanks to his fairness and persistence, that he made the deal happen.

Declaring, “We have kept our promise,” Johnson continued, “We have taken back the control of our economy. Freed from the EU Single Market bureaucracy, we can act very fast. The rapid vaccination program is an illustration of this. Our relationship with the EU will be comparable to the one between Canada and the EU (CETA).”

This is not exactly accurate however because CETA makes it easier to export both and goods and services, whereas the post-Brexit deal does not include the suppression of tariffs on services. The most important thing for Johnson was to say, “I have done it”.  He did succeed unlike other prime ministers – Thatcher, Major, Cameron and May – who failed in their attempts.

Denis MacShane, a Member of Parliament (MP), Minister of State for Europe under Tony Blair, and formerly a member of the Labor party said the population had had enough and wanted to turn the page of the Brexit.

A professor of the French School of Political Sciences was lukewarm about the deal.  The accord does not warrant taking the champagne out to celebrate, he said.  To lose one member of the EU is a loss, a form of “disintegration”

Reuters press agency announced that the British Parliament was expected to approve the deal. Both Houses will be recalled to vote on the decision on Dec. 30.  Johnson has a comfortable majority of 364 out of 650 in the House of Commons.  Many of the 200 Labor MPs will vote in favor of the agreement since they supported the post-Brexit trade deal from the beginning.

The European Parliament will make its decision known in 2021. The agreement text will have to be translated into 23 languages before being approved by the 27 EU member states.

As a 1,246-page agreement, it will take a while to fully comprehend the complex and lengthy text.

Professor Anand Menon, director of “The UK in a Changing World” Think Tank, commented that the lifting of tariffs and quotas will favor the EU since it is where it has a surplus. France has a surplus of 12 billion in her trade balance with the UK. The biggest amount is food products. 150,00 French companies export them to the UK.  Furthermore 80 percent of food and wine transit through France to reach Great Britain.

Quotas and tariffs will not be imposed on products. However, custom and various administrative formalities and procedures at the borders might become cumbersome for both sides. Times will be difficult in the short term for British companies and a cost of 4 percent of the GDP  is expected.

However, from now on the UK will be free to reach bilateral agreements with outside countries, such as New Zealand for the import of meat.

Tariffs will remain on the services . With the post-Brexit deal, the UK becomes a third country in regards to the EU,  80 percent of its economy is immaterial and tied to services and therefore not part of this post-Brexit deal. In order to exercise its financial activities  and access to the Single Market or the Customs Union, the  “passporting” (meaning selling financial services freely) will no longer be an option unless the UK joins the EEA, as Norway has done.

The main sticky point will be to preserve the level playing field and guarantee fair competition on both sides of the Channel.. This will be resolved by the principle of “managed divergence” the parties reserving the right to retaliate.  In other words any hope of creating a “Singapore on Tames “will be under strict scrutiny by the EU.

Dominic Raab, acabinet minister and conservative MP declared that the provisions included in the agreement  are not the end of the story. The “deal” is a living document that will need to be revisited in the future. The rules will  evolve.

As an example, a system has been put in place to settle litigations and will be re-examined in four years. Next February there will be more rules. Raab added that for the next five or six years, the UK will be working on re-establishing new ties with Europe.

On a positive note for Johnson: the UK will not be bound by judgments made by the European Court of Justice

The Irish border

The Irish premier Micheal Martin approved the fact that a hard border between the two Irelands was avoided ; The Common Travel Area with Great Britain will be maintained ; the deal preserves Ireland’s position in the Single Market, he said, it will avoid quotas and tariffs imposed on farmers, businesses and exporters.

Varadkar, another Irish politician seems also satisfied with the deal. Northern Ireland will remain effectively in the EU Single Market. Custom checks will take place in the Irish Sea instead of on land. Sea.

Still unknown but likely to emerge soon  is the question of Scotland. First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon lashed out at the agreement within minutes.  In 2016, 62 percent of Scottish people voted to remain in Europe.  The Flag of Scotland still flew above the Parliament.  Scotland will probably not wait for the spring to organize another referendum.

Fishing rights

A commercial fishing boat comes into port. Photo by Thomas Millot on Unsplash

Johnson declared, “We have regained the control of our waters.  Although it represents a minute part of the GDP of both sides , this issue occupied a major place in the negotiations because it is essentially the symbol of the British sovereignty.  Barnier knows a lot of about fishing rights.  He was minister of Agriculture and Fishing from 2007 to 2009.

There will be “fishing committees” enforcing control. Johnson demanded that 80 percent of the proceeds from the fishing industry be returned to the UK. He achieved 25 percent, during a transition period of five and a half years.  He will grant 100 millions of UK pounds sterling to help the fishermen.

The fish catch by the Europeans last year was worth 650 million Euros last year. The British waters are richer in fish population than the European waters. The Brits don’t eat much fish. They sell back most of their catch to the EU. During his speech Johnson was wearing a tie covered with fish.

The devil is in the details and annoying changes are going to take place. There will be no more mutual recognition of professional qualifications. British doctors, architects, veterinarians, engineers will have to seek new certification.

Freedom of movement will disappear, and a visa will have to be obtained for a stay longer than 90 days. An EU pet passport will cease to be valid.

The Erasmus student exchange program will not include the UK any more. Instead of a fee of 170 Euros paid to  European universities, foreign students studying in the UK will be charged tens of thousands pounds. To work in England, a permit will be required. In other words a post-Brexit deal will not be “business as usual.”  There will be many changes.

On the last day of 2020, Sky News announced that Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, was asking for French nationality.  He is French on his wife’s side and very much a Europhile. In a book coming out later in January, author Christian de Bourbon-Parme has written a biography of Boris Johnson.

Surprisingly, we learn that his name was not Boris but Alexander, that he lived in Belgium when his father was working for the European Commission in 1973. In the book, Johnson is depicted as a person full of humanity. He always loved Europe and was very attached to it — but not the EU.

In spite of of the enthusiastic attitude of the British Prime Minister, the mood was rather somber on both sides of the Channel.

Michel Barnier commented ” There was no winner in this deal. We all lost,” while Ursula von der Leyen added a lyrical note, saying, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

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.

Region 4 Asks Valley-Old Lyme Co-op Football Coach to Resign

Action from a Warriors game against Old Saybrook played on the Lyme-Old Lyme Varsity Field in 2016. File photo,

AREAWIDE — The press and social media are currently swirling with articles*, opinion pieces* and comments relating to the requested resignation of the extremely popular Valley Regional High School (VRHS) football coach and gym teacher Tim King by the Region #4 Superintendent Brian White.

Region 4 comprises the middle and high school-age students of Chester, Deep River and Essex; each of the three towns operates their own elementary schools.

Lyme-Old Lyme High School (LOLHS) students play football on the VRHS ‘Warriors’ team in a formalized co-operative arrangement, which has been in place for some 10 years. Lyme-Old Lyme (LOL) Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser explained, however, that the co-op arrangement does not mean LOL Schools had any involvement in the recent actions of the Region #4 Superintendent.

Neiaser said by email, “In our current cooperative football agreement with Valley Regional, Region #4 employs the head coach. Therefore, any action or proposed action is independent of the Region #18 [Lyme-Old Lyme Schools] Board of Education.”

According to news reports, the issue that prompted White to ask for King’s resignation was King’s presence at an Independent Football League practice held in Lyme, which included players from both VRHS and LOLHS. The League was formed in response to the cancellation of the high school football season by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Since he is the VRHS/LOLHS football coach, King was not permitted by Region #4 to coach in the Independent Football League. According to numerous reports, King submits he complied with that ruling and many witnesses have substantiated that statement.

Neviaser noted in his email, “Region #18 has no involvement in any independent sports programs that are not a part of our annual budget.”

The captain of the VRHS/LOLHS co-op football team Jack Cox started a petition on change.org, requesting that Tim King should retain his positions at Valley Regional High School. As at 12 a.m., Nov. 23, more than 2,760 people had signed the petition.

Editor’s Note: *Articles and opinions referenced for this article include:
Three local teams to compete in 11-on-11 Independent Football League by Ned Griffen, published Oct. 23, by The Day.

Players, parents upset that Valley/Old Lyme coach King being forced to resign by Ned Griffen, published Nov. 21, by The Day.

Coach asked to resign for involvement in independent football league by Sean Patrick Bowley, published Nov. 21, in the New Haven Register.

Tim King has the community — and the truth — on his side by Mike DiMauro, published Nov. 23, by The Day.

Valley Regional high school coach asked to resign by school district for involvement in independent football league formed during the pandemic in The Courant.

Letter to the Editor: Saunders in 33rd Embodies ‘Compassion, Wisdom, and Joy’

To the Editor:

Abraham Lincoln said, “before the age of forty, God is responsible for our face, and after the age of forty, we are responsible for our face.” Just looking at Brendan Saunders’ face, the gentleman running for senate in the 33rd district, you will understand what Lincoln meant. Saunders’ face radiates compassion, wisdom, and Joy.

Saunders’ wisdom presents itself with his laser focus and deep understanding of the difficulties of balancing one’s budget in the over-taxed, Democrat-run State of Connecticut. He has pledged to work diligently to cut wasteful spending and cutting Connecticut’s obscene taxes. Deep reforms of energy companies are high on his” fix-the problems” agenda.

Probably the most crucial issue is his devotion to our First Responders. He has pledged to oppose any policies aimed at defunding the police. It takes wisdom to think beyond the emotional and understand the dire ramifications of any such short-sighted legislation or tyrannical edict by a Governor.

Joy. Unlike so many “seasoned elected officials,” Saunders is a joyful human being. What could be better for the 33rd district than a happy warrior fighting for us while armed with acute wisdom and deep compassion? Same old, same old endorsement of the policies that have driven Connecticut into a fiscal mess makes no sense.

Sincerely,

Alison Nichols, M.Div.,
Essex.

Death of David Boyd Ward Jr. Announced; Brother of Hunter Ward Sr., Penny Smyth, Both of Lyme

ESSEX — David Boyd Ward Jr. of Essex, passed away at his home on Friday, September 4, 2020, the day after his 73rd birthday. David was born in Middletown, CT, on September 3, 1947, and was raised in Little Silver, NJ, through age 9, settling in Westbrook, CT, shortly after his father died in 1956 …

… A dedicated student of Impressionism, stirred especially by the work of the artists from the Old Lyme art colony, David began his journey en plein air oil painting, later working with the Lyme Art Association curating and hanging shows …

… He is survived by his son Justin Brant Ward and two grandsons, Race and Marston Ward of Alameda, CA; his brother Hunter Ward Sr. and his wife Cheryl Weaver Ward of Lyme; sister J. Penelope Ward Smyth and her husband Paul J. Smyth of Lyme; and brother Richard H. Lee Jr. and his wife Heidi Booth Lee of Deep River. David is also survived by his niece Kim Ward of Cornelius, NC; and nephews Hunter Ward Jr. (Christina) of Old Lyme; Austin Ward Dienst (Meghan) of Seattle; Richard Newton Lee (Samantha) of Dudley, MA; Seth Joseph Lee (Kimberlee) of Lyme; …

Visit this link to read the full obituary published Oct. 11 in the Hartford Courant.

Musical Masterworks, Community Music School Announce Scholarship Recipient

Elizabeth Steindl (photo submitted)

OLD LYME/OLD SAYBROOK/ESSEX — Musical Masterworks of Old Lyme and Community Music School of Essex have announced the recipient of the fourth annual Musical Masterworks Scholarship in Honor of Nancy D. Thomas.

Elizabeth Steindl, the 2020 recipient of the Musical Masterworks Scholarship in Honor of Nancy D. Thomas, is 11-years-old and in sixth grade at Old Saybrook Middle School.

She studies violin with Martha Herrle at Community Music School, and also plays clarinet in her school band, sings in her school chorus, and is a regular participant in area music camps.  She loves animals, music, and nature.

The Musical Masterworks Scholarship in Honor of Nancy D. Thomas provides the tuition for a middle school student to take 30-minute music lessons for one full year at Community Music School.  The scholarship is awarded annually. 

To be eligible, the candidate must be a student of classical voice or instrumental music and reside in Middlesex County or New London County. 

Community Music School (CMS) offers innovative music programming for infants through adults, building on a 37-year tradition of providing quality music instruction to residents of shoreline communities. CMS programs cultivate musical ability and creativity while providing students with a thorough understanding of music, so they can enjoy playing and listening for their entire lives. 

Learn more at www.cmsct.org or call 860.767.0026.

Musical Masterworks brings to Southern New England world-class chamber music performances and outreach programs which attract, entertain, and educate a diverse audience. Launching its 30th season soon, Musical Masterworks offers five weekends of performances from October through May in Old Lyme. 

Learn more at www.musicalmasterworks.org or call 860.434.2252.

 

Letter From Paris: Back to Normal in France? Not Quite …

Nicole Prévost Logan

 

A Cannes Film Festival turned virtual,  the Roland Garros tennis tournament and Tour de France bicycle race both postponed until September?  France will definitely not be the same this  summer!

Tourism and culture are two of the main sectors of French economy and the pandemic has inflicted a direct blow on both of them.  Hundreds of festivals, sport events, art shows, plays, and concerts or activities linked to historical monuments had to be drastically reduced, presented behind closed doors, or totally cancelled, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work .

But you would not think there is a virus going around when you see the way the French behave.

In Paris, restaurants and bistros spread their terraces across the sidewalks and into the streets.  They mark their space with bushes and flower beds.  Beach umbrellas add color to the scene.  Taking advantage of the warm weather, Parisians hang out outside.

Away from the cities, the French have been seeking  the calm of the countryside, enjoying family gatherings and organizing barbecues with  friends .

Young people could barely wait for the end of the lockdown to have fun in Paris … to huddle on the banks of the Seine or the Canal St Martin, to congregate in open spaces and dance into the night, or to flock to discotheques.  Meanwhile, St Tropez, down on the Riviera coast in the far south of the country, became a particularly hot spot.

People were reluctant to take the subways and, as a result, car traffic has surged.  Bicycles have taken over Paris.  It is likely that this trend will persist, virus or not.

Barely out of the lockdown, one thing was on everybody’s mind … the next vacation.  Every day the media tempted the viewers with sights of clear waters, beaches, and cool mountain trails.  This year the French seem to have rediscovered their own country and become the only tourists there.

It was to be expected that such behavior would have an impact on the evolution of the pandemic.  Clusters have multiplied throughout the country, which led to the specialists warning that the virus was still active.

But the present situation is quite different from what it was at the height of the crisis back in March and April.  The number of  deaths, or severe cases, being treated in the hospitals remains very low.  A general lockdown appears to be out of the question today.

Hospitals are better prepared and treatments made easier for the patients.  Masks and testing are more available.  Central government and local authorities adjust their policies to manage the pandemic in a more flexible way.  For instance, as of this week , Paris and several other large cities require masks to be worn outside in crowded areas.

From this overview of the pandemic in France, let us now change scenery and take a look at some highlights of life in France and Europe over these past months …

Every six years in France, the people are riveted by municipal elections. There are 36,000 communes in France headed by a maire assisted by a conseil municipal. The wide spectrum goes from the highly political Paris town hall, employing 40,000 people — Jacques Chirac headed that institution before becoming president of France — to the tiniest mairie.

The small village on the Dordogne, where one of my daughters lives, had been dormant for the past four decades with an unopposed maire at the wheel. This year however, things were different. The ballot took place in a heated atmosphere.  Participation was high. The scene was like a microcosm of French politics … and the maire was defeated.

In early July, Edouard Philippe stepped down as prime minister. A growing feeling of insecurity and violence has damaged the authority of the French executive. President Macron decided that a major reshuffle was required to bring new faces and methods and thus energize the government prior to the next presidential election.

Even a new voice was welcome. Jean Castex comes from the Pyrenées region and has a southern accent, which the French usually associate with vacations on the Mediterranean. Castex nevertheless is a product of the élite schools, a graduate of Ecole Nationale  d’Administration (ENA). As a high-ranking official, he has held key positions at the very center of power at the Elysée Palace.  He is an old pro — although he does not sound like one.

Over in Poland, Ardrzej Duda, leader of the conservative party Droit et Justice (PIS), was reelected as president on July 12.  The very small margin of his victory – 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent – suggests that it is only a question of time until a liberal, pro-European movement, possibly headed by Rafal Trzaskowski, defeats the authoritarian executive.

In Italy, meanwhile, after 14 months of the disastrous government of populist Matteo Salvini, Giuseppe Conte brought  appeasement as a centrist prime minister, who works well with Brussels.

At 5.30 a.m. on July 22, the 27 members of the European Union (EU) met  in response to a Franco-German initiative.  It was the longest summit in EU history.  Arduous negotiations produced an agreement to inject over $2 trillion into the economy and 360 billion in loans.

The recovery plan of the EU — labeled “Next Generation EU”– is ambitious.  At its core is  a  “Green Pact.”

The plan, which will be implemented gradually along with each year’s budget, includes support of the health system, innovation assistance to viable companies, aid to farmers and fishermen, and 100 billion to help pay for widespread partial unemployment.

Banking rules will be made more flexible to facilitate the borrowing by entrepreneurs.  Right now the European Central Bank (CBE) enjoys a high credit rating, which helps the borrowing process. Margrethe Verstager , Executive Vice President of the EU Commission, will promote a Digital Single Market.

Alstom — a French multinational company operating in rail  transport markets — bought the Canadian company Bombardier.  The merger will create a rival to the giant China Railway Construction  Corporation (CRCC). China is continuing to make inroads in Europe and just invested in Portugal’s trams.

Overall the numbers of the European economic recovery are impressive:  together Brussels plus the 27 EU national governments will inject 40,000 billion Euros into the economy — far more than the US or even China

The “frugals”– the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Finland — fought tooth and nail against transfers of funds from the richer North to the South.  Dutch prime minister Mark Rutt stressed that the 750 billion Euros were not a blank check to weaker economies like Italy’s  — whose vertiginous debt is 240 percent of its GDP — but an investment plan to be controlled by Brussels.

Concessions had to be made.  The “frugals” received a rebate in their annual contribution to the European budget.  But the real beneficiaries are Poland and Hungary, who keep receiving money in spite of their frequent violation of the rule of law.

Recent developments show how fragile — but also resilient — the EU is.  Even the “Eurosceptics” do not want to let go of  their profitable membership in the “club .” But the real strength of the EU is that it constitutes a huge market, the largest trading block of the world.  The richer EU economies need the tariff-free Single Market.  Germany relies particularly on Lombardy  for its exports.  Maybe the EU should learn from  Alexander Hamilton who advocated the “mutualization” of the sovereign debts of the States to make the federation stronger?

And finally … on Aug. 21, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel met at the medieval Fort de Brégançon, the summer residence of French presidents.  On this late summer day, they seemed to enjoy this picturesque spot on the Mediterranean  to meet for five working hours.  They reiterated the unity of their policy at this complicated time.

At unprecedented speed, France and Germany led the EU in its mediation to support the protests following the Belarus elections.  They also acted swiftly also in flying Alexei Novalny, who is in a coma, to a hospital in Germany for treatment of a possible poisoning by the Russian government.

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.

Ivoryton Women Playwrights Festival Now Accepting Submissions for 2021; Positions as Directors, Readers Also Open

IVORYTON — The Ivoryton Playhouse has announced their Fifth Annual Ivoryton Women Playwrights Festival (IWPF.) Submissions of one-act plays by women playwrights are sought.
The IWPF provides the four writers whose work is chosen paid travel to Ivoryton and housing while there, three days of intensive workshops with a director and actors for play development and participation in a staged reading festival in February/March 2021 (actual dates to be determined).
There is also a $500 stipend.
Ten-minute plays are acceptable, and all plays must run no more than one hour.
Completed manuscripts must be submitted by email only.  Closing date for submissions is Aug. 30, 2020.
Interested playwrights should email a completed manuscript, (for musicals include a script and music file), with name and contact information.
The IWPF also seeks resumes from directors (Connecticut residents only), and those interested in being readers, both men and women.

Play submissions, resumes from directors and interested readers should be emailed to Jacqui Hubbard, Artistic Director at jhubbard@ivorytonplayhouse.org

Wyman of Old Lyme Appointed Community Music School Executive Director, “Thrilled to Come Home”

Dr. Richard Wyman, the new Executive Director of the Community Music School based in Centerbrook.

OLD LYME — Dr. Richard Wyman of Old Lyme has been appointed the new Executive Director of the Community Music School (CMS) located in Centerbrook. He took over the reins of the organization in the mid-May after serving for several years as Musical Masterworks General Director.

Wyman has a long history of involvement in both playing and conducting music professionally along with community-based music learning. He began his music studies at the prestigious Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., where he obtained his undergraduate degree in music education and then moved to the University of Illinois to pursue a masters degree in music.

Subsequently, he moved back East when he joined the US Coast Guard (CG) Band  as a baritone saxophonist in the late 1990s. Back then, Wyman also taught saxophone for a number of years at CMS but in 2004, he was appointed Assistant Director of the USCG band and opted to focus on his new position along with studying conducting at the University of Connecticut where he earned a Doctorate of Musical Arts.

In his role as USCG Band Assistant Director, Wyman led educational concerts for thousands of students.

After retiring from the SCG in 2018, Wyman first took the position with Musical Masterworks and now he has come full circle back to the CMS.  He is still continuing his music education, however, since he is currently studying arts administration at UConn.

Wyman says he is, “Thrilled to ‘come home’ to CMS,” and is looking forward to all the challenges and opportunities that the job offers. These latter involve continuing to run the school’s teaching program online and running the spring “Friends of Note” campaign, which is devoted to “COVID-19 Relief” for CMS through the summer. He points out that a gift to this $50K campaign will, “Provide payroll (for staff and instructors), mortgage payments, maintenance of our facilities, and … most importantly, support of the wonderful instruction and music-making,” by CMS faculty and students.

Asked to explain his passion for both music and music education, Wyman says, “Throughout my adult life, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with understanding music’s essential role in the living of a fulfilling life,” noting, “Whether it was through performing as saxophonist in amusement parks (which he did at both Disney World and Busch Gardens many years ago), conducting/hosting USCG Band educational performances, or witnessing the joy music brings to members of the CMS “New Horizons” Band.”

Wyman lives in Old Lyme with his clarinetist/pianist wife Erin and their three boys, the eldest of whom has just graduated from Lyme-Old Lyme High School (LOLHS). The younger two are respectively at LOLHS and Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School and all three, in Wyman’s words, “Study music as important parts of their educations and lives.”

Editor’s Note: Community Music School is located at 90 Main St., Building 4, Centerbrook, and also 179 Flanders Rd., Ste. 3 East Lyme. For more information on CMS, call 860-767-0026 or visit the school’s website.

If you wish to donated to the “Friends of Note’ campaign, call Wyman at 860-767-0026 to discuss giving opportunities, or donate online at cmsct.org/support.

Incumbent State Sen. Needleman Nominated Unanimously to Run Again for 33rd Senate District Seat, Includes Lyme

State Senator Norm Needleman (D-33rd)

LYME — (Based on a Press Release released by Sen. Needleman’s office) On May 22, State Senator Norm Needleman (D-Essex) was unanimously endorsed for re-election to the 33rd State Senate District by Democratic delegates.

First elected to the State Senate seat in 2018, Sen. Needleman represents the towns of Lyme along with Colchester, Chester, Clinton, Essex, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, Old Saybrook, Westbrook and Portland.

Needleman will be challenged by Republican Brendan Saunders, who is running for the Senate for the first time, although he has been involved in numerous Republican campaigns. Saunders received unanimous endorsement for his candidacy at the Republican District Convention, May 18,

“The need for strong, effective leadership in the State Senate has never been more important than now, due to the crisis created by COVID-19,” says Sen. Needleman in the press release announcing his endorsement, noting, “In my time at the General Assembly, I’ve worked in a bipartisan manner to tackle our most difficult challenges. More now than ever, I believe that inclusive, non-partisan dialogue is what’s needed to solve tough problems. This ‘makes sense perspective characterizes my approach to representing our district in the State Senate.”

He continues, “That’s why I’m anxious to continue my service at the Capitol to help our state recover from this once-in-a-century crisis.  Doing so requires knowledge of town operating procedures, experience in managing local resources and skill in business planning. As your State Senator, I’m utilizing my expertise in those areas to help constituents and small businesses navigate state and federal assistance programs, as well as connect people with the resources they need to sustain their livelihoods and support their health during the pandemic.”

Sen. Needleman serves as Deputy President Pro Tempore, Senate Chair of the Energy & Technology Committee, Vice-Chair of the Planning & Development Committee, and is a member of the Commerce, Finance Revenue & Bonding, and Transportation Committees.

He also serves as First Selectman of the Town of Essex.

Sen. Needleman has been instrumental in the passage of a bill bringing wind energy generation to Connecticut. This legislation enables up to 40 percent of future energy needs to come from carbon-free renewable energy and creates a new industry for Connecticut. Needleman states it could add as much as $2 billion to the state’s economy, bringing with it thousands of skilled, well-paying jobs.

Citing other successes benefiting the 33rd District that he has supported, Needleman mentions allowing first responders, police officers, and firefighters to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and assisting passage of a bill raising the age of access for tobacco products from 18 to 21, protecting youths from addiction.

Needleman also sponsored and enacted legislation holding energy companies accountable for prompt responses to power outages and formulated policy solutions to protect rivers and lakes from invasive species.

As founder and CEO of Connecticut-based Tower Laboratories, Needleman has created over 100 well-paying manufacturing jobs directly in the 33rd Senate District.

Ivoryton Playhouse Cancels Its 2020 Season

Ivoryton Playhouse has cancelled its 2020 season. Photo by Brian J. Wilson .

IVORYTON — (from a press release) On March 18, 2020, The Ivoryton Playhouse planned to open its doors for the start of a whole new season but the universe had other plans. The Playhouse has been closed down by the state and the virus since March 16, and waiting to hear if they may be able to produce a limited season in the summer or fall.

Heading into summer with the likelihood of producing growing slimmer every day, the Playhouse has made the difficult decision to cancel their 2020 season. If the world has changed enough for them to produce next year, then they will attempt 2020 Part 2 and hope to be able to produce everything they were prevented from producing this year – with bells on!

The Ivoryton Playhouse has been producing theatre for 90 years. The only years it went dark were during the Second World War and in 1977 when the future of the theatre hung in the balance and it was almost knocked down to make way for a drug store. But it has survived, through all of these challenges, and is confident of its return – stronger and enriched by this unprecedented experience.

All ticket holders will be contacted over the next couple of weeks. For more information, email info@ivorytonplayhouse.org

Reading Uncertainly? “The Cockroach” by Ian McEwan

Cockroaches have successfully inhabited this earth for more than 300 million years and are like to continue to do so for millions more, so long as it exists. But what about their working relationship with Homo sapiens, we relative newcomers?

Ian McEwan, one of my favorite authors, suggests in this political satire that they may well take matters into their own hands (six each) in order to preserve their habitat. With the growing chaotic conditions in England, a group of cockroaches living in relative splendor in the bowels of the “pleasantly decaying” Palace of Westminster decide to act.

One, in particular, leaves “the floorboards, safety and solace among millions of its siblings” to make the treacherous crawl to Number 10 Downing Street, through a crack in the front door, up several flights of stairs and into the bedroom, where it (he) then takes over the body of and becomes the Prime Minister. Several of his mates also take over other government officials.

Their goal: make the United Kingdom (or what’s left if it) adopt a radical new economic policy called “Reversalism:” “Let the money flow be reversed and the entire economic system, even the nation itself, will be purified, purged of absurdities, waste and injustice.” It will be “forbidden by law to hoard cash.” “Bank deposits will attract high negative interest rates.” “The government sends out tax gifts to its workers.” You will pay an employer to take a job. You will be paid to take food and goods. In other words, spend!

The Prime Minister (appropriately named “Jim Sams” from Franz Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, in Metamorphosis) then plans a telephone call to the President of the United States to try and persuade him to adopt this new economic policy. “It was 6 p.m. in Washington. The president would be busy watching television and might not appreciate the interruption.”

But Sams went ahead, background noise and all. The conversation was, as he reported, “all poetry, smoothly combining density of meaning with fleet-footed liberation from detail …  There was nothing more liberating than a closely knit sequence of lies.” The president is never named, but the PM is interrupted when he starts to ask, “How is Mel—“

At the end of this brief exposition, our cockroach leaves the body of the Prime Minister and crawls safely back to its compatriots at the Palace, secure in the knowledge that universal adoption of Reversalism will result in a dramatic reduction of the human species on this earth, thus assuring the continuity of cockroaches.

 A delightful, challenging, and worrisome satire.

Editor’s Note: “The Cockroach” by Ian McEwan is published by Anchor Books, New York 2019

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction, a subject which explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there.
For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

Community Music School Announces Online Music Lessons

It’s never too late to learn an instrument. Photo by Derek Truninger on Unsplash

CENTERBROOK – Community Music School (CMS) has successfully transitioned all private music lessons to an online platform and now welcomes new students to take advantage of this program. Weekly music lessons can provide a sense of normalcy while at home, and learning a new instrument or picking one back up again can provide a source of joy during these challenging times.

All lessons are taught on Zoom with a password-protected waiting room to ensure everyone’s safety.

To get started, contact CMS with the student’s age, instrument, level, and availability and CMS will set you up with an instructor.

Community Music School accepts students of all ages and abilities, on almost all instruments.

For additional informationvisit www.cmsct.org/online or call CMS at 860-767-0026.

Editor’s Note: Community Music School offers innovative music programming for infants through adults, building on a 37year-tradition of providing quality music instruction to residents of shoreline communities. CMS programs cultivate musical ability and creativity, and provide students with a thorough understanding of music so they can enjoy playing and listening for their entire lives. 

Register Now for ‘Race Against Hunger Virtual 5K’ to Benefit Connecticut Food Bank

WALLINGFORD/OLD LYME/LYME — Connecticut Food Bank and JB Sports are teaming up to host a virtual 5K to help feed Connecticut residents struggling with hunger during this critical time. The Race Against Hunger Virtual 5K will run from April 13 through April 19 and is presented by Stop & Shop.

Event proceeds will help Connecticut Food Bank as it faces increased operational costs to source, transport, and distribute food. In recent weeks, demand for food across Connecticut Food Bank’s network of 600 partners and programs has grown due to job losses and to increased need to have food on hand to sustain households that may need to shelter in place for extended periods.

Race Against Hunger is a virtual event perfectly suited for a time when people are encouraged to avoid crowded public settings. Participants can register and run or walk at any time between April 13 and April 19 at a location of their choosing. Participants complete their run or walk and send in their results and the event coordinator will compile a results database. 

Participants of Race Against Hunger may register any time before April 19 and run at any point between April 13 and April 19. JB Sports and Connecticut Food Bank ask participants to follow current health recommendations and avoid running or walking closer than six feet from anyone during their virtual run or walk.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented economic challenges for our communities,” said Beverly Catchpole, Senior Director of Development for Connecticut Food Bank. “We invite people to join our virtual 5K and help us continue to meet the growing need among our neighbors.”

Race Against Hunger is organized by Connecticut Food Bank and JB Sports.

“As we try to navigate through the challenges that coronavirus has brought to our lives, it is more important now than ever that we work together to help our neighbors whose lives have been impacted,” said Rudy DiPietro, Senior Vice President of Sales & Operations at Stop & Shop. “We are proud to be teaming up with Connecticut Food Bank in the Race Against Hunger to ensure all of our neighbors have access to food and nourishment.”

JB Sports, one of the top event management companies in Connecticut, also coordinates the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race and PLR Shamrock & Roll 5K.

Race Against Hunger is presented by Stop & Shop, with additional support from Webster Bank, Prudential, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, ConnectiCare, IRIS, Barrett Outdoor Communications, 99.1PLR, Star 99.9, WEBE 108, WICC 600, 95.9 The FOX and 94.3 WYBC.

To learn more about Race Against Hunger, visit www.jbsports.com or email kaitlin@jbsports.com

Editor’s Notes:
i) Connecticut Food Bank is committed to alleviating hunger in Connecticut by providing food resources, raising awareness of the challenges of hunger, and advocating for people who need help meeting basic needs. Connecticut Food Bank partners with the food industry, food growers, donors, and volunteers to distribute nutritious food to people in need. The Connecticut Food Bank distributes food through a network of 600 partners and programs in Fairfield, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London, and Windham counties – where nearly 270,000 people struggle with hunger. Last year, Connecticut Food Bank distributed food to help provide 22.5 million meals. Visit us on the web at www.ctfoodbank.org, like us on Facebook and follow @CTFoodBank on Twitter and Instagram

ii) A neighborhood grocer for more than 100 years, today’s Stop & Shop is refreshed, reenergized and inspired, delivering new conveniences for customers. Committed to helping its communities enjoy better food and better lives, Stop & Shop has a longstanding history of giving back to the neighborhoods it serves with a focus on fighting hunger and helping children to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company LLC is an Ahold Delhaize USA Company and employs nearly 60,000 associates and operates over 400 stores throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. To learn more about Stop & Shop, visit www.stopandshop.com

Closures & Cancellations: Latest News

We are being inundated with closures and cancellations, and so will run all the new ones together in this post and then prepare a summary at the end of the day.

Ivoryton Playhouse: Opening of Forbidden Broadway Comes to Ivoryton scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, has been postponed.

Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, “The Kate”: All performances through April 30 are postponed.

South Lyme Union Chapel: Lenten Soup Night, scheduled for Monday, March 16, from 5 to 7 p.m. is cancelled

SECWAC (Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council): March 20 and 26 programs cancelled.

Essex Winter Series Presents LINÜ Guitar Duo This Afternoon

LINÜ Guitar Duo comprises Jiji (left in photo above) and Gulli Bjornsson.

DEEP RIVER/ESSEX Essex Winter Series (EWS) presents its Fenton Brown Emerging Artists Concert, featuring LINÜ, a vibrant and talented guitar duo comprised of Gulli Bjornsson and Jiji, on Sunday, March 8 at 3 p.m. at John Winthrop Middle School, Deep River. 

Gulli Bjornsson and Jiji are two aspiring young artists searching for new ways to promote classical music. Both virtuosic and versatile, they have received multiple accolades for their guitar playing and have backgrounds in composition, film, electronic music, visual arts and theater.

Their diverse backgrounds, classical training and contemporary influences all come to fruition as Bjornsson and Jiji present unique programs of classical music, improvisations, arrangements and new compositions on classical and electric guitars. In recital, they have performed in a wide array of venues, including: Le Poisson Rouge, National Sawdust, Dominican Guest Concert Series, Morse Recital Hall, Mengi, Hannesarholt, Yale British Art Gallery, East Meadow Public Library and Yale Cabaret.

Bjornsson and Jiji met at Yale School of Music in 2015 and have been performing together and creating music ever since. Their primary teacher was Benjamin Verdery.

The EWS season will continue on March 29 at Valley Regional High School with BeethovenFest, a celebration of Beethoven’s 250th with seven world-renowned artists: David Shiffrin, clarinet; William Purvis, horn; Marc Goldberg, bassoon; Ida Kavafian, violin; Steven Tenenbom, viola; Peter Wiley, cello; and Timothy Cobb, double bass.

All concerts begin at 3 p.m. and are general admission. For tickets call 860-272-4572 or visit www.essexwinterseries.com.

The 2020 season is generously sponsored by Masonicare at Chester Village with co-sponsors The Clark Group, Essex Meadows, Essex Savings Bank, Jeffrey N. Mehler CFP LLC, Tower Laboratories, and hospitality sponsors Guilford Savings Bank and BrandTech Scientific.

Fourth Annual Festival of Women’s Plays Takes Place at Ivoryton Playhouse Today

Sharon Goulner’s play is Savior.

IVORYTON:  The Ivoryton Playhouse has announced the date of its Fourth Annual Women
Playwrights Initiative – 4 x 4 in 2020.

Over 170 plays from all over the country were submitted to the initiative and the four finalists will be traveling to Ivoryton from Washington State, California, Indiana and Maryland to have their work presented in a series of staged reading on Saturday, Feb. 22, with a snow date of Sunday, Feb. 23.

The Initiative includes the Ellie Award and a $500 stipend for each of the four women playwrights chosen and provides a safe, nurturing environment for the development of new, one-act plays with a director and actors.

The plays are by and about women and the issues that shape their lives, and the workshop culminates in a festival of staged readings, which will take place at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, CT 06422.

Crystal V. Rhodes’s play is 1200 miles to Jerome.

At 2 p.m., there will be two readings presented.  Savior by Sharon Goldner finds two modern moms at a yoga class dealing with an absurd yet very familiar situation – what do you do when your five-year-old tells you he is the messiah?

1200 miles to Jerome by Crystal V. Rhodes relates the daunting experience of the Franklin family, who are traveling through the Deep South with a fugitive in tow in the 1940s. It is a journey in which “driving while black” could mean the difference between life and death.

At 7 p.m., the festival will continue witha  performance of Court by Holly Arsenault, which takes an intimate look at divorce and custody battles from a child’s unique, funny and raw perspective.

Deanna and Paul by Dagney Kerr concludes the event. In this play, Deanna is a quirky waitress with a strict no tipping policy and Paul a surly customer with a tight lid on his heart. Their lonely worlds collide one day in a small-town diner, where one cup of coffee can change everything.

To purchase tickets for the Women Playwrights Festival, call 860.767.7318 or visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

Holly Arsenault’s play is Court.

Tickets are priced as follows: $20 — adult; $15 — senior; $10 — student for one performance.

Buy tickets for both performances at these special prices: $30 — adult; $25 — senior; $10 — student. Call the box office at 860.767.7318 to book two-performance packages.

Check the Playhouse website for additional workshops and special festival deals with local restaurants.

The Ivoryton Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT  06442.

Dagney Kerr’s play is Deanna and Paul.

For more information about the Women Playwrights Initiative and to read biographies of the playwrights, visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org

Essex Winter Series Continues with Concert by Classical Guitar Duo, LINÜ, March 8

ESSEX – The Essex Winter Series (EWS) season continues March 8 with the classical guitar duo, LINÜ, performing at John Winthrop Middle School, Deep River. The virtuosic and versatile Gulli Bjornsson and JIJI are aspiring young artists searching for new ways to promote classical music. They have received many accolades for their guitar playing and have backgrounds in composition, film, electronic music, visual arts and theater.

Essex Winter Series’ 43rd season concludes on March 29 at Valley Regional High School with BeethovenFest, a celebration of Beethoven’s 250th with seven world-renowned artists: David Shiffrin, clarinet; William Purvis, horn; Marc Goldberg, bassoon; Ida Kavafian, violin; Steven Tenenbom, viola; Peter Wiley, cello; and Timothy Cobb, double bass.

All concerts begin at 3 p.m. and are general admission. For tickets call 860-272-4572 or visit www.essexwinterseries.com.

The 2020 season is generously sponsored by Masonicare at Chester Village with co-sponsors The Clark Group, Essex Meadows, Essex Savings Bank, Jeffrey N. Mehler CFP LLC, Tower Laboratories, and hospitality sponsors Guilford Savings Bank and BrandTech Scientific.

Letter From Paris: France is Embroiled in a Pension Reform Crisis, But Seems to be Doing Fine … or is it?

Nicole Prévost Logan

Reform of the retirement system was at the core of French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2016 campaign. He wanted to simplify the system and make it universal. The reform is so highly sensitive – one might even say explosive – that several prime ministers have fallen in similar attempts (1986, 1995, 2008.) Although close to 60 percent of public opinion is favorable to the reforms, the opposition is orchestrated into an angry movement by the unions and the Left.  

In a nutshell, the objective of the reform is two-fold: first, to prevent the system from being in the red in the 2020s and second to achieve social justice. This latter aim is being sought by suppressing the 42 régimes spéciaux (special systems), which grant privileges to certain groups of the population, such as civil servants, train workers (SNCF) bus and subway employees (RATP), personnel of the Paris Opera, members of the two legislative assemblies, etc. Some of these benefits include calculating the amount of retirement after the last six months of employment rather than the last 25 years.  And not surprisingly, these régimes spéciaux cost the French government billions every year.

The pension system in France is based on “repartition,” meaning that the active population pays for the retired one.  The problem is that in 1950, there were four working people for each retiree. Demography will soon reduce the ratio to 1 to 1.  In the US, the retirement system is based on “capitalization,” that is, individuals are free to invest their accumulated capital in a pension fund or other types of investment as they wish.  The Scandinavian countries use both systems – “capitalization” and “repartition”- simultaneously. 

For an American reader, it must be hard to comprehend the over-regulated retirement system in France, which applies not only to the 5.6 million civil servants  but also to the private sector.  A special dispensation is even required for retirees to be allowed to work.

The Macron plan is based on a points system.  Throughout one’s professional life, each hour’s work is translated into “points.” Variables – such as the political or economic environment – may impact the points’ value.  Employers and unions will determine together the value of each point.  Hence the anxiety of the people regarding this unfamiliar system.

France has the most generous retirement pension in Europe but it’s costing the country dearly. Photo by Hans Ripa on Unsplash.

France is the ‘Etat-providence’ (Welfare State) par excellence and the most generous in Europe.  The retirement age is 62 in France as compared to 65 in the UK.  It can be as low as 52 as in the case of train conductors.  More than 13 percent of the Gross Domestic Product is devoted to funding pensions.

The French government announced its plan to reform pensions on Dec. 5, 2019.  The reaction was immediate:- a general strike of all public transport. That meant no subway in Paris, except for two lines (which are automated), no buses, and very few trains.  That ordeal lasted for weeks without even a respite during the Christmas and New Year vacations.  Life for working people, who had to commute from the suburbs, became a pure nightmare.  Videos showed stampede scenes at stations.

On Jan. 28, 2020  the Gare de Lyon was packed as usual with passengers waiting for TGVs and suburban trains.  Suddenly a deafening sound resonated under the glass and steel structure.  Several explosions followed and pink smoke filled the station.  It turned out that dozens of the men getting off the train, wearing black parkas with yellow stripes, were firefighters on their way to join a demonstration at the Bastille. They were just getting warmed up, using their talents with pyrotechnics to blast powerful fire-crackers. 

After 50 days, the strikes had partially stopped.  The street demonstrations continued and have become a way of life in the city.  The left-wing unions and radical groups keep the momentum going and direct their actions to strategic areas such as blocking the main ports or shutting down oil refineries .

Tens of thousands people in black robes marched near the Bastille on Feb. 3.  They were some of France’s 70,000 lawyers, who have been on strike for five weeks – an absolute first.  The atmosphere was peaceful.  Not a single policeman in sight, no police vans nor water guns. 

I went down to take pictures.  ‘Why are you on strike?’  I asked a young lawyer. ‘We have our own retirement system,’ she answered, ‘which is autonomous and, furthermore, has a surplus.  Now the government has announced that the contributions toward the pension fund will double from 14 to 28 percent.’ Actually, what she said is not entirely accurate — the increase will be gradual: it will not start until the late 2020s and will not apply to all equally. 

French President Emmanuel Macron.

The launching of this crucial pension reform is like stepping into an anthill.  Wherever the government goes, it cuts into well-entrenched benefits, provoking an outpouring of protests.  Every time the government helps one group financially, this assistance has to be paid for by depriving another group.  This in turn feeds the popular mistrust for the government . 

After consultation with all the unions at the Hotel Matignon (seat of the Executive Power), an agreement was reached with the CFDT (Confederation Française Democratique du Travail), the most reformist of the unions.  For Laurent Berger, the CFDT leader,  the “age pivot” (retirement age) of 64 was a “red line” not to be crossed.  The Prime Minister agreed to pull back from it and replace it with a “cocktail of measures” to generate 12 billion Euros in order to balance the pension system. 

A parliamentary commission  of 80 deputies from all parties from the RN (Rassemblement National of Marine LePen) to LFI (La France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Melanchon) was appointed.  The government’s proposal was met with a ridiculous number of 22,000 amendments, (19,000 by LFI alone.)  Their obvious strategy was total obstruction of the process.  A general debate in the Parliament will follow.  If time runs out because of the municipal elections in 36,000 towns on March 15, the Prime Minister may resort to Executive Orders. 

In this crisis, I believe both sides are to blame: the government’s project may not have been prepared well enough and appeared confusing.  The opposition consistently refuses to enter any dialogue.  It is a French cultural trait:- first you flex your muscles then – possibly – you may be willing to come to the negotiating table.  But keep in mind that compromise is a dirty word in France.

The proposed retirement reform has somehow triggered other requests.  Seeing an opportunity, demands for higher wages and benefits are snowballing.  Some teachers in public schools are striking for pay raises.  These school students take their cue from their teachers and march in the street, or block their classrooms to protect their future pension rights — an odd sight indeed for 12- or 13-year olds!

The unrest (accompanied by violence) is dragging on.  There does not seem to be an end to it.

France appears to be functioning on two different levels — on the one hand, there is a France of  angry people, who feel very sorry for themselves. On the other, there is a dynamic France doing rather well, which has become economically attractive to foreign investors thanks primarily to labor market reforms. 

At the same time, Macron has chosen to keep above the in-fighting and focus on his role as the president of the only nuclear power of Europe, strengthening its defense and security while seeking a more integrated European Union.

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.

State Sen. Needleman Announces Candidacy for Re-election in 33rd District, Includes Lyme

State Senator Norm Needleman (D-33rd)

ESSEX/LYME — State Senator Norm Needleman (D-Essex) announced his candidacy yesterday for re-election to the 33rd State Senate District. First elected to his seat in 2018, Senator Needleman represents the town of Lyme along with those of Colchester, Chester, Clinton, Essex, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Haddam, Old Saybrook, Westbrook, and Portland.

“It is an honor to be able to represent the 33rd Senatorial District, and I’m excited to continue serving my constituents,” said Sen. Needleman. “My time in the General Assembly has been an incredible experience, and I truly enjoy fighting for my district to ensure we build a stronger future for them and all the citizens of Connecticut. I humbly ask my constituents for the opportunity to do so for another term.”

Needleman serves as Senate Chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, Vice Chair of the Planning and Development Committee, and is a member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding, Transportation, and Commerce Committees.

Artist Director Mihae Lee Celebrates 10 Years with Essex Winter Series, 2020 Season Opens Today

Essex Winter Series Artistic Director Mihae Lee.

DEEP RIVER – Essex Winter Series’ (EWS) 43rd season marks a milestone for Artistic Director and pianist, Mihae Lee, who celebrates her 10th year of programming for EWS.

The 2020 season opens with a concert by Lee joined by esteemed violinist Ani Kavafian and 11 performers who have all been a part of EWS’ Emerging Artists program. The concert takes place Sunday, Jan. 12 at 3 p.m. at Valley Regional High School in Deep River and will feature Copland’s Appalachian Spring and Schubert’s Trout Quintet.

The Emerging Artists – young, up-and-coming musicians – have all performed at past concerts and most have participated in EWS’ community outreach program. Many attained degrees from Yale School of Music and The Juilliard School.

Performing on Jan. 12 are Yoobin Son, flute; Romie de Guise-Langlois, clarinet; Adrian Morejon, bassoon; Katie Hyun, violin; Edson Scheid, violin; Keiko Tokunaga, violin; Andy Lin, viola; Joann Whang, cello; Luke Fleming, viola; Mihai Marica, cello; and Joe Magar, double bass.

The EWS season continues on Feb. 16 with the Stu Ingersoll Jazz Concert at Valley Regional High School in Deep River featuring the Jeff Barnhart/Jim Fryer International All-Star Jazz Band performing music of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The band of seven seasoned players includes Grammy-winning, New York jazz icon Vince Giordano.

On March 8, the classical guitar duo LINÜ performs at John Winthrop Middle School in Deep River. Gulli Bjornsson and JIJI are two aspiring young artists searching for new ways to promote classical music. Both virtuosic and versatile, Gulli and Jiyeon have received multiple accolades for their guitar playing and have backgrounds in composition, film, electronic music, visual arts and theater.

The final concert of the season is BeethovenFest, a celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary on March 29 at Valley Regional High School with seven world-renowned artists. Performing Serenade for String Trio in D Major and Septet in E-Flat Major are David Shiffrin, clarinet; William Purvis, horn; Marc Goldberg, bassoon; Ida Kavafian, violin; Steven Tenenbom, viola; Peter Wiley, cello; and Timothy Cobb, double bass.

All concerts begin at 3 p.m. and are general admission. For tickets, call 860-272-4572 or visit www.essexwinterseries.com.

The 2020 season is generously sponsored by Masonicare at Chester Village with co-sponsors The Clark Group, Essex Meadows, Essex Savings Bank, Jeffrey N. Mehler CFP LLC, Tower Laboratories, and hospitality sponsors Guilford Savings Bank, and BrandTech Scientific.