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Economy

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Là où réside le vrai scandale

by Patrick Apel-Muller

Where The Real Scandal Lies

Translated Wednesday 14 July 2010, by Claire Scammell and reviewed by Bill Scoble

We expected nothing from Nicolas Sarkozy, and we are not disappointed. Weeks of intensive propaganda concerning public spending had paved the way for the unveiling of the president’s pensions plans. When the final draft was made public, its reception was overwhelmingly hostile.

This counter-reform is the grand finale of a hyper-austerity policy which intends to take public services to pieces, to cut hundreds of thousands of civil service jobs and to freeze salaries, all in order to wipe the debt born of the “aid” offered to the financial system and members of France’s rich list.

The symbolic measure, presented on the 16th of June, is the setting back of the retirement age from sixty (the legal age established by the socialist president Mitterand in 1981) to sixty-two years. And to follow, a stream of measures further implicating one of the major gains of the twentieth century.

“I was elected to solve France’s problems”, crowed the president on Monday during a live interview with the oddly obliging journalist David Pujadas. And what does Sarkozy have to brag about, apart from having aggravated said problems, that is? The injustice of it! It is this that the French find so hard to bear.

The wealth of the 500 wealthiest families in France – these also being France’s leading business owners – has, according to Challenge magazine, increased by 25% between 2008 & 2009, growing from 194 billion euros to 214 billion.

At the top of the pile, Bernard Arnault, chairman of the conglomerate LVMH (and worth 27.7 billion) is getting ready to welcome Jacques Chirac to his board of directors. Second in the rankings, Gérard Mulliez and family (founders of the retail group Auchan and worth 19 billion) do not have any big right-wing names on their payroll, unlike the third on the list, the poor Liliane Bettencourt (15.5 billion) who has had no end of miseries with her small workforce; she can, however, can count on the discretion of her wealth manager, who just happens to be the wife of the UMP treasurer. If the president has “upset interests”, it’s not these. “We don’t have the means” he moaned on Monday. Well, it depends who’s asking...

In the end, this is where the scandal lies, in the great gap between those from whom the smallest of benefits are removed and a micro-minority of the super wealthy to whom everything is given, as if everything were their due.

The governement can from now on add their own events to the story – releasing police statements, publicizing a report by the General Financial Inspection office on a tax evasion scandal involving Mrs Bettencourt (which proved nothing), or depicting imaginary plots. That is not first and foremost what concerns and outrages public opinion.

What is evident is that the constant collusion between the power of the wealthy and the power of the right can no longer be hidden. Even the most lenient of magistrates couldn’t manage it...

Two minsters already have jumped ship. Eric Woerth is hanging on for now but planning on running away, abandoning the UMP treasury and the comfort of the centre circle which brings together the billionaires subscribed to the finances of the presidential party.

Slipping in the polls, President Sarkozy is making concessions in the interests of saving his pension reform, which the MEDEF (union for employers in France) has called for so passionately! And to think, on Sunday the UMP lost the traditionally right-wing seat of Rambouillet to a left-wing candidate!

We can now scrutinize, with something between delight and nausea, the evasions and pretenses that are Sarkozy’s answers to the ‘scandal’. But it is elsewhere that the political period just now opening up will be settled: on the petitions pages against the pension reform, and in the gigantic forum that those who oppose the reform want to open up during the summer. Also, on the 7th of September during the union protests, and in Paris the following weekend, the biggest possible meeting to oppose the government’s activities will take place.


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