All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Bring back Lord Palmerston

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (17...Image via Wikipedia
The media are full of the demonstrations against the proposed pension reforms in France with crowds filling the streets of every major town, but I can't get very worked up about it.

There is nothing very exciting about French mass demonstrations. They are very well organised and each band of marchers carries its identifying poster.....the name of its union and the workplace from which the marchers come. The police march at the head of the columns so that they can't be asked to count how many people have turned up and a good day out is had by all.
The chanting isn't very inspiring, either, so the only element of surprise comes in the unofficial placards carried by the less regimented among the marchers......all sorts of clever stuff about offering retirement to Sarkozy, references to the ballooning Bettencourt scandal which involves the minister currently handling pension reform and the one I liked best, which just about summed up the mood of the nation....


Demonstrations of this sort do nothing to change things. They just demonstrate that the unions are good at turning out the numbers as part of their bargaining game with government.
It certainly isn't the nation in arms. The nation is at home watching it on the television.
Just about everyone thinks that something has to be done about funding future pensions, but no one agrees on what it is, when it should happen and who should be clobbered.
Everyone agrees, however, that it shouldn't be them.

I strongly suspect that one of the major reasons for not sacking Monsieur Woerth, the minister responsible for pension reform and well filled brown envelopes, intimately acquainted with most of the actors in the Bettencourt saga and up to his neck in showing the rich how to conduct vanishing tricks with their money, is that French pension reform has become the modern equivalent of the Schleswig Holstein question, of which Lord Palmerston is reputed to have said that only three people understood what it was all about...Albert, Queen Victoria's Prince Consort, who was dead.....a German professor who had gone mad...and Palmerston himself, who had forgotten all about it.
In this case, the only person who seems to understand it is Monsieur Woerth and that knowledge is what is keeping him in a job.

What I can get worked up about is the mysterious affair of President Sarkozy's birth certificate.

Someone in the benighted town which is being ruined and despoiled by its council and leading citizens referred to here felt he had had a raw deal at the hands of a couple of powerful civil servants, a councillor, and two lawyers.
Not unusual...this is France where such people make a habit of handing out raw deals to anyone who can't hit back.
To express his displeasure, the person in question sent copies of Sarkozy's birth certificate to the objects of his animosity.
Now, why shouldn't he?
It might sound daft, and I am still puzzled as to why the receipt of Sarkozy's birth certificate should be expected to make someone blench and call for the brandy bottle, but whom does it harm?

It turns out to harm the person who sent them.

One of the lawyers complained to the police with the result that all usual activities....following a woman driver round the town for forty minutes to hand out a fine for not having both brake lights working.....walking very fast the other way when the yahoos with pitbulls emerge from the lovely old houses that have been turned into slums.....avoiding the supermarket car parks when the gyppos are in residence....were cancelled and it was all hands to the pump to unearth the perpetrator of this heinous offence.

For offence it is claimed to be.

The lawyer claims...and the local prosecutor agrees....that the person concerned has usurped the identity of those to whom the certificates were sent by representing himself as being the people to whom the certificates were sent when he applied for them online...if you see what I mean.

That'll learn him to bother his betters.

This is the face of France you don't see referred to by the 'living the dream' wallahs.

The mean minded petty spite exercised by those with power.
The outrage that they feel when their power is challenged.
The lengths the system will go to to punish affronts to their dignity.

But there is something more to this than meets the eye.
I could be wrong as, not being French, I have never had occasion to do  this but I thought that when you apply for a copy of a birth certificate which is not your own, relating to a birth which took place in the last one hundred years, you needed to show some relationship between yourself and the person referred to by the certificate, as the latter is regarded as a confidential document.

Quite why a birth certificate should be regarded as in any way confidential in France where you seem to be required to produce one at the drop of a hat to prove that you exist I cannot imagine, but there it is.

So how did our gallant perpetrator manage to have copies sent to all these prominent notables whose identities he is said to have usurped?
What documents did he convince the appropriate authorities to send out the certificates?

I think we should be told.

But, as this is France,we won't be and the couple of civil servants, the councillor and the two lawyers can settle back in peace to watch the demonstrations on the television, as sure as anyone can be in this life that whatever happens, they won't be affected.

In France, their type never are.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. The pensions reform is a typical example of the arrogance of French leadership who are completely disconnected from the masses. They think they can simply impose unpopular measures and survive the head-to-head confrontation.

    With pensions the way forward is to:
    1) Offer people the option of not retiring at 60, to work more and earn more. (Very Sarkozy) They could even make it more attractive by not collecting health contributions after age 60.
    2) Offer increased pensions to those who work on past 60, when they eventually do retire.
    3) Increase the pensions paid to late retirers over time, reducing pensions to 60 year-olds (through inflation) to something small.

  2. You are the ultimate debunker of French myths -as a Brit living in France I used to marvel at the solidarity shown by the masses in the streets - who knew it was just for show and didn't change a thing, not me.

    As for Sarko's birth cert - I was waiting for the punchline about his d.o.b being wrong or his parents not married - why all this fuss and bother about it if there is nothing murky to be uncovered?

    France and the French, eh? -


  3. Mark, in my view it isn't the masses they have to worry's the union bosses.

    As you know, the unions, business leaders and government form an unholy troika when it comes to things like pensions and working conditions which means that those outside the unionised world are left we can expect that train drivers will still be retiring early, as will nurses,etc., having public sector union protection, while the average Joe will be slogging on for more years at work to maintain their privileges.

    I agree, people are getting more and more fed up, but no mechanism in France reflects their worries.
    Certainly not the ballot box with its' false choice of party zombies.

    French Fancy, well, you see it and I see it, but still we have these myths about the French taking to the streets at the drop of a hat.

    The birth certificate thing puzzles a dodgy tooth you can't help prodding.
    There is something else there, but goodness only knows what.
    It was just that it struck me as being one of the rare times that the malicious, petty spite of people in power comes to public attention.
    It is, for me, one of the worst aspects of life in France.

  4. I find the difference between French and English protestors interesting. I'm sure Tony Blaie would love to have some well ordered, minutely managed protestors compared to the blood thirsty rabble that kiboshed his book signings in London...!

  5. Steve, bring over the blood thirsty rabble...a French government wouldn't know what had hit it if faced with British style protest!

  6. Another really interesting post Fly. I'm intrigued about the birth certificate now... I'd love to see what's on it that should be of such interest.

  7. Ayak, so am I!

    Why, having a grudge against some local bigwigs, would anyone be sending them a copy of Sarkozy's birth certificate?

    I'm going to have to ask a friend in the locality if he knows of anything circulating in the local rumour mill...

    I think the answer might lie in the supporting documents which allowed him to get the copies....but I don't know!

    And I want to know!

    It's bizarre, even for rural France.

  8. As far as I know you can just apply for a birth certificate online without much problem. You can pretend to be a 'relation' - you don't have to provide any documentation.

    It's a very efficient system which I'd hate to see made more stringent because of one case.

  9. Sarah, so what were these people making all the fuss about...apart from victimising someone they had already been victimising!

    I asked a friend who is a maire-adjoint and he said they are very chary of handing out birth certificates...but as he lives in a one horse dorp where everyone knows the horse any odd request would stick out like a sore thumb I suppose.

  10. Should we send off for one? - do you think it might make an array of french documentation go smoothly if we professed to be Sarkozy?!!

  11. Roz...check which way wherever it is you want the certificate for voted last time.....could be fatal!