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by Euro Reporter
2010-02-10 07:35:04
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PM hands 'national identity' debate over to committee

Prime Minister François Fillon (left) said an "experts committee" would take over the debate on French national identity, bringing an end to months of public debate on the tricky and divisive issue.  Wrapping up months of public debate on the sticky issue of French national identity at a specially convened cabinet meeting Monday, French Prime Minister François Fillon announced a set of initiatives aimed at “deepening” the discussion on what it means to be French. Speaking to reporters at the prime minister’s office, the Matignon, in Paris after a two-hour meeting Monday, Fillon said he would recommend the creation of a civic guide for young people and more civics education in schools.
 
Flanked by French Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who initiated the debate, and Education Minister Luc Chatel, Fillon also proposed the formation of an “experts committee” — made up of politicians and historians — to continue pondering an issue that has divided public opinion in France.

The national identity debate was launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy, in conjunction with Besson, last October, and immediately gave rise to a flurry of conflicting opinions over whether such a debate was necessary. The government launched a website to collect opinions on the topic and invited the public to participate in town hall style national identity debates, some 350 of which have taken place across the country over the past three months.

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France defends decision to sell Russia amphibious warships


France defended on Monday its negotiations to sell Russia up to four amphibious assault ships, despite US doubts about the deal and protests from Moscow's nervous Baltic neighbours.  Having initially approached France to discuss the sale of one Mistral-class helicopter carrier, Russia has now said it wants four of the modern 21,000-tonne vessels, a senior French defence ministry official said. Jacques de Lajugie, head of the international division of the ministry's arms production wing, said France was examining the request from Russian command and no decision had yet been made at a political level.
  
If the deal goes ahead, it would be the first such transfer of large-scale military technology from a NATO member to Moscow. But Defence Minister Herve Morin defended the principle behind the planned sale. At a joint news conference with his US counterpart Robert Gates, Morin said the talks showed that Russia was now considered a partner in European security. "We want to build a relationship of confidence and a new relationship with Russia," said Morin.
  
"We cannot on the one hand enlist Russia in building this security and at the same time consider that Russia has not profoundly changed since 1991," when the Soviet Union collapsed, he said. The minister argued that refusing the sale would amount to "pursuing trade relations and exchanges with Russia as if it were the Russia of pre-1991." During Monday's meeting in Paris, Morin discussed the deal with Gates, who commented tersely: "I would just say that we had a good and thorough exchange of views on it. I'll just leave it at that."
  
Gates later brought up the sale in talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to officials. "This cooperation with Russia, the terms of which have not yet been defined, appears natural," Sarkozy told him, according to his office. "We can't expect Russia to behave like a partner, and not ourselves behave like one," he said. According to a French account of the meeting, Gates said that Washington's concerns were more about the political signal such a sale would send to Moscow than about any military threat the warships might pose to US allies.
  
Ex-Soviet Baltic states Estonia and Lithuania expressed concern that France is contemplating a deal that would strengthen Russia's ability to intervene in the countries of its region, as it did in its 2008 war with Georgia. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Kersti Luha said Estonia had been pressing France for an explanation since plans for the deal were revealed in November. "We raised the issue with France of Russia's desire to buy a French warship. We wished to find out what exactly would be sold to Russia and we plan to continue to ask for more information about the deal," Luha said.
  
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IMF chief hints at running for presidency as poll shows edge over Sarkozy


Dominique Strauss-Kahn (pictured) told French radio Thursday he would consider running for the French presidency "in certain circumstances". A CSA poll suggested that the director of the IMF would defeat President Sarkozy by a margin of 52% to 48%. IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Thursday left open the possibility of quitting his Washington-based job to run for the French presidency. Polls show the former French finance minister is a more popular choice to become the left's candidate in the 2012 presidential race than the current Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry.
  
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund told French radio that he could "in certain circumstances" reconsider whether to stay in Washington. "For the time being, I intend to serve out my mandate but if you are asking me if, in certain circumstances, I could reconsider the issue, the answer is 'yes', 'yes' I could reconsider the issue," Strauss-Kahn told RTL radio. The 60-year-old Socialist became IMF chief in 2007 at the recommendation of Sarkozy. His five-year term ends in November 2012.
  
An economist who has earned a reputation as a pragmatist, Strauss-Kahn lost a bid to win the Socialist nomination to Segolene Royal, who was defeated by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007. A poll published at the weekend showed 23 percent of the French considered Strauss-Kahn to be the left's best hope of beating Sarkozy in 2012, ahead of 20 percent who named Aubry as the top contender. Royal came far behind with nine percent of support, according to the Ifop poll.

Sarkozy, who is struggling with poor approval ratings, has not formally announced that he plans to run for a second term but he is widely expected to do so. A CSA poll published on Thursday in Marianne news weekly suggested that Strauss-Kahn would defeat Sarkozy if the pair went head to head for the presidency, by a margin of 52 percent against 48. Known here by his initials "DSK", Strauss-Kahn has long been seen as a presidential contender although he would face the formidable challenge of uniting the weak and squabbling opposition Socialists.
  
The silver-haired politician was cleared in 2008 of any wrongdoing in a scandal involving an IMF employee who accused him of abusing his position by forcing her to have an affair with him. Former Socialist party chief Francois Hollande, who is also said to be angling for the presidential nomination, downplayed Strauss-Kahn's comments, saying he had "revealed nothing" about his intentions. Aubry, the current party leader, has said the Socialists could hold a primary next year to choose its presidential candidate.
  
Strauss-Kahn took the reins at the IMF in September 2007, promising deep reforms of the international institution to restore its relevance.  But it was the financial meltdown of 2008 that returned the IMF and its managing director to the forefront of global economics as countries desperately sought a coordinated approach to the crisis. Strauss-Kahn has since travelled the world, offering advice and assessments on the state of the world economy as countries took steps to pull themselves out of recession.


      
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