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French report
by Euro Reporter
2015-02-18 10:56:43
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France moves to open up Sunday shopping

Faced with a division in his own Socialist party, President François Hollande forced the heart of his government’s economic agenda through the lower house of Parliament [without a vote] on Tuesday, highlighting the split in France over how to balance traditional worker protections against the need to spur growth. The legislative package, best known for provisions that would allow more stores to open on Sundays, had been contentious since it was proposed. It had initially seemed likely to win the necessary votes from the governing Socialists, despite deep reservations about it from the party's left wing. But as the scheduled vote approached on Tuesday and back-room discussions intensified, it became clear that the votes for passage might not be there. That, in turn, led Prime Minister Manuel Valls — unwilling to risk defeat — to take the highly unusual step of ramming the legislation through the lower house without a vote, using a constitutional provision that permits sending it directly to the upper house but which exposes the government to a confidence vote.

“There is probably a majority for this draft,” Mr Valls, a relative moderate in the party, said of the legislation, "but it is uncertain. It is my responsibility, and I will not take any risks." In the lower house, the National Assembly, opponents of the measures have already introduced a motion for a confidence vote, which will take place in coming days. But it is highly unlikely that they will gather the absolute majority required to topple the government. The legislation would also still have to clear the upper house, the Senate. The proposals for economic liberalization included measures to allow big stores in major tourist areas to open on Sundays and other outlets to offer all-week shopping more frequently. The issue’s political sensitivities reflected decades of a debate across Europe about Sunday shopping that has pitted traditionalists against consumers and retailers clamouring for seven-day-a-week shopping. The changes would herald a cultural shift for French citizens used to high levels of state and labour union protection from the bare-knuckled competition common in Britain and the United States. The changes have also come to be seen as a test of commitment by Mr Hollande — who is under pressure at home and abroad to do more to jolt the French economy — to make good on his promises to confront entrenched obstacles to faster growth and more jobs.

The package was devised by Emmanuel Macron, a 37-year-old former banker who is now the minister of the economy. Mr Macron argues that the measures, which he says have provoked death threats against him, would open a major European economy dogged by high unemployment and stagnation. The proposal divided lawmakers across party lines, prompting protests on the streets and disgruntlement among professionals opposed to deregulation of their jobs. For the millions of foreigners who visit Paris every year, wandering between the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre and the many other tourist attractions, the main impact would be to permit stores in designated international tourist zones to open on Sunday until midnight. In Paris, that would mean mostly outlets along the Champs-Élysées, from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde; in the St.-Germain area across the Seine; and on Boulevard Haussmann, where most of the capital’s flagship department stores, such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, are found. Stores in other areas would be permitted to open as many as 12 times a year on Sunday, compared with the current five. International zones would also be created on the French Riviera, in Cannes and Nice.

“Do we want millions and millions of tourists — notably Chinese — who come to the capital to leave us and go and do their shopping in London on a Sunday?” Mr Valls said in an interview quoted by Agence France-Presse. But, in a sign of the divisions inspired by the proposed changes, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, a Socialist, has described them as a “backward step for democracy.” Currently, many supermarkets must close by 1 p.m., and most other retail outlets do not open at all on Sunday. In some areas, shoppers cram open-air Sunday-morning markets to stock up on fresh vegetables, fish, cheese and other foods. The other measures in the so-called Macron law would introduce more competition for professionals and for white-collar workers, including notaries, bailiffs, court clerks and auctioneers. Long-haul bus lines would be allowed to compete more directly with the French national rail service. And France would sell billions of dollars’ worth of state assets to reduce debt and to invest in the economy. “Unemployment has not stopped rising for six years, and our priority is to fight it and to create jobs,” Mr Valls said recently. He added, “The solution is that we need to enhance our competitiveness.”


France signs deal with Egypt for export of jets

France on Monday signed its first export contract for Rafale fighter jets, with Egypt agreeing to buy 24 of the warplanes, an AFP correspondent said. Eric Trappier, chief executive officer of France’s Dassault Aviation, signed the multi-billion-euro contract at a presidential palace in Cairo in the presence of Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“Our two countries are pursuing a common struggle against terrorism,” Le Drian said during the signing ceremony. The deal was inked as F-16 warplanes of the Egyptian army bombed positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Libya, after ISIS released a video showing the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Copts captured there in January.


5 teens arrested after hundreds of Jewish graves vandalized in France

Some 250 graves were vandalized in Sarre-Union, a town in the Alsace region of France near the German border. There were reports that they had been painted with Swastikas. The crime was discovered on Sunday, but it's believed to have happened a few days earlier.

The five, between ages 15 and 17, have no criminal records and their motives are unknown at this stage of the investigation, according to Le Monde. They face up to seven years in prison if convicted. Grave stones were upturned and smashed; some tombs were opened and a stone monument to the victims of the Holocaust also lay broken at the entrance to the cemetery.

French President Francois Hollande visited the small town Tuesday and said he had never seen a Jewish graveyard attacked with such rage, intensity or frenzy.


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