“Reconfiguring our Regions to Reform France”
This was the title of an article published Monday by l’Elysée in several regional papers in France on behalf of François Hollande. The release announced Hollande’s intention to reduce the number of regions that make up France from the current 22 to only 14. He insists that this proposed change of internal political boundaries and structure is a step towards modernizing and strengthening France–changing the size of the regions will allow for each region to more successfully support businesses, manage public transportation, education, and infrastructure.
The proposal has not been received warmly. Hollande’s statement clarifies that the reformed regions will use “appropriate financial means” and be governed by “appropriately sized assemblies,” addressing the fact that there will be less elected positions available. In addition, the new map would disregard historical political boundaries. Politician Marylise Lebranchu admits that there is no “perfect map” that would please everyone, but she did express concerns about whether the proposed changes took the history of France’s regions into consideration. “For me,” she said, “Brittany should have been paired with Pays de la Loire.”
Le Monde compiled several statistics to judge the possible effects of the proposed changes. While population and size of the regions would increase slightly, the more significant changes would be economic. One of the proposal’s goals is to render the regions more economically manageable. Although the proposal would add 4 French regions to the 50 European regions with the highest GDP–leaving France with a total of 12 regions on this list–this would have absolutely no effect on the wealth of individuals within the region. Hollande expressed his expectation (and hope) that this proposal will be strongly supported, but it’s clear that economic, political, and historical concerns will be at the forefront of this debate in the weeks to come.
Déja Vu: Recent Terrorist Attack Inspires New Bill
On Sunday, police announced the arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche in Marseille, France, who is suspected to be behind the May 24th shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belguim. The shooting is reminiscent of the Toulouse and Montauban shootings in 2012 in which Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old muslim terrorist, killed 7 people and injured 5 over a series of 3 attacks. Like Merah, Nemmouche is rather young–29 years old–and is suspected to have been exposed to radical islamist ideas in prison.
This recent terrorist attack may provide useful context for UMP member of the Assemblée Nationale Guillaume Larrivé, who will present a 42 page report to the Assembly as soon as June 4th calling for technological measures to help prevent “lone wolf” terrorist attacks. The report is the first step of a bill that will allow the blocking of websites that serve as a forum for terrorist propaganda. In addition to blocking websites advocating acts of terrorism, the bill would criminalize the habitual viewing of websites glorifying terrorism with a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine.
This bill–whether it passes or not–is an example of how Western countries often react to terrorist attacks with preventative legislation, which provides an interesting contrast with the United States’ reaction to other “lone wolf” shootings that aren’t associated with known terrorist groups. In recent cases like the May 23rd Santa Barbara shooting, the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, and the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting, it is not as clear what groups or factors influenced the lone shooters. Preventative legislation pertaining to mental health laws and gun control laws have proven much more difficult to pass in reaction to shootings not directly related to terrorism, but preventative legislation aimed at investigating ties with terrorist groups has been passed much more easily.
Hollande Gives New Meaning to the Term “Double Date”
On Obama’s agenda this week during his second trip to Europe in 2014: the 25th anniversary of the solidarity movement in Poland, a G7 summit in Brussels, dinner with Hollande on Thursday night, and the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.
On top of the traditionally rocky relationship between the United States and Russia, tensions are especially high right now between Obama and Putin due to Russia’s role in the Crimean crisis. While it’s true that all members of the G8 aside from Russia withdrew from the group in March of 2014 and formed the G7–a direct insult to Russia, and the US President doesn’t risk running into Putin at the summit in Brussels, but he will run a higher risk of crossing paths with Putin later in the week in France. Hollande–who has meetings planned with both presidents–will skillfully steer clear of this icy relationship by simply having two dinner dates in the same evening.
Thursday night will see Hollande dining first with Obama in a Parisian restaurant where the two are expected to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, the situation in Syria, the war on terror, and the issue of the French bank BNP Paribas (following allegations that the bank broke US sanctions against several countries between 2002-2009, the US has threatened the bank with financial penalties). Heavy conversation, but the French president would do well to keep the victuals on the light side as he will immediately head back to the Elysée for a second dinner, this time with Putin and a discussion surrounding the Crimean crisis and Russia’s relationship with the European Union.
Awkward dinner averted, but there is still the question of Friday’s ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day at the Bénouville Château in Normandy, where Hollande, Obama, Putin, and Petro Porochenko (the president-elect of Ukraine) will be in attendance. Will Hollande get caught in the middle of an intense glaring contest? Or will the three grin and bear it and speak to each other about the Crimean crisis?
Following UMP leader Jean-Francois Copé’s announcement that he will resign from his position, there is speculation that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will jump on this opportunity to dive back into politics as the savior of his party. But the timing comes with a potential risks as well as reward.
Risk comes in the form of a scandal in which the Bygmalion communications agency alledgly produced fake invoices to hide UMP’s spending on Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign. The controversy has come to a head in the past couple of weeks, and if Sarkozy chooses to come out of political retirement now, he would most likely endure serious criticism regarding this scandal.
If he passes up this opportunity to get back out there and defend himself, however, it is possible that Sarkozy wouldn’t have another chance to come back later. As his good friend and politician Brice Hortefeux said, “Sarkozy’s return, which was a possibility, has become a necessity. I hope that he will be a candidate for the UMP’s presidency in the fall. We need a leader, a plan, and a direction.”